Should My Resume for a Professor Recommendation Be Different from My Resume for a Job?

Should My Resume for a Professor Recommendation Be Different from My Resume for a Job? was originally published on The Campus Career Coach.

Hannah D. from South Alabama asks:

“Currently, I am contacting professors to ask for recommendations, so I was wondering if the resume I provide to a professor for a recommendation request would include all of the same content as my resume for a job?”

Thanks for your question, Hannah.  As you contact professors for recommendations, make sure to follow their specific instructions as each may have differing standards.  Better said, make it easy for your professor to follow through and offer a meaningful recommendation on your behalf.

Generally, I wouldn’t think it would be necessary for you to use a different resume for a professor recommendation.  However, confirm with your professor what they’d like to see and if using your current resume would be sufficient.  If you are pursuing more than one recommendation, you might find one professor has different requirements than another professor…and, that’s okay.

You’ll find that this happens in your job search too.  For example, a recruiter may suggest that you rework your resume for a particular opportunity with one of their clients.  It may be that the recruiter suggestion is different from other advice you’ve received.  Again, this is okay.  The recruiter may better understand what their client wants to see on a resume because they have inside information.  Follow their instructions and give the recruiter (and their client) exactly what they want as it could lead to an interview and job offer.

Below are some suggestions for you as you update and improve your resume for professor recommendation request and for job opportunities.

Customize Your Resume for Every Opportunity

Prospective employers spend very little time reading candidate resumes.  Recruiters, hiring managers, and human resources professionals will spend twenty seconds or less on average reading your resume (with some research indicating only six seconds is spent reading these documents).  Whether the time spent reading is six seconds or twenty, the bottom line is that you need to get the reader’s attention quickly.

Make sure to customize your resume for every opportunity to which you apply, and in your case for professor recommendations (if required).  Let’s say you apply to 100 jobs with the same job title.  While each job may feature some of the same general requirements, it is likely that each one has some slight skill, experience, and education requirements.  Don’t “hope” a prospective employer figures out that you are a good candidate for their specific job.  As a candidate, you need to make it easy for the prospective employer to figure out that you could potentially do their job and are a candidate worthy of an interview.

Review each job posting carefully and update your resume to reflect that you have what the employer desires for their job (assuming that you do have the skills, experience, and education).

Additional Resume Improvement Suggestions

Whether your resume is used for professor recommendations, networking, business opportunity, or a job is imperative that your resume is at its absolute best to clearly outline your value proposition to prospective employers.  Remember that the goal of your resume is to land you more interviews.

Also, it is important to know that employers evaluate resumes considering whether the candidate is worthy of an interview.  More simply said, they are reviewing if the candidate possesses the skills, experience, education, and successes relevant to their specific hiring need.  It is that simple.  As a result, you’ll want to make it easy for a prospective employer to determine that you possess what it is that they desire in a candidate.

Below are a few things to review (and update) to ensure your resume is selling you as best it can:

  • Contact Information – Include your name, phone number, e-mail address, and location at a minimum. If you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, then I suggest that you include your profile URL in this section.  If you have a portfolio or other online site featuring work samples, you can include the link here.
  • Targeted Job Title – Underneath your contact information, detail the targeted job title (title of the job to which you are applying). For example, if you are applying for a job titled, Sales Executive, then put Sales Executive.  The employer will know clearly that your resume is for their specific position.  Again, don’t hope an employer figures out why they are reading your resume because they won’t.
  • Summary/Profile – Summarize your ability to be successful within the targeted role by creating a short summary/profile statement. This can be in a paragraph format and between two to four lines in length and appears under the targeted job title.  For example, for me, if I were applying for another career coach position, then I might put something like: “Highly skilled, award winning career coach with over 10 years’ experience accompanied by a passion to partner with clients guiding them to achieve employment and career advancement goals.  Multi-credentialed coach with industry recognized certifications as Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, Employment Interview Coach, Motivational and Empowerment Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Certified Workforce Professional”.
  • Skills – Highlight the relevant skills you possess that match the employer’s specific needs. For example, if you were targeting a sales position, then you might include skills like:  Consultative Sales, Territory Management, Sales Presentations, Negotiations, etc.  You can also highlight your software expertise if it is relevant to the targeted job.
  • Experience – Include your jobs, internships, and other relevant experience in this section. Make sure to detail the employer name, location (city and state), job title, and employment dates.
  • Use “Good Content Formula” – Use a bulleted format for the job details to make it easier to read. Also, use the “good content formula”, which is:  strong action verb + task (what you did) + result (what did the work result in? what performance improvements resulted?).  You’ll want to highlight what your impact was within the role.  Did you help improve the company’s performance measures?  If so, by how much?  Example 1: Tutored 8th grade student in geometry using teacher curriculum, which resulted in student grade improving from C to B+ during school year. Example 2:  Increased sales revenues by 25% ($150k) year over year by aggressively re-establishing contact with dormant accounts.
  • Leadership/Volunteer Initiatives – Include campus activities, clubs, especially those where you held a leadership role. Also, highlight current and/or recent volunteer initiatives in this section.
  • Carefully Proofread Your Resume Document – Proofread your resume document carefully and have others you trust do the same. Sometimes spell check misses usage errors (i.e. “Manager” misspelled as “manger”).  The resume should be a perfect document (error-free).

Think of your job search as your own personal sales and marketing campaign.  You are the product so you need to know all of the features, values, and benefits you can offer to a prospective employer.  Personally, I don’t like the term “job search”, as it sounds like you are lifting up rocks to “find” something.  Mentally reposition the search while thinking of it as a campaign.  You are connecting with people, especially prospective employers and decision makers to highlight your value proposition (what you can do for them) detailing how you can solve their problems.  Also, you will sell to the buyer – in this case, the hiring manager.  This is the person who has the power to hire you.  Focus your efforts primarily on the hiring manager.

To support this campaign, you need a great personal marketing document, your resume.  It needs to be the best it can possibly be to build your case that you are a candidate worthy of an interview.

Contact Your Career Center for Guidance

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to current students at no additional cost.  Simply put, students and alumni should leverage their career center as it is a valuable resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Your university’s career center can likely provide some further insight into your question about how to improve or differentiate your resume from the one you provide to a professor for a recommendation.  Furthermore, your career center will likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alumni featuring jobs and internships posted with the institution. Your university’s career services professionals will be able to provide excellent advice about your immediate question, but can offer so much more as an on-going resource. Initiate contact with this department to set up an appointment.

Putting It All Together

Employers are looking to hire a candidate who can be successful within their specific role.  they will evaluate a candidate’s resume to determine if the candidate can potentially do their job.  Consider that past successes are an indicator of future performance, so build a strong case for yourself that you are a candidate worthy of an interview for each position to which you apply by customizing your resume to highlight that you have the experience, skills, education, experience, successes matching the job requirements.

Consider that building (and customizing) a winning, value-based resume focused on accomplishments is only part of what is needed to achieve your goal of earning a job offer.  You’ll need to market your resume well too as a part of this campaign so be proactive to include lots of different job search methods in your job search plan, especially networking.  You’ve got this, Hannah!

Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


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By The Campus Career Coach
The Campus Career Coach | Real-world career advice for students.