Jul 20

Mailbag: Customizing Resumes – Part 2

Last week I discussed making big changes to customize your resume for each open position. This week we’ll talk about the “micro changes” that can make a big impact on the success of your application.

The little changes involve the specific words and terminology you should use on the resume. Take your cues from the job description first, and fill in gaps from the website of the organization. The bottom line is that most employers run their applications through a computer program that looks for key words. The resumes that feature a critical mass of the desired key words will pass through for someone to actually see them. There’s really no way for you to know exactly what those key words will be, but chances are they’re in the job description or on the company website. The organization is telling you what’s important to them and the job (through the language they consciously or subconsciously use), so you can show them it’s important to you by using those same words. This doesn’t mean you should copy and paste bullets from the job description into your resume, but if you are trying to describe something you have accomplished that relates to the job, then incorporate their terminology.

One tool to help you figure out what the important keywords might be are word clouds. For example, go to https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/, paste the text of the job description into the box, and watch the system magically assemble a word cloud where words that appeared more frequently in the text appear bigger and bolder in the word cloud. In theory, words that appear more frequently in the job description may be important to the job and helpful key words to include on your resume. Not all of them will be, but it can help you figure some out as a starting point. While it doesn’t necessarily help you find important key words that only appear once in the job description, I find that pulling those words out of their context and separating them into the word cloud does sometimes help me notice them more. Once you’ve noticed the important terms, you can go back to the job description and use ctrl+F to identify where in the context those words fall and how they’re being used. That can help you figure out not just what word to use but what experiences from your background might be related.

Another resource that can help you figure out how well customized a resume could be for a certain job is https://www.jobscan.co/. Try it out and let us know what you think.

Are there other ways to customize the micro portions of a resume that I didn’t mention? Leave us a comment with your ideas!

Jul 13

Mailbag: Customizing Resumes – Part 1

Over the last few weeks we have been asking for readers and followers to submit questions. Here is one we received, as well as my thoughts on the issue.


What does resume customization really look like? I’ve read about it on resume advice websites, but what does it really mean and look like in real life? I’m sure there are varying degrees of customization depending on the job position/application.


Let me explain the theory, and readers can follow up with their grad career consultant to talk through specific situations or examples.

There are really two steps to the customization process: making big changes and little changes. When I want to sound fancy I refer to them as macro and micro changes. This week, we’ll tackle the macro changes.

The big changes are to the structure and content that you include in the resume. This level of customization deals with choosing the specific experiences from your background that relate to the position you’re applying for, and figuring out what aspects (tasks/accomplishments) from those experiences will best encourage the employer to interview you. You might ask yourself questions like “Is my education directly related to the position?” and “Do I have any work (or research) experience that is directly related?” Depending on the answer to those two questions, perhaps you end up moving your education down on that particular resume, or choosing to highlight certain things in your professional summary so that they catch the reader’s interest before they see your Education. In general, you want the sections on the page to be in order of importance to the job, and the information within each section to be reverse-chronological (most recent first). If a reader sees something that’s not particularly relevant, he or she might assume nothing else after that will be of greater relevance. It’s one technique they use to increase their efficiency of skimming through the resume.

Next, when choosing which bullets to use from each experience in your background, first determine which ones demonstrate that you’ve actually done similar work, and second determine which ones aren’t related but show a certain level of success and help confirm you as a “successful” person (because success begets success). Certain bullets that aren’t related to this job and also don’t show high success can be left off this customized version of the resume. Other macro changes include things like the order of your list of skills. On the master resume, they’re listed generally in order of your level of experience. It makes sense on some customized resumes to list them in order of importance to the job you’re applying for, even if that means a lesser-experienced-but-more-important skill comes before one you know really well but isn’t as relevant.

Check back on July 20th for Part 2 where I discuss the little changes that can make a big difference. In the meantime, are there other ways to customize the macro portions of a resume that I didn’t mention? Leave us a comment with your ideas!

