Try this test to create a better resume

One of the most frustrating parts of the job search is trying to make your resume stand out. A good way to draw attention to your resume is to tailor it to the job you’re applying for. But how do you do this?

We recommend a small test: when your resume is drafted for a specific job opening, hand it to a friend and ask them, “Can you tell what job I’m applying for?”

What would your friend say about your resume? (Photo credit: anikarenina, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Upon glancing at your resume for a minute or less, your friend should be able to tell you what the new job entails. This is because the job description should be reflected throughout your resume in the following ways:

  • in the language you use (adopt the language used in the position description),
  • in the tasks you choose to describe (share your experiences doing similar tasks required by the new job), and
  • in the accomplishments you share (demonstrate your ability to successfully complete the work put forth in the description)

Have you tried this? How else do you make sure your resume reflects the job you’re applying for?


Three reasons not to post your resume online

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at

“Can I post my resume on Idealist? How do I post my resume on Idealist? Why can’t I post my resume on Idealist?””

In my five years working here—chatting, writing and teaching about nonprofit careers—countless community members have asked these questions. Here’s why we don’t host resumes on our site:

1. Resumes should reflect position descriptions.

We don’t host your resume because employers should never see a generic resume from you.

Your resumes (plural) should each be almost mirror images of the positions you’re applying for. They should reflect your experiences with the roles, qualifications and job duties the hiring organizations seek, and the issues they champion. See Chapter Eight of the Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers for tips (p. 142 if you’re reading the guide for first time job seekers and p. 146 in the guide for sector switchers).

As a hiring manager, I love it best when an applicant’s resume tells me that they were born for this job or internship. A generic resume will never do that.

2. Resumes should not open you to identity theft.

We don’t host your resume because we don’t want to encourage identity theft.

Professional, non-financial identity theft involves using the details of another person’s professional and educational background to gain employment. Perpetrators can access your personal information in plenty of ways – including information you post about yourself online.

Listing specific details of your current and past employment online (including your contact information, accomplishments, references, awards and professional memberships) opens the door to professional identity theft.


From Flickr user Yasuhiro (Creative Commons)

3. Resumes should not invite spam.

We don’t host your resume because while we want to promote connections among our community members, we dislike spammers.

In the current job market, it’s unclear how many worthy organizations are browsing online resumes in search of people who haven’t bothered to apply for the organization’s openings.

However, it’s very clear that spammers are always on the look out for people to pester.


Posting your resume online may seem like hedging your bets: you can’t possibly know about all the openings out there, so maybe it makes sense to post a generic resume, just in case your dream employer discovers you that way. The risks of such passivity are professional identity theft on one end of the spectrum, and spam on the other.

In fact, worthy employers who post job openings in the current job market are inundated with worthy applicants. The best way to get their attention is to send your perfectly-tailored resume directly to the hiring manager. Read more about presenting yourself on paper.

And take note: if you have a crush on an organization that’s not currently hiring, connect with them in the meantime through social networks. For example, on the newly relaunched Idealist, you can connect with an organization as a fan of their page. Then you won’t miss out if and when they do post a new job listing.

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Career Corner: How to share your "resume leftovers" at an interview

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at

From Flickr user Kathleen Franklin (Creative Commons)

If you’re familiar with this blog or with the Idealist Career Guides, I hope we’re on the same page when I say that…

  • Your resume is not your autobiography. The point of the resume is to get you an interview.
  • …And so it should only include highly relevant accomplishments based on a specific job description’s qualifications or duties.
  • And, of course, you should tailor your resume, every single bullet on it, to a specific job you’re applying for.

But what do you do with “leftover accomplishments” that didn’t make it onto the resume?

Use them in your interview! Here’s how.

List and illustrate your skills.

Pam Rechel, with BraveHeart Consulting in Portland, OR*, advises job applicants to prepare stories to tell at a job interview that will showcase their strongest transferable skills. In order to do this, she says, you should first identify your own strongest skills, as well as any other skills necessary for your desired job (which you can find in the qualifications and job duties sections of a job posting).

Once you’ve made this list, look at each transferable skill. Come up with a brief anecdote that illustrates a specific time you used that skill. Make sure to note how it contributed to the success of a project or program.

Prepare to talk about the skills.

