In this episode, our resident resume expert, Kaylyn Blair, explains the top five resume mistakes that transitioning teachers make. In addition to being a former teacher, Kaylyn has more than eight years of experience with career services and professional resume writing, and she is one of our career coaches on our team.
Kaylyn’s teaching background and career transition
Hey Kaylyn, thank you so much for being here.
Of course. Thanks for having me, Daphne. I’m excited to be here.
I am so excited to dive into everything resumes with you because you are such an expert on the subject. I would love if you could just share a little bit for the listeners of who you are and how you landed at Team Teacher Career Coach?
Yes, absolutely and as with many, it has been a very non-linear career journey to get here today and I really want to emphasize that and normalize that. So yes, hi, hello. My name is Kaylyn Blair. I am the in-house resume writer for TCC and I started my career out of college as a teacher, very on brand with this team. So I was teaching middle and high school Spanish, my first year out of school. I wasn’t actually certified to be a teacher, I was hired on a state waiver because foreign language teachers were declared in critical need.
So I was woefully under prepared for the trials and tribulations of classroom management, but I did love teaching Spanish and that eventually led to a transition to working in higher education in admissions where I then pursued a master’s degree in Spanish thinking that could help with teaching, it could help with higher ed, it could help open a lot of doors. So I do have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Spanish with a specific focus in linguistics, which then led to me teaching online Spanish classes at the college level, which I still do today. However, throughout my time in the different colleges that I’ve attended, I always worked in my on-campus career center thinking strategically as a student that would be helpful information for me to be around, to absorb, to hold onto, for my own job search journey beyond graduation. Little did I know that that would actually lead to me opening my own business as a career coach and dabbling in this a bit more privately outside of the school sector once I graduated to also happen to be around the time of the pandemic.
So for the last two years I focused on my career coaching and resume writing business on the side as well as teaching online Spanish classes. What lo and behold, Daphne, you found me on LinkedIn no less to bring me on as your resume writer and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Yeah, I love that you mentioned everything that you did to get to where you were, especially your teaching experience as well because when we were looking for someone to do the in-house resume writing on our team, what we were really looking for was not just someone who wrote resumes professionally because people can put resume writer as their LinkedIn title and it doesn’t mean that they have actually done any sort of certification to become a resume writer or they have any professional experience as a resume writer. But I was looking really for someone who had teaching experience and more qualified experience as far as like resume writing and coaching goes and that career counseling experience that you had was exactly what I needed to see and you were just one of the best finds out there that I could for someone to come on this team because that is a unique experience.
What exactly does a career counselor in the admissions office actually do?
Yeah, of course. So within higher ed, I’ve definitely worn a few hats. That was my initial transition out of the classroom was into the college sphere. So at working as an admissions counselor, I helped prospective college students with their applications to get into the school and that also involved supporting them through financial aid applications, scholarships, connecting them to student resources and campus resources and support systems that were available. So it was being both the primary point of contact for those incoming students on the ground to get them enrolled, to get them all set. But also I played a large role in outreach and recruitment to find students to boost our enrollment numbers. Now that was just the admission side of stuff. We also partnered of course, and I spent lots of time in the college career centers where we worked with students and alumni for resume writing, resume review, cover letters, graduate school applications, how to search for and apply for international job opportunities.
That’s where I was really trained on one-on-one career support as well as presentations on the matter, linked into all of those kind of career intricacies. That paired really well with the admissions experience that I already had. I’ve got the college side and now I’ve got the job side and I just blended them together and used all the resources that I had along the way, which was really, really advantageous for me to be in the right place in the right time and absorbing all of the information that I needed for my own success. So now that I’m in a position where I can turn the tables and be the person to provide that information, that support, that guidance to others and help with those tangible resume pieces, which is always a tricky part of the job search puzzle, it’s really quite gratifying to be able to be on the other side of that and provide that support where it’s needed, where I always had it too.
You have been working just directly with teachers inside the Teacher Career Coach Course that are looking for someone to just take the resume writing component off of their plate. The reason why I’m having you on here today is I really wanted to do a deep dive into the five most common mistakes that you see on teacher resumes when they’re writing a resume to transition outside of the classroom so that people who are listening are able to just take a quick glance at their own resume and see if they can make some quick updates to help them get their foot in the door and a company.
Kaylyn explains how to translate classroom-specific language on your resume
So the very first one that I see a lot is that teachers are commonly really using classroom specific language. Let’s talk about like IEP or flexible seatings and they just make the inference that a hiring manager is going to understand what an IEP actually means. What advice would you give for teachers to help them take classroom specific language off of their resume?