Jun 29

Conference Success

Our director Larry Westfall and I are attending the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC) annual conference this week. Conferences and other professional development meetings and events are a natural component of most career fields, especially in the academy, higher ed administration, and others. Whether you attend an international, national, regional, or local event, there are certain tricks that can help you maximize the networking and learning opportunities they present. Here are some I’ve picked up over the last twelve years of attending conferences.

  • Sit with people you don’t know.
    If you attend the event with a contingent of others from your office, department, or school, try not to spend the whole conference with them. Avoid sitting next to them at meals or in sessions. Branch out and use that opportunity to meet new colleagues and have conversations with other scholars or professionals from different organizations. You have plenty of time to chat with your current colleagues back at home base. Use this chance to gain insights from and build relationships with new ones.
  • Make it easy to learn your name.
    Most conferences provide you with a nametag on a long lanyard. In many cases, the length of the lanyard places the nametag close to your navel, which forces people to look way down in order to see your name. It also means that when you sit down at a table (e.g. at lunch), the nametag will fall below the edge of the table, rendering it useless. Tie a knot in the lanyard to shorten it such that the nametag is higher up on your chest. Placing it higher makes it more visible and could make you the most memorable person at the lunch table.
  • Divide and conquer.
    At conferences where more than one interesting session occurs simultaneously, decide ahead of time which sessions you and your colleagues will attend. Rather than attending the same one, divide the sessions to maximize your learning opportunities. Then reconvene after the conference to share notes and resources.
  • Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
    Whether you use LinkedIn, academia.edu, or some other professional networking resource, connect online with the new colleagues you met at the conference and send them a note within a few days after the conference. Building and maintaining professional relationships takes some time and effort, and the conference or professional development event marks the first step. Send them a relevant piece of information you learned from the conference that they might have missed, or an interesting article you think relates to the content of the event. Adding this value in your follow up correspondence will foster the connection and set the tone for valuable future interactions.

Are you attending any conferences or professional development meetings this summer? Tell us your plans in the comments, and let us know your other tips for success at these events.

Jun 15

Skills and Squirrels

(Source: Flickr)

Last week I saw a squirrel hanging upside down on the side of a tree trunk, using just its hind legs, while eating a nut with its front paws. Could you do that? Probably not, because you are not a squirrel. But as I alluded to in the June 1st post “Be Confident,” you have many other skills and abilities by virtue of your graduate training and experiences.

If you break down your research into its components, regardless of your field, you have developed the ability to collect, interpret, analyze, and report information. The information looks different for each discipline, and the specific processes, tools, and techniques you apply look different, but the concept is the same. You can then apply the concept of “research” within the various careers you might pursue.

The amount of writing you have done during grad school will depend on your program, but no one gets through without honing their writing skills. Written communication is essential for every career path, and graduate school allows you to be confident that your writing experience is valuable.

Project Management
Whether it was for your dissertation, thesis, or smaller projects during your coursework, graduate school requires the completion of projects. And projects require the ability to do long-term planning as well as to overcome the inevitable short-term problems that arise along the way. Employers love when you can manage your projects independently, and that is not always possible right out of an undergrad program.

Public Speaking
I didn’t develop a comfort level with public speaking until I completed my own graduate program. Through teaching, class presentations, the Three Minute Thesis competition, conference presentations, symposia, workshops, and other opportunities, graduate students receive plenty of chances to hone their skills speaking in front of small to large groups.

One of the best parts? All of these skills are consistently among those listed as most important by employers.

What other skills have you developed during graduate school that you think are valuable for your future career? Leave them in the comments.

Need help turning your skills into a career strategy? We can help. gradcareers@nd.edu

Jun 01

Be Confident

Confidence is a funny thing. And so is déjà vu. As I was walking through the 2nd floor rotunda of the Main Building recently, I was struck by a déjà vu feeling about walking that same path during my first few days in this position. It was an odd sort of feeling, though, because my current strides were filled with confidence, whereas “new-hire Erik” had slinked along with trepidation, anxiety, and a little confusion about which staircase to take or where to find the elevator.

