The Four Résumé Secrets of Savvy English Majors

Hannah Schmitt

Hannah Schmitt
Alpha Tau Chapter
St. Norbert College, WI

Inevitably, college reaches a close and the time comes for you to put together the all-important résumé. If you're the typical English major, you may find yourself faced with a strange discrepancy between the jobs you've had and the jobs you are applying for. Perhaps, for example, your work on the college literary magazine and your personal awards for creative writing suddenly seem irrelevant to your potential desk job. Maybe you know why your jobs have been valuable, but you're not sure how you will be able to convince potential employers. The 'secret' in these situations is understanding how to take your experience and highlight the parts that will best convince employers that your skills are not only impressive but also invaluable.

Focus on your applicable skills. If you are applying against a pool of business majors, what do you have to offer that the other candidates do not? Focus on what specifically you can bring to the company: where, in your English major, do you excel? Are you a researcher? A strong writer? An out-of-the-box problem solver? As with any résumé, you want to highlight the most applicable elements of your degree.

Don't leave the connect-the-dots to your reader. Just like in a good critical essay, you don't want to assume that your reader is going to understand the significance of what you're saying just because you do. Instead of relying on your prospective employer to parse out why he/she should care that you worked as a writing tutor or presented at an international English honor society convention, tell them.

Avoid extremes. While you don't want to sell yourself short, you also want to refrain from overinflating your skills. A résumé is not the place to convince someone that you're the next Gertrude Stein. The same rule holds true for vocab; though you don't want to sound repetitive or unintelligent, you should also avoid being esoteric. Don't use obscure, unnecessarily complex words in an attempt to acquaint potential employers with your awe-inspiring grasp of the English language: in most instances, your résumé will sound boring and you'll sound arrogant.

Practice what you preach. Since the résumé is itself a written document, you have the opportunity to reinforce the importance of your writing skills. By the time you graduate with a degree in English, you will most likely have spent countless hours scrutinizing your writing. Your résumé is the ideal place to put all those skills to work. Action-packed 'power' verbs, clear, concise descriptions, and logical organization mean all the difference between a strong résumé and a throwaway. And, of course, proofread.

Some useful websites for résumé writing:
Forbes Magazine: Résumé Tips from a Recruiter
Businessweek: Top 10 Résumé Tips
The Purdue OWL Résumé Section
Rockport Institute's Résumé Guide