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What Personal Information Goes on a Resume

on December 1, 2015 by Proofreading Pal in Resumes facebook in twitter

So you're nearly finished writing your resume. Time for a quick existential crisis!

Your resume is looking great. You've provided timelines for your education and work histories, used bullet points to emphasize your achievements, and documented your professional skills. And you've done it all with room to spare! (White space is your friend.)

But you worry as you look over your trimmed-down layout if perhaps you've made it a little too slender. Sure, you've put your qualifications on display, but anyone can have qualifications. What makes this resume uniquely yours? What does it say about who you really are? You gaze at those few lines of empty space at the bottom of the page, wondering: Isn't there something more I should say?

Remember, a resume is designed to pique the hiring manager's interest; to that end, a personal touch can help you stand out. It's appropriate—though not mandatory—to end your resume with a brief section (three or four bullet points) with the heading "Personal" or "Of Note."

Be Careful of What You Reveal

When you divulge personal information on a resume, you're walking a fine line. Your right to privacy extends to employment applications. Anti-discrimination laws vary from state to state, but it is generally illegal for an employer to ask about your:

  • Ethnic background
  • Marital status
  • Disabilities
  • Criminal record
  • Sexuality
  • Religion

If a prohibited question comes up in an interview, you may decline to answer. When you provide sensitive information voluntarily, however, things get blurry. It is illegal for the employer to discriminate on the basis of your membership in some protected class, but your voluntarily disclosure would make discrimination far more difficult to prove in court. Bias—even if it is unconscious—is an unfortunate reality in many workplaces, so however proud you are of your work with your local chapter of B'nai B'rith or the NAACP or the Gay-Straight Alliance, you should think hard before mentioning it on your resume, unless you are supremely confident of the integrity of the employer.

The Personal and the Practical

resumepersonal1Even the personal tidbits you reveal should work toward your ultimate goal of landing an interview. Knowing that you love black-and-white movies and long walks on the beach won't make anyone more likely to hire you: Focus on those areas of your personal life that demonstrate your trustworthiness, work ethic, and abilities. For example:

Former or active military service. If your service didn't show up in your education or job history for some reason (for instance, if you served many years ago), this is the place to mention it. Note that you are not required to explain the reasons for leaving the service, and employers are prohibited from asking. Likewise, mention any active service with the National Guard or reserves.

Volunteer work. Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, local mentoring or tutoring programs—volunteering is a great way to show that you are responsible and involved.

Associations and memberships. Membership in fraternal organizations or social clubs shows team spirit, and can even provide an "in" in the business world. (Use your discretion, though, if the club has a religious or ethnic affiliation.)

Certifications, proficiencies, and licenses outside of your professional field. If you're Red Cross-certified in first aid, or are a licensed genealogist, or fluent in Mandarin Chinese—some useful skill that doesn't specifically relate to your job duties—that's one for the "Of Note" section.

Awards or ranks. Take care when listing hobbies and leisure activities. Just as when crafting a job history, focus on quantifiables. "I love to bake" tells me nothing. "2014 Silver Medalist, Best Dessert, Shanklin County Fair"—now we're talking! If you're a competitive amateur athlete, or if you have a belt ranking in martial arts, list it; it speaks well to your discipline and dedication.

Conversation starters. A personal anecdote: Several years ago, I appeared on a TV quiz show. Since I started listing the experience on my resume, I've been asked about it in every single job interview. I could argue that my streak on the show indicates my broad general knowledge or grace under pressure, but in truth it's a quirky little factoid that makes my resume pleasantly memorable. And that's the whole point of this exercise, in the end.

Jack F.

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