Doing Yourself Justice: Resumes That Showcase Your Skills

It’s tempting to think of the criminal justice field as recession-proof. “The more laws, the more offenders,” isn’t a bumper sticker slogan. The line made its first published appearance in 1732, in Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, a book compiled by Thomas Fuller, a British physician.

It’s reasonable to assume, though, that as long as there are opportunities for crime, there will be criminals – and plenty of jobs for criminal justice majors. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006 – 2007 Edition, (http://www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm) positions for correctional treatment specialists are expected to increase 9 to 17% through 2014. Private investigative and security work, another sector in which criminal justice degrees are highly desirable, has a projected growth rate of 18 to 26% over the same timeframe. Here, the Department of Labor cautions that “keen competition is expected because private detective and investigator careers attract many qualified people, including relatively young retirees from law enforcement and military careers.”

If you’re thinking about pursuing a degree in criminal justice, you’re probably interested in understanding causes of criminal behavior and the methods society uses to prevent and respond to it. If you’re already enrolled in a program, chances are that you are committed to playing a professional role in managing and safeguarding the social order. Whether you’re planning to enter the workforce or go on to graduate studies in this discipline, your resume is likely to be the first point of contact with a hiring manager or admissions committee.  It’s critical to prepare one that sets you apart from the “keen competition,” enticing readers to want to meet you. Savvy jobseekers know that a resume isn’t an autobiography; it’s a marketing tool. Screeners typically have just a few seconds to review a resume. If you don’t do a good job of advertising yourself, you will probably not be contacted for an interview.

Setting Yourself Apart

Type the word resume into your web browser, and you’ll find links to thousands of sites that help users with technical aspects of resume construction: formats, templates, data sequencing. But how do you set yourself apart from the competition?  How do you get readers to see you as an exciting candidate and not just a collection of neatly arranged facts? Follow some basic rules of successful advertising:

1. Don’t tell – show. One of the common mistakes people make in writing resumes is listing a litany of job accountabilities and/or subjects studied. Employers and admissions committees don’t want to read your position description or a list of courses required for your major. They want to know what you learned, how you contributed to an organization’s success, and how you made things different (eg: better). When you draft your resume, focus on accomplishments, not everyday duties.

“Prepared reports on customer satisfaction” is a duty. “Provided management with new metrics by designing database to track customer experiences with service calls” is an accomplishment. “Worked as senior camp counselor” is a duty. “Developed strong leadership and contingency planning skills supervising 10 junior counselors” is an accomplishment.

2. Connect with the reader. If you have a specific job in mind, listing an objective on your resume can’t hurt. But remember that employers are much more interested in what you have to offer an organization, not what you expect from one.

Spend time reviewing ads for diverse openings within the criminal justice family. Jobs in law enforcement, compliance, corrections, courts, government agencies and the private sector all have different dimensions, but you’ll see the same core requirements: strong communications, stress management and analytical skills; detail orientation; sound judgment; solid computer skills.

Tailor your resume to show exactly how you demonstrate these proficiencies. If you explain and quantify your skills, then a reader will recognize their portability. You might not see a direct relation in terms of experience, or you might worry that your only exposure to criminal justice is academic. But do it right, and a reader will see report writing and presentation skill, ability to work with people from many backgrounds, talent at managing large workloads, meeting deadlines, deciphering laws and gathering data – all critical to successful performance in the criminal justice field.

3. Keep it simple. You want to have your resume remembered. Unusual fonts and colorful paper may make you memorable, but not in a positive way. In fact, it’s practical to keep a plain text (ASCII) version for use in online job applications. Electronically submitted resumes are often screened by computers before they reach human eyes; plain text improves machine recognition of crucial keywords.

After you’ve made a first pass at writing your resume, go through it again. Eliminate redundancies. Ensure that information is accurate, jargon- and personal pronoun-free. Wherever possible, use “action” verbs: enhanced, reduced, designed, identified. Don’t exaggerate accomplishments.

Next, start over. Trim some more. Proofread ruthlessly. Automated spell-checkers work as tests of validity, but not accuracy. If you misuse a word but spell it correctly, a spell-check utility can’t identify the error.

Finally, if the idea of writing a resume makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Self-promotion doesn’t come easily to many people. For help, consider a professional resume service. Companies such as our partner, ResumeEdge, (resumeedge.com) are staffed by professional writers who will work to present you in the best possible way. The company’s slogan is “We’re Not Finished Until You Are Happy.”

And that, they’re willing to put on a bumper sticker.