September at MIT means one thing: CAREER FAIR! This year’s fully virtual format makes freshening up your resume all the more important. The virtual format means fewer opportunities to make a personal connection (and fewer free t-shirts), but the resume is still an excellent vehicle for making a first impression. Updating your resume is a wise endeavor, any time of year.

However, crafting a document to highlight the latest and greatest in your life can feel just plain awkward. A fear of bragging compels many students to downplay their accomplishments, making it more difficult for employers to notice them. Writing a resume is an unusual exercise from a social perspective, so the desire to be modest is understandable. You would never share your resume as a way to make new friends or woo your date (I hope). Humility is admirable, but it’s not a justification for underselling yourself. If you find yourself falling prey to the undersell trap, keep reading…there’s a better way!

You don’t have to be a braggart to turn up the volume on the accomplishments and skills that make you a strong candidate. Employers are looking for applicants who are well-suited and excited to contribute to their organization. Your resume is an opportunity to succinctly and clearly show them that you are that person! Here are some strategies to help you keep things in perspective and ameliorate any fear of bragging.

  1. Know your audience. Scientific communication is all about knowing your audience. For a job application, the audience is the employer. What information about a candidate might be useful based on the job description, company values and organizational priorities? Employers are trying to determine who would benefit their organization. Make it easy for them!
  2. Show don’t tell. The familiar adage “actions speak louder than words” may come to mind, but there’s more to it. Impact matters more than action. For so long I thought the most honest resume format was to list my experiences as objectively as possible. I’m all for objectivity, but my error was focusing on ‘here is what I did’ rather than ‘here is what I accomplished.’ Don’t just tell the reader what you did, show them what happened because you were there.
  3. Be quantitative. The best way to demonstrate your contribution is to be objective. Nouns and verbs are stronger than adverbs and adjectives. For example, as a TA you may have ‘managed ample subject material online,’ but how could you give this statement more granularity? Consider the difference by saying you ‘created an online repository of 100+ subject readings.’ This advice comes with a caveat: prioritize only relevant details to maintain brevity. Ask yourself, does this information support how I am well suited for this position?
  4. Include impactful experiences. Not every experience has to be flashy or technical. It is completely valid to showcase skills you learned in organization, team-building and leadership from your position as a summer camp counselor. The title matters less than what you’ve gained from an experience. Meaningful experiences can come in all shapes and sizes, so don’t limit yourself to academic ones only.
  5. Seek genuine feedback. Getting feedback from a trusted advisor (or your friendly neighborhood CommLab Fellow) can bump your resume to the next level. From asking what is noticeable (or not) on your resume to having a conversation about how to integrate impactful experiences, the CommLab is here for you!

Blog post by Andrea Lehn