I am the almighty employer. For centuries, those of us called Boss maintained a code of silence about the mysteries of the job search. Some might say it is because we learned the secrets ourselves, which allowed us to achieve our powerful status. Others rose through the ranks by accident, and they don’t have a clue why they progressed as far as they did. Could it be that we fear you because of your impressive employment credentials? Lucky for me, I possess the key to the classified information, so your ability to usurp my Boss power is limited.
Perhaps because I am so mighty, I will risk the wrath of insecure Big Wigs throughout the nation and tell you why even the best RAs (“cream of the crop” as we were told when I was an undergrad) look pretty mediocre on paper. Got a resumé? Go get it, and we’ll peruse it together to see if it has future Big Wig between the lines. If not, just sit back and absorb the knowledge.
Leveling the Playing Field
Before I let you in on the major stuff, let’s talk about the basics. You don’t want to annoy me, the almighty hiring agent by making a common mistake.
Secret #1: Employers will photocopy your resumé
For that reason, leave the funky paper for your floor newsletter. Even seemingly conservative paper with too many speckles in the background can look sloppy when it’s copied. Ditto for photographs. Besides the fact that it would be illegal for an employer to hire you based on anything they can see in a picture, have you ever looked at a picture of yourself after it was sent through the copy machine? It resembles a Rorschach blob, instead of the competent, enthusiastic person you are. Ditch it. Now.
Secret #2: Employers have limited patience for cutesy
Granted, there is that one in a million employer who did a dissertation on Marsupials South of the Equator, but for the rest of us, the koala bears on your stationary and address labels is a turnoff. Equate your resumé style with your interview suit. While you are allowed to dress in purple corduroys and platform boots, and they represent your creativity and self confidence, what might happen is that an interviewer will pay more attention to your outfit than your eloquence. The same goes with your resumé. A curly Q font is expressive, but potentially distracting. Don’t get me wrong, you want to show some style (like a power tie or a subtle animal print scarf), but you don’t want to detract from your product – you. Try experimenting with SMALL CAPS, italics, and bold to emphasize your key points. If possible, avoid underlining, as it can make the text look like part of the line.
Secret #3: Employers have enormous egos
If you spell my name with two Ls, I will be irked. If my ad says that I represent a small company, don’t try to impress me with how you managed huge projects. Instead, focus on they way you provided a personal touch to your work. If I run a residence life department, tell me about how your experience relates to -you guessed it – residence life. In the end, it’s all about me, me, me. If you make me me me feel like you appreciate what I do, and then show me, me, me how you can help accomplish my goals, you’ll stand out as someone special.
Secret #4: Employers don’t like you based on your resumé
I hate to admit it, but at the resumé review stage, I have very little interest in getting to know you. Like Cheap Trick sang, “I want you to want me. I need you to need me.” Your best chance to make it to the next round of the hiring process is to nurture my fragile ego. When I interview you, THEN I will look for the person that I like and who fits in the best. Before that, your personality only gets in the way of my self-importance. Remember the koala letterhead? Same goes for resumé categories such as “Personal Interests.” I might give you a second look if I read that you belong to the KISS Fan Club, like me, but otherwise, I don’t need to know that you enjoy reading and needlepoint. If you want to show me that you are well-rounded, describe your community service or hobbies in a way that shows initiative. If you increased the number of fan club recruits by 15% over the past year, that would be something to share.
Rising to the Top of the Heap
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of writing the text of your resumé. I promise you that if you follow my advice, your resumé will be crisper, snappier, and more likely to be read. Which reminds me of the first secret…
Secret #1: Employers rarely read your whole resumé
I’m sorry, but someone had to tell you. We ask you to put all kinds of time and sweat into your vita; we implore you to spell check and proofread until your eyes cross, then we hastily skim over your work and make snap decisions.
Caution: You still have to proofread! We usually don’t read every word, but each of us has different areas of interest. While I might scrutinize your student leadership experience, another Big Wig might want to evaluate your dates of employment to see how loyal you are.
Secret #2: The Cream of the Crop Usually Look More Like Creamed Corn
Are you like 90% of the other candidates out there – too modest? Let’s take a look at an excerpt from the typical RA resumé:
- Resident Assistant I, Joe Schmoe University
- Responsible for supervising a residential community of 25 undergraduates
- Planned and implemented social and educational programs for the residents
- Provided counseling and crisis response
I will admit that having a position of such responsibility is impressive for a college student. But… thousands of students are RAs. What makes you special? Think about improvements you made or risks you took throughout your RA tenure. If the RA above put his mind to it, the resumé might look a little more like this:
- Resident Assistant II, Joe Schmoe University
- Supervised a diverse residential community of 25 undergraduates
- Increased attendance at social and educational programs by 30% during second year in position through aggressive advertising campaign
- Earned RA of the Month recognition for outstanding crisis response skillsIf you have a tough time saying nice things about yourself, go back to your evaluations and see what your supervisor said about you. Did you receive any formal or informal accolades, as RA II did? Italicize it so it stands out. With a little tweaking, you can go from average RA to King Corn.
The Bottom Line
My time is valuable. Don’t make me read a lot of extra nonsense or secret code.
Secret #1: Employers are clueless
I’m fairly bright, but when I see that a candidate won the Betty Brown Blue Ribbon Award, I wonder what the heck that means. On my own campus, belonging to the Skull & Crown Society is quite an honor, but if someone hadn’t told me that that is the name of our Sophomore Academic Honor Society, I might have assumed some pretty crazy things. Triple-check your resumé for person-walking-in-off-the-street credibility.
Secret #2: It’s All About Meat, Meat, Meat
Since we read from left to right, employers tend to skim the left hand margin of your resumé for key words to see if they want to invest time in the whole document. Resident Assistant I had some excess fat in the resumé above. Terms like “Responsible for” or “Provided” are boring. Try to think of active verbs to begin each phrase. If a verb implies change, you will have my interest, and I am more likely to read the rest of your vita.
That’s the spirit. Someone who contributed to change is my kind of candidate. Let’s go a step further. Do you use the words “the” or “a” in your resumé? Slice them right out. Your resumé does not have to use complete sentences, as long as your fragments make sense.
Don’t lie. Don’t list activities with which you were not active. You will get caught.
I will leave it up to your conscience whether you want to share these secrets with your friends. There is a limited number of Big Wig positions out there, but at the same time, doesn’t everybody deserve a fair shot?
While writing a resumé serves a practical function, it is also an exercise in defining your identity. I hope that you enjoy the process of revealing your secrets to the world. Good luck in your search for greatness. You have one of the most wonderful jobs in the world right now. If you succeed as an RA, I have no doubt that your future holds many intrinsic rewards that a Boss title will never come close to delivering.
Submitted by Colette M. Shaw, Director of Residential Programs at Franklin & Marshall College