Thursday, September 16, 2010

Publishing Résumés

Last Thursday I was at my alma mater, critiquing résumés. I get mostly English majors, mostly students who want to go into publishing, so this really is publishing-specific advice, not just generic résumé tips here.

In fact, have several friends proofread it too. Especially your most critical and judgmental friends, anyone who has the nickname "grammar Nazi." Grammar counts, and spelling, and style. Your style needs to be very consistent, including if you end each bullet point with a period or not, and the size of your dashes. Yes, they can be different sizes (they are called hyphens, n-dashes, and m-dashes, but you don't really need to know those particulars, so long as you always use the same ones.) I know Word changes them sometimes, so double-check them all at the end and copy and paste to be sure you've got the same ones everywhere. This is more important on a publishing résumé than just about anywhere else except maybe a teaching résumé. Be sure your dates are also consistent in placement, formatting, and spacing.


  • Unless you're really looking for things to beef up a thin résumé, don't list your major classes. Especially if you were an English major. Unless your major was not in the social sciences, they can make an educated guess and whether you took Chaucer or Shakespeare or Austen isn't really relevant. Obviously if you were a math/science major and now want to go into publishing, you might need a little more explanation as to why, but that's also what your cover letter is for.
  • In college you will often gain experiences that are very specific to your college only. You should explain those things, briefly. My college has eating houses instead of sororities, so after the name of my eating house, I put a comma and then "a women's social and service organization" to help explain. We also had our own version of touch football that we call Flickerball because we've changed the rules so much. and yes, I did put "touch football" in commas after "Flickerball" to explain. (Why list Flickerball at all? I played for all 4 years and team sports show you're good at working in a group.) Most things don't need explanation, but it's good to run your résumé past friends not at your college to be sure those gaps aren't overlooked. On the plus side, unusual items on your résumé tend to be remembered by the interviewer, and also because they're unusual, expect them to come up as interview topics more frequently than they should. This is also true once you've been working for a few years. Currently I have to explain on my résumé what VMR (Vendor Managed Replenishment) and planograms are. It's always good to have at least one proofreader who isn't in your industry.
  • Use bullets. Yes, English majors, I know you're more comfortable with paragraphs. Tough. You've got to do it. It currently is the expected format, and it is easier to read (or skim). You must always have at least 2 bullets in each section (there's no maximum). That's a grammar rule (from outlines) and if you check my first point up top, grammar is a must here.
  • Don't jam in everything possible. Edit. Be judicious if you've been so lucky to have a lot of experience. A page that's absolutely full of information from margin to margin is hard to read. There needs to be white space for the eye to rest, not to mention for the interviewer to write notes. If you're a good writer, your will have some variety in the writing of your résumé, including sentence length.
  • Use the same header from your résumé on your cover letter and your list of references. Pretend it's letterhead. Plus pages get separated. (Do not staple them!)
  • Vary your action verbs. Each bullet should start with an action verb, and ideally they'd all be different although sometimes it's hard. If you have to have two that are the same, be sure they're separated by a few lines. They should be present tense for your current job, past for previous jobs.
  • Knowledge of Word, Excel, and Outlook is assumed. But you should list "knowledge of Outlook, including Publisher, Power Point, and Access" if you have that, as those 3 programs aren't as widely used, but they're certainly needed. Don't worry if you don't have a ton of programs to list here, as most companies use proprietary software that doesn't transfer from one company to another, so they're used to some training.
  • Be specific. If you wrote for the student newspaper tell me how often it's published, how many articles you wrote, and what the circulation is. If you were social chair for your sorority, tell me how many members you have, and what your budget was.
  • Try different fonts. Don't just use Ariel or Times New Roman. In fact, you might use more than one. I use a serif font for my headers, and a sans-serif font for my body. A sans-serif font is easier to read at a smaller size. A serif is the little tails and curls on the tops and bottoms of letters in fonts such as Times New Roman, Garamond, and Bookman. Sans-serif fonts don't have those tails, such as Ariel, Verdana, and Calibri.
    • Use colored paper or fonts. That's a bad way to stand out from the crowd.
    • Think that for an entry-level job you have enough pertinent previous experience to merit a résumé that is more than one page. You do not. One page is all you get.
    • Say that you have writing experience. That is assumed.
    • List foreign languages you aren't fluent in, particularly if you don't plan to use a language in your career (such as looking for books in translation for publication).
    • Personally, I hate an Objective. You can use it, but be sure it isn't pushing relevant information off of your résumé. If you do an Objective and it states any experience you plan to utilize in your desired job, that experience had better be obviously reflected in the body of your résumé.
    • Use the same résumé for every job application. You should tailor each one specifically. Be sure that as many of the points in the job listing are covered as possible (and the rest are covered in your cover letter.)

      • When it is all done, and has passed through many, many proofreads, convert it to a pdf. That way you don't have to worry about anything getting accidentally deleted, or the recipient being able to reveal changes or anything like that.

        I always include my references list as a third page when I apply. It shows I'm more than happy to have my references checked, plus by now I have some people who are fairly impressive in the industry listed. But if you are entry-level, don't be afraid to have a professor on your list, and maybe another officer from your sorority, or a colleague from the honor council or Union Board. You should never list your direct supervisor unless they have left the company. Not only will you have to list them on the application so it's a waste to list them twice, but legally they can only state that yes you worked there, between these dates, and no you weren't fired for cause. So don't list them. Always ask your references if it's okay to list them. Let them know if you go back on the job market so they're not surprised by a call. Also think about who you list - be sure they're people who if they're surprised, aren't likely to flail and say anything that comes to mind. You want people who are good on their feet, tactful, and who truly respect you and your work. They absolutely can be from other departments.

        The fall is ideal for job hunting. In the spring there are the maximum number of job lookers competing with you, but in the fall a lot of people quit to go to grad school so there are more openings.

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