I once attended a career fair for an actuarial program where the department apparently mandated identical resumes formulated from some standardized template. Every student we met with had the exact same resume format, the exact same sections, and the same type of information. I was shocked that this lack of individuality would be encouraged by a reputable institution. The students were trained how to fit in with the crowd, while burying the individuality that might separate them.
Sure, at some level, you need to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. But the problem is that we aren't taught how to find those accomplishments. So we are left with boring resumes that look helplessly identical to the next guy for fear of standing out too far from the norm.
Resume advice comes cheaply, so how are you to know which advice to follow? The answer is to try it yourself. I will explain a cheap and easy way to test your resume tweaks.
First, a disclaimer: I am not promoting any type of resume gimmicks, such as special formatting or off-white paper. Avoid gimmicks, because these really will get your resume tossed out. But when it comes to what information to include or exclude from your resume, this is where you need to question what you've been taught.
Let's start with an example. Imagine you are a hiring manager and you have two resumes in front of you. Resume A has the following section:
Related Coursework: Probability I & II, Advanced Statistics, Econometrics I, Intro to Programming, Real Analysis
Resume B has this section:
Actuarial Courses: Regression Analysis, Micro/Macro Economics, Finite Math, Computer Science 101
Which resume do you prefer? Remember you are the hiring manager. You get many resumes per week, and you only have a few minutes to look at them.
The answer: trick question. Who cares? Your eyes glazed over the section as soon as you saw "Courses" or "Coursework" and you skipped to work experience.
We are taught that listing courses on our resume looks good. It's the right thing to do. But has anyone tested this?
Instead, let's take a look at Resume C. Resume C lists his degree and GPA, but doesn't include other courses. Instead, Resume C has an additional subsection under his Education:
Actively learning VBA and Java programming languages
Wait a minute! Resume C just listed a programming language that he doesn't know yet. That can't be right. My guidance counselor told me only to put a skill on my resume if I already have the skill!
Take a deep breath and remember the hiring manager's perspective. He skipped over the coursework section of resumes A & B, so he probably doesn't even know that those guys took programming courses. If he knows, he probably doesn't care. Many people take intro to computer science. Not many actually learned something.
But Resume C caught his eye. This person is teaching himself a programming language on his own time. That's something a hiring manager needs to know.
I hear a lot from my readers or posters on Actuarial Outpost, "I don't have any skills worth mentioning," or, "I don't have any accomplishments." But this just means you aren't thinking hard enough. How do you expect to convince a company you are worthy of being hired if you can't even convince yourself?
Here is exactly what you need to do:
- Write down everything you can think of that could be considered an accomplishment, even if only your mom would think so.
- Write down every project you can think of that you've ever done. If you haven't had a job out of college yet, get a copy of your transcript and go class by class, writing down every project you did, recurring homework assignments, anything you can think of. If you had a previous job, write down every project you were a part of, even if you think your part was only minor.
- Write down all of your hobbies, interests, personal goals, anything you have been working on in your spare time.
- Think carefully about which ones you have shared or would want to share with others. Which ones have you mentioned to your friends or family? Which ones are you proud of?
- Rank your top 10. You must come up with at least 10, even if your last 3 are essays you wrote in high school.
- Go through your top 10 and practice writing them in a way that makes them attractive on your resume. Try to make even the lesser accomplishments sound interesting.
So now that you've come up with a few accomplishments you want to include in your resume, how do you know what will work best? Think like an actuary: test it! You took statistics. You know that you need a statistically significant sample size. So I recommend you set a goal of sending 100 emails. Create 2 versions of your resume. Version 1 is the "basic" resume that follows the standard rules. Version 2 is identical except for the one change that you want to isolate. Perhaps you removed coursework and added more unique accomplishments. Now, if you've read my blog in the past, you should know how to find actuaries through the SOA's online directory. In Excel, make a list of 100 actuaries you have found on the site. Include a column for their email address, name, company, city, and status (Fellow, Associate). Randomize the list and separate into two batches of equal size. Now create an e-mail template. Use the same email template for both batches. Once you have the template set up, it really shouldn't take too long to send out 100 emails. In each email, you will need to change the name of the person and the email address. Make sure that you have named the resume files slightly differently so you can keep track of which batch is which. Now track which version gets you more responses.
This sounds complicated, but actually tackles two goals in one. If you do this, you are getting your name out to 100 different people. In the process, you are experimenting to determine which version of your resume is more attractive to employers. If you are nervous about the test, or want to try something even more unusual on your resume and you aren't sure how it will work out, try targeting actuaries that are far from your desired city. If you know you want to work on the east coast, run your experiment from actuaries on the West Coast.
Finally, it will be worth teaching yourself how to use a gmail mail merge in just 5 minutes. Follow this link to learn how to send hundreds of personalized emails out in one click.
Have questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on this post.
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