TUN sits down with Andre Fontenelle, the associate director for internships and employer relations at Brooklyn College, to discuss how students should write their resumes.
TUN: Andre, thanks so much for joining us.
FONTENELLE: Thanks for having me.
So, let’s start with the format. How important is the format of a resume? Can a messy format, alone, make or break your resume?
Yes. The format is definitely important because people are going to be looking at this and trying to understand who you are in a very quick time frame. Estimates say between five and 15 seconds is how long the person is going to first scan the resume. So if it’s messy, it’s a bad look.
For example, think about this. A person is trying to get somebody’s attention for a job. They’ve got 15 seconds. They have to provide a snapshot of what it is that they have to offer. So, what I tell students is to think about that snapshot similarly to a selfie.
When a person is taking a selfie, they don’t just click one time and say, “Okay, my selfie is done. Let me post it online.” They want to make sure that that selfie gets them at the exact angle that showcases whatever it is that they’re trying to get across.
With your experience, it’s the same thing. There are different recruiters. They have different things that they’re looking for. You want to put together your document in a way that the person who sees it will say, “Okay, this person is ready.”
If it’s messy, it’s the same deal. Nobody would take a selfie after they just woke up in the morning and their hair is messy. They wouldn’t. They just wouldn’t.
The other reason you want your resume to be very neatly formatted is that it is a sample of your work. How could I believe that you’re going to be a good worker for me if something that is your own personal document is messy and has typos and errors? If your thing doesn’t look good, how can I believe that you’re going to produce high-quality things when it’s my things?
Great. So, that said, do you have any specific tips on how applicants should format their resumes?
Yes, definitely. I would go with the old faithful, reverse chronological order, which is when you talk about what you’re doing most recently and work backwards. There is some variation to that, depending on how your particular set of jobs have sort of played out. But, that’s the best format that I would say to use.
Great. So I have seen some people try to separate their resumes from the pack by getting creative. I’ve seen people add profile pictures. I’ve even seen some people format their resumes to look like giant baseball cards. So, are these gimmicks good or should students avoid them?
Well, who is your audience, right? Know your audience and then try to attack this process the way that you think is the best fit.
So, maybe you know someone who works in the company or you read the description and something is telling you they want that creativity.
At the same time, remember that artificial intelligence is often the first screener of a resume. So, they’re going to be looking very much for the content that’s on the resume itself. So, that means that the fancy graphic that you put on your resume may not be helping you.
The other thing is, you don’t want to be creative on your resume to the detriment of the content. Sometimes people put resumes together and because of the way it’s formatted, the space to actually write descriptions is so brief that there’s no real way that you can add the substance that you need to.
So, would they like a creative resume if they see this fancy graphic? I think that they would take note of it. But in terms of them hiring you, they want to make sure that you have the goods. And they recognize that by the way that you’ve described yourself.
You do have plenty of options in terms of putting portfolio links on your actual resume so that they can see the type of work that you’ve done that may be more creative.
Great. Other than your previous job descriptions, which we will get into in the next question, what information should applicants include in terms of content for their resumes?
So, you know, sometimes students put together a summary on their resume. This is actually a very contentious issue in our office. Some people like summaries and some people say no to summaries. The best advice that I would say is, for someone who has a lot of work experience and wants to sort of frame it for somebody who’s reading it fast, a summary can definitely be helpful.
Another way that the summary can be helpful if you use the job description as a way to say to yourself, “Okay, they say that they want A, B and C. I’ve got A, B and C, but it’s sort of all over the place on the resume. I can make a point in a concrete way that I have these items on my resume in a summary format.”
I think that the biggest reason that the summary is sometimes problematic is that it contains a lot of fluff, right? So, people write these fancy statements that don’t really mean much. Sometimes, I’ll see a student and the first word on their summary says “inventive, blah, blah, blah.” And I go, “Sir, how are you inventive?” And then they smile at me. And I say, “Okay, listen. If you’re smiling at me, it means you don’t really know how this word inventive connects with what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Don’t write something just because it sounds good. It has to be something that you understand as being what you have to offer right now.
Back to the content in terms of laying it out, I did mention the idea that you can put different sections on your resume. We have big four accounting firms that come on campus and, in addition to accounting experience, they want leadership, teamwork and customer service.
Now, for a student, you could say to yourself, “I want to showcase this, but I want to make sure that the recruiter sees it.” So, in your resume, you can put different sections for the different content that you want to describe.
