Resume 101

Fall is fast approaching, and this week I sifted through the stack of resumes and applications for the internship positions offered at my foundation.  Apparently, a well-constructed cover letter and resume are hard to come by, and I thought I would use my blog as my pulpit for what to do when it comes to applying at a nonprofit organization.


Resume Problem: Lack of Common Sense

I never thought I would see the day where college educated individuals are submitting paperwork with typos, incorrect contact information (i.e. not enough digits in the phone number, etc.), or even a resume that runs two lines onto another page. 

Solution: Fresh Eyes and Spellcheck Magic

These mistakes immediately put a sour taste in the mouth of your potential future employer, and you don’t want to be the “qualified girl with an incomplete or messy resume.”  Run the spellcheck in your word processor, after all, its there for a reason.  Then, step away from the resume (go for a walk, call someone, eat dinner) and return to it with fresh eyes.  Look for mistakes.  If you have a friend, coworker, or family member available to read it over and provide feed back, do it! 

Resume Problem: Not Enough Experience a.k.a. Blank Space

It can be discouraging if your breadth of work doesn’t fit a single page.  White space is often equated with a lack of experience, so much so that many people overcompensate by providing too much detail, or even that retail job they had in high school.  But blank space has an easy fix without telling everyone you waited tables.

Solution: Expand your education, skills, and community involvement

I can’t think of a university offering a Nonprofit Management Bachelor’s Degree, so nonprofit organizations want to know about relevant coursework (especially writing, grantwriting, economics, statistics, graphic design, marketing etc.).  If you’re looking to show your relevance and want to boost your experience, under your education section include relevant coursework.  Many organizations are also curious about your community involvement, because the relationships you’ve forged may be beneficial for your potential workplace and they want to see how passionate you are about philanthropy.  Including community involvement and volunteer work also allows them to learn more about you.  If your experience and education still leave space lingering at the bottom of the page, make sure to include a skills portion. This can be where computer knowledge (word, excel, photoshop, etc.) can be displayed, or linguistic skills: sign language, Spanish, etc. Depending on the nonprofit organization, you may have a unique opportunity to highlight a skill they may be looking for!  Don’t forget the small details either; many charities are looking for someone who can work in a specific program and also utilize social media, so if you are familiar with conivo, tweetdeck, hootsuite, etc. include it.

Resume Problem: You want it to look pretty…too pretty.

Several colors, photos of yourself, or "cutsie" fonts can make your resume appear childish or unprofessional.  Adding bold statements and text boxes may work great on posters or promotional flyers, but it can make a resume seem juvenile.

Solution: Simplicity Reigns Supreme

Unless you’re applying to be a model for a nonprofit (not that I’ve ever heard of that) you probably don’t need a photo of yourself on your resume.  It seems creepy in the eyes of most employers, and unless you’re gorgeous, it may do more harm than good. Excessive fonts and colors detract from the point of a resume: the content.  You want people reading about yourself and your experience, not thinking how pretty the magenta squiggle font is. If people want to see a photo of you and look at your pretty colors, they’ll google your name.  Most employers look up candidates on linkedin or facebook anyway, so tacking on the decorations to a resume is unnecessary.

Resume Problem: Too Much

It’s a nice problem to have, right?  Submitting 3+ pages to a resume is a clear indication that you either are insanely overqualified, or that you don’t know how to edit.  Nonprofits need concise, to the point employees who can edit, revise, and maintain relevance, and page after page of information doesn’t do the trick. And, as my boyfriend says to me, “there’s nothing left for them to ask you during the interview.”

Solution: Keep a Master Copy but Identify Relevance

I struggled with this problem myself, and what I found was that my employers didn’t care what I did in High School (even though I worked hard and thought it was relevant).  The standard rule of thumb is to take an experience off of your resume every time you add a new one.  Unless you’re applying for your first job out of college and need High School experiences to show your work ethic or skillset, avoid including it on your resume. Also describe experiences in the most relevant means possible: don’t write out your entire job description for each position, but rather include the responsibilities or successes that highlight your skills and would be relevant to the position.

Resume Problem: No idea where to start

If you’re applying for your first career job or are starting the transition into the nonprofit sector, it can be difficult to start designing and building your resume.

Solution: Look around and Get an Edge

There are means to assist everywhere.  Tons of sample resumes and suggestions are available online, and most word processors have built in templates.  Ask friends, family members, or mentors to see their resumes or ask for tips.  Writing centers at universities, are another great resource.  Almost everyone nowadays has a resume, and most people are willing to share their secrets.  Having an edge is crucial, particularly in this economy.  Creating a LinkedIn profile or having a connection to the organization which you’re applying can make all of the difference.  Make sure you have a relevant cover letter that caters to the position.  Put together the whole package, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Undergraduate Studies for the Nonprofit World

How to Let a Volunteer Go