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Why You Must Have Three Resumes

Previously posted on, Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR is an expert when it comes to the higher education search process. His book, Search Committees: A Comprehensive Guide to Successful Faculty Staff and Administrative Searches proves that. For our summer Author in Residence series, Dr. Lee will flip the tables and focus his blog posts on the job seeker. He will provide insight to the candidate on how a search committee works as well as how to navigate the job search process. Finding the right candidate for administrative, professional and faculty positions is one of the most important tasks that any institution or enterprise undertakes. However, few higher education professionals receive training on the search committee process, but are expected to serve on or lead committees.  

One size does not fit all. You have crafted the perfect resume and you continually update it with all of the great things that you have done. This looks good on paper, literally. But it does not play well in reality. You cannot assume that one generic resume will resonate with every employer and any job that they might have available at any given time. If you have any more than a few years of experience, it is likely that you have a variety of experiences that might be accentuated in different circumstances based upon need. This need is called a particular job.

One of the secrets of applying for jobs is to tailor your resume to the particular job to which you are applying. After all, you are not applying for just any job; you are applying for a particular job. A generic resume will not separate you from the pack. Positions are advertised to thousands of people at a time. Any given professional position will likely garner 50 or more resumes. Half of them will be well qualified, a dozen will be very competitive, yet only three are likely to be invited to the interview. These are not good odds for you, the applicant.

Unless you want to play the resume lottery, you must spend the time and effort to tailor your resume to the position that you are seeking. The good news is that you do not have to start from scratch each time. I recommend that you develop three categories of resumes, and then tweak the appropriate resume as necessary when you actually apply for a particular position. These three resumes should highlight your background and experiences and focus these experiences toward a particular type of position that matches your qualifications and interest. An example might be a senior professor who seeks opportunities as a ‘named’ professor, a department chair, or a research center director-these are all positions for which he or she would be reasonably qualified.

While a typical candidate seeking a professorship might emphasize his or her teaching, publications, scholarship and research, a candidate for a department chair position should want the reader to know he or she can manage budgets and personnel, handle student complaints, draft reports, and raise funds. This is when you go back into the archive and pull out your service on the faculty senate, note the committee that you led for your professional association, mention the budget you managed for the grant you received, or note the budget of the student organization you advise. Now you are starting to talk to the reviewer in a language he or she understands.

In contrast, this same professor might have another resume that is used to seek a named professorship wherein the emphasis would be on one’s scholarly record and impact on the discipline. In this case, one’s awards, citations of one’s work, national reputation, and consultancies might be emphasized. One’s mentorship of graduate students and assistant professors, one’s success getting external grants, and administrative experience would be highlighted for this same professor if she were seeking a position as head of a research institute. The point to note is that the resume is designed to present the best face possible of the candidate for the position in question. Including too much tangential information will either require the reader to weed through the data to uncover one’s qualifications, or cause them to wonder if you are a good fit for their potential position. Listing one’s 42 publications is overkill if you are applying for a department head’s position, it might make the reader wonder if you want to conduct more research rather than be an administrator.

The art of the developing resumes is actually easier than it looks. Simply develop three different resumes that align your background with your career interests. Then include more information that illuminates your abilities vis-a-vis the particular job you are seeking and less of the tangential information that does not support your objective. A good estimate is that 75 percent of your three resumes will be the same. Twenty percent will differ by resume type. Five percent will be specific to the job for which you are applying. This extra effort to tailor your background to the job to which you are applying will give you a leg up on the competition. Remember, you must assume that for any given professional position there are at least a dozen well qualified candidates. Why would an institution choose you for an interview over one of the other candidates? Tell them! This tailoring is designed to do exactly that.

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