Telling Your Story Through Your Resume

Recently, my group and I worked on a summer project proposal involving several interns. We received the go-ahead to begin the hiring process and I was beyond excited because I would now be behind the scenes of the hiring process. Through the last couple years I feel like I have almost perfected my interviewing skills, career fair elevator pitch, and personal marketing techniques; however, being behind the hiring really elevated my experience to a new level.


Upon reviewing resumes I began to see a pattern of skilled but unconfident (hesitant even) students. I saw resumes that were so full of words that there was almost no white space left. I saw resumes that upon reading it left you only with a “Huh?” I even saw resumes so decked out with colors and figures that the only thing you could take away from it was that they spent more time on decorating it than on writing it.


I do not claim to be a professional, but I can give you a sneak peek into what goes through the mind of those potential employers reading your resume. I will also break down each section of my resume to help you best design yours to suit your needs.


1. Format

· Your name should be in bold large font.Telling Your Story Through Your Resume

· Include a professional email and phone number.

· Link your LinkedIn or website URL.

· ONE PAGE only and font no smaller than size 10.


2. Objective

There is plenty of debate whether an objective is necessary. I included one in my resume because I wanted to make it clear to recruiters or hiring managers what I was looking for. With a degree as broad as Electrical Engineering, I felt it necessary to let readers know which aspect of it I was looking to get into.


If you do decide to include one, make sure it serves that purpose for you in a concise way. You must also tailor this section in order to fit the needs of the role/company you are applying for.


3. Education

Make sure you clearly state all colleges you have attended, GPA, and your expected graduation. You want recruiters to get everything they need from their resume. You must always assume that they will not go through the trouble of finding out whether you qualify for something or not when they have countless other resumes at hand with the needed information and skills.


For example, sometimes a recruiter or hiring manager will be looking for a junior specifically, or perhaps a freshman for a beginner’s task. It is important to let them know where you are in your educational career so they can also better gauge your level with respect to your experience.


Is GPA Everything?


Many students fear listing their GPA because they believe it is too low to list. Before you make the decision of whether to list it or not, you must understand the implications. Many recruiters will automatically assume your GPA is in the low 2.0 range if you do not list it. Therefore, if your GPA is above a 3.0, I recommend you always list it.


If your GPA is below 3.0, a lot of debate exists about whether to list it or not. The choice is up to you, but not listing it may end up hurting you in certain circumstances such as career fairs. During career fairs, recruiters always look for it to match it to their minimum requirements and will write it in for you. If your major GPA is higher than your overall, feel free to list that as well.


Many recruiters and hiring managers will agree that GPA is NOT everything. Once you satisfy the minimum GPA requirements, it is actually not as big a factor as your experience and skills. In a resume database, resumes can be filtered. A reader looking to hire will select their minimum GPA (typically 3.0) and filter by major or skills from there on. Once the minimum GPA is set, it is very easy to ignore it and focus only on what each reader is looking for in an applicant’s experience.


I have seen resumes with near 4.0s be rejected because the student spent more time perfecting their grades than building up tangible experience. I have also seen students with 3.0s and 3.1s be quickly picked up because of the wealth of projects and relevant skills they possessed.


Do not let your disappointment in your GPA reflect through your resume, instead focus on the other aspects that will make you stand out.


4. Skills

The skills section is a small, but very important section. Make sure it is organized and easy to read. For example, since I am an Electrical Engineer, my two main skill sections are Programming skills and Hardware related skills, which I organize as follows:


SKILLS

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Programming: C++, MATLAB, and Verilog

PCB Design: Altium, OrCAD Capture, Allegro PCB

Hardware: Board Level Testing, Cable Design and Assembly, Soldering (THT and SMD)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


I also made sure to list the items in order of expertise. Often, readers assume the first thing you list is your biggest strength in that section. Avoid clichés such as “communication skills”,” teamwork skills” etc. They do not add anything to your resume and cause nothing but eye-rolls for many readers. Personal skills such as those I mentioned can, and probably will be, interpreted as lazy space fillers. This is a personal opinion and, of course, there are jobs for which these skills do belong in this section, but for technical jobs, they do more harm than good.


5. Experience

This is the most important section of your resume and you must treat it as such. This is where you tell the story of who you are and where you want to go. It is very important for you to understand that your resume is not a place where you dump everything you have ever done into a laundry list. The truth is that if you are applying for a software internship, for example, the reader of your resume will not care that you worked at a donut shop. If you have not had any internships yet, I will show you how to fluff up this section without having to resort to non-technical activities to fill the space. This is also where you can demonstrate teamwork, communication and leadership skills.


I Have Experience


Before writing your resume, you must sit down with yourself and really think about what it is you want this resume to do for you. Are you sure about the path you want to take or are you looking for diverse opportunities in an attempt to figure out what to do with your life?


If you know exactly what you are looking for then you must make sure your experience reflects that. For example, I knew when I was looking for internships that I wanted to become a PCB designer. One of my first summers in college I participated in an REU program under which I did research for a cognitive science laboratory, which used MATLAB programmed optical illusions in attempts to predict the onset of schizophrenia episodes. Although the research was extremely interesting and I learned a lot about a different branch of science, it had nothing to do with what I wanted my job to be and did nothing for me regarding my PCB skills to potential employers. When interviewing, not a single person asked about this project and instead they focused on the entries related to PCB. For this reason, I replaced the REU entry with a more relevant project, which elevated my rate of interview callbacks.


In this section, you must be very specific about your role in each project. Saying something like “Was part of a project which built a CubeSat” tells me absolutely nothing about what you did. Did you design a board? Did you design an enclosure? Did you do any calculations or test any functionality? Be specific not only about the depth of your role, but the complexity as well.


Example:


Bad: “Designed a circuit board for a CubeSat mission which is set to launch this Fall”

This does not tell me what you did, how complex it is, or what skills you learned /used.


Better: “Designed a 4 layered test PCB (using Altium) for a CubeSat. The board converts single-ended signals into differential and is equipped with single fault failure protection as well as over voltage protection.”

This bullet tells me the complexity of the board, the board application, and your knowledge about signal techniques/ circuit board protection standards.


I Have No Experience


There are plenty of ways to make use of this section even if you have no experience. There are also many ways to build up some experience entries without an internship. For example, you can join a technical club at your campus. Joining for a quarter or semester alone should give you plenty to talk about. If you feel overwhelmed by school and do not feel you have the time to dedicate to a club, try to spend a couple hours a week working on a personal project. Personal projects are very valuable in your resume because they show drive and determination as well as love for the field. They do not need to be super complicated and can be as simple as you learning how to use relevant software for your field such as SolidWorks. Many students also elect to do freelance work to build experience through sites such as Fiverr and Upwork.


Class projects can also be useful in this section. Many schools offer classes that require projects throughout the semester. I have talked to many students who have done many projects in their classes, but instead were listing things such as “Cashier” in their experience section.

Don’t get discouraged by your lack of experience, and instead, take matters into your own hands and dedicate some weekends into gaining experience you can put in this section!


6. Activities, Leadership, Awards, and Honors

Keep this section short and relevant. You are not applying for college anymore, where listing every extra-curricular, sport, or volunteer experience you did was crucial. Use it to balance out your skills. For example, instead of saying you have good teamwork skills in your skills section; use this section to demonstrate your teamwork/ leadership skills.

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