What NOT to Write on a College, Grad School or MBA Resumé

Colleges and grad schools ask a lot of their applicants these days, and one of the trickier requests is a compelling and typo-less resumé.
11/18/2014 01:42 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2015
closeup of resume with pen and...
closeup of resume with pen and...

Colleges and grad schools ask a lot of their applicants these days, and one of the trickier requests is a compelling and typo-less resumé. A series of terse headings with short bullet points describing business and extracurricular activities does not scream "compelling," but here are eight tips I've learned as a college consultant for Admissionado.com to make your resumé short, sweet and un-boring.

1. The words "participated" or "assisted"

Adding in that you "Participated in X project" or "Assisted with Y" doesn't help us learn what you actually did. In fact, it sort of makes it seem like you are trying (not very effectively) to hide that you didn't do much of anything. Even if you were a lowly intern, you can still say what you accomplished --"Organized X documents and client schedule for Head of Y department" or "Secretly switched entire staff over to higher-caffeine content during daily coffee runs, substantially increasing office productivity and reducing need for power naps among staff, while only causing 1 (minor) heart attack"

What to write instead: Meaningful, active verbs like "Lead," "Organize" or "Transubstantiate."

2. A summary/objective

The whole resumé's supposed to be one page, so if your reader needs an executive summary upfront, somebody should probably contact that reader's family because he or she is most likely suffering from a recent concussion. As for an objective, leave that out too because 1) for the moment, your objective is to get into whichever school you're applying to and 2) you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of words in the application essays to describe your long-term goals.

What to write instead: Leave the summary out and give an easy-to-follow chronology that takes us step-by-step through your career or academic trajectory all the way from "joining Model UN" to "starting Model WWIII" over "model oil resources."

3. What you learned

There's just no space on a resumé for life lessons. A resumé is meant to state what you accomplished. The essay is for what you learned. Your bullet point should not say "Learned teamwork and the importance of delegation." Anyone could write that no matter whether they actually learned anything or not. Instead you have to show it. "Took charge of X project and delegated Y tasks, increasing efficiency by 1,000,000 percent."

What to write instead: "Just the facts, ma'am" Who? What? Where? When? And why was it important by the way?

4. Excess lines
____________________________________________________
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
It sounds crazy, but I actually see this constantly. Excess lines make the resumé look too busy, and, as far as I can tell, there's no great reason to separate every section (or even any section) with a line or multiple lines. Or dotted lines. Or a red "Stop, here comes a new section, so get ready!" sign.

What to use instead: A space. One space between sections will probably get the point across.

5. A second page (if at all possible)

Good god, man. It's a resumé, not an elephant!

Listen, you're awesome. You're a rock star. But two pages is too bloated for a resumé. I'm not saying you can't do it, but here's why I'd shy away from it. If you're 22, there is almost no way you have that much experience. Chances are you're just being overly wordy with your bullet points. Or, worse, you're spinning yarns to make your accomplishments more than what they are. Admissions committees can smell lies!

(Important secondary note: If you add a third page, the admissions committee will think you are insane.)

What to write instead: One page of bang-up, nitty-gritty, Raymond Chandler-style prose that grips your reader around the neck like a two-bit hood and doesn't let go till the cops flash their steel. Or whatever.

6. Weird (or weirdly-sized) fonts

Playbill font certainly has its place (in Playbill Magazine, for instance), but for your resumé I'd stick to something small, reserved and professional like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. I'd also stay in between 10.5 and 12 for font size, so you don't kill your readers' eyes.

What to use instead: Times New Roman is a pretty safe bet. But if you're a wild child with a dangerous streak who likes to look death in the face and laugh, there's always Garamond.

7. A list of duties/job description

Try to avoid just writing what anyone in your job would be doing: "Attend meetings, liaise with clients, make copies, send faxes, eat lunch, take bathroom breaks, flirt with Sharon from accounting..." This doesn't tell us anything about the uniquely amazing results of your work, what you accomplished in your time at this job or even whether you got anywhere with Sharon!

What to write instead: Results! Did you improve something? Save time? Make a lucrative business move? Cure Ebola? Tell us!

8. Emojis

Luckily, no one has ever done this. That's probably for the best.

Good luck, future business leaders!