10 Basic Tips for Crafting an Awesome Resume

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resumewritingtipsAs New Year’s resolutions and the accompanying inspiration begin to fade, now is a great time to refocus on your goals and update your resume to make sure it’s ready to send off at a moment’s notice. Whether you’ve resolved to advance your career in 2015, are applying to a master’s or doctorate program, or plan to submit scholarship applications, you’ll need a resume that professionally and effectively displays your qualifications and accomplishments.

As a hiring manager in a former life, I’ve seen my fair share of resumes—both good and bad. I have compiled some general guidelines to help you create a polished, professional, and well-formatted resume and while I know there are exceptions to some of these suggestions, they hold true for most situations. Some may seem pretty basic but at the very least I hope they serve as a helpful reminder of small things you can do to make a big impact and land an interview.

We’ll break this up into multiple posts based on difficulty level and start with the basics:

  1. Use an easy-to-read font
    Make it as easy as possible on the person reviewing your resume to focus on content. Serif fonts, those with lines at the end of the letters, are easier to read or skim than those of the sans serif variety. (Think Comic Sans. Also, please do me a favor and never use Comic Sans for any professional communication ever.) It’s also best to keep your font at 10 or 12–anything smaller is too hard to read and anything larger takes away from the document’s professionalism.
  2. Use a professional e-mail address
    And never use your current work e-mail when job searching. This one sounds extremely basic (because it is), but trust me, it happens. Identifying numbers such as birthdays or birth years (janedoe1982), your musical preferences (ACDClover), and relationship status (jessesgirl) should also be avoided. Your safest bet is your first name or initial and last name in some format.
  3. Remove “references available upon request” (or actual references)
    Anyone reviewing a resume will know that they can ask you for that information if they want it. Every line on a resume is valuable to display what a great fit you are for the position and company so using space for this isn’t the best idea. Plus, it’s best to let references know to expect a call from someone so they can be prepared to answer questions about you. This gives you the opportunity to touch base with them rather than them getting the request from a company out of the blue.
  4. Edit. Everything.
    As many times as possible and with help from as many people as you can find. Sometimes reading and rereading what you’ve written can cause you to glaze over mistakes so another set of eyes is always helpful. My favorite way to find typos is to paste the text into Google Translate. The site will read it back to you so you can hear any errors you may have missed while reading.

    Aside from spelling and grammatical errors, having multiple people proof your resume allows them to provide feedback on things that make perfect sense to you but aren’t as clear to someone outside your industry. You never know whether the person reading your resume has a background in the technical aspects of the job or if they are a human resource professional screening out unqualified candidates. You don’t want a miscommunication to cost you the opportunity for an interview.

  1. Save it properly
    Save your resume as a PDF to preserve your carefully crafted formatting and ensure it looks professional. It’s best to save the file as LastName_FirstName_Resume to make it easy on the reader. It can be frustrating to get hundreds of files simply labeled “resume” or “updated_resume.”
  2. One page v. two
    The ideal length of a resume has been a hotly debated issue for years—you know, for people that are into debating that kind of thing—and there’s no clear cut rule either way. My thoughts on the matter are if you have the relevant experience to fill two pages, go for it. If, however, you put everything you want to say on your resume and it comes to a page and a half, reword it and cut down the information to fit on one page. No one wants to read through a bunch of fluff and it can make you seem self-important to have a little bit of experience take up a lot of space. Which leads me to my next point…
  3. Limit the number of bullets per job
    There’s a lot to be said about being concise and if you have too much information there’s a good chance the reader won’t get to the good stuff. Even if you did a billion things, it’s possible to convey that by combining important duties into a few bullets. Quantifying your contribution to the company or a specific project (which we’ll cover in a future post) helps tremendously with this.
  4. When listing software, certifications, or industry-specific skills, write out what acronyms stand for
    This helps hiring managers who aren’t as familiar with these terms and makes your more searchable in databases. If someone searches for the full phrase and you only have the acronym listed or vice versa, you may not pull up in the search and have just missed out on an opportunity to wow someone.
  5. Remove orphan words
    Orphan words are the ones that don’t quite fit and take up an entire line with a tiny word. As I mentioned earlier, every line is important so if you can add one more bullet by rewording and avoiding an orphan you’ll get more bang for your resume buck.
  6. Nix the objective
    “A go-getter looking to obtain a position with your well-established organization that will utilize my education, organizational skills, and work experience for a mutually beneficial working relationship.” While an objective may change a little, most of them are so generic and don’t add any true value.

    A much better idea is a summary of qualifications in which you outline several of your relevant skills. (Hint: Go through the job description and pull out a few key words for skills you possess.) Since this is at the top of the page, it will catch the reader’s attention and make them more likely to read through the rest of your qualifications.

