What I learned about GIS resumes from the Career Development Academy

I’m always curious about what type of advice students get on the job hunt. At the 2017 GIS in the Rockies conference in Denver, I sat in on the panel for the Career Development Academy led by Cerian Gibbes from UCCS. After the panel session, attendees offered their resumes for review, and I spent a good amount of time meeting with students and listening to what advice was being offered. When I met hiring managers around the conference, I asked them what they looked for when hiring. Here’s a summary of what I learned:


  1. If you ask five people for their thoughts on resumes, you’ll get six answers.

    Take this advice – and any other advice on resumes – with a grain of salt. There is no one way to make a perfect resume. Even on the panel, there was a disagreement on what should and should not be included. Students and job seekers get a lot of conflicting advice on how to get a career.

    The problem with all of this conflicting advice is that it causes panic in the students and job seekers – what’s the secret to getting a job? The truth is, there is no one secret. Your resume is one piece of the job hunt. Along with it are your cover letters, networking, attending professional events, and expanding your skill set. Getting a job can be frustrating, and it doesn’t work until it does. When it does, you’ll forget all of this panic.

  2. “Keep your resume to one page” is terrible advice.

    Imagine somewhere there is a hiring manager. As she’s reading over a stack of resumes, one appears that is two pages. “How dare this person send me a resume that is two pages?!?” she wonders as she slides the resume into the shredder, dashing forever the hopes of the job seeker.

    It’s ridiculous. No one would act that way… and if they did, would you want to work for them? Yet this terrible piece of advice – “keep your resume under a page” – is continually given out in communications courses and in career counseling centers across campuses.  The problem is that this advice causes students to produce resumes that try to cram all of their information into unreadable one-page resumes, or else they create threadbare pages that don’t show off any of their personality or skills. It’s harmful advice that causes panic in our students.

    You do want to spend time thinking about the content of your resume, and unless you’re a superstar, more than two pages is probably unnecessary. Here’s the thing – if I were given a three page resume, I would read the part I cared about and ignore the rest. I wouldn’t disqualify you. Spend time highlighting the skills, talents, and experiences you have that make you qualified for this job. I don’t care about your cat grooming business in 3rd grade unless you learned a skill or experience that tells me something meaningful about you. Put the most important things about you on the first page, and let the second page tell me about your personality, achievements, professional development, or other items that may not be included in your education, skills, or work history.

  3. Spend time on style and format.

    The first rule of resume writing is this: readability. If I can’t read your resume, then it’s of no use. Spend some time looking at resume formats. Don’t use the default Microsoft one. Using color is fine as long as it helps readability. For GIS job seekers, I’ve seen some good resumes that include maps and visual projects in the resume. As long as it keeps the resume readable, you can keep it in.

    Personally, I get sick of bullet-point lists in resumes, although that’s just me. So when I see one resume that looks like one long list, I want something that breaks it up and gives it personality. Use different fonts (styles, sizes, types) for headers and subheadings that compliment each to draw the eye into the most important areas. Use balance and whitespace – if you can’t make an appealing resume, how can I trust you to make an appealing map? Generally, the eye is drawn to the page just above the midline, so put the most important information right there.

  4. Be outstanding.

    One hiring manager I spoke with said that on a recent job posting he received 70 resumes – and 68 of them were qualified. How does he choose which one to pick? While he read each one carefully, it’s clear that style AND substance in your resume helps you stand out.

    Information such as your professional organizations and development – like going to conferences, meetups, or volunteer work – shows that you’re interested in GIS not just as a job but as a career. Did you have a summer job for the last five summers? They kept bringing you back – that says a lot about you. Managers like to see projects that you’ve completed – talk about experiences and projects. Were you involved in a student GIS club? Did you lead a mapathon on campus? Do you have research experience, field work, or study abroad experience? You’re not just a list of skills.

    Soft skills – communications, presentation, interpersonal skills, teamwork – are also incredibly important, and don’t forget to address them and include them. Personally, I like to see something about your personality in a resume. Did you win a prize at the O’Henry Pun-Off? Have you tried a marathon? Sometimes the small things help you connect to a manager. They let me think – “this may be someone who would work well for our team.” Think about what makes you shine both as a worker and as a person.

  5. Trust yourself.

    For my students, it generally takes them about 3-6 months to get a job from the time they start seriously looking. Keeping perspective is helpful – play the long game. Build your skills, keep networking, and don’t lose confidence or hope. It doesn’t work until it does. It’s easy to lose hope, but there’s no one else who can do what you do. Even if you don’t always feel it, pull out that confidence and innate goodness that you have within you.

    Personally, I got really good at the job hunt when I started treating it with curiosity like a game rather than any kind of personal judgment. You don’t know who you’re competing against, and there are many reasons why they may pick someone else for that job. That job, then, is not for you. Be curious, be brave, and trust yourself. That’s the best advice I can give.



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