Malinda's #1 Resume Tip: Don't Sell Yourself Short!

Malinda's #1 Resume Tip: Don't Sell Yourself Short!

By: Malinda Pathacharige | Career Peer Educator
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My number one advice to all my clients (even the ones with Ph.Ds)? Don’t sell yourself short.

As a Career Peer Educator, I have the pleasure of working with students from a variety of academic backgrounds and work experience levels. Sometimes I see students with an array of technical skills I have never heard of. Other times I am approached by students very new to the world of work experience and in complete despair over a lack of qualifications.

Here’s a story of a student I saw a little while ago who fit into the latter category. This student had a typical first year’s resume: some high school club involvement, a stint in retail, and a serving job at a local restaurant. In my opinion, we actually had some solid material to work with. I too had worked in a restaurant before, so I had an appreciation for the types of transferable skills that result from such an experience. In fact, I had just quit my restaurant job to take up a new position working in an office, and I knew for a fact that it was my ability to highlight the transferable skills I gained in the restaurant that helped me get the job.

You might wonder how on earth clearing tables, taking orders, and serving food could apply to an office job. There was a time when I would be asking the same question. While my student seemed uncertain about her ability to be of value to other kinds of employers, I had a feeling that she was more qualified than her resume made her out to be.

To test my theory out I asked her, “If we pulled a random person off the street and handed them your apron, tray, and notepad, could they handle the job as well as you can?” Her blank stare seemed to convey that she found this to be a ridiculous question.

So I decided to share with her my own experience working at a restaurant and how, in my opinion, a server has an extensive list of unwritten codes to abide by. These include: treating each guest as if your whole purpose in life is to cater to their needs, maintaining good relations with your kitchen staff who unfortunately can’t cook as fast as your tables would like, work collaboratively with staff who will use the dinner rush as an excuse to snap at you without apology, and handle all of this with an unwavering smile.  

It wasn’t long before my student admitted with a laugh that this zoo of a scene that I had just described was her daily reality. But unlike the poor soul we pulled off the street in our hypothetical scenario, she was equipped with patience, experience, and a whole host of skills honed over time to be able to handle such a hectic environment.  

While this student was looking to beef up her resume, I also meet others whose resumes are filled with experience and technical jargon. However, even with so many qualifications laid out on paper, I often get the sense that these highly qualified individuals still aren’t doing themselves and their experience, qualifications, and skills justice.

For example, I’ve seen grad students list all the courses for which they have worked as a TA, leave it at that, and jump onto another impressive job title. In these cases I like to ask them if they have ever had to get creative to come up with a new way of explaining a concept to a student who didn’t understand an explanation the first time around. The answer to that has always been yes, however it’s not the answer itself that really matters. My questions simply serve to start up a conversation where the student can describe their experience in more detail. It’s usually when they “set the scene” that we’re able to pick out all the impressive details and soft skills that previously never got a chance to shine on paper.

It seems that many of us have a habit of underestimating the worth of all the little things we do, but it's important to recognize their value in contributing to our overall success. The content of your resume should allow your reader to step into your shoes and see the value you brought to your previous employers, as this is where your potential worth as a future employee is best expressed. So do yourself a favour, and don't sell yourself short!

Malinda Pathacharige is a Career Peer Educator at SFU Career Services.

She is pursuing a BA in Health Sciences, and is gearing towards a career in public health or health administration. However, if there is one thing that she's learned from training to be a Career Peer, it is that nothing ever goes according to plan and you simply need to seize any opportunity that comes your way.

Posted on June 13, 2012