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Resume Writing for Nonprofit Professionals

by Karen Alphonse, Executive Consultant,

A resume reveals so much more than your professional experience, education and career goals. It can tell a prospective employer about the kind of leadership you offer. Although many people spend a great deal of time working through various font sizes and deciding whether to do a chronological or functional summary, they often forget to think through how others will respond to the non-factual aspects of their resume.

The editorial issues are certainly important. A prospective employer likes to review a neat, accurate resume that responds to the qualities and strengths he or she would like to see in the next member of the team. Although a less-than-perfect resume, or cover letter, may simply be an oversight, a prospective employer will almost always take a mediocre resume as a signal of lack of interest and professionalism. He or she will probably choose not to invite you in for a face-to-face meeting. On the other hand, a perfectly neat but uninspired resume will not exactly guarantee you a personal interview. In the end, the well-crafted resume is most likely to gain positive attention.

A well-crafted resume will present you as a thoughtful, energetic and creative leader. It will usually point to subtle, often sought after, abilities. A resume can tell a prospective employer whether you are tuned into industry issues, have a positive "can-do" attitude, and whether you operate strategically. A strong resume can frequently be made more appealing by emphasizing successful outcomes and by showing your ability to manage a range of responsibilities, while recognizing others' contribution and accepting occasional disappointments.

You will likely pique a prospective employer's interest by paying attention to less-than-obvious cues others may get from your resume. In addition to the factual details of your education and experience, your resume gives you a wonderful opportunity to tell your professional life story. It can be a forum for describing how and why you have evolved over time. Not all of your professional story is about titles, compensation and the number of direct reports you have managed. A big part of the "story-behind-the-resume" has to do with how you have assessed and given direction to others in complex situations. In the end, an inviting resume tells a prospective employer that he or she will be comfortable working with you primarily because you have strong skills and, as importantly, because you are the kind of person who responds positively to challenges.

For example, does your track record indicate that you have gained your peers' support and outstanding results? How do you describe and respond to ambiguous or challenging situations in the workplace? Do you hide them (seen by many as dishonest), or do you acknowledge them openly? Do you distance tricky situations, letting others take the fall, or are you quick to point to lessons learned and new skills acquired? What about your level of creativity? Does your current resume show that you are able to think "outside-of-the-box" and get buy-in from others? Do you give others credit for the part they have played in your success? Does your resume describe you as a "team-player" or as a high achieving "loner"? How you project your leadership skills will have a big impact on how other perceive you. A positive presentation will encourage them to meet you in person.

The next time you review your resume, certainly check for typos, spacing and format. Make sure that you have highlighted relevant experience, and that you have used fonts and descriptions to good advantage. Also, pause to ask a few questions. Ask yourself, "What will people think of me when they read this?" "Would I hire someone who handed me this resume?" "What questions might my next boss raise about my ability to lead?" "How will he/she perceive my successes?" "How have I described my challenges?" Ask these kinds of probing questions and get honest feedback from friends and colleagues whom you trust. Listen carefully to their suggestions and responses. This feedback, which goes way beyond the font used in what you report, will move your resume to the next level. As you read your resume critically to identify those entries which may need to be revised, you will discover fresh ways to present your work history. You will also find many opportunities to explain how you have overcome challenges and motivated others to exceed expectations.

When your resume is neat, accurate and reflects your people skills, you stand the best possible chance of being invited in for further discussions. Take the opportunity. Give your resume the upgrade, which comes with careful editing, and wait for positive things to happen.


by Karen Alphonse, Executive Consultant,

Whether you are starting from scratch and need strategic advice, or simply need to polish your resume and cover letters, the search professionals at can help. We provide highly individualized service, in a very cost effective manner.