Sending Signals With a Résumé

Colleges scanning your application should be able to tell that you "get" what it takes to work at that type of institution. Trenda Boyum-Breen explains how to do it.

November 8, 2013

I’ve seen hundreds of résumés in my career and there are always the standouts for each position I’m searching to fill.  It’s usually small, but poignant, details that take a resume from ,“That looks about like all the others” to, “Wow! I need to talk with this person.” 

When relating this to “crossing the sectors” of higher education, there is real value in understanding how to adapt your résumé to the type of institution for which you are applying -- or your résumé may never land you an interview.  When I’m hiring for a position at a for-profit institution, it’s these details that tell me whether or not the applicant has the potential or transferable skills needed to be successful in the organization, especially if the applicant has no previous experience within the sector. 

There are a few things that help résumés stand out, by showing understanding of what’s needed to work within the for-profit sector. 

What’s first on my list of requirements?  Data points. For-profit institutions focus heavily on results, and want to hire people who do as well. Simply listing your responsibilities and experiences on your résumé is never enough.  Rather, demonstrate you know how to speak in terms of outcomes by including data about the impact of your work. Don’t just state the work you’ve done, quantify and describe how well you did it. This shows the hiring manager you understand how to measure results and report on them.  

Next up: creativity.  As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the for-profit sector is all about innovation and taking smart risks. This requires a work force that thinks outside of the box and enjoys it! Whenever appropriate, use language in your résumé that exemplifies your creativity and demonstrates your willingness to take risks … even if that risk turned into a lesson learned rather than a perfect success.   

For-profits value giving a new idea a try, so share your lessons learned.

Similarly, there are some fundamental practices that are regularly used at for-profit institutions. These include consideration of “return on investment” (not just monetary, but also time, effort and impact), forecasting, predictive modeling, project management and process improvement.  These core practices give the for-profit culture the ability to innovate and change quickly -- so a standout résumé in my eyes shows some level of understanding , if not application, of these key skills. While there are others that will help your résumé stand out, these are the basics.

For-profit organizations tend to have more top-down decisions than nonprofit (surprise, surprise!), but both rely heavily on teamwork and collaboration.  That said, there are some fundamental practices in the core culture of nonprofit institutions that I encourage you to demonstrate in your résumé crossing over from for-profit to nonprofit higher education.  Specifically, your résumé needs to address your understanding and value of shared governance, long-term strategic planning and a measured approach to change. 

Part of incorporating these key skills or practices is the ability to tell the hiring manager and organization via your résumé that you know what it takes to work within (and hopefully enjoy) the sector.  There are stereotypes associated with each sector, and you may encounter a hiring manager that cannot translate your past experiences as being a “good fit” for the organization. It’s your job to let the hiring institution know that you understand their culture and can take the leap across sectors.

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Trenda Boyum-Breen

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