Resume advice from the most magical place on earth

I am going to be heading to Disney World with my family this month, and for me it is an opportunity to revisit an earlier step in my career path. It is also a good opportunity to revisit a blog post I wrote back in 2010 about how Disneyfying your resume may be a great idea. After finishing my PhD at the University of Oxford, I went on to start a postdoc at the University of Central Florida. Although my postdoc was run through the university, I was actually based at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) – yes, that’s right, with Mickey and the gang. You might think this a strange place to do a postdoc until you realize that my PhD is in animal behaviour. There are lots of real animals at DAK, not just the giant-headed, costumed kind. Beyond my research into animal welfare, I learnt a lot from my Disney experience, and got some great insights into the corporate world of mission statements, branding strategies, marketing campaigns, and the laser-like focus that Disney has on customer service. Some of these unique aspects of Disney can also be relevant when it comes to thinking about your own professional branding – especially when it comes to documents like resumes.

Let’s take the idea of “theming” as an example. Yes, theming is based on the noun “theme” that, like the word “friend”, probably should not be made into a verb. But anything is possible at Disney, and so that’s what they did. If you have been to DAK you know that you walk around several different environments within the park. The two main ones are Asia and Africa – not anywhere specific in Asia or Africa, but some broad idea of what we generally envision when we think about those far-off places (or at least what Disney wants you to think). When you walk around in Africa, looking at the range of fantastic wildlife, taking the safari ride, and saving elephants from poachers, you are meant to believe that you are actually there, not just in a theme park. The design of the buildings, the type of thatched roof used, the sights, sounds, and smells that surround you as you browse the vibrant marketplace or wait in the train station, they have all been designed to help you feel that you are really there. The Disney Imagineers, those people in charge of conceptualizing and creating the Disney experience, traveled far and wide to get inspiration to use in the design of the theme park.

In Asia, you may walk through a temple as you queue for one of the rides. When the park first opened, visitors who entered some of the temple areas started to take their shoes off because they saw a pair of shoes outside of the temple that had been placed there as part of the theming. They didn’t have to, and Disney probably preferred they didn’t for liability/health and safety reasons, but they were buying into the theming. It seemed natural to take off their shoes in that environment.

Every object you see as you walk around DAK is there for a reason, and has its own story. Perhaps the shoes were owned by a local bicycle repairman who had spent the day repairing a bike that had been damaged when its owner crashed it after being chased by tigers near to the old temple ruins. OK, now we are getting to the part where Disney can help with your resume. There is such a rich context to every object and every building in the park, but the Imagineers’ goal is for you not to notice them. The objects are not meant to stick out as something you need to look at and investigate, they are they to help you become immersed in the experience of actually being in Africa or Asia. The more you notice the trimmings, the less rich your experience becomes. It may seem strange for the Imagineers to spend so much time on every aspect of their design only to want them to be ignored, but they realize that people value the overall experiences that they have at the end of the day more than they value being impressed by the range of objects that they have seen. They would be impressed by the objects if they realized how much thought has gone into them, but the objects are there to become the backdrop to the immersion experience, not the main parts of it.

If you have had your resume reviewed by a career advisor, then you have probably received feedback not only about the content (your experiences), but also about the formatting (the trimmings).

  • Do you have consistent punctuation?
  • Are the hyphens between your dates the same size, with the same spacing either side of them?
  • Are the bullet points the same shape, and indented to the same degree throughout the document?
  • Is the font used consistent, and is the size the same throughout the document?
  • Is there enough white space to make the document feel easy-breezy to read, or does if feel cramped and overwhelming?


But are these really important issues? Will a misaligned bullet point really lose you the chance to interview for your dream job? Well, there are some good practical reasons to make sure your formatting is in order. If you are evenly matched in terms of experience with several candidates for a potential job, but your resume formatting isn’t perfect, then perhaps an employer can make their short list of candidates to interview by thinking about who has the greatest attention to detail. In some jobs (think editing or medical writing), attention to detail is not just a bonus, it is an essential requirement.

The Disney approach to thinking about your resume helps to ensure that the employers focus on the rich experiences that you have, and the relevant skills you have illustrated in your documents, by trying to make sure that that they don’t think about your formatting at all. Employers don’t really care about the formatting…, up until the point where they notice an issue, and then that might be all they can think about. As soon as employers start noticing formatting issues, they are no longer concentrating on your skills and experiences – the information that will actually get you the interview. You don’t want employers to walk away from reading your resume saying, “those were some nice shapes they used in their bullet points”, or worse, “Why don’t the bullet points line up properly?”. You want them to walk away saying, “Those bullet points really illustrated how effective their analytical skills were”. You have to format your documents so impeccably that no-one even notices all of the time you spent tweaking the look of the text and proofreading for spelling/grammar mistakes. You want the formatting to become the backdrop to the content you want to get across. When employers are immersed in your skills and experiences, they will value you more. When this immersion is interrupted by a spelling mistake or misplaced comma, your theming is ruined, and the key message that you are the most suitable candidate becomes obscured.

