February 17, 2020

ROSENBAND | How to Write the Perfect Resume

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I’ve spent enough hours at the Career Development Center to know how to design the perfect resume: font size between 10 and 12, margins no less than 0.5 inches, action verbs at the start of every bullet and my name bolded in the header so it’s unmistakable. The formatting is the easy part. The reason I keep going back to that sculpture sanctuary on the first floor of Goldwin Smith Hall is in search of discomforting answers to the same question: “So, what do I actually put on my resume?”

I know one thing for sure — Cornell University in fancy, bolded letters, of course. Those two words — although they read more like “extremely hard working [to a potential fault], possesses [enough] talent, [maybe] did something right [at one point],” —  are supposed to tell the hiring manager more about me than the two words that come before it: my name. I’m not going to pretend like Cornell’s brand isn’t one of the many reasons I’m at this University; I can benefit from the Ivy League title just through association, and so can my future children. And when I continue to paste in attributes like my SAT score, I’m benefiting from the sum of my own efforts, plus the efforts of my personal tutor. I take credit for something that isn’t completely mine, yet I am unwilling to abandon a ticket to my success.

Going to a great school does not make me a great person, but it would be nice to think that it did. A leadership title might make me a good leader, and a columnist position might make me a decent writer. But as application season is in full swing, and I’m cultivating the sacred list of my activities, experiences and skills, I wonder where I lost sight of the human in me.

When my mom made me apply to the National Honor Society in high school, I had to get a certain number of community service hours. So, I found myself at my grandmother’s nursing home playing harmless blackjack for a few weeks. When I got the signatures I needed, I never looked back. Sure, I didn’t do it for the right reasons, but I still put my eventual acceptance on my resume. Maybe I can take some solace in knowing that I made a few old people happy for a few hours. Maybe I was the best dealer they ever had. Maybe listing NHS on my resume was the straw that tipped my scale to get me into Cornell. Maybe it’s worth asking myself why such clubs are even deemed valuable in the first place.

The truth is that there is no selfless altruism — doing good things for others is good for ourselves because it makes us feel good and we get to brag about it, beyond just the measure of our resumes. And — unless you prop yourself up as some sort of savior — that’s okay. But if every “good thing” we do finds its way onto our resume, then we are forced to question why we do good things at all. I can argue that my blackjack games were a low-stakes business, but I am left wondering where I draw my line. If I didn’t do something for the right reasons, can I still put it on my resume? Having enough awareness to ask yourself where you draw your line is a great place to start, after you type in your name and “Cornell University.” The unspoken rule is to do things for our resumes so our resumes can do things for us. If your unique set of opportunities that culminate on an 8×11 piece of paper can open doors for you, then you would be a fool not to walk through. But you have to hold those same doors open for the next person.

The perfect resume shouldn’t be a checklist of professional fraternities and research labs, mixed with some Habitat For Humanity. Between my school work, my dining job and any social life I can fit, I don’t always have the privilege to pursue the activities that are perceived to be ideal “resume builders.” Working as a barista may not help me in my application for NBC, but it definitely helps me as a human. Your daily commitment to your a capella group or your weekly commitment to volunteer at the library won’t be under NBC’s section of “desired characteristics,” either. Going to a great school won’t make you a great person. But doing great things — things you take pride in — will.

I used to have this distinct nightmare of the hiring manager blowing their nose in my resume. But if their tissue is an honest representation of who I am, I know it will be for the best. If you’re just doing something for your resume, chances are that you’re not doing that thing very well. Nobody is going to hover over your shoulder as you build it, but it’s worth evaluating your motivations for your own sake because you can’t go back. A perfect resume will demonstrate where you grew, not just where you’re at. We all have to make them, and when you do, try to find what makes you human and put those qualities in fancy, bold letters.

Odeya Rosenband is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at orosenband@cornellsun.com. Passionfruit runs every other Tuesday this semester.