Advice & Features Articles

Building the Right Kind of Résumé

By: Susan Sugerman, Adolescent Medecine Physician | Contributor

A quick internet search about résumés returned the following entry from the College Board, a source of advice and resources for students applying to colleges and universities in the United States:

What’s a résumé?

A résumé is a document that sums up your skills, experiences and accomplishments so a potential employer can quickly see whether you are a good fit for a position. Before you start applying for jobs or internships, you’ll need to write a résumé. Even if you’re new to the workforce, a strong résumé can help you stand out in the crowd.


There is a lot of pressure these days for kids to build a résumé boasting great grades in hard classes, showing success in multiple extracurricular and leadership activities, and decorated with countless volunteer hours. Accordingly, a well-crafted résumé will show those students to be well-prepared to enter a university or employment where they can continue to do more of the same.   Our students are given the message that they must prove they can do it all, and that they can do all of it well.

While I applaud the few who can keep up this pace over time, most adults have already learned that “you can’t have it all” – at least not at the same time. Still, we allow our kids to push themselves to academic and extracurricular success sometimes to the detriment of their mental and physical health. And while this may well earn themselves spots at top-tier schools or jobs, often the end result is that they find themselves obligated to continue pushing themselves to the point of mental and/or physical illness just to stay there.

Stereotypes exist for a reason. Kids are pushed from middle school on to earn a high GPA and build a list of volunteer hours in order to get into the “best” colleges. We can rightfully acknowledge that these credentials may open the first door to the school or job interview. But they won’t keep you there. Students have to face that getting into a good school, internship, or job isn’t simply the reward for their extreme efforts; it is a commitment to continuing more of the same behavior.

Encourage kids to build a different kind of résumé. Help kids build a story that says who they are, not just a list of what they’ve done. Guide them toward opportunities that give them a chance to live their principles, not simply build a catalog of volunteer hours. A résumé of quality, not necessarily quantity, can show what someone is capable of when times are hard and the needs are great: Participating in the annual school play proves you can work with a team to produce something bigger than yourself, even when you didn’t get the part you thought you deserved; Dedicating yourself to a cause that matters to your family speaks about your values; Waking up at 5 or 6 am to be at practice shows consistent work ethic and dedication to your organization, even if you’re on the B team; Proving you can bring up your GPA from one year to the next with rededication of hard work shows you are capable of re-organizing priorities when something really matters to you.

Childhood is for exploration (even if it makes grown-ups uncomfortable). It is wise for parents to allow children to explore their interests, even if they are hard or we don’t think they’ll be good at it. We do kids a disservice when we steer them only toward places we are sure they will succeed. Giving kids freedom to experiment with a new physical skill, try on a role they are not familiar with, or interact with different types of peers teaches kids to take healthy kinds of risks. How will he know he likes rock climbing or fencing if he doesn’t try? Maybe the Naval Sea Cadets offers her leadership opportunities that are harder for her to negotiate in a large public high school? Support the process, not the outcome.   Kids learn when they try new things, whether they succeed or not.

Help them find their own passions rather than shopping for those that looks good on paper. Challenge your kids to test their own limits, but let them figure out where and how to do this. You already had your chance to be a kid; step back and let them have theirs. Give them space to find their passions, but let their passions push them from the inside, rather than us parents pushing them from the outside. If their passion is real their work will speak for itself. If it requires parental prodding, then it’s likely more about our desires than it is about theirs. When they do what they love, children embrace hard work. They become natural leaders fighting to get something done that matters to them. They learn cooperation and community when they realize that they need others to participate in achieving a goal. They learn coping and problem solving when things go wrong and it’s their job to fix it.

Change the conversation – teach balance over brilliance. Is the end goal to get to the top tier of life only to feel obligated to keep burning the candle at both ends to stay there? Most adults have figured out that this is an illusory type of success. We have learned that success is more about the quality of our daily lives, relationships, and meaningful work.   Start by asking your children what kind of LIFE they think they may want to live on a daily basis as adults. Ask them to imagine what types of things they see themselves doing for work or otherwise. Do they work well in groups or do they prefer more independent activities? How many hours a day do they see themselves working? Do they want to travel? Do they imagine having kids of their own? Will they be involved in their communities? How much do they value “down time”? And how can they make sure they have enough of it to take care of their physical and emotional health, let alone their most important relationships?

Encourage kids to reconsider what counts as success. Forget the statistics about which is the “best” school or “top” firm. Suggest to your child that they do their own real-life, real-time research. Have your kids “interview” the successful adults in their own lives. The ones they respect for who they are and what they do. Whether their dentist, favorite teacher, or neighbor. How did they get where they are today? What academic path did they follow? What events or experiences most shaped the course of their lives? What do they remember most fondly about their childhood and adolescence? From what mistakes did they learn the most? What would they do differently if they had it to do all over again? These kinds of conversations have several purposes. They enlighten young people about the reality of growing up by providing some perspective on what really matters 5, 10, and 50 years down the road. They also build bonds with supportive adults who can mentor and coach kids over time; they become resources for ideas and problem-solving when a teen or young adult gets “stuck” and needs some guidance from someone who is not their mother or father.

Let them fail. Their failures may be the strongest part of their résumés. Think about it. No one ever writes a book about life being easy. Instead, we find inspiration in people who overcome challenges and experience personal growth along the way. The things that are hard are the things that define us. So failure becomes a necessary part of becoming a mature adult. Failure provides ripe material for processing rejection, finding strength to recover, and learning what to do differently the next time. While failing may lack glory, it is what we do to bounce back that demonstrates the true grit and perseverance of character necessary for real success in school or in the workplace. Demonstrating the ability to problem-solve after a bad experience proves what we are capable of when times get tough, not just what we can do when things come easy. Encourage kids not to shy away from admitting their defeats (e.g. a bad semester associated with stress at home) but to also find ways to elaborate how they got through it and what they did to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Teach them to be honest about their mistakes or imperfections while being proud of their strengths and ability to recover. Our failures may influence our paths, but our resilience in rebounding defines our futures.

Model integrity and hard work – but also balance – in the context of simple daily life. Kids often grow up to be a lot like their parents whether they want to or not. By being the best adult you can be (not simply the best parent), you set a standard your child will aspire to, if not now, then later. Whether your child follows your career path or makes a totally new one, they will learn from you about work ethic, problem solving, perseverance, and coping. They will watch how you prioritize your family, your work, your community, and your own self-care. And they will set their own, new standards based on what they see you do and how they feel about it. When will we, as adults, be brave enough to find that balance in our own lives? The sooner we show our kids that we live our own values, the sooner they will get the message that it’s okay for them to live theirs.




In the spirit of celebrating the “ordinary” child who is not necessary the star athlete nor the top 10% of the class but who is doing something extraordinarily worthwhile, GLF is accepting nominations for GOOD KIDS, ages 12 to 21.

For complete details and to nominate, go to http://goodlifefamilymag.com/submissions/.



You may also be interested in:

College Prep 101

SAT Timeline

Paid Consultant or School Counselor 

Nine Amazing Summer Internships 

Related posts

Keys To A Stress-Free School-Day Morning


Ride DART for Free to Vote in the November 7 Election


Hanukkah Recipes


Subscribe now and join the family!

Subscribe to the Good Life Family e-newsletters and automatically receive updates on new Good Life Family issues, articles, events, deals and coupons.

  • Stay up to date on the latest issues and articles
  • Get access to special deals and coupons
  • Automatically be entered in contests and giveaways
Close this popup