    I’m also a strong believer in submitting a well-crafted cover letter every single time you submit your resume somewhere…but that’s a whole different topic. With one or both of those things in place of an objective, you’ll get your qualifications across in a much better way.

Keep an eye out for more in-depth tips and ideas in the next couple of weeks on the blog!

What suggestions do you have for polished resumes? What do you struggle with and want more advice on when it comes to submitting job or scholarship applications?

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It’s Not About the End Goal

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Some might argue there’s an errant word in this blog post title. “It’s ALWAYS about the end goal!” I’ll concede that many projects require an intense focus on the end result in order to achieve the expected result. And I agree wholeheartedly that results matter. But let’s talk about process. Two things converged that brought this to mind.

The first wasn’t so much one thing but a series of conversations with students with a common theme: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Some students are blessed with this driving sense of purpose; they know they are going to be an analyst working in corporate finance, or a marketing person working in the fashion industry. Others are less certain about their path, and this (understandably) can be the source of some anxiety and frustration.

The second thing that precipitated this post was an article on another blog, BuiltLean, by Marc Perry. (unpaid endorsement: Marc is a Yale-educated fitness guy with a knack for writing.) In this article, Marc interviewed a woman who had some very astute observations:

“Charles Staley once said, ‘focus on your effort, not the outcome.’ The effort is what you do. The outcome is the byproduct of what you do. So if you fall in love with doing…then the results will come.  Shift your perspective and make your main goal the quality and quantity of effort you put in. Try to become a person who enjoys the effort.”

I’ve chopped up that quote for space (you can read the whole thing here). Dani Shugart, isn’t talking about career advice but she might as well be. Focus on the effort. Often, MBA students get fixated on this idea that there is one dream job out there and they just have to find it. What if, instead, we focused on doing the right things and then trusted that the effort would yield the results we wanted? Something to think about when the end goal isn’t always as clear as we’d like it to be.

McCoy MBA students partner with City of Round Rock

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McCoy MBA students partner with City of Round Rock

During the spring (2014) semester many of our MBA students in the Capstone class divided into teams to work with representatives from the City of Round Rock, the City of Georgetown, and Rodeo Austin on consulting projects. By all accounts this was a great experience for everyone involved. Click on the link above for an an article in the American Statesman which details the Round Rock project.

TXST Team to Present at Rice Univ. Business Plan Competition

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We are so proud to announce that McCoy MBA student Lisa Taylor is headed to Rice University next month to compete in their annual Business Plan Competition! . Lisa was asked to join a team which includes Texas State Ph.D. and MFA students. Their team was selected from more than 500 other university teams to be one of 42 finalists. They will present in Houston in front of 250 judges which include venture capitalists and other investors for more than $1 million in prize money. You can read more about the competition here:

http://alliance.rice.edu/rbpc.aspx

and more about the company–SioTeX–here:

http://istart.org/startup-idea/green-materials-energy/siotex-corporation/20044

We know McCoy MBA students are doing wonderful things, both within the program and in industry, but to see Texas State alongside schools like Yale, Harvard, and MIT really demonstrates  the caliber of the people who choose the McCoy MBA program for their graduate business education. We wish Lisa and the SioTeX team all the best at the Rice competition.

Rest and your work

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This week is spring break. In the world of a professional MBA program that only means a partial break–from class–for the majority of our students who are working full-time jobs while attending graduate school.

But even if the break is just from class, it’s appreciated. There’s a lot to be said for the impact rest has on your work, and on your life a whole.  I stumbled upon this interesting article by Tony Schwartz on The New York Times website:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/relax-youll-be-more-productive.html?_r=0

The results of some of his studies are compelling, but really they only serve to reinforce what we already know. Which is: we’re better at everything when we’re rested and renewed. The problem, of course, is that there’s no time for rest! So we work longer to try and stay caught up (or to try and catch up), and in doing so we get less rest, which means we are less efficient and effective, which means we work more… We’ve all been there.

Slowing down can seem counter-productive. But it is necessary if we want to perform at our peak. If you’re reading this during spring break, spend at least some of your vacant class time not getting caught up, but on relaxing. If you’re reading this (or the above-mentioned article) some other time, try and carve out some time to decompress. Be purposeful about it. The results might just surprise you.

Interview Tips: Part 2 of 2

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In Part 1 we talked a little bit about examining your goals and objectives prior to applying for a job. I’m a firm believer that an interview for a job you are passionate about is an inherently good interview; your excitement will be contagious and you’re likely to stand out among others who are just looking for a job.

Beyond that, what are some specific interview tips that you can think about/use before your next one? This is by no means an all-encompassing list, but rather some things that stand out in my mind from years of interviewing and hiring for a variety of positions.

