Verbal Origami

Dr. Joseph Barber

You can think of verbal origami as a the process of taking one of your skills-based experience bullet points from your resume and verbally folding and refolding it so that it can emphasize different skills for the different positions you might be applying to. Take this bullet as an example – you might have something like this in your resume:

  • Created new assessment tool as part of a team to determine success of new training methodology.

As written, the main emphasis of this bullet is on the creating skill; “created” is the action doing verb that will stand out to the reader as they are quickly scanning through a resume. Focusing on creating something would be ideal if the job description mentioned something about being creative, innovation, showing outside of the box thinking, and so on. Being creative is never a bad skill to have, but if you were applying for a position where other skills were more highly sought after, then it would be a good idea to think about how you might be able to emphasize those skills. You might pick a new experience to talk about, or you could use the same experience but put the emphasis on a different aspect – you could do some verbal folding. Here’s an example:

  • Collaborated with team of 2 MBA students and an engineer to develop an online assessment tool used to measure training outcomes.

This is the same experience, except for this time the emphasis is on team-work and collaboration. This bullet focuses in more detail on quantifiable elements that make the team feel like real people in a real-life contact, as it describes who was in the team and how many people were involved. Let’s fold some more:

  • Successfully used Qualtrics and SPSS to develop and analyze a 30-minute online assessment for training outcomes that is now used as a standard protocol and tool for evaluation in an office of 15 researchers.

Again, same experience but seen from a different perspective. In this case, the technical skills are emphasized. Compared to the last two examples, this bullet point also adds a new element – an outcome. Having outcomes is important, as the outcomes demonstrate how effective the skill is. The reader feels more confident that the technical skills are effective because the evidence points to the fact that others saw value in them (the 15 researchers in the office thought they were useful).

So, this is just a quick reminder that you always use multiple skills in whatever you do, but your job in a resume is to draw attention to the skills that are most relevant to the reader. To do that, you sometimes have to verbally fold and refold you experiences so that the right skills are emphasized in the right way.

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).