Obviously something had changed. But what makes us confident? Experience, mainly. But also knowledge, skills, and a belief in oneself. Also power poses, but I’ll come back to those. My confidence now stems from the belief that I belong here. The first few days of a new job are filled with imposter syndrome, because you don’t know what situation you are walking into. However, with 9 years of professional experience to draw from, I should have realized that my knowledge and skills were relevant and valuable.

My advice to our readers based on this realization: your time in graduate school has given you the knowledge and skills to be successful in whatever role you take on. If you are starting a new job or internship this month or later this summer, I want you to stride through the halls of your new organization with the confidence that you have been there before. I will talk more about your skills in the upcoming June 15th post, but suffice to say: you can do it! And if you are conducting research this summer, participating in some other initiative, or still interviewing for new positions, know that you belong there.

As for power poses? Well they’re a great way to add a boost of confidence when you’re not feeling it on your own. Had I held a power pose for two minutes prior to walking the rotunda those first few days, perhaps my recent déjà vu feeling wouldn’t have been so odd. For more information on Amy Cuddy’s research into power poses, view her Ted Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

What advice do you have for boosting your confidence when beginning a new job or taking on a new initiative? Tell us about it in the comments.

May 18

New Beginnings: Advice for transitioning from grad school to career


With commencement taking place this weekend, I can’t help but think of the transition that will take place for grad students who have completed their programs. Particularly for those students receiving terminal degrees, there likely will not be further formal education in your future, and a new set of habits and behaviors will be necessary for success beyond the Golden Dome.

TheMuse recently published a list of 43 simple habits that can improve your life, even if you only did a few of them. Since that list is geared toward life in general, I thought I would spin some of the non-work ones as they could relate to improving your work life more specifically. Reference the original list for context as you explore these opportunities to grow as a professional and colleague.

1. Do the Gratitude Snooze

If you are incorporating this habit in your daily life, I suggest including the following on your list of things to be grateful for: your new degree, your time at Notre Dame, your advisor’s time and support, other mentors who helped you here, your next opportunity (even if you don’t know what it is yet), your future colleagues, the opportunity to learn and grow in new or different ways, etc.

4. Meditate

Whether you are still applying for jobs or preparing to start your new career, meditation can provide focus, clarity, and renewed mental energy for tackling any aspect of career development. Feeling stuck customizing a cover letter? Hit a wall in arranging informational interviews? Need motivation to read the training manual for your new position? Give meditation a try.

7. Eat Mindfully

When starting a new career, it can be tempting to work through lunch in order to accomplish everything that needs to get done. However, take some time to step away from your desk, if possible, and eat mindfully. You can avoid indigestion and overeating, and might connect better with your new colleagues.

8. Breathe Deeply

Breathing exercises are helpful no matter what is stressing you out, but the job search and transitioning to a new career involve many stressors that can benefit from three seconds in, hold for one, and exhale for five.

17. Put Yourself in “Monk Mode”

I have started to do this myself where I close my e-mail tab for a period of time while focusing on a project. Engaging in deep concentration on a task can lead to more productivity for me.

19. Stand Up

As you may have seen, I sprained my neck back in April. My chiropractor compared the negative health effects of sitting at my desk all day to those of smoking (figuratively), and encouraged me to take breaks from sitting every 30 minutes.

20. Strike a [Power] Pose

I have long advocated for the benefits of power poses on interview success. Before entering an interview (not during the interview), hold postures that are expansive, such as arms out wide or on your hips while puffing your chest out. This can reduce interview anxiety and increase interview success. Try it to calm your nerves before giving a job talk or a big presentation at your new job.

