Resumes: When Your Professor is Wrong (and Who On Campus is Right)

I feel compelled to write this post because of something that happened with a client a few weeks ago. Obviously, we protect the anonymity of our customers, so I won’t delve into many specifics, but there’s a lesson in here in that I feel is important enough to share with young people starting their career.

The Situation
An undergrad came to us needing help creating a resume for a prestigious summer internship for a large hospitality multinational. He said that his professor had looked over his resume and given him some advice, and that he was struggling to incorporate it. I gave him a free resume consultation and laid out a plan to improve his resume. He liked what we had to say and hired us on the spot to create a resume that would garner attention for the internship he desperately wanted.

Which is exactly what I did as his resume writer. In fact, I:

  • Improved the visual appeal of the resume
  • Corrected numerous grammar mistakes
  • Added a list of skills that could be skimmed instantly and picked up by ATS keyword algorithms
  • Removed wacky volunteer activities such as ‘Picked up garbage from the street’

All in all, it was a very well crafted resume and (putting on my hiring manager hat) one that would have definitely merited consideration. He looked at the draft and indicated that he loved it. I made a few minor tweaks and sent him the final version along with my best wishes and a plea for him to let me know how it turned out.

Sometime in the next two days, he shared the new resume with one of his professors. I was shocked when I got an email two days later, stating that among other things, the resume didn’t need to be so fancy because it was just an internship, the list of skills was redundant, and that his volunteer experience picking up garbage from the street really needed to be highlighted in the resume. I felt very strongly that this was bad advice and advised him accordingly. After some back and forth, we incorporated the changes he and his professor wanted (in the end, we always give clients what they want because it’s their resume, not ours).

The Outcome
Flash forward to today: this morning that client followed up to tell me that he got an email shortly after he applied that he did not meet the criteria for the position.

The Lesson
By and large, professors are a wealth of resources and connections that can help their students achieve wonderful results in their career searches. In fact, one of my professors at UCLA put me in touch with an alum whose company hired me in my first writing gig. That said, many professors are woefully out of touch with current HR practices and methods for evaluating candidates. In this case, a professor’s bad advice quite possibly cost this young man a significant career opportunity.

HR is a constantly evolving practice. Laws change, technologies improve and market dynamics fluctuate to such an extent that even seasoned HR professionals struggle to keep up (for example, I personally spend 3-4 hours each week reading blogs, tweets and LinkedIn articles just to make sure that the resumes I create are exceeding current expectations). To expect your economics or classics professor to have this same level of understanding is unfair and foolhardy.

The good news is that there IS a resource on campus that does have the expertise and awareness of current HR practices and hiring trends: your campus career center. We follow over 150 campus career centers on Twitter and see a steady stream of great advice and insider connections. Many of these career centers even have free resume clinics that offer the same sort of services that we do – at no cost.

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