Applying for a job seems to invite participation. People are eager to gripe about the job market, offering some scary story about their still-jobless Ivy League-grad friend, or an equally unhelpful account of the number of Harvard grads Google turns down after grilling them in interviews on the weight of a 747, or the cost of washing all the windows in Seattle.

Over the past few years, I’ve stumbled upon some nuggets of wisdom in the job application process. The two most important pieces of resume advice I’ve received came from my dad and an old boss, respectively.

Father Knows Best

My dad gave me what has since become the piece of advice I most often pass along to others.

How to make your resume standout

Applying for my first real job several years ago, he told me to make sure that my resume “told a story.” I should be able to sum up my goals and my experiences in a sentence or two, and my resume should be the logical development of that sentence. Edit, edit, edit, he said, telling me to be ruthless about knocking off the random internships or college clubs that no longer made sense. Each item on my resume should support the big picture, whatever that was.

Thinking up the description for my resume was a lengthy process, involving lots of soy lattes and head-scratching. I’d just returned from a semester abroad in South Africa, which predisposed me to Big Thinking about my life. (Isn’t that what travel is for?) With the two-sentence tag line in hand, I moved on to editing. Though it pained me slightly to cross out items from my already-lean resume, what remained suddenly made more sense. My resume became less a collection of the random things I’d done over the past few years and more a coherent argument for why I was interested in business and public health and, more important, why I was qualified. When I interviewed several weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could pull in those jobs and experiences that I’d crossed off, and avoid simply reciting my resume to the interviewer. Suddenly, I seemed experienced!

Who’s the Boss?

Fast forward to senior year of college, when I spent time working at the career center. Needless to say, I got my (and a few other people’s) fair share of interview advice.

The most helpful thing I heard from my former boss was that a resume should disprove the stereotypes about your major. If you studied engineering, your math skills are a given, but biased interviewers might think you’re socially awkward. As an English major, you don’t need to waffle on about writing. Obviously you can write, but employers will worry that you’re uncomfortable with data or analysis. Play up the fact that you have skills and experience beyond your major, and you’ll suddenly seem like a well-rounded Renaissance woman.

As a public health major applying for consulting jobs, this advice would have been perfect, but by the time I heard it I was already gainfully employed. Hopefully I’m paying it forward now by passing it along to all of you.

One of my favorite tasks post-graduation has been helping other nervous collegians tackle the job application process. I remember when the phrase “case in point” was my best friend, and it seemed like I could recite my resume by heart. It’s only fair then, to pass on the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.

What’s the most helpful piece of resume advice you’ve ever received? Tell us in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of Coffee Addict and Social Bliss