It is a hot topic to be sure, and also having come from a background in education and having left to go into other realms of the working world, it is so painful how much corporate hiring managers are unaware of what truly goes on in a classroom and everything that goes into teaching. So it’s our job to make them aware of that. And a lot of that just is using their language to communicate our skills and our strengths.
So one convenient strategy is to replace, for example, students with stakeholders or clients to something that I know is featured in the course and that is talked about a lot. Instead of referring to a classroom full of students, maybe it’s a caseload of individuals. I also favor the word learners, that’s something that I use a lot. Because learners can be of all ages, they can be elementary learners, they can be adolescent, they can be adult learners, and that will help translate the fact that you can teach anyone in any setting, which is the key to potential corporate training or working in another role where there are absolutely still training components and we’re just really bridging the gap between all the different settings and what you can train in with your teaching experience and making sure that the corporate individuals on the other side can really hear what you’re saying.
Sometimes teachers feel like this is being dishonest. Even that word from student to client can be something that’s polarizing. I’ve seen too many LinkedIn opinion threads about this exact problem. For me, if a manager, a hiring manager, sees a resume and that is the word that turns them off, the fact that someone changed the word learner to stakeholder or student to stakeholder, student to client, or whatever small change happened, if that is something that a hiring manager said was a disqualifier, they really probably were not open to having a transitioning teacher in that environment anyway, and were just looking for something as an excuse.
Do you feel like there are small tweaks that happen on resumes like that that are absolute red flags?
I find it hard to identify it as an absolute red flag. What would be more of a red flag to me truthfully is if the company decided to not interview a teacher just because of that language use on their resume, then that’s probably not a company you’d want to work for anyway. They’re not going to understand the experience that you’re bringing in. They’re not going to support you in your transition and help you grow going forward. The benefit of translating the language into something that a corporate individual can understand is that you’re doing the work for them, you’re doing all of the interpreting, you are ensuring that they understand where you’re coming from so that they don’t have to question it. They don’t have to wonder if you’ll be able to do the job at hands. They’ll know you’ll be able to because you will have already proved it to them.
I think when it comes to resumes, of course teachers are well versed in the classroom. They are well trained to talk about different student specific components of teaching, of IEPs, of differentiated instruction, of all of these different components and you can speak to them well on a resume. So I see a lot of resumes that are incredibly well written for the field of education and it is challenging to get over the hump, to get past that limiting belief that that’s the only place in which you will thrive and just use the language of these job postings, use the language of the corporate world to your advantage. It’s strategic, it’s not being dishonest and if anything, I think that somebody in the corporate world who also values that level of strategy and thoughtfulness would appreciate that.
Even the word IEP, we keep bringing it up, but that is something that you can translate into keeping track of documents, making sure that you’re doing benchmark’s quarterly progress on something that is also within compliance of state standards. That is not exactly how I would translate that, but a lot of times people say, “Oh, I had this many students with IEPs and they leave that on their resume like that.” A lot of people are not going to understand what that means and how much work that is or how it would translate into any other role. Even that term IEP, there are ways that you can chunk that out into talking about whether it was like a benchmark that you were keeping track of the progress that your student was having, whether it was something more focused on showing that you know how to keep things in compliance with certain state, like measures that you needed to have with your students.
There are so many ways that you can translate that due to the experience or the actual job in front of you. But another thing that I see that teachers have a lot of trouble with is actually removing the not relative experience from their resume. For example, just leaving a ton of bullet points not relevant to the jobs that they’re applying to, talking about how they did classroom management or fourth grade students or what types of standards they taught when they’re looking for customer success positions outside of the education space in general.
Kaylyn talks how to sort through what should stay and what should be left off of your resume
What advice do you give to teachers on how to evaluate what to keep and what to leave?
It’s a really good question and it’s definitely something that I see a lot. And the key is the word relevant. If the experience is not relevant or directly related to the job that you want, if you cannot frame the experience to come off as relevant and related to the job that you want, then it really is just wasting precious real estate on a one page document where you don’t have the much room to work with and we’re already trying to convey a lot of information.
So you really want to lead with very hard hitting heavy bullet points that explain that you are already capable of doing the job that you want and here’s how essentially you’ve already done it. So for example, with customer success, you’ll really want to highlight skills related to customer success such as relationship building, communication, troubleshooting, which are all things that you do as an instructor. You communicate with parents, you communicate with students, you communicate with leadership, you troubleshoot as you go. Like this all happens within the realm of teaching. It’s just again, coming back to that translating piece of proving that it’s relevant, you won’t need something on there that’s as focused on coordinating state testing for making sure the students reach all those specific standards.
