Why You Should Add Resume Details

by Emily Barrale, Associate Director

Creating a resume can be an intimidating process. It’s hard to know how to highlight your skills and strengths in a way that makes you stand out. Your descriptions of your jobs/internships/extracurriculars experiences are the best way to show off what you would bring to a role.

Start by focusing on what you’ve done in each experience. What skills did you use? What were your accomplishments? What were the outcomes related to your work? Start your sentence with a strong action verb (created, managed, researched); we have a whole list of examples on our website. Next, try to add a little more detail about the scope of your role. Adding quantifiable details is a great way to provide context to your experience. For example: how many people attended that event? How many students did you teach or tutor? How much did that social media campaign increase engagement? Finally, always pay attention to the job description. One of the best ways to stand out as a candidate is to highlight the skills and qualifications they’re looking for on your resume through your experiences.

Here are a few examples of how to flesh-out details on your resume, to help illustrate why this is so effective:

Alpaca Groomer’s Club, Member

  • Coordinated social events for the Alpaca Groomer’s Club.

Alpaca Groomer’s Club, Member

  • Coordinated 4 events, each with 25+ attendees. Managed pre-event logistics, including securing venue, food, and alpaca-themed decorations. Maintained a fun experience for attendees while staying under budget.

The Teacup Factory, Waitstaff

  • Waited tables/served food. Handled customer complaints.

The Teacup Factory, Waitstaff

  • Managed the largest serving section while ensuring prompt and accurate food delivery. Received positive feedback for remaining calm and friendly while finding fast resolutions to challenging customer complaints.

Jester Inventory Co., Intern

  • I processed inventory in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word.

Jester Inventory Co., Intern

  • Created an excel spreadsheet to streamline inventory calculations and tracking which were previously done manually, increasing productivity and cutting down on the number of errors made by 25%.

Showing your skills and strengths, rather than just telling them, will help you stand out as a candidate.

If you’re struggling with cover letters or resumes, or if you just want a second pair of eyes to look them over, you can submit them for review and we’ll be happy to help.

What’s Your Story? The Power of a Career Narrative

by Sharon Fleshman

You may have career goals which seem clearly aligned with your background or you may be seeking a career transition.  Either way, you will want to develop a compelling career narrative which would include the following:

— An experience that exposed you to a given career and served as a catalyst for you to pursue that career.

— An experience in which you were energized and made a positive impact, confirming for you that a particular career or job is a good fit for you.

With these kinds of defining moments and accomplishments, you can connect the dots between your work history and the next step on your career path.  Consider the following scenarios and career narrative examples:

A student completing a BSN degree and planning to apply to Registered Nurse positions.  
“I became drawn to nursing in high school when volunteering at a pediatric hospital and shadowing a nurse.  I continue to enjoy community service work which allows me to mentor and empower children. In my recent clinical rotation in pediatrics, I was able to bring comfort and clarity to the anxious parent of a patient, which was noted by the parent and my supervisor. This affirmed my desire and ability to offer patient care that has a positive impact not only on children at the hospital but on their families as well.”

An alum who has worked as a teacher, returned to school to study policy, and plans to apply to policy research positions.
“As I worked as a teacher in public school, I began to ponder the best ways to assess student achievement in the classroom. As I did this, I also saw connections to broader and more systemic issues. This discovery led me to attend a graduate program which allowed me to cultivate skills in policy analysis and data analysis to complement my teaching background. I found that in my internship, my track record as an educator paved the way for me to build rapport with teachers and administrators whose participation was vital to my research.   I hope to leverage my mix of experiences and skills to conduct policy research and analysis that promotes increased equity and access in education.”

There are a number of contexts in which you can apply your career narrative:

Cover letters:  Cover letters allow you to address a specific employer about a specific job.  Therefore, you do not want to merely repeat what is on your resume. Instead, adapt and build upon your career narrative to highlight experiences that demonstrate why you are interested in and qualified for the job, and a good fit for the employer.