23. Practice Being Charismatic

When starting a new job (or interviewing for one), it is important to connect with your colleagues or hiring committee. People connect more easily with individuals they enjoy speaking to and being around.

24. Listen

Get to know the environment and your co-workers before asserting your own ideas. It will give you credibility, and the information you learn while listening will help you pitch your ideas more effectively.

31. Put Your Phone Away

This should go without saying, but don’t bring your phone to group and one-on-one meetings. Even if others are using their phones, maintain your level of professionalism at all times.

33. Set Up Your Own “Smile Therapy”

For those moments when you feel overwhelmed by the search or at your new job, forcing yourself to smile can tangibly affect your mood and boost your confidence.

38. Help Someone

This is important at work, but also offers to reframe the networking process. When attending a networking event, don’t look for people who can help you achieve your goals. Instead, try to identify opportunities to help others achieve their goals. In return, they will gratefully try to help you achieve yours.

40. Create a “Jar of Awesome”

Whenever someone sends me an e-mail complimenting my work or expressing their sincere appreciation for my efforts, I save it in my “kudos” folder. I know a colleague who keeps a “smile file.” Reviewing these e-mails and notes comes in handy when I need a boost of confidence or morale.

43. Practice Self-Compassion

Slogging through the job search is hard, as is transitioning to a new role and identity. Give yourself a break, and don’t feel guilty about not reaching every goal. Do the best you can, and know that we are here to help along the way.


Do you have other habits that have helped you become #IrishReady for success? Add them in the comments, tweet them to us @ndgradcareers, or post them on our Facebook page.

May 04

Listology for Graduate Students

[This guest blog post comes from fellow Graduate Career Consultant, Cindi Fuja]

I love making lists. Strike that. I love crossing things off my lists. Whether it’s my shopping list, keeping track of how much water I’ve managed to down, or simply working on my daily calendar–I get a feeling of forward motion; of control, of staying on track when I’ve done some thoughtful planning of what tasks I need to accomplish.

Fellow list maker, Moorea Seal has recently published an entire book, The 52 List Project, to inspire her followers to keep lists as inspiration for personal journaling. The Muse re-posted from a professional perspective. I loved the idea immediately–and since I’m in the business of graduate career consulting, my brain started thinking about how that concept could be modified to reveal workable career strategies. And the more I thought about it, the more ideas I developed.

Let’s join forces in a Career List Project for the coming year! You’ll learn more about yourself; you’ll explore various career trajectories, and you’ll develop a personal career strategy along the way. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

For job seekers

  1. List 3-5 Industries To Learn More About This Summer
  2. List 20 Companies (or Organizations or Universities) that You’d Like to Work For
  3. List the 10 Accomplishments You’re the Most Proud Of
  4. List 7 Things that You Do Better Than Most People
  5. List What You Most Admire About Your Advisor

For upcoming graduates (and alumni) who have accepted employment

  1. List 5-8 People at Your New or Current Organization You Will Have Coffee With This Summer
  2. List 5 Ways You Will Act Differently as a Professional Colleague Than as a Student
  3. List 7 People Who Helped You Achieve Your Goals (and Then Thank Them)
  4. List 5-10 Special Graduate School Colleagues or Classmates to Remain Connected With
  5. Pick a “For job seekers” list above and begin plotting the next step in your career

For everyone

  1. List 25 of Your Favorite Inspirational Quotes
  2. List 12 Things that Motivate You
  3. List the Next 10 Books You Want to Read
  4. List 5 People You Want to Build A Professional Relationship With This Summer
  5. List 6 Current Events (Political or Otherwise) You Will Follow To Stay Informed

Feel free to suggest more lists in the comments below.

I am challenging each one of you to post one of YOUR summer career lists on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #IrishReady and keep us updated as to your progress (e.g. what topics you chose, what worked for you, what didn’t work for you, what you’ve already crossed off). Current ND grad students (and grad alumni) from Engineering, Science, and Arts & Letters: I’ll be treating my favorite five posters to a copy of Moorea Seal’s “The 52 Lists Project”! Ready? Go…!

