The Resume: Your Key to Employment

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Professional Development - Tips to Build Your Career

The Resume: Your Key to Employment


Kerry Kidwell-Slak, Assistant Director, Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma

Whether you are seeking a part-time job, undergraduate research position, summer job, or a full-time career, most prospective employers are going to want to see a resume. A resume is a short summary of your most relevant qualifications for a particular employment opportunity. Notice that there are a few important qualifying words in that definition. Let’s break them down:

Short: For most undergraduates, your resume should be one single side of a piece of paper. A typical employer is going to spend less than 30 seconds looking at it and making their first impression of you. That means you need to focus your resume, not overload a hiring manager with unnecessary words. Also, be selective and consistent with your use of text formatting—no need for five fonts or multiple styles of bullet points.

Most relevant: A resume is not a broad, divergent x-ray beam showing everything you’ve ever done. Think of it more like a pinpoint laser—narrowly focused on communicating those qualifications that highlight your potential value to an employer. Pick and choose the skills and experiences that paint the best picture of you for the reader. For example, if you are applying for a job as an outreach coordinator at a science center, you may not want to use a precious two lines listing all the programming languages you know, but rather describe the outcomes of the amazing eclipse event you coordinated (i.e., “Recruited, trained, and coordinated 50 student volunteers for a solar eclipse outreach event that attracted 750 elementary school students”). Save the programming languages for that intriguing software job. Similarly, when discussing your research, don’t simply restate your research question. Discuss what your contributions were to the project and how you made an impact (e.g., “Fabricated superconducting films and tested their mechanical properties using a range of instrumentation”).

Particular: You should have a unique resume for each employment opportunity you are seeking. This can’t be overstated enough. What someone hiring for an entry-level analyst position is looking for is very different from what someone hiring for a research assistant is targeting. Read job descriptions carefully before you begin to write so you know what to include in your document. By having only one resume that you think everyone will be interested in, you are not making the most of the opportunity a resume provides. Even at a large event like a career fair, research the types of jobs you think you might encounter in advance and be ready with different versions to support different employers’ needs.

With these tips in mind, start seeking out job advertisements that interest you, recall your experiences that seem to fit, and begin to write! Don’t worry if your first draft runs long, just put it all on paper. You can edit and refine later. Your campus career services office can be a great partner in this effort. They have worked with thousands of students in your situation and can give you guidance. Also think about others whose opinions you respect and ask them to give you feedback—this may be your faculty advisor, SPS mentor, past supervisor, or other professionals in your network. Ultimately, though, the document is yours alone, so consider their opinions, but make sure the final product is something you are comfortable with and represents you accurately.

Your resume is the first step in your relationship with an employer. By following this advice, you will hopefully get them excited about your qualifications and experience and land an opportunity to interview. //

For more information on resumEs and the job search process, check out the SPS Career Pathways Project:
Your chapter can order interactive Career Toolbox workbooks to guide you through the job search process and lead to employment success!

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