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4 Ways To Tailor Your Resume for Human Rights Careers

4 Ways To Tailor Your Resume for Human Rights Careers


Tailoring your resume to fit jobs you are applying to is always a good idea, and it can be especially helpful when applying for jobs in the human rights field. Human rights organizations are looking for candidates that not only have the skills and experience but also have the passion and knowledge to work with the specific issues they focus on. If you don’t have several years’ experience at a big-name organization and dozens of connections to name-drop at interviews, one of the best things you can do is create a resume that shows your interest, expertise, and transferrable skills. Here are four ways that you can tailor your resume specifically for human rights careers.

1. Write a professional summary or objective

Resume trends change—what order to list things in, whether to list an objective or not, how to format your resume—so, professional summaries and objectives haven’t necessarily been an essential part of the resume. However, this section gives you a chance to sum up your skills and experience in a few short phrases and sets the tone for potential employers looking through your achievements. A professional statement doesn’t have to be complicated or even in full sentences. The best professional summaries and objectives are brief, descriptive, and active; they highlight your most relevant skills and experience, so this is one of the best places to specifically tailor your resume to a job description. Later on, we’ll talk about a few tailoring tips that will specifically apply to this, but for now, let’s focus on what a basic professional summary or objective should look like.

Professional summaries should be used to simply highlight skills and sum up your experience and achievements; professional objectives should be used if you are lacking experience or changing careers. For young professionals and those looking to break into the human rights field, a professional objective is useful in highlighting any related work you’ve done, as well as expertise and any skills that can be transferred between jobs. These can also be used for experienced professionals targeting a specific job. For those who have been in the field longer and are looking to move to a better position or a different organization, a professional summary will showcase work that you’ve already been doing and point out specific achievements. Professional summaries can also be used for career changes and entry-level professionals, although less commonly. Below are a few examples of each, taken and adapted from

Professional Objective for Career Change:
Experienced and accomplished political campaign manager with over ten years of experience looking to leverage extensive background in crisis management, departmental organization and mass communication into an entry-level research assistant position with RAND Corporation.

Professional Objective for Entry-level Job:
Hard working international development graduate with proven analytical and strategic thinking skills seeking to apply my abilities to the position of Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator with the Afghanistan office at International Rescue Committee.

Professional Summary for Experienced Position:
Project Manager with 10+ years’ experience specializing in project design, impact evaluation publications, public outreach and monitoring & evaluation. Professional, creative, flexible with proven analytical skills. Adept at researching and creating well-researched development campaigns for a wide variety of target communities.

Professional Summary for Entry-level Position:
International Affairs Graduate with project design training and experience with grant writing training at the University of Pittsburgh. Proven skills in project management, organization and research with a background in office administration and organization. Able to provide employers with administrative support and professional communication and grant writing skills.

Professional Summary for Career Change:
Proven IT Specialist with experience in start-ups as well as established operations leveraging expertise in organization, computer networking, and problem solving to provide exceptional program support and technical assistance for anti-trafficking organizations. Experience includes managing sensitive materials and providing after-hours support for clients.

These examples are brief but provide descriptive phrases highlighting the most relevant parts of each candidate’s career and academic training. The paragraphs avoid “I” statements and are written in active tones. Every word is meaningful and progresses the job-seekers credibility in the field of human rights.

2. Make sure to highlight skills that directly correlate to the job

Changing your resume for each job you apply for can be tedious and time-consuming, but for employers, it’s worth it to see that someone has the qualifications that you specifically listed in a job description. This means that skills and accomplishments listed on your resume should match as many of the qualifications in the job description as possible. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t underestimate your experience either. Maybe all of your experience is in journalism, but you’re applying for a job in communications for a human rights organization. Experience with interviewing, community outreach, layout and graphic design, and writing about any topics related to human rights can be highlighted in your resume as useful skills and experiences that will transfer to the job you are applying for. This is really just about presenting your experience and skills in a way that shows that you are relevant to the job the organization is posting for.

