It wasn’t an idea mentioned at a conference or a snippet noted in a magazine or a suggestion from a listserv that sparked Jamie Belinne’s brainstorm. It was the time she spent waiting in her doctor’s office during an illness six years ago.
Belinne is assistant dean for career services in the Elizabeth Rockwell Career Center of the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, home to nearly 5,000 students, most of whom work while also attending classes, are older than average, are on financial aid, and are ethnic minorities. Those factors combine to leave them little time or opportunity to attend career development workshops during daytime hours, and the university lacks the resources to offer evening and weekend services.
As a result, corporate recruiters told Bauer College officials that while students were of high quality, their resumes were too subpar to make it through an initial screening.
“It’s not the traditional situation where they’re trapped on campus with nowhere to go, and you can hold workshops and they’ll show up,” Belinne says. “You really have to work to get their attention, and they have a lot of competing priorities. We realized we weren’t going to get the students to come in for appointments or workshops. We had to bring the mountain to Mohammed and do it with a big bang to get their attention.”
The Rockwell staff had already been batting around the concept of resume checkups when Belinne took ill. The considerable time she spent in her physician’s office inspired her to inject more fun into what can be a tedious, intimidating process.
Belinne and her colleagues set up what they termed the Resume ER in the atrium of the college’s main entrance. In the beginning they went all out, bringing in crutches and IV bags to emphasize what they were trying to do. In the years since, the program has become enormously popular among students, who no longer need props to lure them in.
The Resume ER operates once a semester, usually when career fairs are taking place on campus. Administrators check in students on their way to and from classes and “triage” them, explaining the career services available to them and directing them to “examining rooms”: tables where “resume doctors,” career counselors, alumni, and employer partners, clad in white coats and stethoscopes - offer quick, useful feedback on their resumes.
The Resume ER has been operational for four years and attracts about 300 students per semester; the prior one-to-one review model took weeks to serve the same number. Surveys show that more than 95 percent of students would recommend the Resume ER to friends. And the format has allowed Belinne and her colleagues to “significantly improve the quality of our students’ resumes without any increase in staff or budget.”
“It gets to be a playful kind of atmosphere,” Belinne says. “It’s very nonthreatening. It’s nice for them to hear an employer say, ‘You have to do this to your resume.’ It’s a little more believable than me or a member of our team saying it. When we say it, it’s like Mom saying it. When employers say it, it’s more real.”