Teaching How to Write a Resume

Today I made a crack with my class about my teaching over the last semester. We’d just finished a very detailed examination of two different resume types, and I was asking if they had any questions, and they said, “No.”

“Was it all clear?”

“Very clear!” a few of them said.

When I quipped, “First time all semester, I was finally clear!” A few of them laughed just a little too hard at that. However, it was a particularly good lesson. I handed out two resumes, one using the Experience-Based format, and the other using the Skills-Based format. We discussed the differences, and the reasons why one would choose one or the other style (most students agreed with my assessment that the Skills-based format would be best for themselves). I thought I’d share the materials, and the basis of the lecture, here.

The resumes were actually recycled, one of the first teaching materials I’ve gotten a chance to recycle from the past — which might explain the added lucidity of the lecture! In fact, I was quite please with the reaction I got from the resumes: people seemed to get the joke, which consisted of a pair of resumes for a Polish Dragon-Slayer at two stages in his life: the Skills-Based resume is from right after his graduation from his MA program and with little experience, at which point he’s looking for an academic position or, hell, even a job dragon-slaying. Then there’s the Experience-Based resume where he’s finished PhD studies and held a post as director of Dragonic Sciences studies at the University of Arcane Knowledge in Berlin for several years.

I’m posting them here, and thinking of also uploading them to the ESL/EFL Wiki for use. But I need to include a note about the built-in errors that exist in these resumes. There are two that I managed to notice and remember during my lecture, so I’ll outline what the two resumes are and which error is useful to have students find in each one.

First is the Experience-Based Resume. It’s useful to show students this one first so they have a better idea of why the Skills-Based Resume is better for them. I talk about how the jobs are listed (like everything on a good resume) in reverse chronological order, and how the consistency (in, for example, listing all duties under the jobs using verbs in the same form, whether a gerund or past tense). After noting the importance of consistency, I ask them to find the two differences that make the “Freelance Dragonslayer” section different, and to explain which one is acceptable.

For the record, the two differences are that there’s no place of employment, which is acceptable, and that one of the bullet-points ends in a period, which is inconsistent and should be corrected.

Then we look through the rest of the resume, and I note how font size and italics draw readers’ attention this way or that way — how italics off to the side tend to attract less attention, and big bold fonts to the left and to the center tend to attract more attention.

Then we move on to the second resume, which is the Skills-Based Resume. I ask them to note the differences between it and the Experience-Based example, and then we spend a good chunk of time looking at the section where the Skills and Abilities are described. We talk about categories, and how to generate them — I recommend that students first generate a list of skills they have from various jobs and hobbies they’ve had and clubs in which they’ve participated in the past. If there’s enough time, you could have them work at it in groups or even individually: first, have them list their work experience, their hobbies, clubs they’ve been in, and so on. Next, they should generate a list of skills involved in each.

Today in class, the girl who we used as an example had worked as a waitress in a restaurant and as a telemarketer. (She agreed that telemarketers are bad, bad people.) We listed some potential categories, and then when we hit a wall, I noted that it’s in fact better to come up with a list of skills and thereafter generate the categories. This also helps to prevent the generation of a “Miscellaneous Skills” category. Isaac’s “Magical and Accounting Skills” section is a bit of a reach, but it’s still better than “Miscellaneous Skills” or “Other Skills”. I also noted a rough rule of thumb that seems to serve well, which is that 3 or 4 categories and 3 or 4 bullet points under each seems to be a good number. 5 or more seems excessive, and 2 or fewer seems too thin. I noted how related skills can be combined or mentioned in conjunction in one line, to reduce the number of bulletpoints when necessary.

I then noted that the skimpy “Work Experience” section was less conspicuous, and less damaging, placed after all that good stuff. We discussed ordering, and how Education came first partly because it’s conventional to do so, and partly because for a new graduate, one’s education often is one’s biggest asset. I added that other information could be included in the education section, such as in a box to the side — a good place for a TOEIC score or other certifications of a non-academic type, or records of scholarships that one might have received.

Then we had our first serious look at the “Other Activities” section. I told them first off that this was optional, and that only points that helped either to pique interest in a potential employer, or helped portray them in a good light in terms of their abilities — things not mentioned in the other sections — ought to be included. Examples: “I have acted in three Ero movies” should not be included. “I have sung in an a cappella choir” might be useful, in showing one’s discipline, ability to work as part of a team, and courage as a performer. I had students then look at the “Other Activities” section and choose something to cut. Most of them choose the last point — the liking for classical music and great literature — and I agree that it’s a good choice, but other possibilities might work too, if they’re supported.

Then I end the lecture reminding students of what I brought up at the beginning: that one has to consider one’s audience, that it’s not about showing all your good points but about showing those pertinent good points that employers will probably be interested in, and that simplicity, careful attention, and consistency are qualities that can be shown implicitly by careful writing, editing, proofreading, and layout work while making a resume. We talk a little more about font usage, font sizing, and use of effects like italics and bold text, as well as special spacing tricks.

Students can then start working on their resumes and bring in a draft copy for the next class, for peer (and teacher) review and feedback. (We’re not doing that this week since everyone’s too anxious about final exams, and since they mostly just wanted a lecture on the subject, but normally I would have them do up the resumes and submit them.)

Well, that’s that. I think I’ll post the resumes here in a single file. If you use them or find them useful, please do leave a comment here. They may also appear on the ESL/EFL Wiki, though I may not get around to it for a while.

4 thoughts on “Teaching How to Write a Resume

  1. Hi Gord, I can’t seem to get that attachment to display the characters; do I have to change the encoding, or convert the file from something else? If I have to change the encoding, which Korean version should I use?

  2. That should be fixed. For some reason when OpenOffice exports PDF files in windows, it doesn’t add the file extension; I’ve fixed it. You can get the file to work if you change the extension for the file to PDF.

  3. Gord,

    That sounds like a really great lesson and I do hope you contribute it to the wiki. I imagine that won’t be until you finish your workshop this summer though.

    Thanks for sharing.

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