Career Fairs: Career fairs allow you to engage representatives from various employers, usually in brief conversations.   The career narrative, adapted to a particular employer, can offer a great way to introduce yourself and pave the way to ask a thoughtful question or two.

Networking: Whether you converse with your networking contact at a reception or an informational interview, your career narrative is a great tool to offer a bit about your background and career interests before you ask for perspective or advice.

Interviewing:  Many interviews open with the “Tell me about yourself” question, which can be a bit daunting.  Having a career narrative that connects your key experiences and career goals to the employer and the job will help you begin the interview with enthusiasm and confidence.

Feel free to make an appointment with a career advisor to discuss how to craft your career narrative. In the meantime, take a look at the following articles for more insight:

What’s Your Story? – by Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback, Harvard Business Review, January 2005

Younger Workers Need a Career Narrative by Heidi Gardner and Adam Zalisk, Harvard Business Review, February 15, 2013


Career mythbusting, and interesting facts about vegetables and Vulcans

Dr. Joseph Barber

As we conclude this academic year, let me take this opportunity to clarify some common areas of career confusion relating to the job search. But first, some interesting facts to start us off. Did you know that May is the only month that spells a vegetable backwards? I was going to say that May is also the only month that spells another actual word backwards, but then we would be forgetting about April. “What is a Lirpa?” you might ask yourself. Go ahead, look it up, and you will be ready to impress the next Trekkie you meet at a party. OK, and now onto some areas of career confusion and other assorted myths.

  • Professional recruiters only spend an average of 8 seconds reading your resume

I am sure some data have been collected on this, but I am also positive that these data are unlikely to be representative of all industries, and all jobs, and all people. It is the kind of statement that attracts people’s attention, though, and there is some element of truth to this. The reality is that different people will read your application materials at different points along the process, and each person will be looking for something specific from your document. But it is true, that all of these people have busy jobs, lots to do, and so just can’t spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out if your experiences as described might be a good fit for a position. Moreover, the first person who reads your application might not be a person at all. More and more companies are using application tracking systems and software to compare keywords from resumes against keywords from the job descriptions. In a mere fraction of a second, these systems can give a score that addresses how many keywords, skills, and concepts from the job ad are covered in your materials. If there is too low a match rate, then a real person is probably never going to read your materials at all. Your job in your resume is to demonstrate to a very specific population of people at one organization interested in filling one particular role that you have something of value to bring to that specific role. So yes, you need a tailored and customized resume for each job application so that in the short time that someone does spend reading the document, that it really addresses their needs. This leads us to myth #2.

  • But I thought only cover letters need to be customized for each separate job

Cover letters also need to be customized. If you only customize your cover letter, and no-one reads it, then have you actually customized anything at all? That’s a philosophical question for you. Not everyone will read a cover letter. Some application tracking systems won’t scan cover letters in their analysis. Now, don’t get me wrong, you want people to read your cover letter. You want them to read both the letter and the resume. Each document provides something rather different. The resume focuses on relevant skills for the job, and presents them as short, punchy, bullets that illustrate the relevant, takeaway skills in action, provide enough context to make the skills make sense, and ideally point to outcomes that show how effective the skills are. The cover letter takes the most relevant of these and tells more narrative stories that have some aspect of humanity integrated within. So, in a resume you might state:

Created a new experimental protocol in partnership with a bioengineer from a separate lab that resulted in a run time that halved the experimental timeline, and produced sufficient data for a publication now in press.

In a cover letter, you might tell the story behind this bullet point experience, structuring your story using the STAR format (situation, task/challenge, action, result):

In my last experiment, I was trying to get data from my cell-lines using the standard lab protocols, but realized that there wouldn’t be enough time to complete it before my funding ran out. I tried all sorts of approached before I reached out to a bioengineer from another lab at Penn who I had heard give a talk about a new filtration technique she was developing for her research. I was able to collaborate with her to modify her approach to my cell-lines, and actually double the experimental yield. It was really exciting to try an untried, innovative approach, and I really enjoyed the collaboration I established. My advisor has now started using our modified protocol on his own research, and we now have a paper in press. I am looking forward to bringing my creative problem solving to this new role, as I know this quick thinking is essential in a lean start-up environment.

