It’s that time of year when I am inundated with a stack of nicely formatted lists of credentials, often slipped into plastic-bound report covers or printed on some stronger-than-usual cardstock with an elegant parchment appearance in hopes that they will somehow impress me more than the other competing profiles. Increasingly, though, these résumés are being submitted digitally, and all too often, they have a redundant appearance of the mediocrity for which our profession is all too often criticized.
In an effort to provide a more interesting endeavor for myself in reviewing these sometimes painfully boring documents, I would like to provide my ten tips for improving résumés. Understand that not all résumé recipients may have the same expectations; it is especially important to try to get to know the prospective employer or employers before writing any résumé that is likely to gain his or her attention.
My 10 tips for writing résumés:
- If you are submitting your résumé through an online application service or attaching it as a digital document to some form of communication, please name the file something other than “Resume.pdf.” Though I appreciate the .pdf format, the generic “resume” does not set it apart from others. Granted, it would be obnoxious if every candidate for a position submitted a file with superfluous modifiers like “Rachelsreallyawesomeresume.docx” or with some odd title like “MyDogAteMyResume.pdf,” but including your first initial and last name or other identifying characteristics helps when sorting through numerous files with similar names. Two other possible additions that may appear in the file name are the identifier for the school or date for which the interest is expressed. This subtly suggests that the résumé has been recently updated or designed for this particular submission. My résumé file name might be “PCSS_TFUHRMAN_RESUME.pdf” or “TFuhrman_Resume_2017.pdf.”
- Please do not mistakenly use the word “lead” in place of what should be “led.” If you led an activity, please demonstrate your effective leadership by using the correct homophone. It is difficult to lead very effectively if you have too much lead in your résumé. Homophones are sly and often fly under the radar of most spell-checkers, so watch for these tricky little words. They can persuade a prospective employer to consider other applicants more seriously when it comes to other similar qualifications.
- Don’t let your font choice and résumé template be more impressive than your credentials. Whether the résumé was Pinterest-inspired or a quick choice from a set of Google Doc template choices online doesn’t have much bearing on whether I intend to interview a candidate. Instead, the substance should be in the quality of the credentials and the diversity of experience noted in the words of the résumé.
- Include an unique experience or educational element. For some, this is more readily available than for others. Perhaps, you had an opportunity to serve as a missionary in a remote part of Africa or overcame what seemed the insurmountable conditions of poverty to be the first college-educated member of your family. Keep in mind that I am hoping to invite a person to become a part of our school family, not to simply enlist a conglomeration of listed qualifications to fill a void intended for a robot. Our experiences shape who we are as educators, and significant experiences contribute to significant learning, both personally and professionally.
- Give me an indicator that you have some tech savvy. Some of the greatest educators I have known have used very little digital technology in their practices, but they have also been very willing and receptive to incorporating technology to better meet the needs of their learners. Here’s an idea: include a QR code link to a Youtube video about you or a portfolio or website you have designed. Even better, link a Google Form asking for feedback, either about your résumé or your candidacy, in general. Include questions like, “What most impressed you about my résumé?” or “What types of professional experiences would you like to see that are not currently on my résumé?” If you include this on all résumés, you may receive some valuable insights while impressing prospective employers with both your affinity for using technology and your interest in getting meaningful feedback.
- Know my school. Certain data is available on the state’s public report card, but do as much as you can to learn about our school and whom it serves. As I indicated before, we consider our school a family, and if you want to be part of the family, make sure you know with whom you are intending to get into a relationship. If you have opportunity to volunteer or get temporary experience at our school, this will help you to better understand who we are and whether you want to be a part of it (understanding that every family has changing dynamics, and we are always interested in changing in ways that will better serve our students). If you minored in Spanish or have done extensive study of Ruby Payne’s poverty research or Eric Jensen’s brain-based research, you might want to mention it in your résumé.
- Find a place to include titles of your most valuable reading selections or what you plan to study next. Just as knowing my school would help you to know what we value, it is important for me as a future employer to know what you value in educational research and study. Noted membership in an organization or attendance at a conference may not tell me nearly as much about your views related to education as your most powerful book studies, video playlists, or Facebook groups. Be authentic, and reveal what drives you as an educator. Though a résumé doesn’t always offer a lot of room for this, be clever in letting me know what drives you as an educator and in what you are most willing to invest your time and energy. I am convinced that some of the most powerful learning experiences have no GPA attached to them, so it is important to include something beyond the Dean’s List distinctions.
- If appropriate, find a place to include your sense of humor in your résumé. Ultimately, this has the potential to set a tone for collegiality or completely undermine it, so be careful not to offend or inadvertently confuse a potential employer. I like to think I have a healthy sense of humor that makes life more enjoyable (though some of my colleagues may question this self-evaluation). This is a risk that may not work for everyone, but if I can identify a common sense of humor with a prospective candidate, I am confident that both my colleagues and students will appreciate the authenticity of a person who can appreciate some of the comical elements of life in spite of the many stressors increasingly associated with education.
- Give me food for thought. I love brain-based teaching practices and research (as well as many other innovative and emerging educational topics) and love to learn something new every day. Find a creative way to teach me something with your résumé. This may require a little bit of effort to guess at something that I don’t know (though I can assure you that there is plenty), but if it challenges and engages me, I will have a hard time not looking at your résumé again.
- Finally, proofread your résumé, and have an honest friend read it. Not all principals and prospective employers are former high school English teachers, but pretend that they are. If I read a résumé with too many grammatical errors or odd choices of words, remind yourself that I am looking at this as the work of a person who will educate my students. If he or she is not attentive enough to detail in a representation of his or her skills and qualifications in a document for which the author had plenty of opportunity for revision and refinement, how will this person likely perform in a classroom where decisions must be made spontaneously and with accuracy every day? I would suggest to anyone submitting a résumé to read it to someone whom he or she trusts as a person who will provide honest feedback and ask the person to ask an array of questions related to what you have included on your résumé. The more opportunity you have to speak about and process what you have written, the more you will recognize areas for revision and determine whether the document really represents you well.
As I indicated early in this post, I am no definitive expert on this topic, but I am somewhat experienced in the matter of examining and choosing résumés for consideration of applicants for a position, extending all the way back to my senior year in high school. Having reviewed and mentally revised hundreds of résumés, I am looking for a sense of newness and authenticity that will ease the pain of filing through page after page of the same look and feel of résumés. Résumés should better represent the candidates and provide more of a story than a timeline. If I want to attract and contribute to high-quality, dynamic people as a part of my school family, I feel it is important to share these expectations and hope that those who consider these suggestions in their résumés will offer a more colorful depiction of people with whom I want to spend my working days.