As a professional resume-reviewer (getting paid to do something automatically makes someone a professional so I suppose I am also a professional lawn-mower and a professional dog-walker), I have seen a wide variety of resumes – from those of seniors who are searching for a full time job to blank sheets of freshmen who are writing their first resume, and everything in between. There are some required items – Education, Experience, and Activities (probably your name too) – and then other sections, such as Honors, Volunteer/Service, and Skills, that should be included if you have relevant information for them (and no, beating Halo 3 in one night does not count as a relevant skill, although congrats because that’s downright impressive). Many people also have even more sections for an Objective, their Relevant Coursework, and Interests. These sections always inspire questions so here are some reflections about each one. Keep in mind, though, that specific industries have nuanced expectations so you should meet with a counselor to address your individual case.
Here’s my general spiel (who knew that’s how you spelled spiel? I always assumed that it would have an “H” in it somewhere) about the Objective section. When applying for a job, presumably, your objective is to get the job. You wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) apply for a job if you didn’t want it. So, your objective is clear since you hit the submit button. While some say the Objective section gives you an opportunity to show exactly what skills you would bring to the table for that specific job or industry, I would much rather see those skills described in your experiences and activities – it’s the classic “show, don’t tell.” If you are applying to a specific posting, instead of wasting a line listing that your objective is to “use your excellent problem solving skills in Industry X,” you can use specific examples in the body of your resume to highlight those problem-solving skills. Then, you can use that valuable line for something else, or add some much needed space to your resume (if there is one thing that I really enjoy in a resume, it is appropriate use of white space)! However, if you are applying to a company without a cover letter or entering an industry that is different from your experience, the objective line might become one of the most important ones on your resume! Some industries even really like to see an objective statement so you if you’re unsure about the conventions of resumes in your industry, stop by the Career Center.
Now, regarding the Relevant Coursework section, there are few things to keep in mind. First, it’s great when people include this section on their resumes to point out their advanced classes. If you are a Chemical Engineer and proud that you just rocked Molecular Transposition, a (made-up) course perfect for your dream job, by all means put it on your resume. To make the cut, though, the classes listed need to be: 1) relevant to the job for which you are applying (“Theology of Marriage” is not relevant to an Audit position at one of the Big 4 Accounting firms) 2) upper-level and differentiating.
Consistent with the first point, if you are an A&L major but took a number of business and/or quantitative classes, you should mention these to show that you gained knowledge in classes that wouldn’t be assumed based on your major. Even if the courses don’t relate to the exact job posting, these courses are still relevant because they demonstrate academic training and knowledge.
To explain the second point, here I will explain a few examples. If every Economics major takes Principles of Microeconomics, then this course does not communicate the rigor of your course load. Think of Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles: “when every course is relevant, no course is” (not exactly the line, but pretty close). It would be a good idea to include relevant coursework if, for instance, you are a marketing major applying for a position at a non-profit. If you took a “Non-profit marketing” class (convenient how my made-up courses nicely fit into my hypothetical scenarios, isn’t it?), then you should mention it! In this scenario, you might also want to include high level marketing analytics classes that would be useful for the tasks of the job too.
Now, for the grand reveal of what I think is the hidden gem of resumes. Drumroll please… It’s the “Interests” section. But, hold your horses because before we begin, you have to reign yourself in a bit because the industry determines if this lovely line gets to make an appearance or not. The interests section is highly encouraged for finance (it’s almost like they are begging you to show that you’re more than the competitive I-Banker who has been breathing the markets since you left the womb) and consulting but not as embraced in more creative industries. Thus, I encourage you to speak with a Counselor to find out if your industry of interest (yes, I did that on purpose) has any special formats or sections that should/should not be included and if you can throw in my favorite section.
The interests section, when done right, can add so much to a resume and be an amazing factor in interviews, and it’s only one line on your resume! Notice, however, that I said “when done right.” If your interests are not interesting (once again, throwing in an “interest” pun), leave them off. For example, here is a typical Notre Dame student’s interest section that is not useful:
Interests: Notre Dame sports, Chicago sports, Basketball, Chicago, Football, Living in Chicago
There are several reasons why this would not be a good interest section, and only a few of them have to do with the crazy obsession with the city of Chicago. For an interests section to be useful, you want to engage many and alienate none. Your interviewer may not have the same interests as you, and if they don’t like sports or Chicago, your line is useless and certainly not paying enough for the valuable real estate it consumes. So, here is an example of an effective “Interests” section:
Interests: Baseball, Film and Television, Jeopardy, Mobile Technology, Distance Running, Board Games
In case you were wondering, yes, that is the interests section from my resume. Beyond my personal identification with it, I think it is effective because it shows a variety of interests – athletic (baseball, distance running), academic (Jeopardy – maybe a bit of a stretch but let’s roll with it, mobile technology) and entertainment (Film/Television, Board games) – and includes things specific and relatable to many people (who doesn’t like Jeopardy or Board games?).
The interests section is a great way to connect during an interview. Let’s be honest, no one gets super fired up from the standard behavioral questions (“Tell me about a time when…”). If you could avoid answering those questions, wouldn’t you? Just this fall, I had an interview with an Accounting firm that went amazingly because of my interests section. We talked for 20 minutes about the board game Settlers of Catan (drop everything and go buy this game … I’ll wait …). It might sound nerdy or corny to talk about board games in an interview, but I was able to make a personal connection with the recruiter and convey my personality in a way that might not have been possible through the standard interview questions. When you connect and form a bond, you drastically increase your odds of getting another interview or a job offer. And that’s the whole point of all of this! But, to reiterate, before you immediately add your zany and heartwarming interests, consider your industry.
So, to sum up this incredibly witty and informative (I’m humble, I know) blog post: the Objective, Relevant Coursework and Interests sections need to be done right to be effective and are included or excluded depending on the industry. Interns and counselors are in the Career Center in Flanner if you want to chat about how you can utilize these sections effectively and position yourself for success.