Ever since starting graduate school, I’ve always worked in non-academic positions. I’ve been a nanny, a job skills trainer, a program coordinator, an executive assistant. As I began to consider career options after graduate school, I realized that I had been pretty diligent about keeping a current CV detailing all of my academic accomplishments but that my resume, while functional, definitely needed some TLC. A CV is a pretty straightforward document, made even more straightforward by the fact that it is intended to be comprehensive – even exhaustive. However, I found that keeping my CV up-to-date was kind of like writing in a journal – just add stuff as it happens and occasionally go back to reflect on and refine previous experiences. A resume, however, is a whole different beast. It has to be lean, mean, and eye-catching. I had been coasting along with what I thought was a halfway-decent resume, but as I began to consider non-academic career options, I realized I needed a document that not only accounted for my relevant experience but also showcased the type of employee that I hoped to be: competent, efficient, with fresh energy and new ideas.
When I attended the Humanists@Work conference in San Diego earlier this year, the timing could not have been better. Although I was representing the UCSB Graduate Division at the conference in my official capacity of Professional Development Peer Advisor, I was personally hungry for the information that was shared there as well. The conference was a one-day event sponsored by the UC Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) geared toward UC Humanities and humanistic Social Science graduate students interested in careers outside or alongside the academy.
One of the keystone workshops at the conference was “Don’t Call It a Template: Unraveling Your Resume’s Purpose, Content, and Design,” led by Jared Redick, an Executive Resume Writer at The Resume Studio. (Click here to access the related video, materials, and resources.) Building off a similar workshop from last year’s Humanists@Work conference in Berkeley, the resume workshop led participants through a job description analysis, open discussion and brainstorming session, and collaborative resume work in groups. In addition to the conference workshop, UCHRI arranged for me to have a one-on-one virtual session with Jared a few weeks after the conference. During this session, Jared walked me through the different parts of my resume and helped me figure out the best ways to phrase, frame, and focus my professional experience.
As with many instructional experiences, parts of it were game-changing (I could use prose? I could have an addendum?), and other parts just weren’t my style (I chose to go in a different direction design-wise and move away from bulleted lists and multiple levels of indentation). Below, I summarize some of the guiding principles that helped me reimagine and redesign my resume, and I provide a before-and-after comparison to show how I implemented these principles.
Job Description Analysis. (Click here to access related materials) I’m not going to lie: this part was tedious. But it was so worth it. Not only did it force me to get familiar and comfortable with sifting through job posting websites, it also helped me identify exactly what kinds of jobs I’m interested in, what skills those jobs require, and how I could present myself as a viable candidate for those positions. I highly recommend going through this process if you are actively searching for a job and/or looking to retool your resume after not having touched it in a while. It may also be useful for people who want to take stock of their skill set or just get a general sense of what potential employers are looking for. If you don’t know if you’re ready to commit to an in-depth job description analysis, but still want to begin the career exploration process, I recommend checking out Dr. Debra Behren’s materials on Exploring Options for Humanities PhDs and her accompanying Work Values Inventory.
For my hypothetical job description analysis, I culled job ads from two different industries: university administration and nonprofit organizations. I then meticulously went through a handful of job ads that seemed like things I would enjoy doing and pulled out all of the functions, skills, and areas of expertise that the jobs required, ultimately producing a spreadsheet of information I could compare and synthesize. Next, I made my bucket list …
Buckets. Buckets are beautiful things. I’m talking, of course, about metaphorical buckets that are used to conceptualize and organize categories of experience, skills, and expertise on a resume. The bucket categories emerge as a result of the job description analysis and are applied to your professional experience as a way to highlight common themes and capabilities that demonstrate how well-suited you are for a job.
You may have lots of buckets that cover the range of duties you performed at a particular job, but when you go to produce a targeted resume for a particular job, you will likely narrow it down to about three to five bucket categories for each job. Which brings me to my next point…
Have a Master. I find it helpful to have a master (read: comprehensive) copy of my resume that catalogues all of my professional experience and includes all relevant buckets for each job I’ve had. That way, when I go to apply for a particular job, I can just pick and choose and pare down from the information in my master copy.
Back to Prose. I had always thought that a resume was little more than a bunch of headings with bulleted lists underneath. Full sentences were out. Punctuation – no way. Because brevity, right? Well, it turns out it’s not that straightforward, and I found that being open to well-structured (and well-formatted) prose can be very liberating and reader-friendly on a resume.
Addendum – or not. This is a judgment call. Jared noted that, particularly for graduate students and recent PhDs, an addendum can be used to capture relevant experience related to your graduate work that wouldn’t normally be accounted for on a resume. Since it’s at the end of the resume document, if employers do want to read it, it’s there. If they don’t, they won’t bother. There is sometimes the concern that including more information will just annoy hiring managers, but I imagine they would be more annoyed if they weren’t able to easily find the relevant information they needed (such as dates and titles) than if you chose to include more information about your diverse expertise.
Find the Right Design. This part I did largely through trial and error (and in consultation with some very helpful family members – shout out!). In the end, I opted for a more modern design that utilized subtle color, white space, and horizontal dividers to organize information. Everyone has different aesthetic tastes, but the driving force behind the design of your resume should be readability – and by that I mean skim-ability, because your resume will be looked over only briefly to begin with. You should run your resume past several sets of eyes – particularly people who aren’t necessarily familiar with your work experience – to see if they can find the most important pieces of information quickly.
Click on the links below to see how I applied these principles in reimagining my resume.
This article also appears on the UC Santa Barbara’s Gradpost website.