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- Writing Effective Resumes
and Cover Letters
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Career Resources: Prescription for a Healthy Resume
First rule of thumb, do not “shotgun” resumes and cover letters. Take the time to research the company and the position for which you are applying and tailor your letter to that job. A smart employer can always spot a “form” letter that was shot gunned to them and other prospective employers.
- Be brief – your letter should not exceed one page in length, using 1.5 spacing. Your cover letter is merely an introduction, so keep it concise and focused on “why” the reader should take time to review your resume. For example, use the intro letter as a way to let the reader know you have done your homework on the organization by including information on what you believe “you can do for them.”
- Be concise and get to the point – why should they turn the page and read your resume?
- Proof – you must proof your work carefully. Make sure you are directing your letter to the correct individual, and always check spelling of names, titles, and the address.
It is no longer “standard practice” to include an objective on every resume; however, be sure you research your chosen profession or prospective employer to know if one is expected. Some employers include the request for an objective in the job announcement.
Otherwise, an objective can take up much needed space that is better used to highlight your experience, talent, and skills.
If you do choose to add an objective to your resume, DO NOT make it “all about you.” Remember that an employer is looking to see what you will bring to the organization in skills, and ultimately results. In the best of all worlds, you should (if you use an objective) write one specific to the job for which you are applying.
Example: Seeking a position as an account executive with Alcalay Communications Group where I can use my public relations skills and talents to provide superior client service and deliver high-impact results.
Your resume does not get you the job, but rather gets you an invitation to an interview. In a competitive environment, it is essential that your resume stand out.
The single biggest mistake—besides typos—is a resume that reads like a job description or duty statement. It is imperative that you “cut through the resume clutter” with a resume that quantifies your achievements for previous employers. In other words, what did you do that made a difference on your previous jobs?
- Be honest and accurate – do not put anything on your resume that is not true. Do not exaggerate your experience, it will come back to haunt you.
- Don’t diminish or take away from any relevant experience - Anytime you can make a parallel between a previous job and a prospective one is helpful. For example, a PR professional must be a multi-tasker, must meet short deadlines, and must be flexible and creative. If you can demonstrate that you exhibited those qualities in your previous jobs, you might be a leg up on the competition.
- The cutting-edge practitioner – is a multi-media multi-tasker, which means you are more than a strong researcher, writer and counselor. Your role is to protect your employer by offering counsel related to policy, program, marketing, media, etc. In today’s highly competitive environment, you must know how to “do it all” to compete for a job effectively. Learn the art of Blog writing, tweeting, and how to make the most of other social media tools.
- Quantify your results – PR practitioners must be able to quantify results. Counting column inches of media coverage alone is not sufficient. You must be able to tie outcomes to objectives.
- Keep your resume current – Review your resume and portfolio at least once every six months.
- Remember you are marketing YOU – Everyone has “work experience”; you have “professional experience.” Everyone has some level of “education”; you have a “university education.”
- Don’t forget community service – Be sure to include community service and awards or acknowledgements, but be very careful that your work in those areas does not lead to a “bias” judgment on the part of prospective employers. Sometimes an over emphasis on an activity, such as political or religious affiliations, or other potentially polarizing activities lead to assumptions about you by a prospective employer.
A word about MySpace and Facebook
Remember that employers are not only looking for technical qualifications, they are also looking for “personality fit” to ensure a well-run workplace. Increasingly, employers and prospective employers are using unconventional ways to “check out” job candidates, including searching MySpace and Facebook to see if you have questionable photos, commentary, or links on your personal sites. Make sure no one on your “personal references” list has anything potentially compromising about you on their site. Your site tells an employer something about your character and your work ethic. What may look like “innocent fun” to you, could lead an employer to a different conclusion about your character.
If you post your resume to a career or job Web site, or you send it via e-mail, test it first by sending it to yourself and a couple of friends to make sure they can open the document, and it comes across as you intended it to look. If a receiver gets a document they cannot open or read, they are more likely to dismiss you and your resume. There is no time to deal with the issues you should have anticipated.
Layout and Design – Put some thought into your presentation.
- Avoid fancy and difficult-to-read fonts.
- It is okay to select a paper style and color that is eye-catching, but make sure your selection appears professional, as it does represent you.
- Don’t be afraid to be creative – if you are applying for a position that requires you know publishing software, consider designing your resume like a newsletter or appropriate publication. If you are applying for a position that requires presentation skills and a solid knowledge of PowerPoint, consider including a PowerPoint CD with your resume, so you might demonstrate your skills.
- Chronological or Experience? You may select either a chronological format (experience in date order) or an experience format, which allows you to list your work in an order that focuses on your experience as it pertains to the job for which you are applying. An experience format is especially helpful if you are switching careers, reentering the workforce, or have held more than one job at a time.
- PROOF, PROOF, and PROOF. Make sure you proof everything very carefully. Avoid composing in a rush. After you compose your work, set it down for a time and then come back to it and read it aloud, as this will help you find errors.
- Metadata – all documents have a record that documents work done on the document; this is called metadata. Word 97 or newer contains an option to select “remove metadata.” It is essential to remove all metadata, so anyone who receives your document can see who has had access and performed work on the document. If you don’t know how to remove metadata, ask the “help” function, or seek help from an IT pro. You can set up Word to prompt you to always remove metadata before you send a document to anyone.
References – A good reference can make a world of difference.
- Always ask people ahead of time if they are willing to serve as a reference. Keep in touch with your references, so if someone leaves an employer (where they serve as your reference) you have a way to stay in touch, so they can continue to serve as a reference for you.
