Resume: A revised, peer-reviewed process!
There are many conceptual metaphors which are useful for thinking about a resume (and many excellent guides for working on resumes, and I encourage you to consult them freely. Some of my favorites are: Gallery of Best Resumes and No Nonsense Resumes). But I am an academic, and the conceptual metaphor that I am going to be using with you here is that of a research paper. I like this metaphor because it makes you think about process. Hopefully, you never hand in a research paper that has not been edited, revised and peer-reviewed many times.
Thinking about the writing process generally, I have heard from many writers and editors that there are three phases. First, the goal is to just get all of the ideas out of your head and down on the page, the next step is to make the words pretty, and then a final round of revisions helps you to make the words really say what it is that you want them to say. I suggest that these steps are tremendously useful in thinking about drafting a resume as well.
Getting the ideas on the page
The first step will be just to get the ideas down which often is the hardest step because experiencing work is very different from describing it, and communicating what its impact has been, especially if we haven’t been doing it very long, or are too busy doing it now. Note: As with any writing project, you want to write a resume in pieces, out of order. Write whatever feels the easiest to write about at the moment, describing one aspect of your duties on a particular job for example. This activity might help you think about the details of another job, or a particular education exercise that helped stimulate your interest in this subject. You may wish to create a series of folders that contain elaborated descriptions of each job, experience, etc.
Making it prettier
Is there too much text? Not enough? Different resume guides will say different things about length, but I insist that you work to at least create ONE version of your resume that is one page. When you think about it this way, what information do you choose to leave IN, not leave OUT? What does it look like? Is it symmetrical? Is there white space on the page? When we do this activity in the professional development workshop that I teach at Georgetown, we plug everyone’s resumes into a ppt and look at them from a distance and decide which is the most visually pleasing when we abstract away from content. Then, we zero in and see what exactly that person has done in constructing their experience. Often, it has to do with symmetry. Every job receives 3 bullets of description (whether or not that was “actually” the case if one job really was much more complicated and multifaceted than another one). The point is to present experience, and when it comes to resumes, you best be constructing the experience that you would most want to create for yourself in the context of your new job.
Making it say what you want it to say
Finally, I would suggest going through every bullet of your resume and asking yourself whether or not you have answered all of the “who” “what” “when” “where” and “whys.” A classic example is teaching. Many of us have had experience tutoring or teaching, but certainly none of us had the same experience. And this is a good thing, because it can set you apart, and as such is certainly something you want to be sure to capture in the resume. How many students did you have? What types of learners were they? How often did class meet? Did you design the curriculum / administer the exams? Were there any measurable outcomes? Did you improve the test scores of your students? Give as many examples as you can!
Think about this example:
“When I was a graduate teaching assistant, I took the initiative to create an online database for organizing teaching resources identifying websites and videos about sociolinguistics, cataloguing them in an intuitive user-designed interface.”
Now, as I just sat here and wrote that example, I realize that it exemplifies perfectly the need for quantification. These descriptions could mean more if you knew how big this database is, how many people used it, how it was accessed, and how often. Were there any measurable outcomes? For example” Making these materials accessible helped the teachers be more efficient and effective in their teaching, and it helped students become more engaged in the topic.”
The reason I particularly like the research paper metaphor is that as researchers, we know that you do not make any claim without supporting it. This is no less true of a resume than it is of a research paper. Make sure that you have supported any claim that you make with evidence. For example, if your resume says that you are a skilled communicator, provide evidence in the form of examples of situations in which you effectively communicated (and not to be meta, but your resume best sing if this is one of the claims that you are making for yourself).