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Make national service the star of your resume

A student writes down notes with a pencil in a notebook.

During a service year, you rise with the sun every day, seeking to let your talents and passion shine. When it comes to writing the service section of your resume, don't press the snooze button on presenting your accomplishments. Your City Year experience--and what it conveys about you as a person--will  set you apart from other candidates.

The same approach you bring to work every day--being thoughtful, planning and preparing, focusing on results, making data-driven decisions and the so-called "soft skills" Google says make the most productive employees, such as empathy, communication and critical thinking-- is what potential employers are looking for when they are hiring.

Here are some tips from our Career Services team that will help elevate your relevant service experience, regardless of the industry you go into afterwards.

Before you get to your resume, become an expert on your story.

Maybe you have an existing resume you like and you want to dive right into updating it with your service experience. It"s tempting to think, "I'll just list out my main responsibilities and be good to go."


Your resume along with a cover letter (as well as interviewing and networking) are key avenues to tell your professional development story. If you have ever been stumped about what to say on your resume or in a cover letter, or paused excessively long to answer that tough interview question, it means you are not an expert on your story.

Before you begin typing, spend time reflecting on your City Year experience. Brainstorm a list of projects and team experiences that resonate powerfully with you.  Choose three to four from that list to analyze in detail: the challenge you tried to solve, skills you used and honed, relationships you initiated or strengthened, communication strategies you employed, obstacles you overcame, outcomes of the project and what you could have done differently. Through becoming an expert on your story, you will have foundational pillars that drive the narrative of your service achievements.

What does an average national service section look like?

Among Human Resource Managers, "average" might as well mean glanced at for six seconds and placed in the "pass" folder. The average candidate may capture their experience like this:

  • Tutored elementary school students and improved learning outcomes in literacy
  • Coordinated afterschool enrichment activities and homework intervention
  • Co-planned large-scale community service projects as member of Community Relations committee

But why is "average" dismissed so quickly? These bullets read like a job description and reveal very little about how, or if, this candidate was successful in their role. It lacks quantifiable impact and qualitative polish. A boring list of job responsibilities on a resume is the equivalent of sketching a mural and leaving it unpainted.

Okay, what does good look like?

You have the outline, now make your service pop with color commentary and a summary of your impact. For your most recent and relevant roles, it's best to list three to five bullets to illustrate the depth and scope of your experience. Some examples of good bullets would be:

  • Coordinated with partner teacher to identify and support 11 students who are behind grade level in English Language Arts
  • Created an afterschool debate club and recruited 15 founding students to join
  • Led the Community Relations Committee and planned two community service events that involved 200+ volunteers and supported six local nonprofit organizations

You may be tempted to write your bullets sequentially in order of tasks where you spend the most time. Tip: Do not bury or fail to mention one of your biggest achievements inside a broad portfolio of generic responsibilities. Lead with the achievements and experience that is most relevant to the position for which you're applying.

Even though this version is a significant improvement, there is too much description and still little in the way of showing results.

I really want to stand out -- what's the next move?

You now need to do some careful editing and go on a fact-finding mission to show why you are a unique talent. Refine your bullets for brevity without shortchanging your accomplishments. Scrutinize every word to underscore the skills and impact you want to highlight most to employers, again taking into account the role for which you are applying.

To make your resume excellent, you might update those earlier bullet points to:

  • Tutored 11 students daily, whose average reading proficiency increased 1.3 grade levels
  • Launched debate club and recruited 15 founding students; 93% of participants reported increased confidence in public speaking
  • Selected to lead the Community Relations Committee; organized, staffed, and executed two large scale events that engaged 200+ volunteers on a budget of $1,500

The stand-out candidate goes above and beyond to track down the information. This shows employers your initiative, sound strategic planning, ability to analyze and savvy communication skills. At the beginning or even in the middle of your service year, it may not be possible to show these results yet. The key point is to develop a plan to seek it out. The very best candidates always do.

Learn more about service with City Year:

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