Let’s be honest. Resumes are difficult, and resume advice can be even more difficult. Focus on keywords, but avoid buzzwords. Use bullet points, but not too many. Write an objective, but only for certain industries. Confused? Join the club. If I read one more infographic telling me what percent of employers will ignore my resume if there’s a typo, I might scream. Of course you should spell check and use correct grammar, but isn’t that a given? Beyond a few golden rules of basic English and professionalism, a lot of the differing opinions can be distracting.
So what does matter? My job working with companies and students at the Purdue University College of Liberal Arts puts me in a unique position of being able to pick the brains of working professionals on a weekly basis, and they almost always end up at the same conclusions about resumes:
- Content matters more than style
- Tell your story, demonstrate soft skills, and provide data
Demonstrate your skills instead of just listing them
You know that when Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur all talk about the importance of soft skills, it’s time to pay attention. While some positions require a certain amount of industry knowledge, attributes like communication, creativity, and grit are valued by all employers. By using your project, academic, and social experiences to demonstrate your soft skills you can set yourself apart from the dozens (if not hundreds) of candidates applying with the same technical background. Turn your theatre major into an example of how well you work in teams because you understand it takes a troupe to get the job done. Simply stating, “I am a team player” doesn’t hold the same credibility as giving an example of through an experience. Compare the bullets in each example below and think about the difference in simply claiming something versus using an example to demonstrate the skill.
- “I am great at communicating with others”
- “As a university student ambassador, I communicated the university’s mission to over 100 company representatives, alumni, and other university guests to ensure they had memorable visits”
- “I am creative”
- “As an employee of the student cafeteria, I invited student musicians to perform at lower-volume times, helping manage demand surges”
In addition, think about the various “buckets” of skills an employer is seeking, and use your experiences strategically to fill each of those buckets as best you can. For example, as treasurer of a sorority you can demonstrate your accounting skills (“With responsibility for our $30,000 budget…”), creativity (“With a budget shortfall of $5,000, I spearheaded an initiative to…”), communication (“I crafted quarterly communication to our alumni…”), or just about anything else. Think about areas where your resume may have some gaps and how you can use experiences to fill them. And if you find gaps or are interested in continuing to enhance your story, short-term, professional assignments can be a great way to quickly address them.
Data, data, and more data
Just as listing your soft skills doesn’t prove anything, anyone can claim to be a social media marketing expert, incredible salesperson, or amazing writer. The validity of your technical skills should not be a question. Are you great at writing for social media because you know how to type it on your resume or because you increased a company’s Instagram following by 62% over three months? Even for soft skills you can demonstrate your impact with numbers. Leading your team in converting 72% of alumni outreach calls to donations demonstrates things such as communication, creativity, and grit. I cannot stress enough how often professionals talk about the importance of numbers on resumes. Think of it as having a portfolio. Tangible results to back up your claims allow hiring managers to see what you can do. Data speaks for itself.
Make your experiences tell your story
There comes a point in a person’s resume when part-time jobs, classes, and extracurricular activities get moved to the bottom to make room for professional roles. However, until the time comes when you can’t minimize your margins without the printer cutting off part of your name, make your experiences speak for you. Whether they’re memberships in organizations, classes you took for your major, or volunteer trips, these experiences have shaped your interests and say a lot more about you than you might think. Studying abroad in a country where you aren’t fluent in the language speaks volumes to your adaptability and willingness to challenge yourself. Taking a role in an organization whether it be philanthropic, academic, or just for fun shows your motivation to get involved and work in a community environment. Volunteering experience shares what your values are and where your passions lie.
These experiences also help prospective employers tie together who you really are, so think about how they fit together and if your story is aligned to that of the company. And if you are unsure, fortunately more companies are using micro-internships as a way to help students understand their culture and ensure that there is a mutual fit.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that the person looking at your resume needs to care. When they read your resume, you want them they visualize a person with a memorable story, fundamental skills, and work outcomes aligned with their ideal candidate. If you can show these, employers will think you were created for the position. And while resumes will always be a little bit stressful, try to rise above the noise of “10 Resume Do’s and Don’ts” – you already know the important details, and the rest can just distract you. Focus on building content that tells the story of what you do best, what you have accomplished, and how you’re positioned to add value to the company.
Catherine LaBelle is a recent graduate of Purdue University. She currently works with employers, alumni, and students as Constituent Relations Coordinator for Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts.