If you want both your resume and cover letter to be heard by your audience, use your reading and listening to learn about the organization’s style of writing. Mirror this style in your materials. One thing that you may choose to listen for in particular might be the stories that they tell. What do they talk about, how are stories framed? What positions are taken up?
Verbify! While we know there is much more in the toolkit to draw from, resume experts continue to be very excited about VERBS!! They have convinced all of us that we need and want to hear active verbs in this genre, and there is probably great reason for this. A verb like “helped with social media campaign” doesn’t tell us HOW you helped or WHY. It obfuscates and hides your contribution and basically only communicates to your reader that you were present while such activities were taking place. Even if you were a low-ranked person on the team, there probably were contributions that you made which are indicative of your knowledge, skills and abilities. Thus “conducted social media research to support social media strategy” or “advised on website design based on principles of visual communication” or “edited messaging content for persuasive effectiveness” all work much more powerfully than “helped” does.
Some great sources for Action Verbs for your resume:
- 185 powerful verbs that will make your resume awesome (from the Muse.com)
- Action Verbs for Resumes (from the Career Center at Wake Forest)
- Action Verbs — By Skills Categories (from Quint Careers)
Quantify! As social scientists, we may be ready, willing and able to tackle both the quantitative and qualitative realms, but resumes exist firmly within the quantitative. Put yourself in that mindset when you are creating your resume and ask yourself when you make any statement: “can that be quantified?” Rather than say “Taught English” how many students did you teach, and how often? How were they evaluated? Were there any measurable outcomes that resulted from your work? Not all of these questions can or should be answered of course, but detail is always a good thing.
Support your claims! 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 support any claim that you make with supportable evidence. So if your resume says that you are a skilled communicator, give 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). Any piece of writing will be evaluated for its style, clarity and effectiveness, especially a resume, and especially if you claim to be a good writer, effective communicator, or design specialist!
Pay it forward! These skills are useful in writing resumes, and they are also extremely valuable when you are asked to evaluate a resume. I am a firm believer in paying it forward when it comes to the job search. Offer to read and provide feedback on someone else’s resume and cover letter. I promise you that you will learn something about your own in the process!