The Appeal of a Résumé: Make It Stand Out

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    Patrick J. Hale
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You are now part of this wonderful experience known as The Placement Exchange. This professional excursion is to help you stand apart from the lot and show what makes you a viable asset to an institution of higher education. One of the first ways you can make this lasting first impression is through one simple item: your résumé. It may be the single-most significant document that you create for yourself, and is essential to every position for which you apply. 

For those who understand the concept of a résumé, we know what one looks like. At minimum, it includes your name, contact information, educational credentials, listing of professional experiences, leadership experience, certifications, skills, honors, and references. What's more important to take away is what a résumé does. At its core, a résumé is the recruiter's first impression of you—and a 30-second one at that. It's a first glance at your written communication abilities, attention to detail, and organizational skills. It also conveys essential information to your recruiter about what you know and what you bring to a position. Your résumé, in effect, triggers a person's gut about who you are. Are you compelling, pretty qualified, just average, or a hot mess? How you write your résumé determines the kind of reaction you can expect. As you prepare or polish your résumé, I urge you to consider the following tips and suggestions that can help your résumé be a stand-out within the pile. 

Quantify Your Experiences 

One lesson that I learned in my own résumé preparation is that it makes a difference when you can show the magnitude of your work responsibilities, because it can show employers what you're capable of handling and positions you in a place to better articulate how you can grow from the skills and qualities you already have. Consider the following bullet points as examples from my own résumé: 

  • Supervise, train, and evaluate resident assistants; versus 
  • Supervise, train, and evaluate 13 resident assistants 

That small bit of information already conveys so much to a potential employer. By stating the number of staff that I supervise, I've conveyed that I can manage a decent sized staff at once, and my employer may be able to see that I could meet the demands of the job that I'm pursuing. Quantifiers provide employers with concrete examples of accomplishments in your work. Conversely, leaving them out leaves employers guessing about your abilities. 

Qualify Your Experiences 

Qualifying information on your résumé is just as important as quantifying it. There may be parts to your résumé where your bullet points are short, sweet and to the point—as they should be. However, there may be times where short and sweet isn't enough and you may have to add some volume to what you are conveying. For example, let's say in your work as an assistant residence hall director one of your responsibilities stated the following: 

  • Manage daily operations of an undergraduate residence hall 

Yes, it's true that you do that and, since it's part of the job description, it seems worthwhile to include that. Yet, consider the following statement: 

  • Manage daily operations of an undergraduate suite-style, LEED-certified residence hall for 400 first-year Honors students 

Looks a lot better, right? I borrowed the above bullet point (slightly modified) from my experience working at the University of Vermont, where I, in fact, performed this task in my first year as a residence director. When you are looking to do a specific job, especially in a high-demand functional area such as residence life or housing, it is always valuable to offer more specifics. In this case, I shared information about the type of population that I served, as well as the type of community in which I operated. It helped me to include these specific descriptors, as I managed a different kind of community and student population my second year at the same institution. 

Be Consistent 

This may be the most constructive piece of advice I can offer—or it may just be my perfectionism showing. When putting together a résumé, I find it is valuable to comb through it and make sure that it is consistent throughout, particularly with organization and formatting. How well you compose your résumé will influence how easily a person can follow along when reviewing it. 

In my experience with reviewing résumés, I've encountered a number of common errors in inconsistent résumé writing. I am a stickler when it comes to use of proper spacing of tabs as well as punctuation. More than anything, when those things don't flow properly, it isn't easy on the eyes. More importantly, it is a sign that more homework needs to be done in polishing your résumé, including having multiple sets of eyes look it over. Some examples of common errors or inconsistent blunders that I have seen in résumé formatting include: 

  • Date ranges: Try to stick with one type of date notation when listing your employment dates. For example, if you abbreviate a month for one of your job descriptions (i.e. Aug., Oct., Jan.), all the months should be abbreviated in the following. The same is true if you spell out the month or use a date notation (i.e. 5/2010, 11/2012, etc.). 
  • Phone numbers: Be sure when writing out phone numbers that the notation stays the same. If you have parentheses around the area code, be sure that's the case throughout the résumé. 
  • Use of hyphens: One thing that Microsoft Word may do from time to time, depending on its settings, is convert short hyphens (-) into en dashes, or slightly longer hyphens (–). Even if you can't see the difference, to the untrained eye it can be easily noticeable. When reviewing your résumé, try to stick with one type of hyphen. If you prefer the longer hyphen, you can use the keyboard shortcut Alt + 0 1 5 0 when using Windows machine, or Option + Hyphen (-) on Mac OS X. 

Additionally, font usage is another aspect to formatting that can make or break a résumé. Be sure to check that the font style is consistent for section headings, job titles, company names, locations, dates, and bullet points. If document formatting isn't your strong suit, consider using a high quality template from Microsoft Word or Apple Pages as a guide. Or take a look at sample résumés at your local career center or at online career websites. 

Be a Stand-Out

The above tips are just lessons learned from my years of composing résumés and helping others polish their own. A wealth of knowledge exists for you out there from your own supervisors, mentors, and peers. As you continue working on your own documents, be sure to stay true to yourself and stand confidently in your abilities. Lastly, your résumé isn't complete unless you have at least three people look it over. They may be able to offer suggestions or catch pieces that you may have missed. 

So, go and be that stand-out candidate—make that résumé look fabulous! 

Patrick J. Hale is a student affairs professional and social justice educator based out of Boston, MA, who has been in the field for over five years. He's always happy to help SA students and new professionals! Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter @PatrickJHale.

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