Describing Your Qualifications


A vital step in looking for a job is preparing a resume, a brief presentation of your experience and qualifications that makes an employer want to interview you.

Students often have questions about how to assemble a resume. Here are some answers.

Above all, remember that a resume is not a life history. It is a presentation in outline form of your education, work and other experiences which highlights and describes those aspects which you think best portray your qualifications for employment. It is directed to a specific audience for a specific purpose.

The particular mix of qualifications that an employer prefers will depend on the job being filled. The more you know about what the employer is looking for, the better you can tailor your resume.

If you are an undergraduate, graduating senior, or graduate student seeking summer or part-time employment, your resume will be a presentation that documents your general qualifications:

Your ability to learn quickly;

to adapt to new environments;

to research, analyze, and solve problems;

to work with and/or lead a team;

to follow instructions;

to deal with ambiguity;

to make decisions; and

to communicate effectively.

Preparing to write your resume. Start by writing a comprehenseive outline of all the experiences and facts you might want to include in your resume. Keep this outline as a reference while you experiment with a variety of formats and styles and deletions of the information.

Understand what employers are looking for. Identify serveral prospective employers and gather information-ideally from visiting people at the place of work, or at least from company and vocational literature-about what qualifications that kind of job requires.

Friends can tell you whether they think you have succeeded in communicating your strengths. Advisors can comment on the impression your resume makes and what they can learn about you from it. When you interview career advisors to learn about occupations and gather job hunting advice, ask them to critique your resume. The Harvard Guide to Careers has information and advice on how to write a resume and cover letter. Sample resumes and letters are included to help you get started on designing you own presentation. Pick up a copy in the OCS Reception Room along with the flier on Preparing a Resume. Attend an Introduction to Writing Resumes and Cover Letters meeting which is held once a month. If you would like to see a counselor about planning your job hunt and preparing your resume, make an appointment with the conselor of your choice. If you would like a counselor to review a draft of your resume, come to a Resume Walk-In, Monday-Friday, 1:30-2:30.

Choose the format that best communicates your qualifications. Design your resume for two types of readers: the reviewer who scans your resume to learn your academic degrees, job titles, special experience, or skills; the reviewer who reads your resume for valued information about you and to receive an impression of your competencies and your personal qualities.

Most employers--especially in business-prefer a one page resume. These employers want an effectively organized and concise presentation of the most pertinent information about you. Employers in education, public service, and human services do not seem to have a strong preference, but a concise presentation shows that you appreciate the value of their time. If in doubt about resume length, ask counselors and career advisors.

Remember that a resume is an example of your work. If you claim skill in organization and ability to communicate clearly and concisely, your resume should demonstrate your proficiency in those skills.

You must make judgments about what is most important and allot space accordingly. Descriptions of jobs performed and accomplishmets must be brief and listing of activities selective. If you can't fit your resume on one page, put all of the most important information on the first page. Certain information that is included in longer resumes, such as a list of publications or a list of references, may be important to your application. Other attachments may include an annotated transcript, clippings, writing sample, portfolio, and letters of recommendation.

Make purposeful use of capitals, underlining, positioning and spacing. If you use a typed resume, have it reproduced by photo-offset. Beware of using too small type or reducing a typed resume, as you may also reduce your readership. Use white or ecru paper with matching envelopes and paper for your cover letters. Don't use bright-colored paper-it will overshadow your message and is more likely to land in the waste basket.

Style communicates a message. Staccato phrases or incomplete sentences such as "Designed date collection system. Analysed data and prepared 60-page report" give an efficient, action-oriented impression. For some people, however, the flow of complete sentences is more suitable.

Your resume should be neat, uncrowded, attractive, and easy to read. Accuracy in use of language, information, and spelling is key. Word processing on a computer is the most efficient way to produce your resume as you can try out different formats easily. It is not advisable to print your resume on a dot matrix printer. Laser jet and other types of letter quality printers are available in a variety of places around the University. Check and double check to make sure that there are absolutely no errors.

Content: Your resume will contain your name, address, and telephone number, and information about your education and work experience. Other sections, titles, andarrangements are at your discretion. Education andexperience are usually

presented in reverse chronological order. Givethe most space to the most important experience.If you have several years of experience in yourcareer field, your resume will focus on morespecific accomplishments and skills. If you haveyears of work experience in several fields or arechanging fields, a resume organized by skill areasmay be more appropriate than a chronologicalresume.

Name, address and telephone: This is the mostimportant information on the resume. Usually it iscentered and in capital letters at the top of thepage. If you must give a school address and a homeaddress, place your name at top center and theaddressses to the right and left.

Education: If you are a student or have justcompleted your education, put this section first.List your degrees or degree expected and date,your concentration, subject of senior honorsthesis, and electives which are relevant to youremployers. Include selected honors if you havereceived recognition for outstanding academicwork. Ph.D. students should list their department,area of interest, relevant electives and selectedhonors. The dissertation topic may be included ifof related interest.

College activities can be listed and describedunder Education, Experience, Activites, or mostbriefly under Personal Background depending uponhow much emphasis and space you want to give them.If you've had leadership positions,responsibilities for organizing or initiating newprograms, financial management or any kind ofcareer-related experiences, be sure it is clearlydescribed. Explain for the non-Harvard reader whatthe organization is.

Secondary school is usually listed onundergraduate resumes. Space devoted to honorsand/or activities should depend on theircontribution to the total message.

Work Experience: This section should includeall experience, paid and unpaid andextracurricular activites which have given you theopportunity to develop the skills such as computerprogramming or foreign language fluency, you maywant to list in a skills section.

Interests: Save at least one line for a list inseries of avocational interests such as "Reading,playing guitar, running, and choral singng." Evena brief list rounds out your presentation and mayestablish an initial bond of common interest withthe reader.

Personal Background: On a one-page resume youhave had to leave out a great deal. This sectionmay be used to mention information that youconsider important such as: "Having worked everyterm to help pay college expenses deliveringnewspapers, washing dishes, bartending, driving ashuttle bus." "Lived in a small town in Ohio untilI came to Harvard." "Born and grew up in New YorkCity." (Where you spent your youth may be animportant message to the employer.) "Playedvarsity lacrosse and intramural basketball."

Job Objective: Only if you have a clearlydefined employment goal should you write a jobobjective. Otherwise, the cover letter is thebetter place to state your job objective. Thatway, you can tailor it to each job application andhighlight and expand on relevant information. Yourresume presents your qualifications to employers.Your objective is to attract the attention of theemployer so that he will want to interview you