Apr 20

Trust the Process

Last week during a physical activity, I sprained my neck. I’ll be fine, but I needed to visit the chiropractor and physical therapist. Hoping that the combination of treatments would magically lift away the pain and stiffness, I was dismayed to leave the first appointment without noticing significant improvement. Same for the second appointment. I’m scheduled for five more. While I’m not seeing results right away, I need to trust the process, knowing that the prescribed course of treatment will help achieve my goals for recovery.

Can you guess where I’m going with this? There is a direct connection to the job search and career development process.

Early stage (Engage): One of the first steps in the process is learning about your unique set of skills, interests, and motivations. We have assessments for that. Over time, you must then begin to build your network and cultivate your professional presence. Informational interviews can help you explore career paths and discover nuanced insights that lead to success. During this stage, there are no quick results, but trust the process.

Middle stage (Develop): Writing application documents, such as resumes, CVs, or cover letters, is often an iterative process that begins with a first draft, continues through initial revisions, and ends with customized versions for each application. Building interview skills does not happen overnight, either. It involves reflection to develop sufficiently detailed and viable stories you can share, and one or more mock interviews for practice. Trust the process and your applications will be successful.

Late stage (Empower): Receiving a job offer is often seen by applicants as the end of the cycle, but indeed it begins the negotiation period as well as the transition from graduate student to professional colleague. The transition can be difficult as you adjust to new routines and locations, make new friends and colleagues, and tackle projects that stretch your skillset. Don’t view the final stages of the job search as the culmination of your efforts, but as an ongoing experience where you continue to grow as an individual, professional, researcher, and scholar. It takes time, but trust the process.

Our current culture of instant gratification limits our patience for awaiting results, but if we trust the process we can be confident success will come our way. Where are you in your job search process? How have you seen your trust pay off in other areas? Please don’t hesitate to contact us for help along the way.

Apr 06

Job Offers and Negotiations

Congratulations, you’ve received a job offer! But now what? Is the salary competitive? Do any benefits seem to be missing? Should you try to negotiate? The answers to these questions do not come naturally to most people, and graduate students often lack experience interpreting the terms of a job offer and recognizing the strength of a benefits package. Fortunately, Graduate Career Services is here to help, and a number of students have stopped by the last two weeks to review their offers and develop a strategy for following up and/or negotiating. We also have resources on our website to help get you started.

From the moment you receive a job offer, there are generally three stages until you accept or decline it:

  1. Understand the terms of the offer. For many graduate students, this may be the first professional job offer you have received. Therefore, you may not be familiar with what is typically included. In addition to the starting salary, offers can involve items like a signing bonus, relocation assistance, profit sharing, and performance bonuses, as well as fringe benefits including insurance (medical, dental, vision, disability, life, etc.), retirement savings (401k), tuition assistance, vacation, holidays, mileage reimbursement, memberships in professional organizations, professional development funds, gym memberships, and more. Academic offers may also include lab start-up funding, technology, graduate student support, travel for research, and more. Do you know what “vesting” is? Do you know the difference between co-payments and co-insurance? We can help you understand what is actually included in the offer and what items you might need the employer to clarify.
  2. Determine your market value and evaluate the strength of the compensation package. In most cases, you will have already used tools like Glassdoor to figure out your salary expectations during the interview process or even submitted them on the initial application. However, now that you have received an offer, you will need to determine if it aligns with those expectations, especially in light of the “total compensation” being offered. The total compensation includes all of the benefits mentioned above. When evaluating the strength of the package, take into account the costs associated with healthcare premiums, for example, as well as how much the employer will contribute to your retirement and how long you have to wait before they start matching. Lower insurance costs or a greater retirement contribution will yield a larger net income in the long run, and might mitigate the negative effects of a lower annual salary. We can help you evaluate the strength of the benefits to determine your total compensation and compare it with your expected market value.
  3. Negotiate. The stage that gives most people (not just graduate students) the greatest amount of anxiety is the negotiation process. Should you ask for more money? Will the employer rescind the offer if you do? Aren’t you just being greedy? The answers all depend on the offer itself and the way you present the counter-offer or request. It is important to be gracious and professional throughout the process. We provide many resources and tips for negotiating on this page of our website as well as through this board on our Pinterest page.