The relevance of the content itself is also important. If you were walking around the Africa area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and you suddenly came across theming that looked like it belonged in Asia, you would certainly notice this fact. And this is a very important aspect to keep in mind as you think about how you are talking about your experiences in a resume. The more you can match your own experiences to the type of experiences that are relevant to the job you are applying for, the easier it becomes for the employer to imagine you in this role. You can do this by adopting the language used in the industry or organization you are interested in to describe your own examples of your skills in action. The best way to get a sense of what language is relevant will be to have as many conversations as possible with people in the type of role you are applying to. By being an active listener during these informational interviews, you can not only get a sense of what skills are valuable in the role, but you will hear firsthand how people talk about using these skills on the job. You can then echo these descriptions when you are illustrating your skills.

Disney knows how to sell their brand and the experiences they offer. You may want to take a similar approach as you market your own skills and knowledge in pursuit of your future careers. Jambo everyone, and we hope to see you at Career Services soon!

Be Cautious of Resume Templates

by Alyssa Perkins-Chatterton, Administrative Assistant

Your resume can have as few as 5-10 seconds to impress a recruiter before they decide to move on. That means you have a short window of opportunity to really wow the recruiter and make them want to interview you. The best way to do this is to showcase a clean, readable document that highlights all of your great experiences.

Most templates you come across are poor quality and you run the risk of choosing one with a terrible layout and bad readability. Many times templates miss out on the details. They utilize bad spacing, inconsistent fonts and have an overall messy look to them. The templates to stay away from are your everyday Microsoft Word (or any other program), “click and enter information” templates. Those templates are impossible to edit and the formatting is always different. Associate Director, Anne Marie Gercke tells students their “resumes should be a fluid document that you change often and tailor for specific jobs.” Working within a template is difficult because it makes changing anything in the document next to impossible. Our office provides a resume tip packet with examples of resumes with great formatting and layout. You can use this guide to find a style that you like and make it your own. You want your experience to be presented in a neat and clean way, this will ultimately show the recruiter who you are and that you are professional.

Just one more reason to avoid templates is the fact that they give the notion that you aren’t spending too much time on the presentation of your skills. You want recruiters to look at your resume and be impressed not only by your experiences but also by your presentation. Don’t sell yourself short by presenting your amazing experiences in a lack-luster template resume. Showcase all the great things that you have done in a way that is yours and will hold the attention of a recruiter.

To sum it all up, be cautious of how you are presenting your skills. Think of your resume as an always evolving document of your professional experiences. You want that document to be the best portrayal of why you are the right fit for a certain job. Most templates are not designed by experts. Don’t put your professional future in the hands of an unknown template designer. Utilize Career Services and all of our resources to ensure that you are sending out your best resume possible.

Helpful Resources:

Resume/Cover Letter Critique Services– Career Services offers resume and cover letter critique services. Visit our website to see how to submit a document for review based on what school you are in.

Online Resume Workshop– Our office hosts multiple resume workshops each semester but if you are unable to physically attend one of those events you can utilize this online workshop.

Career Services Website: Resume Section– This page of our website has resources such as guides, tips and even resume samples for Undergraduate students as well as resources specific to different populations such as Graduate students, Design students, School of Engineering- Master’s students, School of Nursing students, GSE students, and Social Policy & Practice students.


Spring clean your job search

by Lauren Kemp

Classes are ending, exams are beginning, and before we know it, summer will be here. It’s easy to get caught up in all the activity the end of the semester brings, but now might be your best chance for doing some “spring cleaning” in your job search.

If you’re still seeking opportunities, now is the perfect time to get organized for applications and interviews. If you’re looking forward to starting a new role this summer, there is plenty you can do in preparation.

So, what exactly should be on your to-do list?

Update your resume to include any highlights from the past semester

Did you take on a leadership role in an organization? Did you do any research or work on any publications? Did you win any awards or complete an internship? Write about it! Make sure your resume is up-to-date with all of your recent accomplishments.

Proofread, proofread, proofread

Never underestimate the power of a typo: a simple error in your resume or cover letter may signal to a hiring manager that you lack focus and aren’t detail-oriented. Take a few minutes to check over your materials again. Even if you’ve already nabbed a position, it can be helpful to review documents for content: you may need to resubmit your resume for a performance review or even a professional award.

Polish your LinkedIn profile

Have you been neglecting your LinkedIn profile (or have you been too afraid to create one)? Check out our LinkedIn tips (here, here and here), and use the spring to search for new connections on the site. Just like your resume, your LinkedIn profile should be updated frequently to reflect your experience.

