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How to Master the Art of the Resumé

So you haven’t heard back from that hiring manager after sending in your resume two weeks ago… a tale as old as time. When it came time for me to start applying to real jobs and internships in the field I someday hope to work in, I thought that I was all set. I figured I knew enough about what was supposed to go into a cover letter and resume just from retaining random facts over the years, and I even had a resume I could send out that I had created in my 11th grade business studies class. So, I sent in some applications with my resume attached and waited for the job offers to come rolling in.

Well, it turned out that my 11th grade resume wasn’t going to cut it, and for good reason. There is a very specific set of rules when it comes to writing a resume, and those rules unfortunately aren’t always obvious. Sure, everyone knows that your resume should only be one page and that you need to use a professional font — but who knew that there were rules about the kinds of jobs you should list or what specific words to use.

When applying to jobs, you want to present yourself in the best light and make yourself appear as impressive as possible, but this is often easier said than done. Here are six common mistakes you might be making on your resume and how to fix them, so that the hiring manager finally gets back to you.

1. Your experience is unrelated

The first real job I had was working at a Starbucks for the summer in the heart of suburban San Diego. To keep things short, it was a nightmare, and I haven’t worked in food services ever since. When it came time to update my resume in college, I made sure to put my retail experience front and center, but it turns out I was making one of the biggest resume mistakes. I was trying to get positions interning or working at physical therapy clinics (which is definitely not a retail job) so it wasn’t that important for me to have that experience prioritized on my resume. And by the time I was submitting my resume, I hadn’t worked in that position for almost three years.

By the time you get to college, employers generally aren’t very interested in what you did in high school. It can be hard to let go of the jobs and activities you put so much time into in high school, because they were likely things you were passionate and dedicated to. But submitting a resume filled with high school jobs and activities can cause employers to think that you haven’t done much in college or grown to further your career. When writing your resume, you want to put down your recent job experiences or leadership roles that makes you seem the most qualified. Instead of putting down your time as a summer camp counselor, focus on some leadership positions you might have held in the past couple of years. Sell yourself strategically.

2. You aren’t selling yourself enough

As someone who can get uncomfortable talking about my own accomplishments, it can be hard to give myself enough credit on my resume. I used to feel so awkward “bragging” about myself. This is a shared experience among many young women who feel pressured to undersell themselves when it comes to resumes or interviews. There’s a whole slew of internalized reasons women feel pressured to do so, but applying for jobs is the time to brag about all your accomplishments! When you’re dealing with potential employers, don’t feel bad for talking about your accomplishments, your biggest strengths, and the positive impacts you think you might bring to the company. This is the time to sell yourself!

When it comes to your resume, the best way to do this is to be specific. Break down all the projects you completed at a job, and split those steps up if a project was particularly complex. Ideally, each bullet on your resume won’t be longer than one line. If you have a point that is too long, read it over and see how you can either simplify it or split it into two separate topics. Another option would be to include more extensive information about your experience in a cover letter.

3. You haven’t included any contact information

This might seem like a small thing, but it’s crucial for employers to see how easy it is to contact you. It will show them you’re eager and available. Your resume should have your phone number, email, and even your address if you’re comfortable having that there. Make sure your email is professional (it’s probably best to retire the first email name you made when you were 11 that may or may not be, and that you list the email you check most frequently.

4. You aren’t using any action words

This is one of those rules that you probably have no idea about unless someone has specifically explained it to you. When describing the tasks and responsibilities you had at previous jobs, you want to make sure not to say that you were “responsible for” something. You weren’t “responsible for developing a new system of organization in the office,” you “DEVELOPED a new system of organization in the office.” You weren’t “responsible for tracking weekly market trends,” you “TRACKED weekly market trends.” It’s a small change, but one that will make a huge difference. Saying that you were “responsible for” something only implies that it was a part of your job to complete certain tasks in a certain way. Using action words shows potential employers that not only did you complete these tasks, but you did so in a way that taught you skills you can now bring into a new position.

5. You’re exaggerating a ~little~ too much

It can be easy to get a little carried away when writing your resume, especially if you’re trying to fit a lot of experience into some less impressive, part-time jobs. Beefing up your past experience with action verbs is always a good idea, but you want to make sure you don’t take it too far. Employers will be able to tell that you’re lying if you give yourself too much credit, especially if you are taking credit for things that have tangible results. It’s even worse to say that you know how to do a certain skill and then once given that responsibility in the workplace, be forced to admit that you actually don’t. Only list things on your resume that you would be able to talk about in person and explain. You want to brag and take pride in your accomplishments; not take credit for the things you did not do.

6. You aren’t customizing your resume for different opportunities

Not every job you’ve ever had is going to be important to include on your resume, but if you’re applying to jobs in different fields you may need to tweak your resume around to include different positions over the years. A resume geared towards a job in technology should not have the same things as a resume for a marketing or public relations job. Different jobs value different skill sets, so you’ll want to avoid irrelevant experience and superfluous information if you can. If possible, talk to people who work in the different fields you are applying to and see what skills they recommend you highlight. You don’t need to redo your resume for every single job you apply to, but making little changes here and there will show employers that you’re committed and serious about the position you’re applying for.

Applying for jobs can be tedious and disheartening, especially when it feels like you’ve applied for a billion and heard back from none. Don’t take it personally — most employers receive hundreds of resumes and so many simply get lost in the shuffle. Your dream job is out there, and you will find it when the time is right. Your self-worth is not defined by what you put on a piece of paper, and the right employer will see that.

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