We are in the midst of this series on Professional Growth and I wanted to talk a minute about resumes. So often when I’m asked to look at people’s resumes, I find that they don’t tell the story of the incredible things that leader has accomplished. Your resume is your first impression; your main opportunity to land an interview; and hopefully a reflection of the leadership successes you’ve had along the way.
I’ll also say that this is not the end-all, be-all authority on writing resumes. People have different takes on how the resume should look – and that’s okay (as long as they don’t tell you it has to be in Times New Roman – just kidding!). This is just my take after years of seeing resumes cross my desk and helping friends and colleagues craft their own. I hope you find these tips about structure, content and formatting helpful!
STRUCTURE: It’s All About the Real Estate… One of the most important things to remember is that it’s all about the real estate. That first page is going to decide whether the reader flips to page two. So how you use space is critical.
- Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing: Your front page should be your introduction and then jump into where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished. If your front page is cluttered up with other things (certifications, long paragraphs about your philosophy, education, etc.), change it up. Shorten your philosophy into a concise statement; move certifications and education to the end (unless you were a Rhodes Scholar or went to Cambridge, Harvard or Yale – ha ha)! The reader should at least be able to see the opening bullets of your current position (or even your first job in its entirety) on the first page. It’s all about real estate!
- Allocate Bullets Accordingly: Not all positions are created equally in terms of resume real estate. Don’t feel like each position needs 6 bullets. In fact, consider allocating the most bullets to your current role; a few less for the next; a few less for the next. Your earliest positions may only need a bullet or two.
- Highlight Longevity: If you have been in the same district for several years and have been promoted within a few times, be sure to include one header line for that district with your various roles and bullets underneath. It tells the reader you have been promoted into different roles vs. someone who moves around a lot.
CONTENT: It’s About Setting Yourself Apart… If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: Your resume should highlight the accomplishments you have achieved in your work and not describe the roles and responsibilities of each position you held. Every leader knows the general roles and responsibilities of a principal; we all know what an Assistant Superintendent of C&I does. What we want to know is what you accomplished in those roles that sets you apart from everyone else.
- Be Specific & Results-Oriented: Take every bullet of your resume and ask if it is a description of your role or a specific achievement.
- For instance if you are responsible for Advanced Academics, Dual Credit and CTE, don’t just note that. Include what you accomplished within that: Increased the number of dual credit opportunities from 18 college hours to over 45 college hours; added 2 Advanced Placement Courses, increasing AP participation by 25%; and expanded the Health Science Program from 3 to 5 years of coursework including clinical rotations and a certification opportunity in Pharmacy Tech.
- Another example would be changing “Supervised ELL Program” to “Increased the number of teachers certified for ESL by 25% by coordinating training and finding funding to pay for certification costs.”
- Note that each of the examples above are focused on the result, specific about the outcomes (use of data) and clearly show the impact of the leader.
- Do Your Research / Highlight the Matches: Be sure you know what you’re applying for and make sure your resume matches.
- If you are a coach and transitioning into leadership – use your coaching accomplishments to highlight your abilities as a leader but make sure everything else highlights the kind of role you are seeking.
- Research your future district and find out what they’re about! If your potential district is all about community-based accountability, their learner profile, and social & emotional wellness and all you talk about in your resume is high-stakes STAAR scores, you may not get that interview. In the same way, if you’re applying for a superintendency in a district experiencing financial challenges, find ways to highlight your experiences in that realm.
- Campus / District Descriptions: If you are applying out of district, it may be helpful to include a brief description of the campuses / districts where you have worked. Showing that you have experience in different size schools/districts, varying levels of poverty or even experience in different locations around the state can show the reader that you’re ready to be successful in their specific school/district as well.
- Grants / Awards / Presentations: Your resume is your one shot to set yourself apart; not a time to be shy about your accomplishments. If you have won awards, earned grants or have presented at conferences, be sure to highlight those things as well.
- Education Tips: It is important to note where you received your degrees but don’t feel like you have to share everything.The major and the title of your thesis or dissertation? Sure. Every course you took? Not needed. Resumes are a place for honesty but you get to choose what to include. When it comes to GPA, if yours is great (3.0+), feel free to include it (if yours is not quite as stellar, leave it at the degree). Last note – I typically don’t recommend including high school information unless you’re applying to the district from which you graduated and you feel that connection will help.
- Reference Tips: I know many folks would say to note “references available upon request” but I am a big proponent of including actual references on your resume. If you’re serious about getting the job you want, you want your network to work for you. This doesn’t mean listing everyone you know. There’s nothing worse than calling a reference on someone and realizing they’re just an acquaintance and have no knowledge of the candidate’s leadership abilities. The majority of your references should be people who are higher up in your organization that you are confident will boast about your great works. And be sure to ask permission and give a heads up when you’re about to move forward.
FORMATTING: Keep it Clean & Professional… So I’ll just start this section by poking fun at myself. I will confess that I have a thing about formatting. My former team even made up a name for my issues (I personally think of it as an asset – Hah!) but they would joke that all of of our major communication pieces needed to be “Silerized” before they went out. How your resume LOOKS is important! After all, it is evidence of the level of work you’re going to produce in the position they’re looking to hire.
- Font: Just because Times New Roman is the default font on most programs does not mean you need to use it (just saying!). Find something clean and professional (nothing cutesie or egregiously bold). Same holds for use of color – unless your background is graphic design and really understand professional use of color, be wary of branching out. If you’re using multiple fonts for title/text, make sure they flow well together.
- Spacing: Help a reader out! I shared that real estate is so important and spacing is critical. You want to maximize what you have on the page but at the same time, let your reader know when you’re shifting from one element of your resume to the next. Be greedy with your margins (no need for 1.25 on the sides – take it down to .8). Just like your fonts may be different sizes with your headings a little larger than the internal text, the amount of space between elements of your resume might have a little more space than within an element. Learn the difference between 2pts and 6pts in spacing and find a consistent way to use space.
- Alignment: Be smart about your alignment. Your resume shouldn’t be centered on the page but every line shouldn’t be aligned left either. Use tabs and bullets to help your reader understand the overall picture of your work.
- Email: If you are applying for a position outside your current district, be sure to use a personal email address. Make sure your personal email is professional in nature (perhaps firstname.lastname@example.org). If you happen to be involved in another venture outside of your current employment, make sure you are not using that email either. And a quick side note, if your email is @aol.com we probably have bigger issues to discuss. 😂
At the end of the day, your work speaks a lot louder than any piece of paper could. But the resume can serve as a powerful tool to help further your professional journey!