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SFU Health and Counselling Services
Registered Clinical Counsellor

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There’s no such thing as one single truth when it comes to resumes.

Everyone’s had teachers in their life – at least, those of us in the world with the privilege of access to primary education. As most know, it’s an occupation that’s received it’s a fair share of hard knocks over the years, what with the constant budget cuts, pedestrian salaries, lack of any significant social status and sometimes even respect, and (let’s face it) having to deal with kids (not to mention parents).

I guess that last one about working with kids might not be seen as a drawback to those in the profession, but no matter how you slice it, we’re talking about a group of people filling an absolutely essential role in society who are in effect looked down upon and taken for granted by the very people they have so benefited.  And they keep right on going.

As it turns out, there are a few teachers in my family – my brother and sister-in-law are both teachers, as are a few distant cousins and more than a few friends and acquaintances.  I’ve heard horror stories and seen examples of more than a few nightmarish “writing” samples, and have often asked myself how they do it.  But that’s not the only reason teachers are on my mind this week.

Career Services is often overrun by frantic masses of teachers-in-training, fresh off their student teaching practicums, finding themselves with a tiny bit of spare time and a whole lot of panic over the "dismal job market" for teachers.  In fact, in a two-week span this year we facilitated more resume and cover letter workshops for education students than in any year previously.

I’ve done several of those workshops recently, so I thought it would be worthwhile to post some of the most frequent (or interesting) questions that have come up regarding teaching resumes, as well as some of my thoughts.

How do I deal with non-teaching experience on my resume?

Everyone applying to a teaching job is going to have some teaching experience – the minimum being student-teaching practicums.  Chances are also good that if you’re going for your first teaching job, you’ve got plenty of other experience that could probably be considered “unrelated.”  One of the best tricks I know of for dealing with this kind of experience is to use targeted headings.  Instead of lumping all of your experience (related and unrelated) into one giant heading called “work experience,” consider splitting that heading into several separate ones.  For instance, your most highlighted experience could fall into the category “teaching experience.”  Then, you may decide to put the next-most relevant experience into another category, we’ll call it “experience with youth.”  Finally, the stuff that is least relevant – the serving/retail jobs – can go into something called “additional experience.”  The beauty of targeted headings is that they allow you to present your experience in a strategic order, with your key areas of strength going first.  When describing those unrelated positions, be sure to focus on the transferable skills you’ll be able to apply in a teaching environment.

How long should my resume be?

Everyone wants to know the magic number.  Is it one? One and a half?  Two?  I’m sorry to say that there are no rules to how long your resume can be – only guidelines.  In general, there seems to be this idea out there that if you can keep your resume to two pages, you should.  After all, a resume is not your life history.  That said, going over “to the dark side” of three pages is not breaking any resume laws, especially if you’ve got lots of experience to talk about.  Just keep in mind that the likelihood that the content on a page will be read goes down drastically every time you add one.  It’s your job to make the employer want to read that second and third page by really catching their attention with the first one.

How much detail should I go into when discussing my experience?

There’s a delicate balance between detail and conciseness.  On the one hand, giving lots of detail runs the risk of being too wordy and scaring readers off with giant blocks of text.  On the other hand, not going into enough detail leaves employers guessing when it comes to what you actually did and what your strengths are.  However, there’s a difference between short and concise when it comes to statements describing your experience.  Using short statements for the sake of not taking up space usually doesn’t give enough detail.  Using concise, yet detailed statements that illustrate your unique strengths is the way to go.  I should be able to get a real sense of what you did, as well as how you did it, and why it was important from reading descriptions of your experience.  Especially your most relevant experience.

Should I print my resume on coloured paper?

This one came up more than once.  My answer is that it depends.  One guy asked if he should use bright pink paper on his resume so it would stand out in a big pile.  I asked him, “How comfortable would you feel handing me a pink resume?”  The lesson here is that there are many stylistic choices you can make with your resume – certainly too many to list – but whatever choices you make, you have to be comfortable with them, or you’re not doing yourself justice.  The look and feel of your resume should communicate something about you.

Should I include references on my resume?

Space on resumes is like time for businesses – it’s money.  In general, references are not considered until a shortlist of candidates to interview is decided on.  Accordingly, it may not be worth the space it takes up on your resume to list your references if you can submit a separate document when you go to the interview.  That said, follow whatever instructions you’re given closely – as some school districts may request that you include references on your resume.

What size of the font should I use?

This is another one of those magic number questions.  I’d love to tell you that you can’t go below a certain font size, but I can’t.  Or, I won’t.  Instead, I’ll say that there is a balance that you have to achieve between text size and white space.  Smaller fonts will require more empty space around them in order to seem readable.  But whatever you go with, make sure it’s readable.  Need a visual example?  Apple’s always been great with white space.

Those are some of my tips – and trust me, there’s no such thing as one single truth when it comes to resumes.  Disagree with one of my points?  Sound off in the comments!

SFU Health and Counselling Services
Registered Clinical Counsellor
David Lindskoog is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Health & Counselling who used to work as a Career Advisor with Career Services. David is passionate about suicide prevention, social justice, career and professional development concerns, and the use of role-playing games in therapy. Check out his group: Dungeons & Worry Dragons. While you're here, check out Dave's Diary! It is an ongoing series of journal entries touching on various aspects related to careers and well-being. Want to hear Dave's thoughts on a particular topic?  Send him an email, and he'll do his best to include it in his next post!  
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Nov 29, 2012

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