A Winning Resume for Online Students

A Winning Resume for Online Students

As a student working toward your career goals, you may be ready to start sending out your resume to potential employers. One of the challenges you will face is getting your resume noticed – at least long enough for a recruiter or hiring manager to become interested enough to call you. As you enter a tough job market it is important for you to stand out from other candidates by demonstrating skills you’ve acquired throughout the learning process – in a way that stands out from other potential candidates.
In my last post, Can a Badge Certify Your Academic Credentials?, I talked about the development of digital badges for use in higher education as a means of documenting your skillsets. The purpose of these badges is to demonstrate that learning occurs inside and outside of the classroom, and more importantly, it is meant to show that you have valuable skills to offer a potential employer. However, I have raised several questions about the use of badges. What will employers accept outside of the formal classroom learning environment as valid evidence that you are ready for the workplace? For example, if you had a badge that represented a skill such as leadership, would it indicate that you are ready to begin leading a team?

Through completion of a degree you acquire a specific knowledge base and developed a set of academic skills, which can transfer to the workplace. Students may not know how to present these skills in a manner that an employer can relate to when reviewing their resumes for a job opening. I have been involved in the process of resume writing and career coaching for several years and understand the potential obstacles that students face when they write their own resumes.

Recently I taught my marketing students how to write a winning resume because a resume represents the ultimate marketing tool for them My approach to resume writing involves the development of a skillset-based resume (sometimes referred to as a functional resume) instead of a chronological-based resume, which takes the emphasis off of your current employment status and focuses instead on the skills you’ve acquired from your degree program, including skills acquired from any other jobs you’ve worked along the way. 

Developing a Structure

One of the first changes I make with the development of a skillset-based resume is to change the format of the traditional resume (referred to as a chronological resume). The Purdue Online Writing Lab, which is a popular academic writing resource, lists the following categories within the Resume Presentation section: Contact information, Objective, Education, Experience, Honors, and Activities. The recommended length for a traditional resume is one page.

In this traditional/chronological approach, I recommend eliminating the objective section. This will open up additional space on your document and avoid giving the impression that you have decided this is the only career or position you are seeking, which may also indicate inflexibility or an unwillingness to consider other options. In addition, your cover letter is the place to identify the position you are applying for, which negates the need to state it again on the resume.

In a resume that focuses on skillsets, I recommend the following categories: Contact, Professional Summary, Skillsets, Education, Experience, Honors, and Activities. Most students will have a completed resume that is one to two pages in length because of inclusion of these sections; therefore, it is important to use clear and concise statements – instead of long paragraphs. Monster.com provides an example of a skillset-based resume (referred to as a functional resume) that is somewhat similar to the approach I recommend. When you view the sample you can visually assess how skillsets are put together.

Formatting the Resume

A winning resume needs to be easily readable because most recruiters or hiring managers will quickly scan through the document to determine if your background is a match for the position. Use an easy-to-read font such as Arial 10 point or 11 point, along with short bulleted statements that contain action words and power phrases – which is likely to keep the reviewer interested in reading the rest of the resume as it better describe your achievements and potential. Another important aspect is to avoid the use of over-utilized, cliché phrases such as “thinking outside of the box” or being a “team player” as they have become almost ineffective in their meaning. Demonstrate, through the use of your words, what skills you possess rather than state general job descriptions.

Professional Summary: This section should contain bulleted statements that present an overview of your characteristics, strengths, or qualities that represent you and your background. Think about those qualities that you want a prospective employer to know about first and consider how you would summarize them. Be sure that what you list is relevant to the career or job you are interested in.

Skillsets: For this section, I recommend you develop two to three specific sections that are related to your targeted career. For example, if you are targeting a sales position, you may want to develop the following skillset sections: sales, customer relationships, communication, and/or new business development. The way to craft each section is to examine your background, previous jobs, and skills you’ve acquired through your classwork, along with participation in class discussions. 

Action Words: This is the start for transforming statements within your resume into powerful skill set summaries. For example, you can take a statement such as “I was a sales person” and transform it with the use of an action word, turning it into “Negotiated sales contracts.” This is a very basic example; however, it demonstrates the power of our word choices. Here is a list of actions words to help get you started: acquired, administered, allocated, analyzed, assessed, coached, conducted, designed, developed, evaluated, facilitated, implemented, increased, maintained, negotiated, operated, organized, performed, planned, prepared, presented, processed, recruited, reviewed, scheduled, trained, and wrote.

Power Phrases: This is the final step for the development of skillset statements. Take action words and make each statement you write very specific. For example, transform “negotiated sales contracts” into “successfully negotiated sales contracts and exceeded all sales quotas.” This is a very effective method of demonstrating your skills, abilities, and talents.

Education: What I recommend for inclusion in this section, in addition to your degree program, are any courses, classes, workshops, or seminars that are related to your skillsets – to further demonstrate what you have learned. This approach provides support for the power phrases listed. When listing your degree it may be helpful to include course titles that are directly related to your targeted job. This will further document the career-specific knowledge you’ve acquired.

Experience: Avoid the inclusion of lengthy job descriptions in verbose paragraphs. Once again, utilize short, concise, bulleted statements that provide essential elements for each position as a means of demonstrating skills in action. Also include accomplishments and achievements to strengthen your value and document your contributions to the success of the company.

What I’ve provided is an alternate approach for development of your resume, one that is especially helpful for online students who need to document knowledge and skills acquired throughout their degree programs. A skillset-based approach puts the emphasis on what you have acquired, which will increase your confidence when you are talking to a potential employer. Whether or not you are currently working in the career you have targeted, you possess transferrable skills and this resume format will help to highlight them.

What resume challenges have you experienced? Share your feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Kate Kunz/Corbis

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