I tell any student who’s writing their first resume to take an afternoon and watch a few episodes of Mad Men. Sure, the hard-drinking, hard-smoking Don Draper probably isn’t the best role model for the kids out there. But his philosophy on personal branding fits perfectly with your mission as a young resume-writer.
“You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself.” — Don Draper
Writing a resume as a student is notoriously difficult. You’re working hard to build up a valuable skill set, but you don’t have much experience. So it’s your job to craft a story about yourself that focuses on the future rather than your past.
That’s the sort of vision that advertising executives have in spades. And it’s why you’ll need to transform into your own advertising executive to get the job done. Check out these five great examples of students who were able to do just that.
1. Adding detail with relevant coursework
There will come a time, not so far in the future, when your academic experience will be a footnote on your resume. You’ll add it because you need to confirm you graduated high school or college, but you won’t actually refer to it much.
For now, that footnote is the majority of what you’ve got. You need to stretch it out. One great way to do that is to break open your education into its component parts. Where did you go?
- Why did you go there?
- What did you learn?
- Why are those things critical to proving you’ll perform well at your first job?
Talking about specific courses that you’ve taken is a great way to do this. If you can point to any classes that you took that directly relate to the job you’re trying to get, you can open the door to a conversation about what you learned in that course.
Consider how the college student in our resume example handled it.
At the bottom of their resume, rather than leaving a giant gap, they point out two courses that would surely help them fit in at most offices. In this case, we’re talking about two courses the student took in college, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Online classes, night courses, and certification programs work just as well.
One word of warning: don’t use your coursework as blatant filler. If you’re applying for a job as a nursing assistant, listing your high school AP Economics class will get you nowhere.
2. Round your resume out with extracurriculars
Coursework isn’t the only type of experience that job-seekers frequently forget to add to their resumes.
I think it’s because we often forget that employers do understand that they’re hiring human beings and not automatons. I’ve been to more post-interview conversations than I can count where the fate of a candidate came down to “do we think we could get along with them?”
The longest experience section in resume history won’t help that. But some well placed extracurricular notes might.
You can put this to the test yourself. Next time you write resume, add a section with something interesting you’ve done. Whether it was climbing Half Dome or cooking a pasta dinner for Oprah, add it. You’ll be surprised how many interviewers ask you for more details. One great strategy is to add a section that talks about your extracurriculars.
Many job-seekers might think that their softball league won’t impress their future employer, consider this study from the University of Michigan. It points out that employers care more about your extracurriculars during school than your GPA or even the reputation of your alma mater.
Check out how this high school student does exactly that in this example resume.
In it, they point out their experience in two honor societies and their local humane society. On the very high likelihood that their interviewer has owned a dog or a cat, they have a common interest to connect over.
As always, we recommend not going overboard. Treat extracurriculars like lemon zest that goes on the finished product, it can’t be your meat and potatoes.
3. Treating education like career experience
Many of us will go to schools that walk the line between educational and professional experience. I’m talking about doctors, nurses, artisans, trades workers and more.
If that sounds like you, I always recommend ignoring most of the advice targeted at English majors at liberal arts colleges. Your education was professional experience. That means you should treat your schooling like other job-seekers treat the last job position they held.
For medical students, for example, their doctorate doesn’t just include a bunch of classroom hours. It includes residencies at different hospitals, internships or fellowships, and more.
Take a look at how the nursing student in this example resume describes their experience internships and student fellowships.
They might have been completed in association with finishing their degree, but it also has all the trappings of job experience that their next employer will want to hear about.
All too often, we list our internships on our resumes without actually saying what we did there, and why it matters. Just name dropping some fancy hospital or government office is a lot less impressive than you think it is.
4. Go into detail on any career experience, no matter how small
Now we’ve spent a thousand words talking about how to stretch your educational experience to its absolute limit on your resume. But maybe you, lucky student applicant, can actually point to some real-life job experience! The only problem is it’s tiny.
The percentage of college students who work full-time jobs on top of their schooling is actually going up, and sits around 40%. So a lot of you will have some kind of job to talk about. But many will make the mistake of assuming that, because it’s part-time or not in your chosen field, it’s not relevant to your job search. Wrong!
Yes, it’s true that an investment bank isn’t going to care about your line cook job at Buffalo Wild Wings if you just slap it on your resume with no explanation.
But keeping your cool in a hectic kitchen environment? Balancing a heavy class load and five shifts a week? Earning the trust of the manager to record the tips at the end of each night? Those are all qualities any hiring manager would want.
Remember, being your own advertising executive is about taking your assets and spinning them into the most attractive package.
That’s exactly what Delia did in this example resume.
While their job as a sales associate at PetSmart might not be the prestigious experience they’ll have in due time, they take the chance to list out the universally applicable lessons they learned there.
5. Using references to expand your career section
It completely depends on whether or not you use references on your resume, but they can be valuable for anyone who needs to fill some space.
That might be you, but if you’re going to add your references on your resume, we recommend finding a creative way to use them. You can trust that your interviewer probably won’t call your references until later in the process. So how else could a reference be useful?
You can see one example in this sample resume from a tutor.
They add their references down at the bottom of the page with a note that connects them directly to the employers they’ve already listed in their experience section.
By listing these references connected with the limited number of places they’ve worked in the past, they were simultaneously able to fill up some space and add a subconscious “I’m trustworthy” message.
There are other ways to make use of a reference section. If you’re being referred to the company, you might consider adding your referrer as a reference. That way, you can be sure that no one who interviews you forgets you’ve got the thumbs up from someone on their team.
If you’re truly desperate for filler, you can even add in an endorsement note from your reference. I’m talking about a short paragraph where they describe their connection to you and outline some of your strengths. That way, even if the interviewer isn’t ready to make reference calls just yet, they can still get a taste of the reasons your past employers and colleagues trust you.
Changing the conversation
The beauty of being forced to tell your own story is that you get to decide where all the pieces fit. While you’re out interviewing for your next job, you’ll hear plenty of similar students lamenting their lack of experience. But always remember another one of my favorite Mad Men lines:
“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” — Don Draper
In these five examples, we saw five students who use their resumes to start a conversation about something other than their lack of experience. Whether it’s their classes, their extracurriculars, or their odd jobs. They took the resources they had to craft a story about themselves.
Now it’s time for you to ask yourself how you can do the same.