The optimal résumé

During our on-line chats earlier this week, we were asked several times about the preferred format for the résumé that applicants include with their application.  And to be honest, while we do leave the choice of format to the applicant, we readers certainly have preferences.  Here are some of mine, along with those of my résumé-reading Admissions pals.

First, the role of the résumé in the Fletcher application is to provide a relatively complete chronological account of work and academic experience.  Though the application form has questions that touch on these topics, your résumé is the place to provide detail and dates.

Second, everyone in this office would agree that there’s only very rarely a need for a résumé running more than three pages.  Constructing a résumé is an exercise in synthesis.  There’s an art to transmitting significant amounts of information in a small space, and I don’t mean that you should resort to teeny-weeny type size!

To help you out, here are some categories of information that are not relevant to your Fletcher application:

1.  As Roxana puts it:  “Do not list activities you did in high school.”  The only exceptions I can think of would be study abroad/exchange years, or if you win a national prize of very high stature.  There aren’t too many awards like that in the U.S., so the award you’re thinking of probably doesn’t fit the bill.  And the few relevant high school notes should be included with “Additional Information” at the end of the résumé.

2.  All the different articles you have written for college publications.  Simmer them all down to a single line within the academic portion of the résumé.  Please don’t provide the name of every article.  For that matter, even professional publications don’t need to be listed individually.  It isn’t that we don’t value writing — it’s that you can transmit the information, that you write for op-ed pages or journals, without listing every article.  Pick out the most recent pieces, or the most relevant, or the ones written for the most prestigious publications.  If you have written any published books, certainly include those titles.

3.  Every single award you received as an undergrad.  Stick to the prestigious ones.

4.  Every meeting of Model UN you attended.  Boil them down to a statement in the academic notes.

5.  Work experience of very short duration or involving very few hours per week.  If you have several such jobs, group them together somewhere.

I think the overall message here is that listing every iteration of an experience takes up tons of paper, but tells us little.  Make sure you’re using the space effectively!

And here’s the answer to a question that may not have occurred to you:  Yes, if you were working as a barista, camp counselor, wilderness guide, or computer sales person to save money while searching for work or before entering the Peace Corps, you should probably include that information somewhere.  Particularly if it will help to explain an extended gap in your chronology.  You don’t need to go into detail, but sometimes info on a pay-the-bills type job is much more helpful than leaving an extended gap unexplained.  On the other hand, if you have a part-time irrelevant job at night while working days at a relevant internship, feel free to omit details about the part-time job.

Here are a few last notes from the office.  Liz says, “Don’t lie or make stuff up.  It’ll come back to get you.”  Oh, yes.  It will.

Laurie says, “The résumés for the application can be longer than job résumés, and should include items such as travel and skills.  The dates should be clear and the order should be chronological.  Spell out acronyms.  Be descriptive.  Label sections clearly.”  (Note:  Job résumés in the U.S. are one to two pages!  When Laurie says “longer,” she means two to three pages.  Not twelve.)

I hope these tips will help get you started as you shape your résumés.  When you have completed your first draft (remember — these are works of synthesis and synthesis takes time…and editing), take a step back and ask yourself the question:  Will they easily be able to see what I have done, and when/where I have done it?  If not, try again.  I can tell you that it’s very frustrating when the Admissions Committee needs to spend time figuring out your chronology.  You don’t want your application readers to be frustrated.  Make us happy with a clear résumé, of three pages or less!

P.S.  Weren’t invited to the chat but want to participate in the future?  Make sure you have connected with us!

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