GCS can help you become #IrishReady for every step of this process. Contact us at gradcareers@nd.edu to review your offer, evaluate its strengths and deficiencies, and plan a negotiation strategy. In the meantime, please share your favorite tips and resources in the comments section below.

Mar 23

Why Get a Professional Headshot?

Graduate Career Services and the Graduate School are once again offering FREE professional headshots on Tuesday, March 28th, 9am-1pm, at the north entrance of Jordan Hall of Science. No appointment required, and we encourage you to dress for success in professional attire. To kick off this opportunity, check out this guest blog post by GCS Career Consultant Lisa Michaels

Note: A version of this post first appeared on OMG Photography.


As a consultant in the Graduate Career Services office at the University of Notre Dame, I’m often asked about what an individual can do to stay competitive in today’s job market.  My answer is quite simple:  Give yourself an edge.

One way to do that is by creating a professional brand—and that includes your visual image.  A headshot says something about you—whether or not it was taken by a professional photographer.  Your brand is continually reinforced by what people see, hear and read.  In today’s world of social media, you can’t afford NOT to use every advantage available.  A professional photographer understands the nuances of lighting, posing and editing giving you an immediate competitive edge—and one that has a proven return on investment.  Here’s why:


  • People want to put a face with a name. Your headshot should encourage people to want to reach out to you.

Headshot male B

  • When an employer looks at your profile, he/she is not only looking at education and experience, but they are also looking at who you are and how you portray yourself. They want to make sure that you are serious about professional quality and digital communications  And if you don’t care about our own professional image, then why should a potential employer think that you will use any higher standards for their organizational image?

Headshot female A

  • Students need to be perceived as COLLEAGUES and specialists–and not as STUDENTS–as they enter the professional world; a professional headshot accomplishes the goal. How do you want to be seen? Do you want employers to see you as a real professional with high standards, or are you satisfied with showing them your ‘selfie mug-shot’?!

Headshot male C

  • A good headshot will promote greater trust, interest and authenticity in your brand. When you consider that a LinkedIn profile with a professional headshot is 7x more likely to be viewed than those without, you begin to understand the importance of that first impression.

Headshot female D

  • A professional photo is one of the most powerful aspects of your personal brand. It’s a visual representation of your readiness to add immediate value to an organization.  While some undergraduate students may be able to “get by” with a cell phone selfie, it is social media suicide for a serious professional.

Headshot male A

  • A professional photographer has a trained artistic eye for posing their subjects in order to achieve the best image—you don’t. Knowing what lighting looks best for a certain skin tone or face shape makes all the difference in the final product.

Headshot female C

  • Our general advice, when it comes to LinkedIn and other social media platforms, is to get a headshot taken by a professional photographer. It conveys a level of confidence and sends the message that you’ve INVESTED in yourself because you know you’re worth it.

Headshot male D

  • Employers want know the face behind the name. They want to hire people they trust; you need to make sure that you look like someone they want to interview, work and represent them in the world at large.

Headshot female B

Bottom line?  Don’t underestimate the importance of a professional headshot.  You want a picture to match your brand, keep your image consistent, engaging, but more importantly professional.  Hiring a professional photographer will ensure that your headshot enhances rather than devalues your brand.


Want to know more about how a headshot can enhance your professional reputation? Check out this article.

Leave us a comment about how you plan to use your headshot. We hope to see you on the 28th!

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