Sunday, May 2, 2010


In previous entries (March 28 and April 4, 2010), I have discussed word economy. The résumé is a formal document that demands the best word choices, a document that demands economy. Each word should count and be both specific and concrete.

First, a word about formatting the résumé: word processing programs offer templates for a variety of career and college purposes. You may simply choose a template and fill in the information requested.

Keep in mind a few general principles, however.

•Readers remember best what they read first and last; therefore, for academic purposes, list your educational achievements, including honors, near the top, and for work purposes, list your experience near the top.

•Within each category such as Education or Experience, organize the items in reverse chronological order, from present to past.

•Be ruthless in selection so that your résumé does not exceed two pages.

•Design the presentation so that your reader can easily find contact information for you and specific categories of interest.

•Choose quality stationery. Manuscript and résumé stationery, available in office supply stores, feel heavier when lifted and have texture. You can also select a color other than white—the color everyone uses. Choose a pale gray or tan or ivory to set your documents apart from the pack. Be sure you buy envelopes to match.

•Remember that formal documents often deliver the first impression of you. Make it count by proofreading closely. Better yet, ask someone knowledgeable to proofread and offer suggestions.

Contact Information. Make it easy to find you. Colleges and employers receive more applications and résumés than they need so be sure that your contact information is complete and current. In addition, avoid high school and online social networking e-mail addresses. “PrettyinPink@” does not seem serious or professional. Elle Woods was remarkably successful, but her story is a fairy tale.

Categories. You need

• Objective
• Education
• Honors and Achievements
• Community Service
• Activities
• References

You may also include Special Training, Licenses, and Professional Memberships if one of these categories is relevant for your purpose.

Objective. Avoid generic objectives such as “to gain admission to college” or “to become employed.” These show little research or thought. Be specific and concrete instead. For example:

To join the Class of 2014 at the University of Texas, College of Engineering
To secure a position in the Personnel Division at Human Resources International

Education is a factual category. Simply be accurate and thorough, providing the name of the institution, its location by city and state, the degree earned there, and the date that the degree was granted. You may also wish to include the web address for the institution. Your grade point average (GPA) will be listed on a transcript that you usually must provide, but if your GPA is 3.0 or better, you may wish to draw attention to it by adding it to the entry.

Honors and Achievements (You may use one word or both). Search your memory and records so that you can list something in this category. The goal is to let the college admissions officer or prospective employer that you are above average.
Some possibilities include:

1.Offices you have held. Many are members, but fewer become leaders.

2.Athletic Letters. Athletes letter and become captains of the team. List such achievements because they suggest that you are accustomed to teamwork and/or criticism. They also suggest that you accept challenges and test your skills in competitive arenas.

3.Certificates, Plaques, and Medals. High achievers often earn recognition delivered in the form of a certificate, an inscribed plaque, or medal. List these also because they reveal your drive to excel.

Often honors and achievements need explanations. Once, I earned an award for an excellent grade point average in graduate school and for excellence in the classroom where I served as a teaching assistant. The name of the award was insufficient to demonstrate why I qualified for it so I added information. Be aware of the need to elaborate on the résumé or in the cover letter that will accompany the résumé.

Sometimes, the achievement may not be immediately relevant to the reader. Be aware of the need to “think” for the reader and place the achievement in a context he recognizes. For example, as a high school student and again as an undergraduate student, I was named Best Actress. In order to appreciate this listing as more than a mere curiosity, I added an explanation: evidence of my abilities to perform under pressure and before large groups. With the addition, prospective employers could recognize the arts as relevant to the work place.

Community Service. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, admissions officers and employers appreciate those who think beyond their own needs and contribute to the greater community. Demonstrate that you enrich the community beyond your pocket by listing your volunteer efforts.

Activities. Just as employers value candidates who have held a job long-term, colleges appreciate applicants who have pursued interests and talents long-term. Thus, serial joiners are not as impressive as candidates who began studying piano or playing soccer in grade school and continued to study and compete well into high school and beyond. The number of activities matters less than the demonstration of commitment.

Remember to provide details for activities. If you are a member of a book club or the Math League, for example, readers may not fully appreciate what you have gained from the activity or what you will offer as a result. Let the reader know if your book club reads a new book monthly and what the nature of the reading is. Do club members read light and popular best-sellers or rigorous non-fiction? Similarly, Math League may seem to be a collection of math nerds unless you explain that league members compete against other leagues in the State or challenge themselves to prove equations that have baffled scholars. Such information suggests disciplined minds and a true spirit of inquiry.

. Provide the facts accurately and briefly; i. e., list the place of employment, complete contact information, the job title, and dates of employment. Remember, however, that you need to think for your reader. What might he assume about your work? What more does he need to know to fully appreciate your talent and expertise? Offer this information succinctly and effectively, choosing the best language to convey your worth.

References. This is another factual category. Be accurate, thorough, and ethical. Do not list Uncle Harry. Choose at least three people unrelated to you. You must also ask people in advance for permission to list their names and contact information. Not to do so is unwise because the person may not be willing to give you a good recommendation, and you are more likely to realize this in a face-to-face conversation.

Finally, choose people who logically relate to the Objective. If you are applying for admission to college, list at least two educators. If you are applying for employment, list at least two employers or co-workers.

GUM: Grammar, Usage and Mechanics.

Last week, I suggested that you buy, read and use Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in order to write correctly and effectively. Another excellent resource is Stephen King. In the opening pages of a book entitled On Writing, King offers good advice.

Reading Challenge.

Use an online search engine to search for sample résumés. Make notes about the most persuasive elements of those you read.

Writing Challenge.

Use a template or create your own to prepare at least two different résumés for your own educational and/or work history. Return to these documents in order to update them as you add honors, activities, and experience.