Be on time: Nothing starts you off on the wrong foot like being late to the interview. That being said, we all know life happens. If, in spite of your best efforts, you get stuck in traffic or have a flat tire, just make the call and let your potential employer know. Offer to reschedule, but at least let them know you’re running late. That little step speaks volumes about you as a responsible person, and I don’t think it’s a deal-killer.

Be prepared: Have a copy of your resume, business cards, a portfolio/work examples if that’s appropriate. If you are winging it, it will show.

Turn off your phone: Better yet- leave it in your car.

What to wear: This has everything to do with being prepared. The time to go buy a suit is not the day before your interview. Start acting like a professional long before you have to and have some business wardrobe basics in your closet in advance of your interview. If you want to buy a new shirt or tie or blouse especially for an interview I think that’s fine, but try it on the day before. Make sure you are comfortable in whatever you decide to wear. I once saw a price tag still affixed to a suit in the middle of an interview. Not good.

What not to wear: Are you interviewing for a job where the company dress code is casual? Awesome. Overdress for the interview. Also, be very careful with cologne/perfume. A little goes a long way. Ladies: be very careful with necklines and skirt lengths. Sometimes an outfit can be “business” but inappropriate for an interview. A good rule of thumb for me is: If anything about your outfit is distracting (tie, cut, length, color) you’ve blown it. Err on the side of being conservative.

“But I need to show my style!”: Again I’ll say: If anything about your appearance is distracting, you’ve blown it. Differentiate yourself through your eye contact, your precise articulation, your direct answers and kind smile. Don’t try to do it via a blue hair or crazy earrings. You are here to sell someone on the fact that you can do a job, add value to their company and be a great cultural fit. Focus on that and that alone.

Know thy interviewer: Spend an hour or so researching the company. Know some hard facts and figures going into the interview. If you are asked “Why do you want to work here?” be able to respond not only with your skillsets, but how those mesh with the goals and objectives of the company.

Have some good questions: Most interviews will, at some point, include the question of: Do you have any questions for us/about this job? Again, be prepared. Have 2-3 good, solid questions. If you sit there like a bump on a log, or if you have three pages of questions in a legal pad (I’ve seen that, too!), I don’t think you’re doing yourself any favors.

Address the pain points: Have you had 4 jobs in 2 years? Are you a fresh graduate without much work experience? Whatever bothers you is likely something your interviewer is wondering about, too, whether they bring it up or not. My advise is: own it. Tell them explicitly why you [fill in the blank]. It shows that you are self-aware and will clear up any misconceptions they might have.

Follow up with a hand-written note: I suppose any follow up is good, but emails are a dime a dozen (or hundred, or thousand). A concise, hand-written note on nice stationary tells your interviewer a lot about you. And the majority of interviewees won’t do this. It’s a nice touch, a wonderful differentiator, and the right thing to do.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

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That’s not just the title of a great song, it’s a commonly asked question. More specifically: it’s a really good question that we commonly receive from undergraduate students who are faced with the options of continuing their education in graduate school or going out into the workplace. After many, many conversations on this topic here are my thoughts:

Continuing to Graduate School – Pros

Momentum: As an undergraduate student, you have a certain “momentum”, let’s call it, in terms of being used to the academic environment. Studying, taking tests, group work- all of this is familiar and works to your advantage as you transition into graduate school.
Simplicity: Not to say your life isn’t complex at this point, but it’s likely you don’t have a gaggle of kids, a mortgage, a job that demands travel, that sort of thing. Not that graduate school is easy but it is certainly easier to manage in the absence of these things.
TVM (Time Value of Money): You are likely to make considerably more with an MBA than without. Plain and simple. The more years you have it as a credential, the longer you will be earning a higher salary.
Program Cost: At Texas State we have a very affordable MBA program, and while it’s likely to stay that way history shows us it consistently ticks up every year. The sooner you complete your degree, the less you are going to pay for it (sidenote: I understand that this is oversimplified given the impact of inflation, but you get the point)

Continuing to Graduate School – Cons
Burnout: Some students have, at the end of their undergraduate experience, had their fill of school. At least for now. The idea of continuing on to a graduate degree is stomach-turning. 
Perspective: A 22-year old undergraduate lacks the perspective of a 27-year old who has spent some time in the workplace. This isn’t good or bad, right or wrong- it’s just the way it is. I think you could argue that the graduate student with some work experience has a more valuable MBA experience as a whole.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. And ultimately, the choice is going to left up to the individual to make; there is no right or wrong answer.

I will say that a part-time program–such as the one we run here at McCoy–offers the best of both worlds. A recent graduate can maintain their momentum and not run the risk of not returning to school for a graduate degree. At the same time, they have the ability to work full-time which provides not only a source of income but an incredibly valuable perspective that makes graduate school that much more meaningful. It also can offer the benefit of tuition reimbursement if that is something offered by the employer. 

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