That level of testing does not translate into the corporate world, and that’s a bullet point that I personally would leave off. Because again, it’s taking your precious real estate on a page where you don’t have a lot of room to work with and you really want to be specific with the skills that you are highlighting, the skills that you want the job, the hiring committee, to be incredibly aware that you possess. Anything else just isn’t worth the time.
Yeah. One caveat that I would add is if you are tailoring it for a specific education company and you know that you’re a subject matter expert in what it is that they actually do at that company as well, it’s okay to leave one or two bullet points that are relevant just for that education company. Because I’ve talked to hiring managers at education companies and they’ve been looking for curriculum writers and they said that they got all of these great teacher resumes that were specific to curriculum writing, but they wanted someone that showed that they were really wanting to focus on diversity and equity in inclusion in curriculum writing. And because there wasn’t anyone who had written that on their resume explicitly, it was hard for them to see if anyone shared the same values as the company or had done even any research into the company itself.
So as you are actually applying to different education companies, it’s okay to tweak and tailor your resume to talk about your subject matter expert in what they do, but you don’t want to leave those non-relevant bullet points off for every education company that doesn’t really make sense or isn’t something that they specialize in. Does that make sense or Kaylyn, would you give that advice as well?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the real key theme here is whether or not the bullet points are including are relevant to the job you are applying to. So of course there’ll be different areas to highlight for like an education consultant position or a curriculum writer versus customer success, and that’s why we offer these different tracks, industries, fields, to choose from when you purchase a resume with us because we are going to take that into consideration so that you have the best bullet points put forth going forward into the job that you want.
Companies really appreciate if you take the extra step to research what their mission is, what their values are, and infuse some of those words into your documents as well. The cover letter’s also a great place to put some of those companies specific keywords so that you don’t get overlooked.
100%. I love that you mentioned the cover letter, which could be its own entire podcast episode itself.
Kaylyn discusses the mistake of keeping job history that is irrelevant to the job you are applying for
Moving on to number three, would you say that using any non-related job from the past would be a common mistake that you see?
It is a common mistake that I see. However, another common mistake that I see is somebody who, I’m coming back to a customer service example, let’s say somebody worked in customer service before becoming a teacher and then they were a teacher and now they’re applying for customer service again. Some people will leave off that initial pre-teaching customer service experience, but that’s an example where that experience is so incredibly relevant to what you were doing next that I would absolutely include it.
However, if your experience before going into teaching, looking at customer service as the outcome, is not related, if you were a babysitter, if you worked at Starbucks, if you had a career as a police officer potentially before teaching, it probably won’t serve you to highlight those skills because they probably aren’t, again, with my repetitive word, relevant to the job that you want. That, again, is the last question to keep asking yourself. Also, with resumes, I know there’s a hot debate going on about how much information to include, how far to go back on a resume. Most employers will not care about experiences that are more than 10 years old. But again, the most important piece is just whether or not your older experience is related to the job that you want. Remember, you’re tailoring everything for the job that you want, not the jobs that you’ve had in the past.
And even thinking about is the environment that you worked on or work done, is that something that is going to help someone take a chance on you in this new industry as well? So even if you had a customer service job but you were working at a software as a service company and now you’re looking for corporate training positions, if you think one of the roadblocks that you are facing right now is the fact that they think you have zero corporate experience, keeping that on, if it’s within a certain timeframe, maybe able to show them, like I understand how corporations work, I’ve actually worked in a corporate environment before, it’s going to be less of a learning curve for me. And it’s something that you can play up for your strengths as well when you start to go through that interview process. But it’s going to be like a case by case scenario of whether or not it is relevant.
For me, I was a bartender at a couple of different bars and when I left the classroom I was applying for learning and development positions and I absolutely added that on the few times that I applied for learning and development positions in the hospitality industry where they were looking for someone who understood working in the hospitality industry, that was something that was going to stand out. I never had added it to my resume for any reason before that time. So it’s going to be something that’s going to really have to be a case by case scenario.
It is. And I think the benefit of that is that you get to pick and choose which experiences to feature on your resume. Where do you want to shine the spotlight? What do you want the employers to not miss as they’re reviewing your document? I think the biggest challenge is teachers, including literally every job they’ve ever done in reverse chronological order.
