Resume Building 101 for Fitness Professionals

I’ve got resumes on the brain.  Reviewing 159 of them over a 3-day span will do that to you.

Monday was the application deadline for our summer internship program here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP).  While we typically receive roughly 200 internship applications in a given calendar year, upwards of 70% of them are specifically for our summer program, due to the traditional academic calendar.  Just over half of our applicants for the 2016 summer internship are either pursuing a degree in a related field, or will be receiving one this May.

Thanks to the size of this record-setting applicant pool, only 6.3% of candidates will ultimately be offered a spot in our program.  There is no room for error during the application process when spots are this limited.  As far as resumes go, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Some interesting statistics from this applicant pool:

  • 22 of the 159 applications (14% of the pool) were formatted incorrectly despite the fact that requested submission format is featured in bolded and underlined red text within the directions
  • 11 candidates submitted incomplete applications, forgetting to include a resume or brief essay
  • Only 12 of the applicants were female (a blog for a different day)
  • 4 candidates forgot to include the second “e” in “Cressey”…I wonder if anyone ever submitted an application to “Harvrd University” and received an acceptance letter?
  • Close to a quarter of the applicants referred to our business as “CP”, as opposed to the “CSP” we legally (and publicly) changed it to 18 months ago

The majority of these mistakes are trivial, but they are the difference-makers when it comes to sorting through 159 applications.  I even had one candidate who was exceptional for the first 90% of his application materials wrap things up by failing to remove [INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE] from his essay template.

During my senior year at Babson College every student had a mandatory appointment scheduled with the Center for Career Development where a faculty member would review and approve our resume for “release” into the world of job applications.  We were taught that when it comes to crafting a readable resume, proper formatting and brevity were of the utmost importance.  What felt like an inconvenience at the time ultimately proved to be a valuable lesson for me.

Nearly 1,000 resumes reviewed - here's some advice

More than 900 internship applications have crossed my desk since we began offering a formal program in the spring of 2008. I have come to some firm conclusions on what makes for a solid candidate on paper.  Here are four resume tips for fitness professionals trying to score jobs that require more than a certification hastily picked up on the internet:

1. You don’t need more than a single page to do it right

Of the 82 applications that arrived from students pursuing a college degree, 64 submitted resumes that were two or more pages long.  Think about this for a second…more than 75% of our candidates with zero years of post-college professional experience have so much experience that they can’t fit it into a single page.  I do not believe that there should be a firm one-page rule in place for resume design, but I am a firm believer in concerning yourself with relevance.  Which leads me to…

2. Irrelevant content wastes time and space

Before you hit “save” on your next resume update, I want you to ask yourself a couple of questions:

Does the likelihood of me securing this strength & conditioning coaching position hinge upon my technical skill set that includes “Microsoft Office Proficient” and “Extensive Adobe Illustrator Experience”?

Will my summer of mowing lawns six years ago be the differentiator I need to stand apart from the crowd?

Will the person reviewing my application be impressed that I made it to the third round of open casting calls for Season 7 of American Idol? (I didn’t make this one up)

I am not advocating for resumes stripped clean of unique professional experience; I’ve written on multiple occasions about our affinity for candidates with military experience and/or backgrounds in small family business.  Instead, I’m saying that every component of your resume should serve a purpose as it relates to the position you are pursuing.

3. Modify EVERY TIME you apply for a job

Much like we differentiate at CSP by offering entirely individualized training materials for every client, you have the opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates by presenting an entirely individualized resume crafted specifically with the job in question in mind.  It is obvious to me when a resume or cover letter has been designed to be generic enough to be sent off for multiple job opportunities.

If you’re going to include a “Professional Summary” or “Objective” section, make sure to craft your words strategically.  I’d encourage you to custom-fit the articulation of your skill set and interests to match the role.  This doesn’t mean that it is ok to fabricate experience.  It means that a generic resume stating: “I am passionate about fitness” will be far less impactful than one that includes:

Objective – Secure an internship at Cressey Sports Performance where I will have the opportunity to apply my unique academic background, professional experience, and enthusiasm for helping others through fitness.

4. Find someone to edit your work

Abraham Lincoln is known for having said: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

I share this mentality as it relates to preparing important job application materials.  He who edits his own resume and cover letter for his dream job may soon need to find a new dream.

I had the pleasure of updating my resume for the first time in nearly a decade this past weekend.  I spent close to an hour fine-tuning the formatting and copy.  When I was done, I forwarded it along to my wife and asked her to edit.  She found a typo, poorly articulated segments, and content she deemed to be irrelevant to the opportunity for which I was preparing a current resume (speaking to the students of the SUNY Cortland Fitness Development Program). 

Every change she suggested was appropriate.  What I had prepared was not bad, per se.  It just needed another set of eyes to give it the necessary finishing touch.

Don’t let a lack of professionalism dictate your career ceiling  

Colleges and universities need to begin emphasizing (or reevaluate their delivery of the message of) the importance of professionalism and attention to detail during the job-hunting process.  Every time a degree is awarded, the student becomes an extension of their school’s brand.  When I consistently see poorly formatted and edited application materials coming from graduates of the same program, it not only hurts the candidate’s chances of being offered an interview, but it also decreases the likelihood that I take future applicants from the same school seriously.    

In summary: Keep it simple, keep it relevant, and concern yourself with attention to detail.