If you have work experience, you could have an accounting-related experience section. Then, you could have a teamwork session, a leadership section and a customer service section. You have the ability to put those sections on your resume. However, you want to think very deeply about how these sections that you’re going to put on your resume connect with what that person asked for on that job description.
Again, always go back to the audience. So, as you’re thinking about it, you have to think, “Why am I even doing this section?”
I will tell you why putting sections on your resume is helpful for you. If I were to show you a bag of Skittles really fast and I say “This is red,” you’d say, “Okay, it’s red.” If I show you a bag of Skittles fast and I say, “This is maroon,” you’d say, “Okay, it’s maroon.” But if I flash it really fast and I say, “This is black,” you’d say, “No. I know Skittles bags. That’s red. That’s red or maroon. It is one of the first two but it is definitely not black.”
You have the ability to make your experience easily digestible for those who are looking at your resume.
So, when you describe your leadership experience, label it as such. It helps prime the reader’s brain to see it that way.
Great. So, now let’s speak more specifically about job descriptions. Those are the meat of your resume. So, do you have any advice on how students should describe their roles in that section?
Yes. I would say that, in this section, I want you to take note of the fact that this should be focused on accomplishments. It’s also not just the jobs. It’s also your volunteering and your club activities. You can describe all of those things.
So, if you’re a member of 10 clubs, it’s probably better for you to focus on just listing three of those clubs and then describing what you actually do in those three clubs versus just listing a lot of experience.
Remember that the person who’s looking at your resume is understanding it through the words that you’re writing. They’re not in your head. So, that means you’re going to have to make it crystal clear. I know it’s tough because it’s only a little bit that you can write. You really want to think deeply about how you can describe that content using the accomplishments. Because, if you focus only on the job description, all of the people who ever had your job could put the same exact content on their resumes.
You would always say, “No. I’m the best. I’m the best blank.” All right. Well, if you’re the best blank, you’ll have to prove you’re the best blank.
“Oh, I’m a quick learner,” he or she says. Okay, quick learner. How are you going to describe that? If, for whatever reason, you were able to pick up something quickly on the job, you should label it.
I’ll give an example. Let’s say you picked up a computer software in one-third of the time it takes the typical intern. You could write, “Mastered accounting software at one-third of the time of the typical intern.” That’s the meat, right? You have differentiated yourself.
If you’ve won awards or things of that nature, you want to include those things as well because that’s something that’s distinct to you.
In closing with this section, I would just say make sure that you use metrics if you can. So, again, if you did something in one-third of the time or if you did something where you increased sales by 50 percent, you should use those metrics.
Try to think of being as clear as possible. So, for example, you could say “I’m top 10 in blank.” Well, the recruiter might not know. Top 10 of what? You could be top 10 out of 10. So, if you are top 10 out of 100, then you want to make sure that you make that clear. You could write “top 10 percent.” You should try to find the language that most emphasizes your highlights.
Great. So are there any common resume mistakes that you would caution applicants to avoid making?
There are a couple of mistakes. A super common one is just not being consistent. So, for example, most of the statements in your resume aren’t normal sentences, so you don’t have to put a period at the end of them. But if you do, you have to be consistent about that. You want to make sure that all headings and those types of things are labeled consistently. Consistency is one of the most important things.
Another one is making sure that everything you write is true. You never need to make anything up, folks. You just need to think about what you’ve done and describe it.
Another thing I would say is, don’t undersell. I have students who don’t have 4.0s. Most people don’t have a 4.0, but there may be reasons for that.
So, for example, I met with a student yesterday. I asked him, “Were you working full-time and going to school full-time?” And he said, “Yes.” Now, his GPA is not a 4.0. But, as I talked to him more, he was going to allow the resume to say, “Work full-time and school full-time.”
Now, we talked about if you should include a summary or not. You could simply put a profile statement on the top of your resume.
And in this person’s case, it could say “Attended school full-time while working full-time.” I ask him more questions because, again, I’ve learned the game. I dug deeper and I found out that this gentleman actually works seven days a week and works 64 hours a week. So I said, “No, no, no. Don’t just say ‘work full-time, school full-time.’ Instead, write ‘work for 60 plus hours per week while attending school full-time.’ ”
Now, for a recruiter. What do they want? They’re trying to glean from a resume, does this person have a set of qualities that I want in a candidate? If I know that you’re working 60 plus hours per week and attending school full-time and doing well in school, that means you have a hard-working nature. That is a big plus for a candidate, getting that across from the jump.
Great. Well, thanks, Andre, for joining us today.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.
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Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.