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?


Graduate Admissions Process: Part 3

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typingThere is a certain irony in writing four  lengthy posts–particularly the last one about the GMAT/GRE–about an admissions process that we refer to as “simple.” But I hope you find this information helpful. In this post we’ll discuss the requirement of a current resume, letters of recommendation and essays.

Your resume is kind of a no-brainer. If you are a working professional with an updated resume you should be able to submit it as-is. If you’re at the start of your career and don’t have one, or don’t like the one you have, you’ll need to spend some time creating a quality document. All standard business rules/best practices apply, and only in rare cases should a resume be more than a page or two.

You are also required to submit two letters of recommendation. They should be completed on this form and submitted directly from the author to the graduate college. They cannot be uploaded electronically; they need to be sent in as per the instructions. A common question is, “Who should I get to write the letters?” My answer is: Someone who knows you, is credible, and can speak to your likelihood of success in business school. If you are a recent graduate it might be former professors. If you are a seasoned professional it might be former supervisors or co-workers. There is no secret formula on this; you are simply trying to provide a third-party take on you as a candidate for the graduate business program. Another question we often get is, “Can I submit more than two letters?” The answer is no. Because of the volume of applicants more than two letters is not only unnecessary, it can (inadvertently) indicate that you aren’t following instructions.

Two essays are also required of every candidate. The topics are semester-specific and can be found here. The question we most often field related to the essays are, “How long should they be?” There is no rule on this, but generally speaking one page is maybe too short and anything more than about 2-3 pages is too long. I fully realize this is vague, and that drives some people nuts. 🙂 That’s by design; we want to see what you provide. Keep in mind that content is important but so is formatting (margins, font choice, etc.), grammar and punctuation.

Your resume, essays and optional cover letter can be submitted online (click here for the link) or you can also mail them directly to the Graduate College:

The Graduate College
Texas State University
601 University Drive
280 J.C. Kellam Administration Building
San Marcos, TX 78666

I’ll discuss this more in the final post, but I want to mention something that’s very important: In completing the components of your application it is, perhaps, easy to approach the individual components, complete them and then scratch them off your list. And that’s fine.But keep in mind that eventually all these items are assembled into a single, physical packet that will (literally) be in the hands of each member of the review committee. With that in mind I recommend that you create a cohesive application that shows attention to detail. The last thing you want is a hodge-podge of documents that make the committee member wonder why fonts don’t match, etc.

In the final post in this series I’ll discuss the optional cover letter, and what happens after your application is complete. I’ll also touch on some subtle things you can do to make your application stand out.

Graduate Admissions Process: Part 2

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10-GMAT-GREIn Part 1 of this little series we talked about the ApplyTexas website, transcripts and how the Graduate College is the central intake point for all your materials when apply to grad school at Texas State. In this post we will discuss the GMAT and GRE. I had originally planned to include a discussion of your resume but this post is long as it is. We’ll save your resume for the next one.

While the application process as a whole is pretty straightforward, the biggest hurdle–for most students–is the GMAT or GRE. Is it easy? No, and it’s not designed to be. But it’s completely manageable and we see fantastic scores quite often (but we also see a lot of bad ones!). Lets talk about the GMAT first.

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a proprietary exam owned and administered by Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC- just not the GMAC you usually hear about!). It’s a computer-based exam that tests your verbal, quantitative, writing, reading and analytical skills. There’s a great Wikipedia article on it here that I won’t attempt to replicate. In a nutshell: the GMAT is  a standardized test that has long been the gold standard for graduate business schools, much like the LSAT is used for law school and the MCAT is used for medical school. The test is about three hours in duration and costs $250 (as of this writing). It must be taken at an approved GMAT testing center and your scores are automatically reported to the school(s) that you specify.

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is also a proprietary exam which is owned and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is also a computer-based exam that tests essentially the same things that the GMAT does. You can find the Wikipedia article here and it’s chock-full of good information. For many years the GRE was used as the admissions test for non-professional graduate programs, however, in the past few years the GRE has been modified so that it’s very similar in content to the GMAT. As such, many business schools have begun to accept either GMAT or the GRE. In February 2013 we completed our own evaluation of the exam and began accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT.

