By Brett Boettcher, NCA associate director of professional program strategy & management, serving students in the School of Professional Studies and master’s students in The Graduate School.
Welcome to Northwestern Career Advancement’s (NCA) international master’s student blog series. This series is designed to provide international master’s students with career information and strategies. Find our previous posts here. We will add more posts during Fall Quarter 2017. This blog series is a collaboration between NCA and The International Office.
As a graduate student at Northwestern, you will be developing a strong skill set that will benefit you as you seek jobs/internships or as you progress to the next steps in your career. An important tool to develop sooner than later is your resume, as it will be needed for the internship or job search process. Your resume will assist you to tell your story to employers highlighting your key skills, experiences, and interests so you can gain an interview for a desired job/internship.
Northwestern master’s students begin programs with varying backgrounds. Some students have previous related work experience that they can easily apply to new job/internship opportunities. It is also the case where master’s students might start a new program with little experience, or in the case of career changers, little related experience. The purpose of this blog is to address the later, assisting students with less experience to develop a resume that will strengthen their argument for interviews.
This blog will focus on key areas of your resume that are intended to draw attention to experiences you already have. For a comprehensive guide to developing all parts of your resume, review the “Resume Building” section on the NCA website to learn how to format your resume, key tips, and see samples.
Using Master’s Program Skills and Experiences
The obvious and strongest starting place, when you have little or no related experience, is to focus on the skills and experiences you are gaining during your master’s program. Key areas to reflect on include class projects, skills learned/developed, and courses.
Course projects offer a way to identify and display key skills and experiences that can resemble practical work samples. When choosing projects for your resume, it is important to be selective and choose only those projects that are applicable to the skills sought by an employer of interest. It is always best practice to customize your resume to the needs of each employer. When selecting projects, limit the number of projects you present to the employer to a select few (1 to 3 projects) because you will want to provide a description of what you accomplished.
As mentioned above, it is important to provide some details, in bullet form, on each project. Give careful thought to both the technical side of your project and how you completed your project. Yes, you want to walk through the steps involved in developing your research project, but if you worked as a part of a team, you will want to discuss your role within that team. If you led the project or you led part of the project, you will want to talk about that. Always make it clear to the reader what skills you used and what your role was on the project.
Crafting a skills section on your resume can provide quick information that can show an employer what you have to offer. It also helps you to include key words from a job/internship description, which can benefit you if the organization you are applying to uses resume scanning software in their recruiting process. Guidelines for developing a skills section include:
- Focus on those skills that are evidence based. Avoid those skills that could be seen as opinion, such as “fast learner” or “great communicator”;
- More is not always better. A resume is not a place to tell your complete story, it is the place to present your best, strongest argument to get an interview. Carefully consider your skills developed in each program and customize your skills list to those that are applicable.
- Place the most relevant skills toward the beginning of your list
- You might also note your proficiency level with each skill. Proficiency levels range from basic knowledge to expert.
You can also use selected courses to identify knowledge or skills that are applicable to internships and jobs. It is common for students to participate in courses offered by organizations like Coursera or Microsoft outside of their programs. This information can be listed in your “Education” section and separate from your Northwestern degree program. When presenting your course(s), identify the title of the course, who offered the course (Coursera, for example), and the date when you completed it.
Transferable skills can be another way to present applicable skills to employers. Transferable skills are relevant skills that were developed/gained in an unrelated experience. These skills tend to include: leadership, team work, research, communication, problem solving, resourcefulness, and others. You can find transferable skills in internships, past work experience, undergraduate experiences with student groups/organizations, and volunteering.
You can represent transferable skills on a resume by mentioning them in your bullet point descriptions of the above examples. For instance, if you were the president of a student organization as an undergrad, and you led your organization to host a student program or festival, you could speak specifically to how you led your team to this achievement, highlighting these skills that align best with the new job/internship.
Along with other Northwestern career services offices, including Engineering Career Development and Medill Career Services, NCA offers appointments and Express Advising to have your resume reviewed. Feel free to schedule an appointment with an adviser that fits your school and program.