Alida Miranda-Wolff is a Chicago-based writer, advisor, marketer, and all-around problem-solver looking to make a difference one content strategy at a time. She has written for several online and print publications, and currently works guiding the communications strategy for the Midwest’s largest angel group, Hyde Park Angels.
When I started college, my resume was a mess. Overloaded with experiences that I couldn’t meaningfully discuss in an interview? Check. Disorganized visually? Check. Demonstrative of a general lack of understanding of what employers look for in candidates? Check, check, check.
But by my sophomore year, my university’s career services department was using my resume as an example to teach other students how to build theirs. So what changed?
Granted, I received invaluable feedback on formatting, language, and presentation from peers, professionals, and career services advisors. However, what changed my resume and my approach to applying for internships and jobs opportunities was a change an outlook. Sure, a resume is a place to present your best self, but it shouldn’t only be a laundry list of accomplishments. My first resume had no clear direction because I was too focused on cramming in every award, leadership experience, and challenging class. A good resume puts together a story about you. And the best stories are the ones that focus on real, detailed experiences.
Bottom line, to build a rock star resume, you need to start by finding opportunities to gain new experiences and skills. But how do you find those opportunities if your resume isn’t in shape?
1) Use All the Resources You’re Already Paying For From the Start
It may seem like overkill, but no matter where you go to school or where you are in your professional development, walk into your career services office as soon as you can. You have every reason to go – it’s covered in your tuition, easily accessible, and offers huge returns.
Think about it this way, in a typical 30-minute meeting with a career counselor, you’ll make a key career connection, get an honest evaluation of your resume, and suggestions for extracurricular activities, internships, and volunteer opportunities that are within reach. From there, you can continue building a relationship with career services that will lead to recommendations on improving your resume, updates on new opportunities for career exploration, and referrals for full-time jobs when the time comes.
2) Don’t Be Afraid to Diagram
Sometimes the hardest part of finding meaningful experiences to add to your resume is figuring out what is actually meaningful to you. That’s why I love diagrams; I can easily organize my thoughts in a way that shows me what I want professionally.
Building the diagram is simple. Take a sheet of paper and write out six headers:
• What I Have Liked In Work
• What I Have Not Liked In Work
• What I Want in Work
• What I Do Not Want in Work
• What I Am Good At
• What I Am Not Good At
Write out 5-10 bullet points under each header. When you’re finished, circle the most important bullet point from each category. It’ll give you a clear sense of what type of work you want to do, and most likely, in what industry.
If you’re still stumped, show your diagram to someone you trust and ask what kind of job comes to mind. Even if it doesn’t seem exactly right, you’ll have a great starting point for when you look for new opportunities.
3) Master the Art of the Informational Call
Have you ever heard the expression: ask for advice, get money; ask for money, get advice? Well, it applies to jobs, too. Once you decide what kind of job or internship you want, leverage your alumni directory, LinkedIn network, and warm career connections to set up 15 to 30-minute informational calls with professionals.
By expressing your interest and asking insightful questions, you’ll show them you’re strengths in a low-pressure setting. Chances are when they hear of a new, either at their business or one in a similar industry, you’ll come to mind. Even if you don’t get a job offer from your informational call, at the very least, you’ll walk away with more information about the job you want to pursue.
4) Customize Your Resume Early and Often
If you follow all of those steps, you’ll start landing opportunities to add to your resume. You’ll also get a lot of great advice from career services and the professionals in your network about structuring and writing your resume.
However, remember, the most important feature of a resume is that it’s specific. You should make a new resume for almost every opportunity you pursue, one that is tailored to the type of work and the job description. Recruiters and interviewers cannot think of you as the perfect candidate if you don’t lay it out for them.