Career Corner – Focus on your “Paper”

In my last column, I recommended using the COVID crisis as a time to invest in yourself. With an uncertain job market, making connections and building your skills are good ways of using your time.

You might also focus right now on your “paper.” What I mean here, are the written ways in which you present yourself (that at one time were only on paper!): resume or CV, cover letter, LinkedIn, and other written forms.

Lead with Fulbright

After returning from your experience in the Fulbright program you need to update your social media and resume to mention your time abroad. Even if your Fulbright experience was short, it was still valuable, and you made important contributions to the community you worked in. Make sure it’s clearly noted on your resume and LinkedIn profile. It’s important to specifically and accurately indicate your service, reducing abbreviations where you can. For instance, if you were an ETA, you might write English Teaching Assistant, so that those unfamiliar with the Fulbright program know what you were doing abroad. Also state the period of your service and country.

Metrics are Important

Increasingly employers are interested in “how much” of something you did. Metrics speak to your ability to supervise, organization, manage, and other tasks that a potential employer needs done. If you taught as an ETA, mention how many students you had, the number of classes, and how large the school was. If you oversaw a budget, not likely in the Fulbright program, but maybe in another job, indicate the amount, particularly if it was $10,000 or more.

Metrics also look at outcomes: how much was produced or was developed as a result of your efforts.

Create Points of Curiosity

Your resume will be the document that an interviewer will launch the interview from. Create in it opportunities for conversation and curiosity. It is important to draw a reader to you and show how your experiences are not only relevant to their work, but intriguing. I find that listing the countries you have experienced – as a study abroad student, Fulbrighter, or in other projects (but not so much as a tourist) – creates an opportunity for the interviewer to ask questions: especially if you’ve been to some places off the beaten trail. Besides travel, consider other facets of your experience that might cause an interviewer to ask questions. Are you studying an obscure language? Involved in a project that is unique and shows innovation?

Flawless Design and Presentation

A resume, cover letter, and even a LinkedIn page is not about approximation. It is about precision. Errors in punctuation, spelling, or formatting will be noticed by an interviewer and might signal to them (maybe incorrectly) that you are careless or even sloppy. I remind my own students and clients: make sure your punctuation, syntax, and grammar are free of mistakes. We all make mistakes in our writing, even if we have reviewed it multiple times. Please have a friend read your resume or other writing over and give you honest feedback and edits. I learned from my father who was a letterpress operator (they don’t exist anymore) to proofread text backwards, word by word – out loud.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Make Sure That What You Offer is Obvious

You will get a job for only this reason: you have something (skills, knowledge, connections, etc.) that the employer needs. They will not hire you merely because of your enthusiasm, or your education, or that you are polite and inquisitive in an interview. These are important, but not critical. But making the case that you can do something that the employer needs: that’s the ticket to the job. As such, if you have something that relates directly to the position you are applying for, make sure that is obvious in your resume and in your cover letter. I recommend a summary of qualifications section at the top of a resume below your contact information indicating specifically how your skills can contribute to what that specific employer is looking for. This means you need to tailor each resume for each job you apply for.

In the end, your “paper” shows your seriousness and professionalism. Make sure it puts you in the best possible light.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

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