EAL/LA Spins Your Resume Right Round Baby, Right Round
A Resume Roundtable Workshop
photo by featheredtar
Have you looked at your resume lately and wondered:
“How can I cut this down?”
“How can I rework this to make it relevant to the next job I apply for?”
“Is my objective clear?”
To meet a growing need for resume assistance, I volunteered to lead a resume roundtable with seven first-come-first-serve EAL/LA members.
With little immediate knowledge myself, and with two weeks to prepare, I spoke with Camille Schenkkan (EAL/LA board advisor and member of EAL National Council) who has written a few times about the topic of resume building (with focus on the emerging arts manager or artist). Camille, who worked for Arts For Los Angeles for four years, has sifted through hundreds of resumes in preparation for hiring interns. Her blog posts give great pointers on how to write a cover letter, what to include (or not include) on a resume, and how to interview for your dream job.
I scoured The Chronicle of Philanthropy for tips on and tools for crafting a resume that will get you that call-in for an interview. My search results were very confusing, with some executive directors finding cover letters to be of great importance, and others, not so much. Some hiring managers outright despised resume objectives, and others found them to be helpful. The general consensus was that hundreds – sometimes thousands – of resumes can fall into one individual’s inbox for one position – and it is up to their personal brand of filtering to dictate whether or not your materials will be read.
With this in mind, I developed a way in which the group participating in this roundtable could most efficiently and constructively review their own resumes and the resumes of the other participants. In essence, each participant would have seven other pairs of eyes scouring her resume for simple fixes (spelling/grammatical/layout errors) and creative opportunities.
Session One – Step One: An Introduction
The group met at Paper or Plastik, an independent coffee shop in the SoFax district, for introductions. After handing out copies of Camille’s blog posts as well as a few printouts from The Chronicle, I asked each participant to state her name, current job and short-term career goal. This outwardly straightforward step turned into an activity that needed two thirds of our allotted time. I gradually surmised that perhaps the most common impediment to creating a successful resume was clarity of one’s own personal career path.
Up until about six months ago, I could not clearly specify my career goal; I had varied professional experiences and had fallen into a handful of amazing – although not noticeably synergetic – jobs. I am, in fact, an artist at heart – a poet, a writer, a violinist, a jewelry designer, a philosophical thinker, a budding philanthropist – and not an individual who could immediately place myself within any lucid career trajectory for quite some time.
Looking at the professional experience of many of the participants of this roundtable, I noticed similarities; around me was a group of bright women eager for experience (sometimes ANY experience) on one had, or for a job to pay the bills while pursuing an artistic career on the other. Some participants had pages of professional experience with many jobs lasting only a few months – these were usually internships or volunteer positions. This was not an exception to the rule. This seemed to BE the rule.
Although some participants had a general idea of what their next step would be professionally, some felt they could go in one of a few directions.
Session One – Step Two: Focus
“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs
When crafting a resume, I have been told, it is a good rule of thumb to design it around one specific career goal. If you have multiple interests, you need to create multiple resumes to reflect those interests. Reading the resumes in front of me, I was looking at legitimate experience mixed with career outliers. I wondered if some of these outliers were added to create the illusion of experience, or if they just were not worded properly to convey their true value.
A few questions often uncovered whether or not that experience would be seen as conducive to scoring a job, or if it was just taking up valuable space (and your valuable time).
Example: It may not be seen as legitimate experience that you sought cash donations for candy bars and chips at a non-profit organization’s event. Volunteering in general is a valuable community service, true, but this experience will probably not be qualified as professional. It’s best to leave this kind of thing off of your career experience section. If you volunteer regularly for an organization in this way, you may want to figure out how you could more proactively use your time while helping your favorite nonprofit. (Because you love it, right?) I would suggest purchasing a copy of Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris’ book, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar. The book points out ways in which you can turn your volunteer experience into valuable career experience. Actually, just read the whole book. It is really that excellent.
Session Two: Learning Through Others
Time-wise, our first session went over, so we needed to schedule a follow-up session during which we could focus exclusively on each other’s resumes. Each participant’s homework was to read through all resumes critically, looking for simple typographical mistakes (most reviewers will automatically throw a resume wrought with typographical errors into the “no” pile), as well as for ways in which each document could be crafted into an engaging and well-focused resume.
This experience not only presented each participant with the opportunity for a valuable group critique, it allowed each participant see what other resumes look like, and to take mental note of instances where others may have fallen a little short stylistically, keeping those observations in mind when going over one’s own resume.
Personally, some critiques that I heard on other participants’ resumes resulted in the application of this advice onto my own resume. Although I had populated my resume with measurable and relevant achievements – and had whittled it down to one page in length – stylistically my resume lacked “color.” Many of the participants of this roundtable had aesthetically attractive layouts and easy-to-read fonts that inspired me to go home and tweak my resume’s stylistic settings.
I walked into this roundtable workshop with admittedly little personal experience in writing a resume – save that of my own – and my notes from EAL/LA’s 2010 Creative Conversation at which Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration at The J. Paul Getty Museum, talked about career-building with a group of attentive, aspiring artists and arts managers. Admittedly, I was not quite ready to narrow my focus on any one career back in 2010…but knew I was interested in figuring it out. I became more involved with the EAL/LA network in my strategy to discover my professional strengths (and weaknesses), and to uncover a more definitive answer to that crazy question: What do I want to be when I grow up?
My takeaways from this roundtable included useful tips to apply to my resume, as well as inspiring questions to ponder about my own career goals:
1.) Clarify your goal – even if it is only short-term – and craft your resume around that goal.
2.) Pick a few friends from your professional network and go over each other’s resumes (or, if you feel comfortable, ask a mentor to go over your resume with you). Having someone who works in your sector look over your resume is invaluable. For example: three participants of this roundtable had lots of experience working in galleries and museums. I have no experience with or professional knowledge of the visual arts culture. These participants were able to provide each other with better resume analysis than I ever could have, which was inspiring. Sector-specific critique opportunities may be overlooked if you have a friend or family member who works outside of your career field review your resume.
3.) Try to avoid writing out job descriptions in your resume; focus on your professional experiences, and achievements that relate to your career choices. Listing that you are responsible for changing office light bulbs and toner is probably not going to impress a hiring director.
Good luck and happy resume-writing!
Kristin Runnels is Grants Manager for the Colburn Foundation, a private foundation that supports the performance and presentation of classical music, as well as for music education and the training of musicians. She also serves as Executive Co-Chair on the Leadership Council of Emerging Arts Leaders Los Angeles, owns her own thriving jewelry business (Amatistrad Jewelry), is a violinist, writer, and vegan cook.