Even if you’ve only worked part-time retail or restaurant jobs leading up to your entry-level job search, point out transferrable skills, academic experience, and volunteer experience. If you didn’t get paid to do work related to the job, make sure to still include it prominently in your resume to show your interest and passion for the field, even outside of a paid position.

For those with largely academic experience, this might mean transforming your resume into a CV. CVs are used more often for job-seekers that have published papers or presented research, so recent graduates can often use this to highlight their knowledge and training when they’re lacking professional experience. CVs can especially be useful when applying to research jobs, communications and writing jobs, and analysis jobs. Your research papers and projects can show that you have the ability to write well, present research and information, and analyze information in a useful way.

Paying attention to the specific qualifications the employer is looking for can also show them that you took the time to read through the job description and think about the skills you have that would be useful for their organization. And, looking forward, highlighting those specific skills on your resume will also help you know what experiences and accomplishments the employer will be asking about in interviews if you move forward through the process. Showing you have the qualifications the job description is asking for and/or skills that will transfer well to a job can be extremely helpful in getting a job with a human rights organization.

3. Use the language of the job description and the organization

This tip is similar to the last but is different because it delves into a little more detail than simply highlighting skills listed in the job description. Taking the time to look through the organization’s work and projects can help you edit your resume to mimic their tone and language within your own resume. (This is also really useful in your cover letter!) Employers that notice your professional summary, skills, and accomplishments use similar language to their organization will see that you understand what they’re all about, and it will also show that you took the time to notice what they do and what their tone is.

Human rights buzzwords are pretty well-known by anyone in the field, but looking at specific organizations to see what areas they are particularly focusing on can help you understand what they are looking for and match your skills and experience to their organization. This can also help you show that you understand their mission and purpose, which means they’ll know you’ll be on board with them and be looking to move forward with them, not hold them back.

For example, looking through the International Rescue Committee’s website will show you that they like to use terms like “high-impact,” “cost-effective,” “empowerment,” “sustainable,” and “humanity.” By including those terms in your resume, the employer will see that you understand their culture and mission and that you are paying attention to the work you could potentially be involved in. Another example would be if you are applying for a job with Human Rights Watch, you’d want to be sure to tailor your resume and experience as much as possible to include words like “fact-finding,” “advocacy,” “social justice,” and “security.” Additionally, you can showcase experience with researching or working at a multi-level approach, working with media, or conducting qualitative and quantitative research in social sciences. You can also highlight any regional work you’ve done to show you have expertise in a particular area of the world. Human Rights Watch hires people from multiple career fields (journalism, law, policy, academic research) so they’ll specifically be looking for candidates who understand their work and will be able to offer relevant expertise and experience to their organization. Using the language of the employer you’re applying for shows that you pay attention to detail, know about their organization, and understand the work that they’re doing.

4. Edit your resume

This last tip doesn’t need much explaining. Edit, edit, edit. Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct. Make sure you use active, not passive tense. Make sure your spaces and indents are the same throughout. Have a friend, colleague, or professor read through to make sure that everything is correct. It goes without saying that a resume that isn’t edited shows that you haven’t put much effort into applying, which can communicate to the employer that you won’t put much effort into the job. And, especially for human rights organizations, they want employees that are going to care and stay passionate and continue to put effort into the work they’re doing.

These four simple tips can help you upgrade your resume and show employers that you know what you’re doing and really care about the work they’re doing. Take the time to really highlight your experience and skills, match your resume to the job description, use the language of the organization, and, finally, edit. Tailoring your resume can greatly increase your chances to break into a human rights career or continue to move up in the field.

About the author

Allison Reefer

Allison Reefer is a young professional living in Pittsburgh, PA. She works with a refugee resettlement agency to help refugees and immigrants in the city, and she volunteers with a local shelter for human trafficking victims. She obtained her Master in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in Writing from Geneva College, focusing most of her academic work on human trafficking and migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In her free time, she loves to write, read, sing and play bass guitar, practice Russian, and explore her city.

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