And again, if they’re not relevant, they can be removed. If they are relevant, you can keep them. It does not have to be a complete list of the entire professional history, it’s just the pieces that stand out that you’d like to highlight that you’d like to really focus on and shine a light on.
Have you seen any examples of teachers that completely missed something, a job that they had done in the past that they absolutely needed to add to their resume? Do you mind sharing anything that you’ve worked with in the past?
Yeah, of course. So of course when you do the resumes with us, you have to fill out the intake form. So sometimes I find a lot more information in the intake form that is in the resume draft that’s sent to me, kind of as my starting point. So one time I was working with somebody who was applying for program and project management positions and they had specified in their intake form that they had actually coordinated an entire student team through college as a student leader in that position, but that wasn’t included on their resume because they figured, “Oh well it’s been five, 10 years since I graduated. It was just while I was a student. Like that’s not relevant.” But it is. That level of student leadership, one, stands out because not every student in college goes above and beyond to seek out those leadership experiences. And two, student leaders often carry more responsibility than they are ever given credit for. So we were able to communicate via email, hash out more details about that student leadership opportunity and prove that this individual did indeed manage various programs and projects in that capacity.
And the fact that they had done that years ago as a student only lends to the fact that they’ll be able to do that at an even higher capacity as a professional going forward.
This is a trend that we actually even talked about it with Emily, who is back on episode 92 podcast with career clarity calls. It’s just a trend that we see with many of the teachers that we work with that they really struggle to write down on paper some of their great accomplishments that they did, especially if it wasn’t something that increased their salary or was like a title that was given to them or a promotion that was given to them, because teachers are thrown so many things or they just naturally volunteer for so many different initiatives or are voluntold to do so many different initiatives that they often leave out really great juicy bits of things that they have done that are perfect examples that should be on their resume as well.
Kaylyn explains how to replace weak action verbs on your resume with strong ones
Another mistake that you and I have talked about before, and you’re way better about this than I am, is just really using strong action verbs. Many people use weak action verbs and I would love if you would share a few examples of that.
Yeah, absolutely. So the action verbs are really the meat of the resume. That’s the eye catcher. It starts every bullet point. That’s how we’re going to explain your experience and give you credit for everything that you’ve done up until this point, framed and through the lens of your future employer. That’s the key of the action verbs. And I see so many that could just do so much more, such as I helped the principle and leadership to make this curriculum decision instead of contributing or collaborating across departments to make these high level high impact decisions on curriculum and materials and so on and so forth.
Another weak action that I see a lot is to say that I assisted, you could say you supported, I used, you utilized. Those are just a few examples. But the key here too was to not be repetitive. In my own resume once upon a time I realized that I used facilitated about seven times throughout the document in itself. So I was leading so many presentations when I worked in admissions, so I was facilitating meetings and facilitating walk-in sessions and facilitating presentations and you have to get more creative than that. You really don’t want it to be repetitive. And by using strategic and strong action verbs, again, you’re giving yourself credit for all of the work that you’ve already done. And a common theme that I’ve seen after writing resumes for a lot of these teachers is they’ve said, “Wow, you made me look so great on paper. Look at these verbs that I would’ve never chosen for myself to describe these experiences.”
So that’s one of the things that I love about resume writing, is getting to word smith it, so you could be a little creative and to finesse those action verbs to really serve you in the best way possible.
Yeah, and I said I am terrible at this because I feel like my gut instinct is to put the word just in front of it. So I’m just a teacher, I just worked at this, or I always tend to downplay. And I think that this is something that’s really common with this audience as well is it’s hard for us to use strong words like manage. Like I manage a team of teachers assistants. You are a manager, if you’re a grade level leader, you have managing skills, you manage the grade level team. And that’s something that’s so hard for us to describe ourselves with these really strong and confident verbs. And sometimes it takes someone else to say it and then you to practice it and fake it until it starts to feel more real.
But it is something that’s going to help you stand out because ultimately a resume itself, it’s just like a marketing document. You are selling yourself for this position and if you cannot confidently sell yourself for this position, most people are not going to give you a second chance.
And one thing that I would really love to see shift in the realm of resume writing is so many people approach their resumes feeling so fearful that what they’ve done so far isn’t enough. That what they know how to do will never translate on paper. That it’s just going to show how unqualified they are for the jobs that they want. And in an ideal world, we are working to reframe that to be an empowering document, to give you credit for everything that you’ve done, to show all the multifaceted components of life inside the classroom and exactly how they apply to life beyond the classroom in a myriad of different opportunities and possibilities.