Words such as “enjoy” or “excited by” are hard to use in a resume, but are more easily integrated into the cover letter. A one-page cover letter that has a couple of interesting and unique stories that contain just the right amount of drama and emotion will always be engaging to the reader.

  • You will never get a job by applying online – you have to network to get a job

Well…, networking will absolutely maximize your potential to get a job – and the job you want – but plenty of people I have worked with have received interviews and offers after applying directly to a job posted online. Companies wouldn’t waste their time posting jobs on LinkedIn, Indeed.com, their own websites, or a host of other websites if these were just for show. In fact, in most companies, you do have to apply online to be officially tracked within their applicant tracking system. For most companies, there is a candidate hiring process that they need to follow, and specific steps you and they need to take. Networking helps you along this process, but it doesn’t replace it in most cases. Applying online with a generic resume might not get you through the applicant tracking robots, and a cover letter that doesn’t engage the reader might not get you the interview, but that doesn’t mean that this is the fault of the online application system.

  • If the employer has answered all of the questions you had prepared ahead of time during the interview, it is OK to say that you don’t have any more questions when asked at the end

If time allows, you should always ask questions – always. In every interview that I have been part of (as an interviewer), the people who don’t ask any questions at the end, or who only ask one, or who ask a weak question, are always seen as least favourable candidates at the end of the process. Saying that you don’t have any questions basically tells the interviewer that you are disinterested. If you are applying for a new job, you can’t possible know everything there is to know about it, and so take every opportunity to ask smart, engaging questions about the specific role that you are interviewing for. Here are a few examples:

  1. Over the first 3-6 months, what will be the main priorities for the person in this role?
  2. How does this role fit into the team structure in this office – if I were in this role, would I be working with the same team over time, or on different teams for each project?
  3. What types of professional training opportunities are available for the person in this role?
  4. What are some of the most exciting challenges that the person in this role might face in this work?
  • You should only go to Career Services if you have a specific question, and only if you are an undergraduate

No, you can come at any time, and we will help you identify some of the questions you should be asking if you are having a hard time figuring out what they are. Career Services is also divided into teams, and you will find career advisors who work specifically with undergraduates, and some who only work with graduate students and postdocs. So, if you didn’t take the opportunity to stop by during Lirpa, we look forward to seeing you later in Yam! We are open all summer long!

Advice for PhDs and Postdocs from Carpe Careers

By Dr. Joseph Barber

The Carpe Careers blog on the Inside Higher Ed website is written by PhD/postdoc career advisors from institutions across North America. The bite-sized advice offered is rich with steps you can take to make the most of your professional and career development. Here are just some highlights over the last few months:

