Nonsensical Resume Advice

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            Please follow me at @pglove33.  

I love writing resumes. I love helping people write resumes. I love the fact that we are challenged to be creative and distinctive within an exceptionally constrained format. Not surprisingly then, I have thought a lot about resumes and I am sharing this post to offer advice about five things that have bugged me about conventional resume advice throughout my career both as a grad program faculty and as an upper level administrator who has read thousands of resumes and hired scores of people. You, the reader, can determine for yourself which advice is nonsensical: the advice I am giving or the advice that emerges from conventional wisdom.

Anyway, here is my nonsensical advice:

  1. A Resume Should be as Long as it Needs to be

Many career services professionals still give the advice that a resume for a recent grad (undergrad or grad) should be no longer than a page. That’s just silly. If you show up to a student affairs conference placement service with a one-page resume and a master’s degree they will assume you haven’t done enough.

However, a second piece of conventional wisdom is that a resume should never be longer than 2 pages when graduating from a master’s program. In my 17 years as a grad faculty member I had at least 30 graduating students who had resumes longer than two pages. Every one of them got multiple interviews (which is the purpose of a resume!). This was because the resume was as long as it needed to be. They didn’t pad it and they didn’t squeeze it arbitrarily into two pages. A few had related work experience prior to their program, but all of them had an incredible array of experiences in the program that took more than two pages to describe.

People will tell you that employers won’t read beyond the second page. I will read a 1000 page book—IF IT IS COMPELLING! I will stop reading a boring, dense, less than compelling resume at page one. Make your resume compelling!

  1. Lose the Objective

The primary and most important objective of a resume is to get the interview. Anyone reading your resume knows that, so putting in an objective either confirms that fact (and wastes precious space at the top of your resume) or ends up contradicting itself. I have received quite a number of resumes with an objective that points to another type of job, so even before I get to the content of the resume the person has lost valuable points with me.

  1. Start Each Job Description Section with the Exciting Stuff

This piece of advice relates to another purpose of a resume and that is to distinguish you from others with similar experiences. Distinguishing yourself is one way to make your resume more compelling.

The standard practice on a resume is to have the first few bullet points of a section describing a job be the basic stuff of the position. For example, if you are a hall director, you would probably start with how many students live in your building, how many RAs you supervise, how big your programming budget is, and the fact that you serve on duty for a large portion of the campus. Seriously, is there anyone evaluating your resume who is surprised that a Hall Director supervises RAs or really believes that the number of RAs supervised somehow distinguishes you from other people with Hall Director experience? No.

One way to distinguish yourself is to start the section with the exciting stuff—the active accomplishments, the things you are proud of. Items such as, the fact that you doubled the programming in your building; that you chaired the Sexual Assault Prevention Task Force; or that you and your staff raised $25,000 for charity. If the reader needs to know how many RAs you supervise, they will read it in the last few bullet points in the section—meaning that they will have already read (and not skipped!) the good stuff.

  1. Add an Interests Section

The content of the resume establishes your qualifications, skill set, and experiences. An Interests section says a bit more of who you are as a human being. The reviewers are, after all, hiring a person they will be working with in some way every day. We work with people, not with a set of skills or qualifications. An Interests section can both humanize you and make you a bit more memorable when you are up against individuals of similar experiences. In other words, your set of interests is another way to distinguish yourself from others.

BUT, the interests have to be interesting. A list of “running, reading, travel, and cooking” just isn’t memorable. How about: Racing in half and full marathons, reading fiction (esp. mysteries) and non-fiction (esp. books on innovation), adventure travel (most recently mountain climbed in Andes), and preparing French cuisine. Whatever the interests are they need to evoke images for the reader, not be bland labels.

  1. Don’t End the Resume with “References Available Upon Request”

Of course they are available!!

Instead, attach a sheet listing about five references (even if they ask for only three). Put in the obvious information—name, title, institution, phone, and email. But also include two other pieces of information: How the person knows you and what they would say about you.

“Jane was my direct supervisor for three years. She can speak to my commitment to assessment and student development, my effective organizational abilities, and my excellent leadership skills.”

This information does at least two things: 1) it helps the reference checker know what the reference can speak to (As a faculty member, I had too many references ask me to comment on students’ supervision skills, something I obviously couldn’t do.); and 2) it allows you to say nice, positive things about yourself that you would not otherwise really be able to say on your resume. This is because YOU aren’t saying these things, you are saying this is what your reference would say.

So, there’s my stupid, unconventional advice. I hope it provokes you to at least think differently about your resume and how you are marketing yourself to potential employers. Best wishes in your job search!

What unconventional advice have you received about resume writing?

For the whole job search story, get my book Job Searching in Student Affairs: Strategies to Land the Position YOU WantSeriously, it will be the best $9.99 you spend this week!


  1. I had an unconventional graduate assistantship (30hrs/wk) that included retail, building operations, programming, and construction. The advice (that worked for me) was to describe the broad competencies I had gained before bulleting the job experience. Competencies always win!

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