A Résumé Reinvention

Highlighting life skills can help you stand out from the crowd

April 9, 2012

Quentin Schultze knows how to get you a job — no matter what. Education level and even past jobs aren’t make-or-break, says the communication professor at Calvin College in Michigan.

In “Résumé 101: A Student and Recent-Grad Guide to Crafting Résumés and Cover Letters That Land Jobs” ($12.99, Ten Speed Press), Schultze explains how highlighting your life experience can make you more marketable. The book includes forms to help you figure out your best features, lists of positive words to use and samples of good writing.

What’s the No. 1 mistake people make in writing a résumé?
People wrongly assume that a résumé should be a list of places that they’ve had paid employment. A résumé should reflect instead a person’s life experiences in three areas: their skills — what they can do with their knowledge — what they know about and their personal traits.

If you don’t have much paid experience, what do you include?
With the college students I work with, some of them are working full time, they’re full-time students and they have families and they have top-notch grades. The value of what they’ve been going through recently is that they can do all of this. They’re self-organized. They’re self-motivated. They are good and juggling a lot of different things. And of course this is all transferable to all kinds of different jobs.

What are employers looking for when they pick up a résumé?
The first thing that an employer looks at on a résumé is an impression as to who the person is: Who is this? Where have they been? What have they been doing? It’s like meeting somebody for the first time, looking at how they’re dressed, their face, and making a quick judgment.

Can you help them focus?
Direct the employer to a specific spot on the résumé by using a summary statement at the top instead of an objective statement. This is one of the hottest things in résumé writing now. An objective statement says this is what you want from an organization. A summary statement at the top says this is what you offer the organization.

What can you do appearance-wise to make your résumé stand out?
This business of using fancy forms, templates to make your résumé look good is a total waste of time. In fact, it gives the opposite impression. It gives the impression that all you’re selling is sizzle, no substance. You want a very business-like résumé.

A résumé doesn’t have to be dry, right? Can you make it your own?
A résumé is inherently subjective. It’s a person talking about themselves to other people. You want the items to be factual, but they have to be expressed subjectively, especially when it comes to the verbs that are used. I recommend that every bullet point start with an active verb.

Why do you tell readers to think of writing a résumé as writing your life story?
The reason I use that term was to be able to make it clear up-front that we all have life experiences that are valuable for work, and those life experiences may not have been paid employment. Most stress for people writing résumés is in feeling that they don’t have enough quality material.

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