And when someone is done or when I’m done with someone’s resume, I want them to feel empowered in the experience that they’re bringing to the table, not confused or ashamed or unsure of how to communicate it. And I think that confidence is a large piece of that.
100%. I feel like the first time I got my resume done by someone who did a good job, because I did have one really bad one for where I was like, “Oh no.” But the second one that I got, it was a really powerful moment to see myself in a different light and someone saying, “You really did do these things.” You get to brag about these things that you did. These are all accomplishments and everybody who’s listening has done some really big things in their career. Whether or not society has really treated us with the respect that we deserve or valued us, or whether or not your admin ever told you congratulations or thanked you for all the time that you spent, you have done some really great things and there is a way for you to shift the language and help other people see it a little bit more clearly as well.
Kaylyn outlines resume formatting mistakes
The very last thing I wanted to talk about was all about formatting. I have said it before on this show, I’ve said it on social media, it’s always something that I have to bring up and always a very important reminder, black and white and boring formats are the ones that you should be using and I know how painful that is for anybody who wants to do these really cute, colorful, we put your photo on it or teacher friendly type of resume. But I’d love to hear your input on that, Kaylyn. What type of resume formats would you not recommend?
It’s a phenomenal question and it’s something I’ve been seeing for years and I really appreciate how much we are on the same page here. The boring, the black and white, the classic Word document resume, is your best friend. That resume is guaranteed to get through ATS or applicant tracking systems so that you know it will actually reach to human on the other side of these screening machines and algorithms for online job applications.
Unfortunately, and as cute as they are using templates, even templates that are predetermined by Microsoft Word, templates on Canva have become really popular with Canvas increasing popularity overall. The way that those are formatted, they include so many different photos, images, icons, special characters, boxes to include information, and the applicant tracking systems cannot read those. It doesn’t matter what content is actually included, it doesn’t matter how well you describe your experience. That format in itself is an automatic production. That format in itself is going to prevent you from moving forward into the next phase of the process for a human to actually look over your resume and invite you in for an interview.
So by working within the confines of the systems that are in place, sometimes a little counterintuitively, you’re going to give yourself the best chance of getting the interview and getting the job that you deserve.
So if you have a font or something that just is not read by an applicant tracking system, and that is the word customer success, that you’re looking for a customer success position, and that’s where you would actually type in, I’m an educator transitioning into a customer success manager. If they type it in and your resume on the other end is all scattered and jumbled and they can’t even see those words, it’s just not going to pop up for them. They’re never going to see that you were even applying for that position with that word key worded in. Am I accurately describing that?
Absolutely, you are, yeah. I won’t even be able to read the key words that we’re trying so hard to include by tailoring your resume to each of these different jobs and industries and areas of work.
Well Kaylyn, thank you so much for coming on. I always end the show asking former teachers what they learned about themselves during the process, and you have also gone through your own transition over the last few years. I’d love to hear about you. What did you learn about yourself during this process?
That’s such a great question to end on. I love that. I have learned so much about myself, more than anything that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for. I think that as teachers, we have an inherent appreciation for learning and to be able to continue to move through the world and through different chapters of our careers and continuously learn so that we can continuously share information even if it’s in different frameworks, even if it’s in different positions, I think that’s really at the core of who we all are, and that’s something that I absolutely learned about myself throughout the transition.
I also learned, and this has been incredibly obvious throughout my many career transitions, that career paths really are not linear. The average college student changes their major three times. I think that it is more than understandable for a working adult to change their mind about their career path as well. I know that society puts a lot of pressure on us to think otherwise, to think we have tunnel vision, we have to stay in this one career that we went to school for that we’ve been practicing so far, but it is so much more fluid than that, and I think I’ve been surprised at how much I can adapt to and embrace that fluidity, and I hope that for all of the teachers that we work with as well.
I am blown away by you constantly. I’m so happy that our paths cross. Just so grateful that you’re here on the team and thank you so much for being here, Kaylyn. This was a great interview and I hope everyone listening learned a lot about what they could do to their own resume.
Thank you for having me. I’m so grateful that our paths have crossed as well. I’m very happy to be here and to see just what’s ahead for us, for our team, and for all of the teachers that we work with. Thank you so much.
Mentioned in the episode:
- Our career path quiz at www.teachercareercoach.com/quiz
- Explore the course that has helped thousands of teachers successfully transition out of the classroom and into new careers: The Teacher Career Coach Course