I have written a book primarily for recent college graduates on how to write great résumés and cover letters: Résumé 101: A Student and Recent Grad Guide to Crafting Resumes and Cover Letters that Land Jobs. Read reviews at Amazon.
I have long worked closely with college students and graduates. I know how concerned they are about “looking good” on their résumés. I’ve witnessed first hand the difficulty of getting interviews let alone meaningful full-time employment. I yearn for them to find satisfying work.
Beyond the poor job market, there is another, often-overlooked reason why college students and graduates are so anxious when it comes to writing résumés. They are inheriting a cultural climate that emphasizes image-making over substance. Why else would a student add something to a résumé primarily because it will “look good”—even if the entry doesn’t reflect any significant work or life experience on the part of the writer? Students today feel the burden of having to prove their value to a potential employer. They understandably try to project a positive image of themselves.
This is not all bad. Résumés should be an opportunity for the writer to persuade by emphasizing personal strengths. I would even hope that college students learn to communicate effectively as part of their formal education. Sure, students should be truthful in what they say in résumés, cover letters, and interviews. But truth can be expressed more or less persuasively. When it comes to résumés, truth is necessary but insufficient. Persuasively expressed truth is essential.
The problem today is that students are not as fully truthful as they could be for their own benefit in the marketplace. The “truth” is that current and former college students are experienced persons. Yes, their experience is primarily life experience, not academic or work experience. But a student is a person, and a person is more than a bundle of job-specific skills and academic accomplishments. Students are human beings who have learned primarily by experience, and hopefully by reflection on such life experience. Such learning can and should enhance the persuasiveness of a résumé.
As I point out in the book, employers, too, are looking at the whole person, not just at an applicant’s job-specific skills. For instance, they know that the traits of the people we work with are just as important as the immediate professional skills that our colleagues possess. We appreciate colleagues who bring life-acquired, positive virtues to their work—virtues like patience, gratitude, and kindness. We dislike laboring with manipulators and deceivers who care more about themselves and their own careers than anything or anyone else.
The best résumé writers—the truly effective résumés writers—address what I call the “Big Three”: skills, knowledge, and traits. And they do so not by worrying excessively about “what looks good” on a résumé but by aiming to represent their whole selves in all three categories. The result is a résumé that is a picture of the personal potential of a possible employee as a human being. This is why even activities such as travel, non-academic cross-cultural experience, hobbies, and volunteering can be so important to include on résumés and cover letters. Such entries round out the skills, knowledge, and traits of the writer.
I jumped into the already-loaded résumé-book market because none of the other books take this kind of holistic perspective. There are some fine résumé-writing books for a general audience of experienced workers, but not specifically for college students and recent graduates who lack much paid professional experience. Yet most people do have impressive life experience that reflects the kinds of skills, knowledge, and traits that can transferred to all kinds of careers.
To be true to ourselves and others we all need to consider what we’ve learned from life, not just what we’ve learned on the job. In the end, such self-reflection can lead us toward the sort of examined life the ancient Greeks considered essential. Writing a résumé or a cover letter is an opportunity for getting to know ourselves better, and representing ourselves to others more fully. It’s also a recipe for success that is deeper than image.
Best wishes on your life journey.
Read book reviews on Amazon.