I didn’t want to do it. I had to succinctly humble-brag through every significant achievement or experience in my life, and I just didn’t want to do it. GMAT? Not too bad after some solid studying. Essays? Pretty straightforward once I knew how I wanted to answer.
Looking down at my measly bullet points, I could tell that this one-pager would take me longer to edit than any paper I had yet conquered. But with April 1 drawing nearer and nearer, I knew I had to start sprucing up my resume. I had to get it ready for the McIntire School of Secrets- I mean, Commerce.
So I reworded and reorganized, added and deleted for weeks. And somehow, all the editing paid off. I impressed the M.S. in Commerce admissions team! I want you to impress them, too, and I know you can do it. (Disclaimer: They’re super nice. They believe in you, too!) But I want it to be easier for you than it was for me, so here’s some sage resume advice from me and two real experts, Molly Baker (Associate Director of Graduate Recruiting) and Alicia Castillo Shrestha (Assistant Director for Career Development).
Rule #1: Keep it to one clean page.
Adjust font size, margins, and layout to design an informative page with an organized aesthetic. Trust me; you can fiddle with formatting to get your life’s work down to one page. This suggestion may seem strict, but our admissions directors (and your future potential employers, for that matter) have to scan through a whole lot of these things. Understandably, then, if you submit a dense, two-page resume, you might prompt this unfortunate reaction from them:
So do them a favor and keep it concise and consistent.
Here’s Molly’s take on this tip: “I immediately check for clean formatting. I want to see the timing, locations, and actionable items of specific leadership/work experience. Keep the resume concise—one page! At this point in time, I believe every student’s resume should be kept to a page if possible. This is not the time to go into a lot of detail about a specific job. Save this for the essay questions! It is great to see just the highlights of what you have done.”
Alicia adds, “Your resume should be only a page, so be sure to format it in a way that works to your advantage!”
Rule #2: Readers love results.
Weave in quantifiable outcomes to direct your reader’s attention to how impressive you are. “What’s the most effective way to implement this tactic?” you may ask.
This is the wrong way:
I’ll let Alicia explain the right way: “Make sure your resume is results-driven! Don’t include just the tasks you completed, but what impact did you have?”
Listen to Alicia, reader.
Rule #3: Watch your language!
So, I totally understand that you’re just writing quick phrases explaining your academic and pre-career experiences. Although this may sometimes seem like rather dry material, that doesn’t mean you can get away with bare-bones wording. I mean, imagine that you had read thousands of resumes. At some point, wouldn’t they all start to sound similar? Take pity on recruiters and use active verbs to describe your amazing, unique accomplishments! Engage your reader with expressive language to leave him/her feeling like this:
Rule #4: Believe in your story.
George spent the summer in NYC working with an ad agency on a national brand, working with the client and the creative team on a fall campaign from concept to launch. Maggie assisted with financial data analysis in the economics department for three semesters, mastering SQL and STATA. You…maybe…haven’t done those things.
Heck no! You’re going to take a deep breath and think hard about what you have done. It’s not as if you sat around for four years! There’s a reason you decided to apply to this program. When you take time to analyze the path you’ve carved out with your academics, extracurriculars, and work experience, that reason will emerge.
Maybe you worked at a local ice creamery for two summers, and amid the waffle cones and freezers full of mint chocolate chip, you realized that the intricacies of running of a small business fascinate you. Maybe a year of working part time at a retail clothing outlet helped you develop you into somewhat of a specialist in time management and organizational behavior, and now you’re curious about supply-chain processes and intrigued by national branding. It could be anything!
“Outcomes from work experiences can also be things like knowledge and skills acquired, so be sure to highlight transferable expertise.” – Alicia
“Remember to really focus on specific leadership experiences and relevant internship experience that highlight why you would be successful in business school. Think quality over quantity. How have you been successful in each position you have tackled? Remember that all of our students are coming from non-business backgrounds, but really focus on the skills that you have already developed as a non-business major. Internships are fantastic, but not a requirement for the program.” – Molly
What we’re saying here is that it’s all about crafting a resume that shows how what you’ve done applies to what you want to do. My classmates and I don’t have a ton of business experience already! That’s what we’re all here to learn.
Rule #5: It’s an iterative process.
You’ve finally activated your experience summaries with the perfect expressive verbs and sprinkled in some legitimate quantitative results. The hard evidence is there, and it sounds amazing. Now that you’ve done yourself proud with a thoroughly edited resume, you’re never looking back.
You’re going to have to customize it for specific applications and modify it every time you acquire new experiences. It seems like there’s always some new update to make. That’s why a fresh pair of eyes always helps—and is even necessary!
“Your career center at your school is a great resource to go over resume templates and provide some great suggestions.” – Molly
Peers, parents, and other professional contacts in your growing network make awesome editors. Trust me, they love helping with this kind of thing! Probably the most valuable resource, though, is at your fingertips right now: your school’s career center. Take Molly’s advice and benefit from the opinions of these accessible and seasoned experts!
(And if you have time, check out this phenomenal resume editing handout courtesy of Commerce Career Services!)
Rule #6: Personalize your formatting.
That being said, you shouldn’t turn to the pros for all the answers. With increasing pressure to build the ideal resume and with such knowledgeable advisers awaiting your questions, it’s certainly tempting to double-check with career services every time you want to change a section heading from bold to italicized. Alicia can tell you that I have scheduled resume review meetings with her in which I ended up pretty much breaking down into this type of plea:
Alicia understands my plight and smiles reassuringly.
“Format in a way that works for you!” she responds. “Students often ask what sections they should have, and my answer is that it depends! Based on your experiences, it may make more sense to have a ‘Relevant Experience’ section that includes not only internships, but extracurricular activities as well. If you’ve done a lot of volunteering, and want to make sure that’s highlighted on your resume, you could include a ‘Leadership & Service’ section instead of something general like ‘Activities.’”
You know the saying “Dress for the job you want”? Well, as Alicia explains, you can also tailor your resume to the job you want. For example, I rearranged my resume specifically for the Marketing and Management Track when I was applying to M.S. in Commerce Program. After “Academics,” I made my first big section “Marketing Experience,” in which I included each of my internships and leadership positions related to marketing. But that’s just me! And not everyone would even recommend that I order my resume like that. But I like it, and I think it conveys what I want it to. So, I’m keeping it—for now!
Lucky #7: Let your awesomeness wash over you.
If you’ve ever emerged from a resume review meeting slightly overwhelmed by the upcoming overhaul your resume faces, know that you’re not alone. When there’s “so much” to change and you don’t know where to start, resume writer’s block may seem unconquerable.
But it’s all about mindset. Listen to “Imma Be” by The Black Eyed Peas, call your best friend, learn a dance on YouTube—whatever! Do what you need to do to pump self-confidence through your veins, and then the writing will flow much more easily. Allow yourself to be impressed by what you’ve accomplished.
Okay, maybe not that intense. But you get the idea.
Now convert to PDF and click “Submit.” You’re awesome, and someone will see that.
Fluff by: Logan Steele (Social Media Intern & GIF Enthusiast)
Actual advice by: Molly Baker (Associate Director of Graduate Recruiting) & Alicia Castillo Shrestha (Assistant Director for Career Development)