Pack your resume like a suitcase

I am often asked whether or not a resume needs to be one page long, and while yes, I personally do think that any resume you send to an employer should be no more than one page long, the goal is really that of being as smart as possible with a limited amount of space. There are many conceptual metaphors for resumes, but one that I would like to play with here is that of packing a suitcase.

Think about how satisfying it is when you get your packing just right! You spent the time to be really thoughtful about where you were going and the kinds of things you were going to need while you were there. You found items that could do double – duty (be dressed up / dressed down), you found that great pair of shoes that can be worn for many activities, but also don’t take up much space. You were creative enough to combine variety with practicality so you have something for every occaision, but you are not bored to tears at the sight of all the items in the suitcase by the end of the trip.

It has taken me many years (and many poorly packed suitcases) to learn the importance of not bringing too much with me. Having too much impedes my ability to travel well. The suitcase becomes too heavy and hard to manoever, you cannot find anything when you do try to open it up, you even forget that you have things because they are buried down in the bottom. So too with a resume. Less is more!
And of course, at the same time, there are certainly certain basic things that can’t be done without. So what are these items in a resume?

Active Verbs – all of the resume guides exhort readers to find “kicking” verbs and yes, I am going to have to add my voice to say that verbs like “helped” or “taught” really do not do what you need them to do in a resume. They do not go far enough. Who What When Where Why How did you help? Who What When Where Why How did you teach? (How many students did you have? Who designed the materials? How often did class meet? etc. etc. etc.) Also, do not forget to put your SOQs on – support every claim you make!

Referring Expressions (how the speaker chooses to refer to the other people and things in the story world), can reveal information about the speaker’s attitude toward these referents. So you can choose to go out of your way to explain terms that might be opaque like “intertextuality,” making an effort on behalf of reader, or you may choose to not define the term or use more descriptive language like “the relationships among texts” you may wish to show that you assume your reader to be familiar with this concept and you might do that for strategic identity construction purposes for the both of you.

Lists – once referring expressions are chosen, how and where they get presented on the page in relation to other terms will construct meaning. For example, given three terms like: reading, writing, editing. These may be ordered or reordered to give meanings such as:
the sequence in which these important work processes occur
the ways in which concepts are related
(i.e. none must be neglected in the process of writing any grant proposal)
or to highlight the primacy of one skill over others
(i.e. positioning editing and reading as comprising the writing process).
The reason this becomes so important is that with a list, something has to come first. And the lists within lists on resumes come together to tell a story.

Space is precious on a resume precisely because it is limited and all of the choices made carry meaning. The items that you include, the order in which you present them. Unlike an academic CV where you list each and every talk given, each and every paper published, each and every student mentored, on a resume, deciding to talk about one competency means not describing another. But it is precisely for this reason that the skills of linguistics uniquely prepare us for this task. We know that every linguistic choice carries meaning because to say anything means not saying a variety of things. I return to my linguist’s poem:

A linguist is interested in:
what was said
what wasn’t
what you could have said but didn’t

This applies no less to a resume than to any other contextualized use of language. And I am certainly not saying that I pack perfectly every time, but I do know the goal now: I know what a well packed suitcase looks and feels like. The goal is to have a similarly pared down resume, where it is not a question of what to leave out, but of what to leave IN.

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