When I was an intern looking at job applications and attempting to prepare myself for the workforce, I was at a loss with how to prepare. I did not feel there were many resources available to music therapy students in order to figure out where to find jobs, at what point we should start looking, or how we should tangibly prepare for our job search. Reflecting back on that it seems so straightforward to me, but at the time, transitioning from student to employee was a challenge.
Besides the obvious challenges of: with what population do I want to work? Where do I want to live? When will a job opening become available?, there were other details I never would’ve considered. These details are specific to music therapy, but I think it’s important to address because we don’t have obvious resources available to us (that I’m aware of).
One of the biggest challenges I dealt with in my job search was determining how to care for my resume. Luckily, my music therapy program required me to meet with a career development staff person at my university before graduation. This allowed me to learn about formatting resumes, how to structure descriptions of previous experiences, and other generally helpful information. I am very thankful for that appointment. To any students who have not taken advantage of their college’s career development center, you absolutely need to do so!
But there are things about resumes that I’ve come across since being in the workforce that need some serious addressing. Many of these things are relevant for any field, but music therapy students should really take note. The first thing you may be wondering is if you should create a CV or a resume to use for your applications. This is understandable as many jobs will take either, and they can be a little confusing as to the differences and for what purposes they serve. In short, a CV is a document that covers your career history, and is meant to highlight your achievements and awards. It is generally much longer than a resume. A resume is a 1-2 page document that covers a brief glimpse into your career history. It is highly customizable and should be catered to the job you are applying to. As an incoming professional, it is my opinion that a resume should be created to reflect your early job experience. Think of a CV as something you can begin to create as your start your first job. It can be something you build as you gain experiences, such as research projects, presentation experiences, etc. The recommendations I want to highlight below are specific to creating a resume.
Even though resumes are shorter than a CV, they are trickier because they are customizable and don’t have official rules that need to be followed. However, in my experience, there are general strategies that allow your resume to pop and provide less frustration to the employer when they are searching through multiple resumes. Overall, you should remember that resumes are meant to capture the most concise version of your best self. It will take time and effort to create a fitting resume for yourself.
Here are some thoughts you should consider when building your music therapy resume:
- Do not simply define what you did in your previous experiences. Describe what makes what you did special and unique.
- Be concise.
- Provide relevant information.
- Similarly, aim to create a one page document. Unless you’ve been in the field 30 years, you likely do not have that much information that is relevant to the job you are applying to. You can make a concise, one-page document by also:
- Using a basic, but modern font.
- Be consistent in your formatting. Create aligned tabs.
- Understand how your resume flows visually. How does the spacing look? Does it help or hinder?
- Spend time choosing a unique look. People notice creativity and details. (Google unique resume formatting for inspirtation)!
- Use 2-3 bullet points for each job description. More bullets may not be read by the employer (too wordy) and may waste space. 2-3 points keeps the “concise” theme going. Also:
- Mix up your verbage. Use a thesaurus to highlight your bullet point starter words (e.g. “created, implemented, defined, utilized, focused, developed”, etc.). This will make it easier and more compelling to read.
- For positions you are no longer in, write in the past tense.
- Make sure what you have said you’ve done, you can back up in an interview!
- Do not include a definition of music therapy. This is unnecessary.
- Take away your list of practicums after you’ve become a professional. An employer cares about your work experience, but generally not your experience as a student. (But maybe listing practicums is okay for your first job in order to help fluff things out).
- Don’t include how many hours a week you worked at previous jobs. Employers are mostly looking to see whether you gained experience in a related field/position.
- Include your certifications with your name at the top. I mean, seriously. You worked so hard to earn MT-BC. Put it first thing with your name!
- HAVE SOMEONE PROOFREAD WHAT YOU’VE WRITTEN. What makes sense to you might not make sense to someone else.
- Spell check. I really did read “music lesions” on a resume when they meant music lessons. Yikes!
- Ditch “references upon request”. Employers assume you have them and will ask if they want them. (See “be concise” above).
- Please submit as a PDF. And “save as” smartly. Do not submit a file labeled simply “Resume”. This should seem obvious, but it happens. Often.
- Finally, allow your cover letter to do your most persuasive talking. Use this space to be more detailed in your reasons for why you are the right person for this job.
P.S. People will look you up on social media and Linkedin from their personal devices. Make sure that information is capturing your best version of yourself!
All in all, every employer is different, but at least make sure that your resume is ultimately a condensed version of who you are as a person. Just make sure it’s the BEST version of yourself!