- Have a mix of personal and professional references.
- Consider including colleagues and employees, not only former supervisors.
- Make sure if you are listing someone who is a “longtime friend” that you have actually had contact with them within the last few years. Prospective employers don’t appreciate a reference that is listed as “known for 10 years” but you have not spoken with them or seen them in the last five years.
- Include your references with your resume; this practice saves the prospective employer a step in asking you for them, and it also says you have nothing to hide and are willing to have people contacted.
- Do not put “references provided upon request” on your resume; it’s assumed you will provided them, and wastes space on your resume.
The Interview – Leave them wanting more
- Dress for success by wearing a suit, navy or black are great choices. Wear colors that flatter you. Avoid loud colors or wild prints; it’s all they will remember. In surveys, employers list “inappropriately dressed” as one of the tops reasons they passed on a candidate.
- Don’t overdo the jewelry or wear wild nail polish colors. If you have an unusual piercing, e.g., tongue, lip, eyebrows, take them out for the interview. You want your prospective employer to view you as a professional. If you are going to work in a creative environment, where such things are not only tolerated, but encouraged, it might be okay. The message here is to know your audience.
- If there is an assistant who greets you, be friendly and professional, as this person may also have some input into who gets the nod as the successful candidate. If they are not too busy, strike up a friendly conversation and you will be remembered. Many people would be surprised to know how much influence support staff have in selecting a new employee. If you are rude, condescending, or dismissive, you will be remembered, but for all the wrong reasons.
- Greet each panelist by shaking their hands—no limp “girly-man” handshakes—shake each person’s firmly with your whole hand, and as you shake their hand repeat their name back to them, “nice to meet you Jane” this will help you remember their names.
- Usually, panelists have name cards in front of them, write down their names and make some notes when possible, this will help you write your thank you notes after the interview. If they do not have name cards, ask for their business cards as you thank them and prepare to leave at the end of the interview. If that is not possible, you can check with an assistant as you leave the office.
- When a question is posed, take your time to think through the answer, and do your best to avoid “rambling.” It can help to use part of the question to frame your response, for example: Based on what you know about this organization and the job, what attracted you to apply for the job?” Answer: “As I researched your organization, I found it interesting that …” Keep your answers concise and make sure you actually answer the question. Another common employer complaint is rambling answers from prospective candidates, or an answer that is not on point.
- Be prepared with questions of your own. If panelists ask you, “do you have any questions for us?” ask some thoughtful questions. This will demonstrate to the panel that you want the job. People love to talk about their jobs, so if you really don’t have a question about the organization, ask panelists what drives them, what that like best about their job, etc. Consider asking the panelists what they like most about working for this organization, or what they consider to be the top three challenges facing the organization. Give this careful consideration; a pet peeve of panelists is when candidates have no questions for them. When a candidate has no questions, it tends to leave panelists thinking the candidate has not given much thought to the job, or has “shot gunned” their resume.
- Practice your interview with someone you trust, a friend or family member.
Follow up and Thank You Letters – Always follow up with a thank you.
- Compose a brief and professional letter to thank your interviewer(s). Do not send a hand written note. It’s okay to hand address the envelope. It is okay to start with a follow-up e-mail as an initial, but always send a formal thank you.
- If a panel interviews you, send each panelist a personally addressed letter, and customize the content for each panelist. Do not send a “form letter”; your panel will likely compare notes.
- Summarize why YOU are the best candidate, by highlighting what you can DO for them.
- Tell them you look forward to hearing from them soon.
- If you list a contact number or e-mail, make sure your outgoing messages are professional, and check for messages regularly.
Your Portfolio – A professional portfolio gives you the opportunity to “show” a prospective employer what you CAN do.
- Regardless of how you choose to display your work, it is essential that you take steps to preserve your work so it does not deteriorate over time.
- To begin assembling a professional portfolio, save multiple copies of your best work. Keep the originals filed in an acid-free environment that is also free from light and heat.
- Whether you use a professional portfolio display book or a three-ring binder with sheet protectors, you must protect your work by ensuring it is in an “acid-free” environment. Select acid-free paper and adhesives to mount work, and acid-free sheet protectors, especially if you are attempting to highlight work on newsprint.
- Keep your portfolio work from direct light, such as sunlight or fluorescent lights. Store your portfolio in a cool, dark place, such as an acid-free memorabilia box or a closet.
- Put your work in the order that makes sense for this job.
Sharing your work
When you take your portfolio to an interview be prepared for the interviewer to ask for copies of your work that they want to share with others in the organization. Be prepared for this request by having copies of your best work behind the originals. You will impress the interviewer or panel with your organization, attention to detail, and preparedness.
- Have multiple copies (if your portfolio is too full, carry extras in a manila envelope).
- Highlight your best work.
- Ensure your copies are clean, centered, and you get all of the work on the page.
- If you reduce oversize items, make sure you don’t make them so small that they are difficult to read.
- Oversize pieces-Consider using a smaller section of the larger piece mounted on a background sheet to highlight the central piece, and then behind it have a folded version of the larger piece.
- Mount small pieces on acid-free paper, and use the masthead at the top of the page, if possible.
- Use color copies to enhance the look of multi-color piece.
- If your article or work was accompanied by or resulted in media photos, include them to add punch to your presentation.
- Make the investment in high-quality acid-free paper, and pony up for professional copies. Your home printer may make nice copies, but if it cannot handle the high-quality, acid-free paper, make the drive to Fed Ex/Kinkos or another copy service.