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Careers Café

Résumés when you feel adrift


While I intended to write on using professional associations for career research, Jo’s recent post on CVs has changed my mind. She pointed out that using generic CVs and résumés hurts your job search.

On the plus side, it can help with your career exploration.

As in earlier posts, I’m assuming that some of you are considering non-academic jobs. I’m also assuming that you might experience the disturbing feeling that all you can do is research, write and teach. Constructing a master résumé gives you proof that you can do more.

So, create a master résumé that only you will see. Make it however long it needs to be; your aim is to be exhaustive. Add each and every experience to your résumé that you can remember: each course you taught, each paid employment experience you held (no matter how briefly), each volunteer experience (including even one-day stints).

When creating content in your master résumé, answer some of those same questions you’d use when creating a targeted résumé:

  • What are you proud of?
  • What problems have you solved?
  • What would have gone wrong if someone less skilled had tried the things you’ve done?

Answer more questions.

  • What areas of knowledge or expertise did you develop or demonstrate?
  • Who was impacted by what you did?
  • What were the impacts?
  • What sort of attitudes helped you do well?

From each experience, draw out as many skills, areas of knowledge, and even character traits as you can.

So, dig deep into that TA job.

  • What presentation skills did you develop?
  • How did you plan for your tutorials?
  • By what means did you evaluate whether they were going well?
  • How did you alter the way you gave feedback over the course of the semester?
  • What skills did you use when you met with students individually?
  • How did you negotiate differences of opinion with students or faculty?
  • How did you try to bring struggling students back on track?
  • How did you manage any group work in your tutorials?
  • What sort of disciplinary issues did you address?

At this point, don’t rule out experiences that are small in scope. Those experiences can still alert you to skills you enjoy using. An accumulation of small scale experiences can also be more persuasive to employers than you’d expect.

For example, much to my surprise, my experience tutoring a handful of students with learning disabilities helped me land two employment advising positions. Neither hiring committee mistook me for an expert on disability issues, but they were interested enough to invite me for interviews and to determine whether I had a knowledge base I could build on.

Keep in mind that Jo’s advice about generic résumés and CVs is absolutely accurate — a generic résumé is not a means to convince employers that you’re a great fit. But a generic résumé for your eyes only can provide a starting point for a more comprehensive awareness of the skills and expertise that will help you find meaningful work.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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