Resumes are another one of those opaque, kind of annoying things you probably half-know how to do but aren’t super proud of! This is something that you can absolutely perfect in a few hours. Getting your resume right is an excellent use of time: every employer on earth is going to ask for one when you apply, and it’s usually the biggest factor in whether or not you get an interview.
The first thing to remember is that resumes are stories, not lists. Your goal isn’t to simply outline every job you’ve had or to show that you’ve been employed for a long time. Instead, resumes should be a concise, clear way of telling a potential employer what skills, strengths, and experiences you’ll bring to the job. That means that they should be tailored to every job you apply for and hyper-focused on key, transferable skills. If you were a cook last summer, a campaign isn’t going to care that you “Cooked fries, flipped burgers, and cleaned kitchen daily,” but they will care if you “Cooked 400 burgers daily, increasing output by 75% by developing new ordering system.” That is a super transferable set of skills!
You should keep your resume to one page, unless you’re applying for a job with the federal government (these are weird, , the federal government also has its own ). You might think that giving employers more information will allow you to demonstrate more of your skills accomplishments, but employers spend so little time looking at each resume ( that recruiters spent an average of seven seconds on each one) that chances are you’ll just dilute the really important stuff. Because you are in college or a recent graduate, you almost certainly don’t have so many accomplishments that employers need to hear about that you can’t fit it onto one page. Keep your resume clean and simple. Don’t include fancy fonts, colors, graphics, or headshots. These won’t help you stand out; instead, they’ll distract from the actual content of your resume and make you seem unprofessional. (hit file > make a copy), and also has a free, easy-to-use resume builder.
Avoid typos, misspellings and grammatical errors. This seems obvious, and you might skim past this, but it really matters. Proofread your resume many times. Read it backwards (this works!). Ask a friend (or two or three) to read it. Ask me to read it! Recruiters and hirers are shockingly good at finding typos, and, when they do, they’ll think less of you for them.
Don’t use too much jargon or any enormously fancy words. If you have any doubt that your employer won’t understand an acronym, spell it out or find a different word. For political jobs, stuff like GOTV is fine, because your employers will almost certainly know what you’re talking about. Using thesaurus words when others will do will make you seem silly. There is no need to write “Executed an operationally excellent electoral mobilization agenda to exhort low-propensity members of the populace to exercise their rights of enfranchisement” when “Led GOTV” will do. Remember that you’re always shooting for fewer words with more impact, not the other way around.
Use active voice, not passive voice. “Led a team of 30 organizers” is a lot stronger and more concise than “Was tasked with leading a team of 30 organizers.” You want people to know that you’re a doer! , in case a refresher would be helpful.
Be thoughtful and consistent about tenses. Use common sense here: if you’re still doing the job, it should usually be in present tense, unless you’re referring to something that’s now been completed (e.g. if you are still a field organizer, your bullets should be in present tense unless it’s something like “Led precinct-wide GOTV operation on primary day”). Keep this all in mind when proofreading; it’s a really common mistake.
Keep everything consistent. There are very few firm rules for resumes except for consistency. If you include a city and state next to one job, include it next to every job. Keep date formats the same everywhere. This will make it seem like you are on top of things.
My view is that, generally, you don’t need a professional summary or a skills section. This is a little controversial, but I think that they take up a lot of space and usually add very little. Instead, consider incorporating your skills into your bullets and including information you would have put in your professional summary in your cover letter. Most of the skills people list are either assumed (proficiency Microsoft Office and Google Docs is not going to wow anyone) or can be better demonstrated by tying them to a specific, job-related accomplishment. If you have a lot of technical skills and are applying for a data-ish role, then it’s probably a good idea.
Unless you have a really good reason not to, put your jobs in reverse chronological order. This is going to make the most sense for almost everyone.
My general view is that it is okay to include volunteer activities in your professional experience sections as long as they are professionally relevant.
The education section should be pretty straightforward. Include an estimated graduation date if you haven’t graduated yet. You should include your GPA if it is above a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, along with any awards/honors you’ve received.
Make sure to save your resume as a PDF, not a Word doc or other format. If you save it as a PDF, employers will consistently be able to open it without any formatting changes. If you save it as a Word doc, it’s more likely than not that the formatting will get jumbled in transmission. And if you use another format, there’s a good chance the employer won’t be able to open it at all.
Make sure the name of the document is clear and includes your name. Many employers download all the resumes at once, and will be annoyed if they can’t find yours because it’s called “Resume.pdf.” Something like “Michael Michaelson Resume.pdf” or “Michaelson Resume, Progressive Pipeline.pdf” is the way to go.
The hardest and most important of a resume are your accomplishment statements. These are the bullets you put under each job that you list. Again, keep these goal-oriented: what can a future employer take away from them that’ll give them faith in your ability to perform a new job? Most people just list their roles and responsibilities, which really isn’t useful. Instead, you want to focus on specific, measurable, and concrete examples of the impact you’ve had and how you’ve used your skills to excel.