  • Needed: Flexible Mentors in Science: Adriana Bankston provides advice for how research scientists can positively influence the personal and professional development of the trainees who work in their labs.
  • Immerse Yourself with Intention: Short, intense interactions with organizations where you might want to work can provide career insights, but how do you make the most of those experiences? Laura N. Schram shares four best practices.
  • Using Assessments for Career “Fit”: Stephanie K. Eberle outlines the misconceptions about assessments in career counseling and advises how to use them most effectively.
  • Your Ph.D. Experience Is Great Work Experience — Part 2: Attending to the impression you make in graduate school is a great investment in your long-term career, argues Briana Mohan.
  • Your Ph.D. Experience Is Great Work Experience — Part I: Contrary to popular and judgmental opinion, your doctoral experience is some of the best real-world working experience you can get, writes Briana Mohan.
  • Using Job Ads for Career Exploration: Reviewing advertisements of all sorts can help you identify appealing job types and sectors that you may never even have heard of, advises Derek Attig.
  • Seeking Grants: More than Money: Pursuing funding support as a graduate student or postdoc can help your career — and in more ways than one, writes Victoria McGovern.
  • The Menagerie of Potential Employers: It’s important to realize that employers see the world differently than you do and to understand their specific emotional states, advises Joseph Barber.
  • Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Mentor: Pallavi Eswara raises the most important ones — and also provides some answers.
  • Perfecting Your Panel Interview Game: Job interviews with groups of people are quite different than one-on-ones with individuals, and you never quite know what will happen. Saundra Loffredo gives some helpful advice.
  • Help Is Right at Hand: Never again after graduate school will you have access to so many free, high-quality career development services, writes Melissa Dalgleish, who advises how to make the most of what your campus offers.
  • Building Your Personal Brand: Just as corporations try to establish a memorable brand, Ph.D. students and postdocs seeking new opportunities should work to create a lasting impression, writes Gaia Vasiliver-Shamis.
  • Mastering the Art of Presenting: Being able to give an effective presentation is essential to your career success, writes Christine Kelly, who provides six pointers on how to do so.
  • Your Job Is Not You: How can you shift away from mind-sets that equate identity with academic work? And in doing so, can you relieve anxiety about exploring unfamiliar career pathways? Sarah Peterson provides some answers.
  • Why Career Self-Assessments Matter: Determining what your skills are, what you enjoy doing and what is important to you is fundamental to career development, writes Natalie Lundsteen.

Posts are published every Monday on the Carpe Careers blog, and so make the most of these career perspectives relevant to your career development, exploration, and job applications.

Experience the hiring process from the employer’s (emotional) perspective

Dr. Joseph Barber

In addition to working with graduate students and postdocs here at Penn on their career exploration and development, I also teach an Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare course at Hunter College of the City University of New York as an adjunct professor. Since job searching is a discrete set of human behaviors that can be defined and even measured, I find several topics discussed in my animal behavior course to be relevant when talking about career-related topics with students and postdocs.

One of my lectures in the course focuses on the question of whether other species experience emotional states and whether those states are similar to the ones that we experience. That is a very important question from an animal welfare perspective, because negative subjective emotional states (like fear, pain, frustration, boredom, loneliness) can be a potential source of suffering if they result directly from the way we house or manage these animals in captivity.

There are no easy answers to these questions, because emotions by their very nature are subjective and may well be distinct to the individuals experiencing them. I assume that other human beings feel emotional states in a similar way that I do, but it is almost impossible to show that in any objective fashion. We cannot measure the experiences that we feel, even if we can measure changes in blood flow or nerves firing in parts of the brain. What we are left with, then, are some general questions we must ponder. Here are two examples.

  • Do other species have the same range of emotional states that we do, and do they have some that we don’t experience?
  • How can we try to perceive the environment from the perspectives of those other species when they see, smell, hear and experience the world in such different ways from us?

I bring up the issue of differing perspectives because, in many cases, those types of questions are also important when thinking about employers — and especially hiring managers and recruiters. Yes, I know that they are humans, too (although with the more common use of applicant tracking software, the first entity that looks at your materials could well be a robot of sorts). Hiring managers should experience the world in the same way that you do. But their environment and experiences are very different from yours, and those factors can play a significant role in their emotional and behavioral responses. In any job application and interview process, it’s important to figure out how employers perceive their environment and how they respond to the application materials you send them in these environments. So, let’s look at the questions I listed above from a job perspective.

Do employers have the same range of emotional states that you do, and do they have some that you don’t experience?

In general terms, the same things that would annoy you will annoy employers. If they ask for a résumé and you send them a 10-page CV instead, they will find that annoying. If they ask for a cover letter and writing sample and you don’t send one, then that, too, will cause irritation. I don’t think there are studies that look at this, but I feel sure that chronic irritation will inhibit open-mindedness about your potential as a candidate. Even if employers have become desensitized to people not sending them what they ask for and in the right format, it may not change their behavioral response, which is probably going to be to shift your application to the “no” pile.

