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Writing for the Job Search:
Cover Letters
Résumés

  • Northwestern University study, Sept. 18, 2013
    • American employers want graduates who
      • Think critically and creatively
      • Can communicate orally and in writing
    • Far less interested in narrow training and industry-specific skills

  • Nearly 2/3 of adults and 3/4 of employers agreed:

    “Being well-rounded with a range of abilities is more important than having industry expertise because job-specific skills can be learned at work.”

“Employers and Public Favor Graduates Who Can Communicate, Survey Finds,”
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 18, 2013

  • Starting your career
    • Assess your abilities
      • What Color is Your Parachute?
      • Use in personal statement
    • Find an appropriate job match
      • Research organizations
      • Research specific jobs
    • Persuade a potential employer
      • Hire yourself an employer

  • Snarky's turnoffs
    • 1. Your résumé is longer than a 25-year professional’s.
    • 2.You didn’t prepare for our interview.
    • 3.You didn’t bring questions for me.
    • 4.You wrote a thank-you note but only used it to thank me.
    • 5.You dressed for failure.
    • 6.You don’t know what you want to do. …
    • 7.You didn’t proofread.
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  • Job correspondence
    • Cover letters and résumés
      • Electronic, or white or off-white paper
      • Grab attention of busy, tired reviewers
      • Letter: one page
      • Résumé: one to two pages
  • Cover letter
    • Be specific about the job you seek
    • Highlight your main selling points
    • Consider the point of view of reviewer(s)
      • First screened by human resources/personnel
      • They read in stacks
      • They are tired and impatient
      • They become picky grammarians
      • They want attention-grabbers but not slickers

    • Reading stacks, tired, impatient
      • Avoid flowery wording, hard-to-read typefaces
      • Major points must stand out
      • Reflect solid use of the language
    • Attention over slick
      • Content over gimmicks
      • Traditional fonts with lots of white space
      • Some jobs expect bolder format design

    • Organization of letter
      • Goal: Get an interview
      • Write and rewrite for unity and flow
        • Proofread after tweaks
      • Clarity of prose

      • ABC format
        • Abstract: Purpose: Apply for a specific job
          • Refer to source of information about job
          • Briefly state your outstanding, unique qualifications
            • Say why you meet the employer’s needs
        • Body: Your qualifications
          • Main qualifications that suit employer’s needs
          • Address qualifications listed in announcement
            • XC: Match actual job announcement
            • Only place to mention, address deficiencies
          • Short paragraphs: six or fewer lines
          • Maintain you attitude
        • Conclusion: Main selling point
          • Refer to your résumé
          • Give contact information, including when

    • Usually necessary
    • Address to specific person if known
      • Formal salutation
    • State position you are interested in
    • Summarize why you are a good match
      • But don’t just repeat what’s in résumé
      • Don’t exaggerate or sound pompous
    • Keep to one page
    • Design your own letterhead (with name)

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  • Résumé

    • Biggest mistakes on résumés — Laszio Bock, senior VP, People Operations, Google
      • All it takes is one mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate."
        • 1. Typos
          • Most common after tweaking
        • 2. Length
          • One page for every 10 years of work experience
        • 3. Formatting
          • At least 10-point font, half-inch margins, white paper and black ink, consistent spacing, columns aligned; save as PDF (but not this assignment)
        • 4. Revealing confidential information
        • 5. Lies

    • Highlight skills, experience, education
      • Clear, focused summary
      • Emphasize a few major points
      • At entry level, length is one page
        • Two if you have extensive related experience
      • Arrange information
        • Easy to scan and find needed information
        • Pleasing to the eye
        • 15-20 seconds
        • Computers rely on key words, especially skills

    • Work in progress
      • Update and fine-tune regularly
      • Keep to one page initially
      • No more than two pages, except for some professions with unique expectations

    • Getting started
      • Start with framework:
        • Heading
        • Objective, résumé profile (summary), or highlights
        • Education, skills & training
        • Work experience
        • Activities, awards, achievements

    • The heading
      • Name
      • Address
      • Telephone number
      • Email address
        • Need a permanent address as soon as possible
          • Avoid cutesy, sexy, juvenile names
          • Be mindful of the image it creates
            • @hotmail, @yahoo do not sound professional

    • Objective
      • One sentence (To obtain... , or Seeking....)
      • Be specific
        • Demonstrate that you have set professional goals
        • If too general and vague, it’s useless
        • If well-written, guides how résumé is organized
        • Yet be open enough that you’re not shut out
      • Tailor to each position
        • Objectives used in sorting applications
        • Organize résumé accordingly

    • Highlights or summary
      • Objective statement (what you want) is controversial
        • Can be replaced with highlights, summary or résumé profile (what you can do)
      • Summary/profile: Describe yourself, your strengths and experience
        • Two to three sentences
        • "Five years' experience in ..."

    • Education, skills & training
      • Students/graduates usually start with education
        • Degree (highest obtained first) and major
          • Date obtained or anticipated, expected
          • University
          • GPA / scale, if strong
          • Minor if relevant; relevant courses
          • Honors, unless many then under separate heading
      • Computer / software skills
      • Language skills
      • Other training, certification

    • Experience
      • Experienced job-seekers start with work history.
        • Internships, co-op experience, volunteer work
      • Reverse chronological; give dates
      • Functional: emphasize relevant skills developed
        • Be specific but brief about job responsibilities
        • Be selective if you’ve had more jobs than can fit on one page
      • Readable format
        • Lots of white space

      • Functional work history
        • Describe relevant experience, skills
          • not just job titles
        • Most important information first
          • What you did that helped the organization
            • Saving money or making a process more efficient
          • Be specific about what you did, amount of money or man-hours saved
            • Estimates are all right

    • Activities, awards, achievements
      • Professional or pre-professional associations
        • Especially leadership roles
      • Selection to special organization
      • Some employers don’t care to see sports or nonprofessional clubs
        • Some are looking for well-rounded people
      • Awards related to profession or job
        • Include nominations

      • Volunteerism, if not in work experience
      • Can emphasize relevant qualities
        • “Comfortable in multicultural environment”
        • “Excellent communication skills”
        • “Self-starter”

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    • Appearance
      • Should be VERY easy to read
      • If on paper:
        • Serif type, such as Times, Times New Roman or Palatino, in 10 to 12 points
        • White or off-white paper; cotton best
          • Heavier than usual (at least 24 lbs.)
        If electronic and not to be printed:
        • Sans serif, such as Verdana, Arial or Helvetica

    • Writing Style
      • Check spelling and grammar!
      • Use matching verb tenses
        • Parallel construction
      • Use consistent format: numbers, dates
      • Keep descriptions short (4 lines or fewer)
      • Use consistent punctuation
      • Full sentences not necessary

    • Action words
      • As in most writing, use active verbs
        • This position afforded me experience in leadership.
        • I gained leadership experience in this position.
        • Gained leadership experience.
      • Choose words that accent your accomplishments.
        • (I) “directed” or “managed,”
          • instead of “was responsible for”

      • Describe roles and accomplishments
        • Use key terms that signal leadership and team work
          • Team work
          • Team player
          • Organized
          • Supervised
          • Managed
          • Directed
          • Developed
          • Implemented
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