Your grad school resume is often the piece of your application that the adcoms review first. It’s considered to be a quick introduction and overview of who you are – your accomplishments and strengths – and how you’ll fit into their program. Because this is a short document, this first impression must be outstanding. 

As important as this document is, most admissions committees will only spend about 15 seconds reading your graduate school resume! You want your resume to leave them wanting to learn more about you, and therefore want to examine your entire application. 

Here are 5 tips to ensure that your application goes to the top of the pile. 

 

Tip #1: Know your target program’s mission

Before you start writing your graduate school resume, do your research. Knowing a grad school’s goals and mission is vital to building an effective resume. Understand the kind of students your target program is looking for, and tailor your resume to highlight what in your background is most relevant to the program you’re applying to. Everything you write should relate to your goals. Choose experiences and accomplishments that reflect your goals. This will enable the admissions committee to see how you will fit in their program.

Check out the website of the program you’re interested in to learn more about the school’s goals and mission. Talk to current students and alumni to see if the vision you have for your education and future are in line with your target program. If possible, take a trip to the school to get a feel for how you will fit in. 

Tip #2: Write your graduate school resume as if you’re a corporate marketing professional

Your grad school application may be the most important marketing package you ever put together. What product is your resume selling? YOU! Keep the following two points in mind when honing your marketing message:

    1. You need to consider who your target audience is: who will be reading your resume? Will it be a committee? Find out how many people are on the committee and who they are. Do any of them have research interests that are in line with yours? Will it be a graduate program director? Put yourself in their position and look at how your resume compares to the admissions criteria. Know your audience and what will move them to action.
    2. Take time to make a list of your professional skills, including leadership positions at your jobs, licenses and/or certifications, job promotions, and committee work. Prioritize this list and place the ones most relevant to the grad program criteria at the top. This will ensure that you highlight the ones that will impress your target audience. Do the same for your academic achievements, research and publications.

How to use the Qualifications Summary in your “sale”

The Qualifications Summary, which is the first paragraph of your resume, can be the most important part of your resume. Use this to highlight the most impressive details in order to make them stand out. This will enable examples of your exceptional impact to get the reader’s attention and invite them to learn more about you. This is a summary of what follows in your graduate school resume and serves as a taste of what’s to come. Use your marketing skills to determine what will truly captivate your reader. This should be a short, succinct paragraph, so choose what to include wisely. Put together the rest of your resume first. Go through it and mentally highlight the accomplishments and details that are most relevant to the program you’re applying to. These are the items to include in your Qualifications Summary.

Tip #3: Include publications, patents, presentations, honors, relevant volunteer experiences, and professional licenses or certifications in your resume

These “extras” can sometimes be the thing that catches the admissions committee’s attention and makes them want to continue studying the rest of your application. If you want to get into certain programs, such as research programs, your prior publications and research experiences are not seen as “extras,” but as integral pieces of your application. 

Use the information you gathered in Tip #1 to highlight those things that will show how your background is in line with your chosen program’s goals and mission. For example, if community service is important to the program, spotlight the time that you spent volunteering with underprivileged children during your 4 years of undergraduate studies. 

Tip #4: Use your grad school resume to highlight your strengths and explain your weaknesses

Review your application essays/personal statement and look for particular skills, abilities, talents, or experiences that you should reinforce in your graduate school resume. Include some highlights from your professional life and the impact you had. 

Highlighting your strengths in your CV

Be sure to:

  1. Use numbers and hard details to show what you’ve been able to accomplish. Don’t say “project coordinator,” but rather be more specific and say “Led a 10-person team that increased revenues by 15% and brought in 5 new clients during the fiscal year.” 
  2. Always ask yourself how you assisted the organization and use numbers to demonstrate that impact. 
  3. Be sure to include something on your graduate school resume that will differentiate you from other applicants and make you stand out from the crowd on your graduate school resume. 
  4. Go through your formal performance reviews for areas in which your superiors recognized your excellence. “Interview” yourself and create a list of your previous jobs, and your greatest contributions. Put together a personal career folder with recommendations you’ve received and a list of new skills you acquired or comments from satisfied customers. Keep this folder handy when putting your resume together to remind you of areas in which where you shine. 
  5. Think about the roles you have filled. Did you successfully work in a position traditionally filled by a much older person? Are you one of just a few to move into a much-desired role? Have you won more awards than average for your work? Put these items in a Highlights section at the top of your resume. Seeing these first will alert the admissions committee to how special you really are.

Addressing your weaknesses

Most people have made mistakes, been downsized, or just didn’t work to their full potential at all times. You must include these events in your graduate school resume, but use this opportunity to present them in the best possible light. You will have a chance to address these negatives more fully in your essays or interview, but how they’re viewed begins in your resume. 

Job-hopping, limited experience and even periods of unemployment can be explained in ways that put positive spins on them. It is vitally important NEVER to lie on your application. Besides being unethical, it is potentially self-destructive. Adcoms will not tolerate lying, and even a “tiny” lie will stop your application process dead in its tracks. Don’t call yourself “Team Leader” if you were part of a team where everyone had equal rank and responsibility. Padding your graduate school resume is not worth being denied admission if you’re found out. And you WILL be found out. 

Tip #5: Make it look good

Your resume should be no more than 2 pages in length and should contain NO spelling or grammatical errors. Even seemingly “minor” mistakes can be the end of your application process. Remember, your resume is your first impression. You would not show up to your interview in dirty clothing that needs to be ironed. Spelling or grammatical errors are the spots on your graduate school resume. They make a terrible first impression which could be your last. Once you believe your resume is perfect, put it aside and look at it again in a few days. Ask a trusted friend, colleague, or an admissions professional to review your resume. These “fresh eyes” may find things that you missed before.

Since this is a short document, your first impulse might be to try and squeeze as much information as possible onto those 2 pages. This would be a critical error. Your resume should be neat and well organized, as well as appealing and easy to read. 

Stick to these guidelines to create an attractive, impactful graduate school resume:

  1. Edit your resume to reduce fluff and make every word count. Admissions committees are trained to detect padding. Write what you mean, and mean what you write. 
  2. This is not the place to use a fancy typeface, and your font size should be no smaller than 10 pt to ease reader’s eye strain. 
  3. Bullets, bold text, and titles divide your resume into shorter, easier to read sections. You should have no more than 4 bullets for each position, and each bullet should be no longer than 2 lines. 
  4. Be sure to include enough white space on your resume. Skip lines between paragraphs and make your margins no less than around 0.8 inches. Including more white space makes your document easier to read and keeps the admissions officer’s attention.

Graduate School Resume Resources

Your graduate school resume will present your most impressive work experience, skills, and achievements. It is the first impression that will lead the admissions committee to want to learn more about you. The 5 tips above are just the beginning. This list of resources will teach you how to create a grad school resume that will make a lasting impression on the adcom readers.

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