Envision a chat that includes the following:

  • Name the skill. “I had a chance to use my negotiation skills when…”
  • Give a specific example of a time when you used or learned the skill — really tell the story. “…Last summer I met with a nearby organic farmers co-op to persuade them to sell their tomatoes at a discounted price to the local school district. They were reluctant at first, but when I explained the value of locking in a guaranteed buyer for their product, they saw what was in it for them. We went back and forth on a price, and we shook hands on a good deal for the school district that also honored their farmer’s business models…”
  • Clarify the impact of that skill on your project’s success. Remember, in the nonprofit world, the hiring team will be most impressed with your ability to increase positive outcomes for your social or environmental issue. “…As a result of my negotiation, 10,000 school children from low-income families in the district ate fresh, organic tomatoes with their daily free breakfasts and lunches.”
  • Identify ways the skill applies to the job you want. Connect the dots for the hiring team. “My negotiation skills will be useful as an event planner for your organization because I can work out reasonable deals on venue pricing, catering, and other costs.”


Let’s say you prepare a dozen little stories, each on a different transferable skill, to get ready for your interview. How in the world will you remember them all?

The solution is simple: jot down the skill and a couple of key words that will jog your memory about which story to share. For the example above, you might write “NEGOTIATION — organic farmer tomato story.” Come into the interview with a neat, typed list of skills and key words. If the hiring team even notices your list, they will probably conclude that you are well prepared.

Know when to use your stories.

Of course, after all of this work, there’s no guarantee the hiring team will give you the prompt you’re hoping for: “Tell us about a time when you used your negotiation skills.” Instead they may ask you, “Tell us about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle,” or “Have you ever had to bring different groups together for a win-win?” Your negotiation skills story is still the perfect anecdote to plug in as part of your answer to either of these questions.

The more stories you’ve prepared, the quicker and more effective your responses will be to the hiring team’s questions.

Take your time.

Having a lot of fabulous answers doesn’t mean you should rush!

Always feel free to pause for a moment—scan your list of anecdotes, even—to think about the best possible response to a question. If you’re truly stumped, ask for time to think about it, and then later in the day when you’re emailing a quick thank-you note, offer further insight on the question that stumped you during the interview.

If you follow these steps, your resume leftovers should provide a feast’s worth of great conversation. Bon appetit!

*For more on Pam Rechel’s exercise “Translating Your Experience into Job Speak,” see Part Two of our guide, Service Corps to Social Impact Career.
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: Elegant Pizza, Elegant Resumes

By Meg Busse, who pretends to be a pizzaiola.

I read this interview with Matthew May, the author of In Pursuit of Elegance, a few weeks ago, and it’s been rolling around in my brain since then. In May’s book, he defines something as elegant when it is both unusually simple and surprisingly powerful.

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed thinking about this interview is because I love how the mirror of elegance can be held up to anything with interesting results. Lately, I’ve been thinking about elegance in terms of pizza and resumes.

There are few pizza places out here in Portland, Oregon that are really, really good. However, most people agree that Ken’s Artisan Pizza is the best. The crust is gorgeous. The sauce is fantastic but not too showy. The cheese and other, high quality toppings are simply and perfectly paired — no meat-lovers supreme here. I love this pizza because I can taste each component; there is no overload of ingredients, and each element (crust, sauce, cheese, toppings) can shine. It’s simple and powerful — an elegant pizza.

By Flickr user eyeliam (Creative Commons)

I feel like one of the key goals for a resume is for it to fit into this definition of elegance; a resume should be powerful and simple.

I’m sure you’ve heard that a resume (and cover letter) needs to be tailored to each position you apply to. This is where the elegance comes in. Because not only does it need to have all of essential, tailored information, but it needs to not have any extra stuff.

One way to do this is to sit down with each job posting you’re interested in. Look at the list of required skills, responsibilities, and qualifications. Can each of those points be easily found on your resume? Because the folks who do hiring are not going to search, infer, assume, or guess that you have qualifications if they’re not spelled out clearly on your resume. Similarly, they don’t have time to wade through a lot of excess information to figure out if you’re a good candidate for the job.

This is where a master resume (see Chapter 8 of The Idealist Guide, Presenting Yourself on Paper) can be incredibly useful. Put your master resume next to the job description and get rid of any bullet points that don’t match the job requirements. Obviously, if you’re left with few to no bullet points, the job may not be a good fit. But if you’ve got a good number of points left, go through them and make sure all of the bullet points add value to your resume from the perspective of each job’s hiring manager. If not, they’re just fluff. The subtractive process through which your resume is tailored to a specific position is key to making it effective and elegant.

So for both pizza and resumes, the ultimate goal is to allow each individual element to shine while creating a powerful impression of the whole. Granted, one is much better with a glass of red wine…but that’s another post.

Got any other resume tips? Or pizza suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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