This year I rolled out a new workshop entirely on resume writing, per the request of the Head of Department at Arcadia University, Jojo Lucena (we studied abroad together more than 20 years ago).
Normally, I work with students to craft resume entries that highlight their language skills. This time, we started with a blank page (or a draft if students had one already prepared).
We quickly when over some of the basics:
- Place your name, in large, bold font, centered at the top.
- Place your email and phone number below name–one left justified, the other right justified (your snail mail address is not necessary, but okay to include if you want to).
- Throughout the resume, keep each entry to two lines maximum (the document must be easy to skim).
- No complete sentences (the document must be easy to skim–delete all those “a,” “and,” and “the”s).
- Make the resume one page total. For recent grads this is essential to show that you can communicate clearly and concisely (in general, resumes should either be one full page or two full pages–I prefer one).
- Choose section headings to get the entire one-page resume framed out. Think strategically–you don’t have to have a lot of paid work experience to have a resume that is full of “Professional Experience” or “Workplace Experience” or “Leadership” or “Volunteerism and Causes” or “Leadership and Community Service.” If you have more than one entry to include in a section, go ahead and create sections like “Technological Applications.” “Language Experience” can be its own section, especially if responding to job ads that ask for specific experiences or qualifications related to languages. The final section, at the very bottom of the resume, should be “Education,” which leads me to the first of the three biggest challenges for undergrads:
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR UNDERGRADUATES PREPARING THEIR RESUMES FOR THEIR FIRST JOBS AFTER COLLEGE.
1- The entire “Education” section should take up only 2-3 lines at the bottom of the one-page resume.
This is devastating information for students who have spent nearly two decades defining themselves by their academic achievements: your resume just has to show that you “checked the box” and received a four-year degree. Name the institution, degree, and major / minor areas of study. That’s really it. No GPA (except in certain specialized fields or for graduate school applications). No list of all the semesters you made Dean’s list. No list of courses. Nothing from high school.
This section should go at the bottom of your resume because the top third is where recruiters and hiring managers are going to spend most of the 6-10 seconds they spend skimming your resume. The top third is where you have to highlight your skills, experiences, and qualifications most related to the specific job you’re applying to* (many of those will come from your four years of college, but it must be framed for professional contexts–around the section headings you chose above).
If you put “Education” at the top of your resume, it will look like you are applying to be a student or that you can only see yourself as a student and haven’t given enough thought to how you will re-frame your experiences for professional contexts. It won’t make a good impression on that 6-10 second skim and therefore your application won’t get more attention than those 6-10 seconds.
What about all the extracurriculars and rich, professional experiences you had in college? They definitely go on your resume, but not in the “Education” section…
2- You must re-frame your many, many experiences from your four years of college as workplace or professional experience or as volunteer / service or as leadership —anything but “education.”
Here I just want to give examples:
Did you do a research project?
- Researched, collected data on resources and needs of Hispanic community within Metro-Detroit, and created a website entirely in Spanish: https://desireersmith.weebly.com
- Read, summarized, and analyzed 25 Spanish-language articles, videos, and podcasts on law and human rights
Did you do a service-learning project in the community?
COMMUNITY SERVICE AND LEADERSHIP
Orange County Department of Human Rights and Relations Field Volunteer
Conducted 120 surveys about county health service in Spanish; 75% return rate
Did have a role in a student organization (president, vice president, treasurer, etc.)?
Rowing Club of University X
Used Excel to create and maintain database of 350 members, dues paid, and events participation; presented 3 graphs that tracked growth at quarterly meetings
Did you use your language skills at a volunteer gig?
Answered average of 25 phone calls per week, took average of 15 messages in Spanish for local social service agency
Over two semesters, designed and executed four lesson plans for 25 Latinx youth aged 8-12 in after school STEM program
Did you survive a harrowing situation while abroad?
Learned to use the Métro de Paris–including alternate routes to avoid traffic and outages–for work, social outings, and guiding visitors
Did you work well with a team on a course project?
As part of a team of four, prepared the “political implications” section of report & presentation on impact of global economic crisis on recent grads in Spain
3- There is no one right way to do things. Students have spent their lives being the best students they can be, taking direction on the one right way to do things, expecting detailed rubrics with which their work can be crafted to align. Not so with your resume.
You can design your resume any way you want (just avoid using tables or text boxes as the “text-grabbers” that most employers use to process electronic applications cannot always penetrate the walls of tables and text boxes–and make the font 11 point or larger).
Color? Sure, especially tasteful two-colors, with headings in a nice blue and entries in black, for example.
Bold? Italics? Sure! Use them consistently to make your resume visually appealing and easy to skim.
Organized by experience with descriptive entries under each or organized by skill set with multiple examples of each followed by a brief chronological summary of experiences? Either way! Whichever is a best fit for your skills and experiences.
Pictures & infographics? Probably not, unless it’s a design job or your know for a fact the interview likes that stuff.
Two pages? I prefer one, but two is fine.
Format? Nearly anything goes. At Arcadia, I saw lovely two column resumes with brief highlights down a narrow left column (a great place for “Education” since you want to play that down anyway) and more traditional headings and entries in a wider right column. I’ve seen headings in all caps in a narrow left column with corresponding entries in a wider right column.
*P.S. Once you have a final, generic resume, update it for each and every job you apply to in order to incorporate as many key words from the job ad as possible–that maximizes the chances of the ATS reader sending your resume on to a human to review. Customize, customize, customize.
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses” from Georgetown University Press. For help customizing your job application documents and navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: email@example.com