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Five Questions: Professor Quentin Schultze

For thirty years, communication professor Quentin J. Schultze has taught the secrets of persuasive résumé writing to scores of students. His new book Résumé 101 delivers effective strategies to showcase your skills, knowledge, and traits. We talked to him.

1) Many resume experts swear by a one-page document. Do you?

Unless the job announcement says that the resume should be one page, two pages are fine, preferably with the second page printed on the back of the first page with a note on the bottom of the first page indicating  “continued on back.”

Research indicates that female accountants actually have a better chance at getting an interview if their resume is a solid two pages. It’s best to use a second page only if one needs nearly that entire page, and if all of the material on both pages address important matters. In other words, puffing up the resume to get to a second page or having a couple of straggling lines on the second page is not a good idea.

2) I’ve been between jobs and done some volunteer work while looking. Not all of it was directly related to my field but contributing made me feel good about myself. Should I include it on a resume or not?

You should include on the resume those items that demonstrate you have the kinds of skills, knowledge, and traits required for the job. These could be transferable from work you did in a very different field, part time, volunteer, etc.

So first analyze your volunteer work in terms of the skills, knowledge, and traits you performed or learned about yourself. Some material worth including on your resume might be a knowledge of people, a type of organization, software, or whatever you discover. Resume 101 lists categories under each so you can figure out what you really gained from the volunteering.

Then match the results of your analysis with the language used in want ads, job postings, and company descriptions for the type of work you would like to do. Write your resume and cover letter using the language from the latter. This process can make almost any kind of life experience relevant to a specific career field.

3) What’s the biggest mistake women make on resumes?

Women tend to use passive rather than active language. Nearly every line of information on the resume should begin with action verb, giving the reader the impression that you are a doer who gets things done. You taught, promoted, facilitated, organized, completed, etc.

My adult daughter convinced me to include in Resume 101 a couple pages of  action verbs organized by categories so a resume writer would not repeat the same verbs and could select just the right one for each line on the resume. She also helped me find out which of the verbs are overused on resumes today and which are too weak. Use bold, active, but accurate verbs.

3)    I’m a rising college senior and although I’ve had some summer jobs (lifeguarding, hostess work) I’m not sure whether to include them and what to say if I do. Any advice?

You probably want to include any work, volunteering, travel, significant hobbies, etc., on a resume at this point in your schooling, pre-career. The key is how to include it. Normally I recommend three categories of material on a resume, in this order: EXPERIENCE, EDUCATION, ACTIVITIES.

The first category would include any work or volunteering, internships, special college projects, etc. that relate directly to your career field. The last category can include things that can be transferred to your career field–everything from hobbies to travel, technology you know, cross-cultural experiences, and so forth.

4) What three tips do you have for women who are interested in seeing their resume rise to the top?

First, write a dynamite summary statement rather than an objective statement at the top of the resume. The summary statement captures what you have to offer the organization, not what you want to get from the organization.

Second, take the time to list the ten experiences in your life that have most influenced you. These might include some work experiences, but many will be from relationships or education. Analyze all ten, then pick and choose from among them,  depending on which type of work the resume is written for. Also, be ready to talk about those ten experiences, as appropriate, in interviews.

I call the stories about our life experiences our “parables.” They are the concrete stories that you can use to convince interviewers that:

(1) you know yourself, strengths and weaknesses;

(2) you learn from life;  and

(3) you can offer concrete and therefore trustworthy answers to questions. I go through this entire exercise with my senior college students, and the women are the most reticent to “sell themselves” based on their life experiences. But once they get the hang of it, they become amazingly successful in interviews.

Third, be careful about overusing language on your resume and in your cover letter that is about feelings. For instance, maybe you “feel” you are a “people person,” but that’s a soft and ill-defined term to use in resumes. Does it mean one talks a lot?

Likes to talk rather than work? Likes having a good time? Similarly, avoid the word “passion”–to be “passionate about” something. Focus on skills you can do,  knowledge you know and traits that exemplify your professionalism. Avoid language that suggests how you feel about the job or yourself. Show you are competent, dependable and eager — more than you are passionate.

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