One of the questions that I often get asked by my mentees, students, and fellows is “What should I have on my resume to make it stand out?” Folks are always curious about what employers look for in a resume that makes them give you that initial screening call or email.

In my years of screening, hiring, and serving in recruitment panels, I have distilled the answer to this question to one thing—let your resume tell your story. The most important way to distinguish your resume from the pack is the story that you tell. From the jobs that you’ve done, through the school(s) you attended, and down to the short courses that you’ve completed, your resume should tell the story of your interest, your passion, and demonstrate where your heart is in public health.

Individuals seeking to work in the field of public health have an undue advantage over other fields. Why do I say this? It is because unlike other fields, public health students do not need to go far to gain valuable hands-on experience in public health. Public health is everywhere. If public health is everywhere, then what might be your excuse not to gain valuable experience to distinguish your resume from the pack?

I bet you that there is an average of 10 non-profit organizations within each 30 miles or single zip code in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that there are about 10 million non-profits worldwide and over 1.5 million non-profits in the United States alone. It could be a local diaper program, a tree planting event, a health fair, a health career fair, a homeless shelter, or an afterschool program that supports youths in your community. It could be your local faith-based organization—church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc. Seek them out and get your hands wet and dirty. There is an abundance of places to gain the skills.

In conclusion, there are 8 questions that you can pose to tease out actual skills for your experience. Finding answers to these questions, writing them down and rehearsing them will get you ready for that next initial screening call from a prospective employer.

  1. What did I do?
  2. Where did I do it?
  3. How did you do it?
  4. What skills did you use or learn from this activity?
  5. What was the impact?
  6. What lessons did you learn?
  7. What worked, what did not work?

How is this relevant to the position you are seeking?