But while hiring managers don’t have unique emotional states, they will generally not feel the same levels of insecurity or worry in the job-search process that some job candidates may. After all, they are not the ones being judged. For that reason, you should not let negative emotions sneak into your application materials or your interview answers, as they will be easy for hiring managers to spot. That can happen quite subtly, with an innocent-enough sounding “Although I don’t have all the experience you are asking for, I do have …” statement in a cover letter.

Don’t dwell on the negatives. Find a more optimistic tone. One easy way to do that is simply to remove the first part of the sentence I used as an example above and start with what you can do and will offer that will make you a valuable candidate. You may only ever have 70 percent of what a job ad is asking for in terms of skills and experiences, but that can be enough — especially if you can demonstrate the potential you can bring.

How can you try to perceive the environment from the perspectives of employers when they see, smell, hear and experience the world in such different ways from you?

The first thing to realize is that employers do see the world differently than you do. Your priorities might be to find a job for some of the following reasons: to have enough money to eat and stay warm, to get good health insurance, to be able to work with an interesting group of colleagues, to continue being paid to do the research you love doing, to start on your professional career path, and so on. We all have our own reasons. Employers have their own reasons, too, and they aren’t likely to overlap with many of yours. The main reason they hire someone usually boils down to the fact that they need someone to get a job done effectively, whether that is teaching courses, working with clients, developing new protein-sequencing pathways or managing programs. They don’t care what you will spend your salary on, but they do care about whether you are going to be a worthwhile investment and good to work with.

In other words, they will be more interested in what you can do for them and less interested in what having the job does for you. When asked the question “Why do you want this position?” in an interview, your answer should put less priority on what you might get out of it and more on what you can offer them.

Focus on their needs first, and it will become obvious to them that you want the job because: a) you have the abilities to do it, and b) something from your past experiences has shown you doing something similar, doing it effectively and enjoying doing it.

A common mistake is to spend too much time telling an employer how excited you are by the possibility of working for such an impressive organization as they obviously are. That is information they already have. They want to hear about what you can bring to the role.

Your academic experiences are always going to be important in describing what you as a Ph.D. can bring, but you will need to talk about those experiences in active terms. Avoid comments like, “My academic experiences have given me …” which involves actions happening to you. Instead, consider something like, “I actively sought out opportunities to study X subject with X professor so that I could connect X concept with X reality, and I have used this knowledge in X situation to help me X …” — where the concepts and realities you mention are relevant to the job and the outcome highlights how effective your knowledge and skills truly are. Employers are looking for patterns: if you have used a skill successfully in the past, then you will be likely to do so again in the future. You need to find a way to show them how effective you have been — and that will always be more interesting than just telling them that you can be effective.

Hiring managers are keyed into the abilities, experiences and knowledge that will help them build capacity within their organizations. They are aware of the challenges that they face every day and are looking for the skills they know will be helpful in overcoming these challenges. If you do not know what those challenges are or what skills are helpful, then you may not be highlighting the most relevant experiences from your past.

So how do you see the world from the employer’s perspective? The easiest way is to read the job advertisement really, really carefully. That is where employers list what they need to get done and the types of skills they believe are necessary to do so. And to really see the world from an employer’s perspective, you also have to be able to use their language to describe your experiences. A great question to ask people whom you are meeting for informational interviews is “What are the skills you use on a daily basis that help you to succeed in your role?” That will give you insight into the way the world looks from the employer’s perspective.

And coming back to the idea of emotional states: when you make it easy for employers to see how your experiences qualify you as an excellent candidate do the job they need done (and most people applying for any job won’t do that), then you will make them happy. It is probable that happy employers will more likely see you as a preferred candidate.

So, yes, employers do have emotions, and you will need to make sure that you give some thought to how you can keep their subjective states as positive as possible.