Sanitize your social media and internet presence

Are there one too many Fling photos lurking on your Facebook profile? Do your Twitter followers know you from your handle @FlipCupMaster92? If so, it is time to clean up your online presence. If you simply cannot bear to untag or delete unprofessional content, at the very least, turn your profiles to private. But remember: the internet never forgets. Use some discretion whenever posting to your social media accounts, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Clear out your voicemail and e-mail inboxes, and make sure you have set up proper forwarding messages

You don’t want to miss an interview request or an important memo from the boss because your inbox is full. Regularly clear through your messages, and make sure that you have set up professional voicemails and e-mail signatures. If you’re losing your Penn e-mail account, set up forwarding and update your QuakerNet profile so that classmates and Penn connections know how to contact you.

Spiff up your wardrobe

Whether you’ll be interviewing this season or entering the professional world, make sure that your clothes are up to the task. It might be necessary to hem pants and skirts, sew loose buttons and dry-clean suits and delicate items. Think about donating or recycling any clothes that have seen better days, and plan to shop for items that will match the dress code in your place of work.

Keep these tips in mind, and your job search will be spic and span in no time. If only all spring cleaning could be so simple…


Maintain Momentum in Your Job/Internship Search during the Holidays

Tiffany Franklin, Associate Director

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s that time of year when the semester is wrapping up and you have earned a well-deserved break to relax with friends and family. As you pause to give thanks, this is also an opportunity to reflect on your job/internship search efforts so far and develop a plan that will build on your efforts from this semester. Many companies may slow the pace of their recruiting efforts before the big push in early January. This is the perfect time for you to take a few steps during holiday breaks that will help you when campus recruiting heats up in the new year.

Have your resume and cover letter critiqued and ready. As you reflect on the year, be sure to update your resume to include your most recent accomplishments and new activities. Find a job or internship posting that interests you and draft a cover letter. If you are pursuing two different industries (e.g., engineering and consulting), create two versions of your resume. Be sure to drop your resume and cover letter off at Career Services, come in for a walk-in session or call to schedule an appointment. We are here to help you!

Practice Your Interview Skills. The best time to prepare for an interview is before you’re in the middle of a hectic week of mid-terms, papers and campus obligations. Take time between semesters to review the Interviewing Advice section on the Career Services website. There are sample questions (general, behavioral, by industry) that will help you know what to expect and guidance on how to handle these questions. Be sure to practice these on your own, with a friend or call Career Services for a mock interview. There’s also a whole page of interview prep guides and access to Interview Stream, a practice interview system that allows job seekers the opportunity to see and hear themselves online. Prepare now and when you’re invited for interviews this spring, you’ll have the general prep finished and can focus on tailoring your interview efforts to that specific position and employer.

Research the Possibilities. Are you still deciding between industries? Use this time to research various career paths and discover fields that fit your interests. Sites such as Vault and Wetfeet Guides provide helpful snapshots of industries. There’s a whole section of the Career Services website (Career Exploration tab) dedicated to pathways you can take with your major. Glassdoor is a site with an abundance of information of specific companies. In addition, one of the best ways to explore a career path is to speak with people working in that in that field. Informational interviews give you the opportunity to ask someone what they like about their job, what they find challenging and what they wish they knew when they were getting started. Penn teaches you how to research like a pro, so put that to use for your job search.

Make New Connections. One of the many benefits of attending Penn is the strong alumni network you now have at your fingertips. QuakerNet, Penn’s online alumni community, and LinkedIn are fantastic ways to identify alumni to connect with for informational interviews. On both QuakerNet and LinkedIn, you can search alumni by company, industry and location. Take a chance and reach out to alumni to see if they would have 15 minutes to connect and share their experience in a particular field. Remember to send thank you notes afterwards!

Develop a Plan. PennLink, iNet (internships) and job sites targeted by major (Found on the Career Exploration page – what can I do with my major section) will have a multitude of opportunities, with new ones added throughout the spring semester. Take some time to become familiar with uploading documents and conducting advanced searches on these sites. Make it a habit now to start checking the calendar on the Career Services site on a weekly basis for the latest workshops, panels, information sessions, and career fairs.

These tips can help you position yourself for a productive job/internship search. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Gifts for You!

As many of us enter a season of gift giving, don’t forget to claim the gifts that Career Services has for you. Many of these gifts are available throughout the year or at set times, in person or online, occasionally or 24/7. What do you need? If it regards your career, we probably have something you can use.

Thinking about being a scientist? Teacher? Marketer? Filmmaker? Consultant? Programmer? Professor? Unsure? We have information to help you learn about different career fields, whether you are exploring a wide range or are ready to dig into a specific area.

Want to talk to other students or alumni to learn about their career paths? Use our resources or meet with us to explore the many connections available to you. Or read our surveys to see what other students have found in their internship and job searches.

Continue reading “Gifts for You!”