Imagine you’re an employer, and you see two resumes from people who’ve held the same position. You’ve heard that one is an awesome employee and one totally sucks, but you don’t know which is which. If both of their resumes just listed their duties on the job (e.g. “Served customers nightly, Opened restaurant every morning, Bussed tables and managed cash register”), would you be able to tell who is incredible and who isn’t? Definitely not!
What if, instead, they each listed clear, measurable accomplishments? That would give you a meaningful barometer to tell who would be an amazing employee and who might not excel.
Remember, employers aren’t hiring you because of the jobs you’ve had; they’re hiring you because of how well you’ve performed. Your resume should reflect that.
Many of you have held jobs in retail or food service, with titles that might not immediately catch an employer’s eye. You definitely built skills and experiences there that you can transfer to the political world, and it’s your responsibility to use your resume to clearly articulate how those jobs qualify you to work in politics.
Before you start writing your accomplishment statements, ask yourself if you’ve ever:
Improved something? Achieved more with fewer resources or money? Reduced costs? Improved productivity? Saved time? Increased recruitment numbers? Designed, developed, or implemented a new process, program or product? Brought diverse constituents together to accomplish something? Improved morale? Solved a pressing problem? Managed or led a team? Presented complex information clearly? Successfully multitasked? Dedicated long hours of work to accomplish something within a short timeframe? Balanced extracurricular/outside commitments with coursework? Took initiative without anyone asking? Received awards or positive performance reviews? What are you most proud of? What would others you have worked with say about your contribution? How have organizations benefited from your work? What special projects have you worked on and what was the outcome? What is the tangible evidence of your accomplishments?
(I lifted these questions from a pamphlet by Yale’s Office of Career Strategy) This is exactly what you want to showcase in your accomplishment statements.
There are three formats that I think work really well:
Action + Project + Result
Project: Group related tasks into a single, meaningful project or activity Action: Choose a strong action verb () that describes what you personally did (not your team). Highlight the skills you used. Result: Keep this super specific and quantifiable. What numbers or other evidence can show that you did an amazing job? What kind of impact did it have? Quantify either in terms of an absolute number (e.g. “served 600 customers per night) or a % increase (e.g. “increased output by 250%”)
Accomplished [x] as measured by [y] by doing [z]
This is very similar to A+P+R, but ordered slightly differently.
Situation: What was the situation, problem, or conflict you were facing? Task: What were you tasked with? What were your responsibilities or goals? Action: What action did you take? What did you do to solve this problem? (start with action verbs) Result: What was the result or outcome of your action? How did it benefit the organization? Can this result be quantified?
Use 2-5 of these bullets per entry. Keep them detailed but concise. Pack as much of a punch as you can in as few words as you can.
Here’s an example of a strong set of accomplishment bullets, courtesy of the National Democratic Training Committee:
Here are two great examples of conversions from weak to strong bullets, courtesy of Yale:
This stuff matters––especially when you’re looking for your first or second job in politics––and doing it right will help you stand out from the crowd.
This is another slightly annoying but eminently doable part of the job process. Most cover letters suck, but, when done right, they can be an incredible opportunity to tell your story and introduce yourself to your employer.
Much of the advice from the resume section holds here. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are super important, so you should proofread at least three times and get a second reader if possible.
There are no firm rules here, but I’ve found the following four-paragraph model (courtesy of the National Democratic Training Committee) to be the strongest:
Introduction: Introduce yourself and articulate both your interest in the specific position and your interest in the field in general. Progressive politics is mission-driven work, so concentrate on your unique “why” for choosing this pathway. Skills and Background: Now that you’ve established your enthusiasm and sense of purpose, begin to establish credibility by using this section to discuss your background qualifications for the position. Show and Prove: So now we know you’re eager, and we know you’re qualified, so what have you done with all that energy and capacity? Use this section to talk about the ways you’ve applied your skills and the positive impact of your effort. Don’t just list your accomplishments, provide engaging stories that illustrate the impact of your work. Anyone can say they’re detail oriented, but it’s another thing entirely to share a story about your attention to detail saving an important project. Land the Plane: Conclude by concisely restating your interest in the organization. Be specific: What is it about this particular organization that excites you? Thank the recipient for their time, provide ways to contact you, and invite continued engagement by encouraging them to reach out. . It’s definitely worth a read!
You should think of this as a tool and an opportunity, not just another obligation. You want to pack as much of a punch as you can, so you shouldn’t just repeat what’s in your resume. If you do this right, employers will leave with a sense of who you are, not just what you’ve done.
Make sure to customize each letter for the job you’re applying for! This should be pretty self-explanatory: there’s no way your introduction and “land the plane” will be the same for every job. Make triple sure that you get the name of the employer right on each letter. Again, keep it to one page and save as a PDF with a clear name.