Why Your Resume Isn’t Working (and How To Fix)

I’m presenting a webinar for Mediabistro this week  and I’ve had my fill of resumes. The webinar, entitled “Rev Up Your Resume!” has brought 130 people from around the country together for a JobSearch Bootcamp, in the hopes that being in a group with experts and peers is better than being on their own in a job search.

The discussion boards are jammed with questions and discussion all day long, and experts chime in whenever possible to offer helpful hints and words of support. So in my mind, there’s no question this beats sitting alone in front of your computer.

And the resumes? Well, let’s just say most of them need work.

Since YouTern is a site for interns and those early in their career, let’s talk about what emerging talent and young professionals are doing to their resumes – and a few ground rules that ring true for most:

Stand for Something

In this market, you won’t get a job if you say you are “flexible”. Period. Employers want people who are passionate and committed to whatever it is they’re doing, and that includes knowing what it is you think you want to do and why. Your resume needs to reflect that! If you’re fuzzy about what your next steps are, your resume will follow. So before you write a resume (or cover letter), know what position you plan to take.

Guide the Reader

So you studied Anthropology in college but all your internships have been in PR and teaching? No problem. But it’s your job to weave together the education, the experience and the career path. You can do this with a good summary that presents your skills in a way that someone in your chosen field will respond to. And with each internship or job, identify tasks and success stories (if possible) that will resonate with an employer in that chosen field.

Make Every Word Count

Be concise – but also don’t skimp on the important stuff. If you are junior (first 1-5 years out of college), a resume of about one page should be sufficient. But don’t get too caught up in length if you have something important to say. Also, if you have some interests or background that might resonate with certain employers, create a section labeled “Additional Information”.

Finally, wherever possible, show your impact, not your tasks. For example, saying “Contacted media targets and wrote press releases” isn’t as impressive as saying “Increased media targets by 40%” — assuming it’s true, of course.

No Fancy Formatting

Some people think a creative resume should also be a design piece. My advice is that this is more likely to backfire on you than help you stand out in a good way. Keep your formatting clean and easy to read but don’t try any weird formatting or over-zealous designing.

These tips should help you craft a resume that presents you in the best possible light, enabling you to concentrate on the important stuff—like the cover letter. For some tips on writing it, see my last post here on YouTern.


About the Author: Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career advisor who works with mid-career executives and young adults to help them identify their unique value in the marketplace and explore alternative careers. Allison is the author of an upcoming book In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults, to help young adults from late high school through college develop strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right job.

Cheston blogs frequently on career issues for young adults at her own blog, In the Driver’s Seat as well as at Forbes. She also blogs for mid-career professionals at The Examiner. You can reach Allison on Twitter.

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