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Your resume, your life

Categories: Random Thoughts

Nancy got an email the other day from a former student/co-worker at the Grille asking for help with a resume, and she shared the email with me. Rather fortuitous, as I’d been assigned to write my ‘personal biography’ for my upcoming TEDx talk, and I’d also been reading Ryan Kellet’s recent MiddBlog postings on job searching, (and one on starting, but for the sake of this post we’ll assume you’re already there) so my own resume was on my mind. I’ve been on both ends of the resume game, I’ve been at it a while, and I’ve had some excellent teachers along the way, so I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts. Melody, this one’s for you.

First secret? You don’t have one resume, you have hundreds, one for every job you apply for. A resume is not a static document, but it’s a sales pitch, and one that you should customize for every job. Nancy is a great example. She’s done carpentry, house restoration, boat building, cooking in restaurants, supervising, senior care, day care, even landscaping (not for me, I’m a terrible boss). If she is applying for a cooking job, her resume will reference most of that experience, while a construction job will focus on her degree and experience in Historic Preservation.

And this works on a smaller scale as well. Let’s say you are applying for a job supervising a small work group. Your summer job as a camp counselor is probably more experience than you realize at supervision and it only takes a couple of words to make the cut into the ‘call’ pile.  Or maybe you are over-qualified for the position, but you’d really like to eat next week. Think carefully when describing your experience, and tailor each copy you send out. A resume is not a make it or break it document that will get you a job, but a well crafted one will get you noticed. The Career Services office has a list of ‘core competencies’ language that is excellent.

Another secret. You’re about to graduate, and you don’t have a lot of experience, so you may be afraid your resume may be a little empty. In reality, even a skimpy resume speaks volumes. When I am plowing through a stack of resumes, even for an entry level job, a well crafted document says a lot about the applicant. Spelling errors, bad grammar, and/or poor layout shows a lack of attention I find troubling in an employee, and don’t waste my time interviewing.

I won’t talk about formatting, style, etc. There is heaps of bad advice out on the net about resumes. The best way to separate the good from the bad? Any template that suggests a ‘mission statement’, ‘job objective’ or ‘personal goals’ section of a resume should be ignored with all due haste. I don’t care what your personal goal is-I know it’s to get a job. Give me and my tired eyes a break.

The best template I’ve found, with excellent advice to boot, is found at the Career Services Office right here at Middlebury. Keep your resume to one page. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t’ get fancy. Did I say keep it to one page?

What are other ways to fill out your first resume starting out in the big scary world? I’m not a terribly big fan of the activities and interests section most resumes have, but it certainly is a good area to fill out a lack of experience. Please, though, call the sectional  ‘additional’. What kinds of things am I looking for? Once again, it depends on the job I’m looking to fill.  Are you a member of a trade organization in my field? Do you spend your nights coding for free on an open source software project, or are you just laying about in your jammies playing X-Box? Are you an active participant in your life?

The best resume secret, though, is the hardest. You need to keep your resume updated. Constantly.  Maybe it’s your birthday, maybe New Years Day, or tax day, but once a year look over your resume. Maybe you have something to add. Maybe, like me, you look it over and see a subtle, but deeply embarrassing grammatical error. You may get asked for a resume in an elevator while making small talk. The person asking will forget who you are by tomorrow, after you spent the previous night re-writing your moldy, dusty, stale life. The same person will be impressed if your resume is in their in-box in half of an hour. Attention to detail, being an active participant in your life.

In the same vein, keep a list of extraordinary things, items that didn’t make it into this draft of your resume. Time spent volunteering, times you’ve been quoted in the newspaper, anything where someone paid attention to you. You’re special, so literally don’t forget it, and write it down.

My last piece of advice would be to constantly look for work, even when you aren’t. Always read the help wanted ads. They tell you more than you realize. A restaurant continually looking to hire line cooks has potential to be a terrible place to work, or a food co-op with high turnover might not have the atmosphere they think they do. Help wanted sections are the pulse of a community, the news behind the news. Trust me, the job of your life may come around when you think you aren’t looking.