What employers see in your resume

Professors weigh in on the conscious and unconscious signals students send

Resumes allow potential employers to identify more about an applicant than just listed academic and extracurricular accolades.

Assoc. Education Prof. Filip Loncke explained ways speech patterns, namely word choices and grammatical constructions, used in resumes and personal statements might allow an employee to characterize the applicant into predefined categories.

“Sometimes the term ‘linguistic fingerprint’ is used to refer to the hypothesis that a person would have a more or less fixed pattern of language use,” Loncke said in an email statement. “The tendency to detect a person as belonging to a specific group or category is sometimes called ‘linguistic profiling.’”

Though the linguistic cues carried by an applicant's grammar or diction may be unintentional, they offer clues to social identification. These language-based cues may include words, phrases and even patterns of intonation.

“Many people … leave ‘traces’ of their first language,” Loncke said. “This is called interference: it can be the use of articles, the use of pronouns, sometimes the use of a strange way of saying things. People who have been speaking English for decades often still show that they have an accent … or a somewhat idiosyncratic way of using structures.”

Asst. Public Policy Prof. Eileen Chou suggested students work to craft their application materials, including specific information to include and word choices, based on the desires of the employer, such as those laid out by the company’s mission statement.

“This [research and crafting] signals that you understand the organizational culture and are passionate about joining that organization,” Chou said in an email statement.

For students desiring help in crafting their resumes, the University Career Center offers a program, led by Career Peer Educators, called “Resumes, References, and Cover Letters.”

Psychology Prof. Bethany Teachman offered advice for dealing with application-based anxiety, advocating for a practice-makes-perfect style approach.

“Each time you work on your resume, send in an application or go on an interview, you make it a little easier to take that step the next time,” she said.

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