How To Bulk Up Your Resume

Rachel Schneebaum

Today’s job market is flooded with job seekers, from recent high school or college graduates to highly trained professionals with years of work experience and accomplishments under their belts. So, if you are one of those new grads, how can you hope to compete in a job pool full of experienced professionals?

In this article, I’ll go over a few ways you can beef up your resume, making you a more appealing candidate to hiring managers. You can easily do this, not by lying, but by taking advantage of and marketing those skills that you already have—even if you didn’t learn those skills in a traditional workplace environment.

First, something important to keep in mind: even if you haven’t (yet!) held a full time job, you almost certainly do have some relevant work experience.

Try to remember all the summer jobs, other short-term seasonal positions, and work-study jobs you’ve ever held over the past few years. Write each job down, and don’t leave anything off your list because you think it’s too unimportant or unimpressive. As a new grad, it’s ok—expected, even—that you’ve only worked temporary jobs. (Of course, if you did have to work full time while earning your degree, you should definitely highlight that! This shows employers that you’re an extremely dedicated, motivated individual with exceptional multitasking abilities.)

After making a chronological list of all your positions, try to remember what your responsibilities were at each job. Under each job on your list, write down all the skills you used and developed plus the responsibilities that you had in that position, no matter how trivial they might seem at first. Try to remember if you ever had a leadership role—even if it was a temporary leadership role on a one-time project, say. If so, describe your leadership qualities and describe the specific outcome of your leadership role: this is an achievement that you can claim responsibility for. Demonstrated results, or achievements, are one of the most important parts of your resume! Were you ever responsible for training or supervising other employees in any capacity? Again, describe your training or managing qualities, as well as any outcomes or achievements that resulted from your role as mentor or supervisor.

Finally, think about any awards, promotions, or even compliments you earned in each position. Were you ever employee of the month? Were you the first temporary summer employee to be promoted? Did your supervisor compliment your efficiency and recommend you for a leadership role? Did you make more in sales than anyone else in your position? If you can think of anything like this—absolutely anything that can set you apart from everyone else—write it down in detail. Again, focus on your achievements, not how unimportant you might think they are.

At this point, you should have a list of all past positions, along with your responsibilities in these positions, the skills you used and developed in these positions, any specific achievements you were responsible for while working in these positions, and any awards or promotions you received. Here’s an example of one hypothetical position:

Let’s say you worked in retail at a local clothing store over the last two summers. Your notes for this job might, at first, look something like this:

  • retail (name of store, dates)
    • stocked/organized shelves
    • checkout/operated cash register
    • answered customers’ questions about sizing, pricing, etc.
    • received and monitored inventory
    • skills:
      • customer service
      • ability to multitask
      • organizational skills
      • quick thinking/troubleshooting
      • data entry

After focusing on leadership roles and achievements, you might add:

  • taught new employees how to use the cash register and inventory program
  • designed winter display; oversaw coworkers who helped put display together

After focusing on awards or promotions, you might add:

  • earned “employee of the week” award three times in a row
  • was hand-selected by supervisor to have full responsibility over winter display

To your “skills” section, you might add:

  • teaching/mentorship skills
  • strong leadership ability
  • ability to learn new tasks quickly

(etc.)

At this point, you’re looking pretty good! You’ve got several skills and achievements that you can easily turn into resume material. When adding this information to your resume, remember to focus on achievements rather than responsibilities—these are the things that make you stand out. Also, focus on only those skills that are listed as required (or desired) skills for the position you want. (For more information about how to add this kind of information to your resume, check out the general resume writing tips on this site.)

But what if you can’t think of any leadership/management roles, awards, or other notable achievements?
One way to handle this is to focus on your skills: maybe you didn’t stand out in one position because you were the employee who did whatever was needed, wherever it was needed. This means you’re a dedicated and flexible employee with the ability to learn new tasks quickly, work in several fields at the same time, and adapt to your employer’s changing needs. List these skills: they’re important and desirable in almost any workplace.

Ok, but what if you have no work experience?
If you were fortunate enough to earn scholarships and grant money to help you afford your education without working, this doesn’t mean you don’t have any skills that would benefit a potential employer. Have you done any volunteer work? Did you have any internship opportunities? Were you involved with any teams or organizations? Did you write for your school’s newspaper? If so, follow the advice listed above, treating each of these positions as if it were a job. What skills did you use or develop in each position? Did you ever hold any sort of leadership, management, mentorship, or supervisory position? Did you start new programs within your volunteer organization? Did you design your department’s website? Were you asked to extend your internship into a full time job? Etc. These are the kinds of things that make you stand out to potential employers, so these are the kinds of things you should focus on.

Also, you must have some pretty impressive skills and qualifications in order to have earned that scholarship money! Note your scholarships in an “awards” section of your resume, and describe what those scholarships are awarded for and what skills they require. If there’s anything that might make you stand out even more—say you’re the first person from your high school (or town, or state, etc.) ever to earn a particular scholarship—don’t hesitate to include that information as well!

Finally, don’t forget about the skills and experience you have that aren’t due to any particular position.
Can you speak or write in any language(s) other than English? Are you familiar with using different kinds of computer platforms and software? Do you know any coding languages? Etc. These are the kinds of skills that it’s easy to forget about because you might take them for granted. However, there are many positions where, say, “familiarity with Microsoft Office Suite” is listed as a necessary criterion for a potential employee! Similarly, many job listings note that a bilingual candidate is preferred—if you are bilingual, you’ve already got a step up on your competition.

Again, note that in this article, I’ve only described how to mine your knowledge and experience for skills and achievements you can use to fill out your resume.I have not described how to write your resume! The examples I went through above are not meant to be examples of resume sections. Instead, they’re just meant to be examples of the notes you should take before you start writing your resume.

About The Author

Rachel Schneebaum

Rachel Schneebaum is a PhD candidate in philosophy, with a graduate minor in cognitive science, at the University of Arizona. She graduated from Williams College in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Philosophy. Rachel hopes to more effectively help students decide on, prepare for, and eventually succeed at their dream jobs.

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