By Allison McWilliams (’95), Ph.D., Assistant VP, Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
One of the most important documents that you will create in your post-college life is a professional resume. Your resume, both online and in print, is the story that you tell about yourself: who you are, what you can do, and where you are headed. Your job with your professional resume is to demonstrate, through your experiences and education, how you are progressively building skills and how you have been able to apply them to achieve results. You need to tell your story, effectively and strategically.
The nice thing about a professional resume versus a college resume is you are no longer limited to the one-page rule. But that does not give you license to be sloppy with it. And, just like in college, you may need to tailor your resume to meet the specific criteria of different positions. Depending on what the role is looking for, you might choose to focus on different aspects of different projects; for example, your ability to grow and lead teams, your ability to manage projects, your ability to generate revenue and manage budgets. What is the story you need to tell about yourself to this employer? Critically examine the job description’s duties or essential functions and qualifications sections for insight into how to answer this question.
Strategically telling your story also means it’s time to let go of some activities from your resume. In most cases, people will be far more interested in your most recent professional experiences since you graduated. And these include volunteer experiences. Think about how your volunteer experiences (what you would have called extra-curricular experiences in college) have helped you to develop leadership, interpersonal communication, organizational, or other skills. Are there skills or experience gaps that you are missing? Volunteer activities can be a great way to fill those gaps, in addition to your direct work experience.
Generally speaking, the sections you should include on a professional resume are:
It should be noted, if you are applying for academic (faculty) jobs, then a very different sort of CV, which is focused primarily on teaching and research experience, is required and should be created for those positions. Additionally, certain fields like the arts require very specific resumes or portfolios that do not align with the basic professional outline presented above. In all cases, seek out guidance from mentors or others working in the field to make sure you are presenting yourself in the manner that is most appropriate to that field.
As you grow your career, your professional resume will continue to grow, and over time some things towards the beginning of your career may start to drop off, or you may start to shorten the descriptor statements. People are always going to be most interested in what you have been doing most recently. And that is why you can never stop building your skills and abilities and seeking out experiences that challenge you, help you to learn and to grow, and build the story of your life.