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Writing a (non-academic) resume for a perpetual student?
May 13, 2008 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Writing a (non-academic) resume for a perpetual student?

I'm a first-year Ph.D. student. I am, if I do say so myself, pretty damn good at it, and it's taken loads of hard work, responsibility and professionalism to get me here.

The flip side is that my resume is a complete train wreck. My work history sort of fills in the cracks in the academic calendar: summer jobs, seasonal jobs, temp jobs, part-time jobs. My TAship this year has been the only position I've ever held longer than six months. I've never stuck around anywhere long enough to get promoted.

Anyway, it's time to get a summer job again, and I'm sick of the skeptical looks, unreturned phone calls and negative assumptions. I may not qualify for anything fancy, but I know I'm good enough to run the copier and answer the phones for the summer, and I'm sick of having a resume that doesn't reflect that fact.

What can I do to make it clear that I'm a hard-working perpetual student, and not an unemployable drifter, in the ten seconds before my resume's tossed into the trash?
posted by nebulawindphone to Work & Money (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Put your education section above your employment section. Make it clear there that you've been in school full time for the last X many years.

Also, be sure you're listing your temp jobs as name/dates with your temp agency rather than individual jobs unless they were very long and/or for highly respected companies.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:02 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're just looking for full-time work for the summer, you'll get very steady employment through a temp agency.
posted by desuetude at 11:02 AM on May 13, 2008

Wait, missed that you already temped. Is there any reason why you're not going through an agency now?
posted by desuetude at 11:03 AM on May 13, 2008

There's always the option of writing out a skill resume listing what you've had experience doing and then putting your work dates at the bottom in an abbreviated format.

I second putting your education history at the top to highlight what you've been doing with most of your time. My resume lists the work I did as a graduate student under the heading of "Rotation Student" and subsequently "Thesis Student" as a lot of experience I gathered was during this time. Can you do something similar?

I feel like it's important to add that people may be looking at you askance on account of the fact that they want someone who will be around for more than just the summer and that you are precisely not what they want despite your skillset.
posted by oreonax at 11:16 AM on May 13, 2008

Wait, missed that you already temped. Is there any reason why you're not going through an agency now?

I moved for grad school. The agency I used to work for doesn't have any offices in this state, so I've had to apply to new ones, and I've found it much harder here than it was back home.

But even once you're signed on with an agency, having a good resume seems to make a difference — the more easily they can "sell" you to clients, the more work you'll get and the more money you can ask for. At least where I worked before, my resume was the first step in the "sales pitch" when they were trying to get me a gig.

So, yes, temping is a good idea, but I still want to sharpen up my resume.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:20 AM on May 13, 2008

(On preview, this post is pretty long-winded and rambling, but resume writing is a subject I've become interested in lately as I've become more aware of the liberties that can be taken with it. It's kind of exciting to think that you can make a resume from scratch to present yourself however you see fit.)

Keep in mind that while there are very strong conventions when it comes to making a resume, there are no hard and fast rules. The classic job-getter's book What Color is Your Parachute? has a good bit about this fact. I think he uses the illustration of an older man's poorly typewritten, yet genuine and convincing, cover-letter-slash-resume-slash-bio that was successful in getting him a position in tractor sales.

There are a lot of rules that can be broken, and fudges that can be made to expectations, in order to present what you feel is the most relevant information about why you should have this job.
I obtained my current job with a boldly-designed resume that I knew would appeal to the attitude I thought the company was going for with its advertising image.
I've had several different jobs all over the board, from video editing to working at Starbucks. I thought it would be unwise to make known, of my own volition, the fact that I've gone through jobs quickly in the past. So I omitted this information.
I listed jobs I've had in order of descending similarity/relevance to the current position. I also decided to completely reduce job descriptions to two words or so, with no descriptions. An old job sitting in the ticket booth of a movie theater, and sometimes tearing tickets, turned into "Host & Sales: The Michigan Theater Foundation." Since I wasn't listing dates or length of employment, it wasn't made known that it had been a temporary job. I thought the benefits of mentioning the involvement of sales would outweigh the negatives of the hiring manager thinking "wait, is he trying to make a crappy job at a movie theater sound better than it really is?". They can always ask about this stuff during the interview, if they care, and you can always redirect the questions back to your strong points.
For example:
"So, you worked in hosting and sales for a theater foundation? You don't mention how long you held this position or what the duties were."

"Yeah, I just worked there for a short time, but I think this position was really valuable because it helped me hone my skills as far as dealing with people in a customer service kind of way, and I think that experience would be helpful here because ________"

That's an example, but when I had my interview, it wasn't anywhere near as combative and confrontational as interviews are illustrated in job hunting books.
posted by white light at 11:48 AM on May 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

After living and working in Japan for ten years, I returned to Canada in 2004. My resume, as it was, said one thing: teaching. The only problem was that teaching is poorly paid (I have a family to support) and nobody was hiring social studies or EFL teachers.

I needed to find another job, and I had to create a resume that stressed less the fact that I was a teacher, and more the fact that I am a writer (although I soon learned that writers are a dime a dozen, too). Within three months I had a contract as a government speechwriter. When that contract ended, I got a job as a technical writer. When that job ended I became a program coordinator for a local industry association. I eventually (within two years) became a respected researcher, and I now work in management in government, based on my experience in the three years since I had returned from Japan. All that based on dubious Creative Writing and Education degrees.

My resume (which is pretty good) has a bulleted list of "core competencies" right at the top. I rearrange the hierarchy (or substitute in different ones) of the competencies depending on the position I'm applying for. I never include "employment objective" on the resume, because that's what the covering letter is for. "Competencies" in this case should be skills you are good at. The most relevant info should be toward the top of the list. "Team player" and "accuracy" should not be on the list, because everyone should have have those skills anyway.

Since so much that I have done is project-based, I list five accomplishments. I make these accomplishments relevant to each job that I'm applying for.

I only include the *years* when I worked someplace, and rarely include "professional" (never "work") experience older than five years in the past. By including just the year you worked someplace, you can gloss over the fact it was a three-month term.

The bullets for each job include what I was responsible for.

I also rarely use a chronological resume, but instead mix up my work history so that the most relevant work is displayed first.

I'm lucky to have been self-employed, because it has allowed me to work on interesting and unrelated projects. While I was doing industry research for the government, I was also translating (Japanese to English) and localizing tv scripts, and doing corporate communications for a very large automaker.

Yet, at the end of the day, most, if not all of the jobs I have clinched over the past four years have been the result of personal relationships and personal connections. I was recommended for a position by someone, and all I needed to do was craft a resume that reinforced their belief in me.

So, throw the temp companies out the window, figure out what kind of work you want to do, craft a resume that matches it (drop anything that says "mowed lawns in 2005"), and then start making cold calls.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:37 PM on May 13, 2008

I found that as a PhD student, I had a lot of trouble finding hourly work. You may be better off walking into Starbucks or whatever and asking to speak with the manager on duty. Then talk you way into a job before mentioning that you are a PhD student.
posted by k8t at 9:01 AM on May 14, 2008

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