Career corner: Mastering the resume rodeo

A flow chart depicting what goes into a resumé: a graduation cap (education), a medal (awards), a book (knowledge) and a lightbulb (ideas).
Graphic by Rya Jetha

It can feel strange to show off, but there’s no better place to let your experiences shine than on a polished resume. If you’re applying for a job on or off campus or seeking a recommendation, your resume is a crucial tool to demonstrate the key things you want others to know about your accomplishments. 

Here are some tips on how to master the resume rodeo to help you achieve your career goals.

1) Resume basics

Resumes are usually around one page, so real estate is limited. It’s often best to build your own simple format, as using the pretty, suggested templates takes up a lot of space and can be hard to customize. 

As you think about content, try to tailor it to your application or goals. Different employers want to see different skills. Troy Bolton, a high school basketball legend and singer from “High School Musical,” probably wouldn’t use a basketball-focused resume if he were seeking a position at a recording studio.

2) Finessing the sections

Resumes can have several different sections, depending on what you want to highlight about yourself. Some basics are an education section (at the top), experience and skills. Some people break down experience into “relevant” and “other” or “leadership” sections. Make sure the education section lists your college and maybe your high school if you are a first-year. 

Under education, you can also list your graduation date, major and perhaps add awards or related coursework that could appeal to your audience. As a foreign language major, my resume has a languages section sandwiched between the education and experience sections to emphasize my language proficiency.

Some people swear by having a one-line “interests” section to humanize their application. Mine says that I enjoy ballroom dancing, podcasts and making lists. No matter what sections you decide to include in your resume, be sure to have breathing room between them, or your resume will be hard to read.

3) Impress with accomplishment statements

In your experience sections, you’ll need to bullet point your work highlights. When drafting those points, called accomplishment statements, put the most important information up front. Lead with a strong verb and your action before listing your collaborators. 

For example, say, “Conducted 100 surveys about regional accents and analyzed data for linguistics department chair’s journal article,” rather than, “Worked with linguistics professor on her research paper.”

Your accomplishment statements should list your actions in detail while also being concise. Try to incorporate the impact or scale of your work to help paint the picture. I know it can feel hard to qualify all your experiences in your resume, but know that you can expand on certain experiences and stories in your cover letter or interview. 

For example, this summer, I accompanied my supervisor to a pre-departure orientation for Korean students traveling to the U.S. where I introduced myself and answered questions about studying abroad and cultural adaptation. 

On my resume, I added the number of students there (around 180), and in an interview, I would talk about cultural and citizen diplomacy and how it was helpful to those students to hear from an American college student who was abroad in their country. Remember not to fixate on only one aspect of your position on your resume and give the relevant parts proportionate coverage.

4) Space is limited, so get creative

For those of you with a lot of related experience, try pulling out all the stops before cutting anything from your resume. A font no smaller than 10 pt, margins between 0.5 and 0.75 inches and a reduced header size should help. Another tip: Times New Roman takes up less space than Calibri or Arial fonts. 

If something still doesn’t fit, it’s okay to leave out less relevant experiences in order to make space for the others. I list some as an activity under the education section if I don’t have room to explain them. 

5) Where do high school experiences fit in?

Sophomores and first-years don’t always have lots of college experiences, so it’s okay to keep your relevant high school leadership positions or part-time jobs on your resume during that time period. Try to take up space in formatting rather than stretching out your language within each experience. 

There is no need to be embarrassed about a short resume — what matters most is being excited and able to talk about the experiences you do have and continuing to pursue activities that are engaging to you (which will eventually make your resume longer).

Pre-built resumes can be a helpful tool for filling space on small resumes, but maintain simple, professional colors for most positions — think about the colors you would pick for a business pantsuit. No safety cone orange pantsuits for resumes, please. 

6) Recruit people to help proofread

As you put the finishing touches on your resume, know that it can’t hurt to have others look it over. Reach out to your school’s career center, a family member or adviser to help you check grammar and spelling, word choice and formatting. Even when several people look it over, though, it can still be hard to catch errors. Know that sending in a resume with a typo is a bummer, but not the end of the world — chances are that your hiring manager has once had a typo in their resume, too.

Got career-related questions? Submit them to olivia.truesdale@tsl.news or anonymously at bit.ly/CareerCornerTSL.

Olivia Truesdale SC ’21 is TSL’s career columnist. She is a career consultant at Scripps Career Planning & Resources and currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. She encourages you to check out the resources available at your campus career center.

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