Professionalizing Your Resume

professional resume

It’s time to start looking for a big girl job. Working in the service industry has been fun, makin’ mad dough and meeting fun people, but it’s time to move on.  The hardest part about looking for a big girl job is making your part-time, little experience required, entry-level job seem grown up. It’s hard to imagine yourself impressing the HR team of a major accounting firm with a rap sheet of Barrista at Starbucks and Sales Associate at American Eagle. But here’s the thing- no matter what position you held, you learned valuable skills that can apply to the new position you are applying for. You just have to highlight qualities and skills that employers may not immediately think of when thinking of entry level positions.

Some Background: I’m preparing for my first work term as part of Cooperative Education Program. Basically, Co-op lets you gain a year of work experience in 3 x four month chunks while you finish your BComm degree. In preparation for applying for jobs, I have been attending tons of resume seminars and resume review workshops. Most of the students there are like me, having only worked part time level-entry jobs. But in these workshops they have taught me how to transform my resume into one that makes my not-so-awesome work experience sound very…experienced. And now I’m going to share the secrets to a “professional sounding” resume with you.

OK, let’s revamp that resume.

Here’s what a typical job description off of my resume was like before:

Restaurant                                          Dates

Hostess. Duties included:

  •  Seating customers, booking reservations, and answering the phone.
  •  Bringing out food and cleaning tables.

Although this description very factually lists all the duties I performed, it reveals nothing about my character or skills that I bring to the table. I can take this same job, and same duties performed and market them in a way that shows an employer how my experience could be relevant to their position.

Here’s the new and improved version of the same position, after the workshops:

Hostess                                                                                                            Dates


  •  Contributed to the customers overall hospitality experience by greeting guests and catering to their needs upon arrival
  •  Coordinated reservations and large party bookings
  •  Managed wait lists of 1-2 hours long using OpenTable software while keeping guests updated on their wait status during this period

The changes:

Notice that my basic duties are the same, but that now my descriptions of these duties shows marketable qualities. Before I just “booked reservations” and “answered the phone” but now I “coordinated reservations”, which speaks to my organizational skills.
I have also changed my words to be more professional – words like “managed”, “coordinated”, and “contributed” instead of basic works like “cleaning” and “seating”. It is also important that you keep your action words ending in -ed, not -ing. So planned instead of planning, for example.
Another change made is reordering position and employer. As teenagers we always cared about where people work, not necessarily what they do. Notice the difference between how an adult and a teenager would ask about someone’s employment.

Teenagers and young people usually just state that they work at Sephora, but adults usually state their position. An adult would say “I’m a lawyer”. It would be a bit odd if they said “I work for the law firm Douche & Baggery” because that would leave us wondering what they actually do there. Your employer is the same way, they care more about what position you had, than where you had it. So put your position first and bolded, and employer underneath.

Here’s another example of a way I took a simple waitressing job, and made the skills applicable to many professional careers.

Server                                                                                                             Dates


  •  Increased sales by using up-selling and recommended selling techniques
  •  Provided efficient and professional service in an up-scale dining environment
  •  Promoted monthly events and features to customers
  •  Reconciled payments and register receipts and handled up to $2,000 in cash per shift

This description speaks to skills far beyond what someone would first think of when they think of a waitress. This speaks to my sales ability, professionalism, responsibility, and promotional skills.

Let me show you the resume your mom told you to make in grade three. And a surprisingly common resume faux-pas to this day.

I am:

  • a team player
  • organized
  • responsible
  • caring

If you write that on your resume, your potential employer will think — oh wait they won’t think about it, it’ll be in the trash with all the other resumes that listed adjectives. The descriptive duties method is a way of showing your employer you’re organized with concrete examples, instead of just telling him “I’m organized! I really, really am!”.

Every time you write a bullet point with a description, ask yourself: what does this reveal about my professional skills? If the answer is nothing or nothing beyond completing duties, you either need to reword it or potentially cut it out. For example, even though one of my duties was bringing food to the table, it serves no value in mentioning it. And I’m pretty sure everyone can reasonably assume that as a WAITRESS, I probably handled food.

But wait Nicole, I have ZERO job experience. That’s totally fine. Just qualify any volunteer or extracurricular experience you have in the same way. Employers respect volunteer experience just as much as work experience. It shows commitment and caring. And oftentimes volunteer experience can expose you to more valuable professional skills than jobs in the retail & service industry can.

For example, I wrote a couple articles for the university press. Here’s how I presented it on m resume:

Content Contributor

Arts & Culture section of Gateway (2014)

  • Conducted interviews with various bands
  • Wrote promotional concert previews/articles
  • Met article deadlines and worked closely with editor during editing process

Unfortunately, my job descriptions are missing metrics. If you were given any sort of measurable performance indicators, be sure to include them. For example, if you exceeded sales targets by 20%, this needs to be mentioned! And if you have a part-time job now, ask your employer to start giving you quantifiable performance indicators so that you can beef up your resume.

To summarize, you can professionalize your resume by:

  • Presenting your position first and where you worked second
  • Relating your duties to professional skills
  • Using professional action verbs like: marketed, presented, coordinated, etc. Always ending in -ed and not -ing.
  • Mentioning any quantifiable performance indicators

Now onward into the world of big girl jobs!


Nicole Hammond

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