The GRE exam is approximately four hours in duration and costs $180 (as of this writing). Like the GMAT, scores are reported electronically to the schools you specify.

“Great, great, that’s nice. Which one should I take?!”  🙂  That seems to be the $10,000 question that we get quite often and the answer is: It depends. Keep in mind that that tests have become very similar which is why we now accept either one. So it’s not as if you are going to make a wrong choice. Based on our experience and in talking to people who have taken both exams it seems that if you are stronger quantitatively you might do better on the GMAT, and if you are stronger verbally/analytically you might do better on the GRE (better relative to the other exam).

There is no preference given to the GMAT or GRE, so whichever one you choose is equally fine.

One thing the MBA program will instill in you is the importance of asking the right question. “Which test should I take?” really isn’t the right question (the answer is, “Either one is fine.”). The correct question, in my opinion is: “How should I prepare?” The answer to that question is: Diligently!

The system you choose is not as important as your commitment to serious preparation. The Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Manhattan consistently get good reviews from MBA students. You might choose a class, a tutor, an online course or a book. While a self-paced book is the most cost-effective prep method–and consistently yields great scores–the important thing is that you take your preparation for the test seriously. If you do, you are likely to get a really good score. If you do not, you are likely to score poorly.

The last point I’ll cover is the test score, because ultimately that’s what matters. Our average GMAT score for an admitted McCoy MBA student is 540. Because the GRE is new to us we don’t have any historical data, but using this tool from ETS we have calculated that a comparable GRE score is approximately 151 on each of the two sections. These are the baseline scores you should shoot for. If you score above that- awesome! If you score a little under, that’s ok- you should still apply. But your score needs to be competitive. Generally speaking, a GMAT score in the 500’s is competitive. A score in the 600’s is considered very good, and a score in the mid- to high-400s can still be competitive PROVIDED you have other attributes that make you a great candidate. For more information please give us a call.

Whew! That’s a lot of information! I hope this has been helpful. In the next installment we’ll talk about your resume, letters of recommendation and essays (all of those are far less involved than these two exams). In the fourth installment we’ll sum up by discussing the optional cover letter and the review/notification process. Stay tuned!

Graduate Admissions Process: Part 1

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The “Future Students” tab on our website has an entire section devoted to the admissions process. And while it is pretty straightforward some prospective students may find it helpful to discuss the different parts of the application process in more detail. In this post we’ll talk about the ApplyTexas online application and transcripts. We will also explain the Texas State Graduate College.

First things first: ApplyTexas is a website that allows you to apply to multiple universities and programs. Texas State utilizes this website and it’s how you apply to the university. The fee–as of this post–is $40 for US students and $90 for international students (those students who graduated from a non-US institution). The difference in the fee has to do with the conversion and/or interpretation of international transcripts.

Transcripts should be requested from any higher education institution that you have attended. This includes junior colleges, community colleges, colleges and universities. The only exception is if you have attended Texas State (or any of the name variants!): transcripts from our university are obtained automatically and you do not need to request them from the Texas State Registrar’s Office. Ideally you can get your school/college/university to send the transcript directly to the Graduate College, which is the intake point for all of your application documents. “But I opened my mailbox and they sent it to me!” No worries. Don’t open it and send it to the Graduate College in another envelope. Or hand-deliver it. As long as it’s sealed you’re fine.

Occasionally, prospective students will ask about dual-credit courses they took in high school. In terms of our application process you can just submit the transcript that originally captured that credit; you do not need to submit your high school transcripts to the Graduate College.

Speaking of the Graduate College, it’s worth explaining how Texas State is structured. The Graduate College is an independent college at Texas State but they do not offer any academic programs. Instead, they are the central intake point for all graduate applications across the entire university. They also serve as a clearinghouse for all graduate-related issues. Even though you are applying to McCoy, everything you submit goes directly to the Graduate College.

I hope this is helpful. In part 2 we’ll discuss the GMAT/GRE and your resume.

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