My first “real” job was working in a field, picking vegetables and killing tomato worms.
Since then, I have had jobs as a waitress/bus girl, a pharmacy assistant, a greenhouse worker, a peer mentor, a data entry person, a communications coordinator, CBC intern and, yes, eight summers working at camp doing everything from washing dishes to acting as interim Assistant Director.
But I started in a field, killing bugs.
One thing I am super nerdy about is the whole process of getting a job and performing well in that job. Resumes, interviews, leadership, being the best employee ever: I could literally talk about these things all day long. I have been an employee and a “boss,” for what it’s worth, and I’ve picked up a few things about how to get a job and do it well.
Recently, I wrote a resume and cover letter that got me an interview within 24 hours (actually more like 15). Generally, my ability to snap up a job is pretty consistent. I don’t think it is because I’m super special, though. I actually think that many qualified people are missing out on great jobs because they aren’t taught how to write a resume or cover letter properly. (Although I do acknowledge that I have a pretty white-sounding name, and I know that there is bias- unconscious or not- toward that in the job-seeking world).
I got my first resume written by a woman who worked in the employment office in Wingham, Ontario. I was in grade seven or eight. That means I was barely a teenager! I’m sure that lady was surprised to be writing a resume for someone so young, but she treated me so professionally and I actually learned how to pitch myself from the way she constructed my resume.
So, if you are in the midst of writing a resume and cover letter and need some inspiration, let me give you some direction in the resume department:
1. Use action verbs, but back them up with specifics: I think that general wisdom around resumes tell us to use a lot of action verbs like “organize,” “directed,” “supervised,” “facilitated,” etc. These words are great, but you need to add more specifics in order to illustrate what you actually did and, if possible, what the RESULT was.
Example: Coordinated annual fundraiser
Action + what you did + result: Coordinated communications and promotion for annual fundraiser, generating $15,000 its first year.
I totally made up that example, but you can see that the action verb is followed by actual things I did and what the result was.
Results don’t have to be money-related. Think about how you added value to the place you worked or volunteered. Results could look like more efficient processes, higher customer satisfaction, increased safety, stronger content, better engagement, decreased conflict, or more clarity.
Formula: Action verb + what you actually did + what the result was = a better picture of what your skills are
Bonus if you manage to incorporate accurate and helpful numbers
2. If you don’t have a lot of work experience, think wider:
YOU ARE MORE INTERESTING AND EXPERIENCED THAN YOU THINK!
I hope you read that as a scream because I want you to really hear it. If you don’t have much work experience, don’t write yourself off. You need to get creative.
One example of this is that, when I was in my first year of journalism school, I realized I needed to make myself stand out from my classmates in terms of journalism experience if I wanted to get an internship. So, instead of volunteering to produce an awards show like everyone else was doing, I flew to Romania for a month to volunteer for a tiny magazine. This, I think, was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made, career-wise. It showed initiative, independence and leadership and it definitely made me stand out from the pack.
If you don’t have work experience, you need to look at your life for areas where you have volunteered or stepped up as part of a team.
I need you to think about a couple of things:
A) If you graduated from high school, you volunteered somehow. Where did you volunteer and what skills did you gain from those volunteer experiences?
B) Are you involved in sports/theatre/some kind of group or club? What skills and experiences have you learned from that?
C) Do you speak more than one language? Do you have certifications (like CPR-C or NLS or Smart Serve or Food Handlers)? If yes, then you have something to work with. If no, consider building up your resume with things like this.
D) Do you actually have some work experience, but it isn’t the same as the job you are applying for? What general skills did you gain from those experiences?
If you still have nothing, I need you to consider taking control of your life and starting to explore volunteer options or certifications that interest you and align with the person you want to become or the skills you need to attain in order to get the job you want. This could be anything from learning another language to volunteering with after-school programs to getting a high ropes/belayer certification in order to gain some skills.
Fun fact: I literally volunteered at a hospital for months back in high school because I thought I wanted to be an occupational therapist so I thought I should dip my toe, somehow, into the medical world. On top of that, I got all my CPR and lifeguarding certifications to continue learning about the body in whatever way I could. While I did not pursue occupational therapy, that hospital volunteer situation taught me people skills and initiative. I also met people who could be future references. No one can take away the soft skills you gain in any job or volunteer experience, even if what you end up doing is completely different.
3. Organization: Unless you are applying to grad school or a job as a professor or something (in which case, put your education at the top), put your most relevant assets to the specific job you are applying for at the very top, followed by your professional history, and then education/awards.
Tip: For the skills/assets section, study the job outline and look at their requirements for the position. Do they require CPR-C, experience with plants, or a valid driver’s licence? Do you have any or all of those skills? Then put that right at the top! It is like raising your hand and making it easy for the employer to see that, yes, you have the skills they are looking for. Put three or four of the assets that you have that correspond to those requirements in your “Assets” section at the very top of your resume. If an employer sees exactly what they are looking for right at the top, they are more likely to keep reading and consider you.
4. Don’t lie. For the record, I’ve never lied on my resume, and I’ve received at least an interview or an offer for 95% of the jobs I’ve applied for, no matter what my skills were.
Remember, I made my first resume when I was around 14 years old and all the real job “experience” I had was picking tomatoes and killing bugs with my hands in a field for a summer. Somehow, I managed to get a job. If you lie on your resume, it is just dumb. Once your employer finds out that you actually can’t code or you actually don’t have incredible attention to detail, their level of trust in you is going to fall to pieces. Just don’t lie about it. Honestly, it will save you both time and emotional energy.
To wrap up, I just want to say it again: you are more interesting than you think. You are more skilled than you think. You have more to offer than you think. I promise you. Writing your resume can (and, in my opinion, should) be an empowering experience that bolsters your confidence as you search for that perfect job. Invest yourself in the process and, I promise, that will translate to the page, breathing life into an otherwise flat document.