Spring is resume and cover letter season, as any writing tutor and career office adviser can tell you.
Applicants feel excited about their prospects for summer jobs and internships, but they can face enormous pressure when asked to construct attractive professional documents free of distracting and embarrassing errors.
Statistics from the Rockport Institute show that employment opportunity can draw between 100 and 1,000 resumes. For all these submissions, employers grant an average of one interview for every 200 resumes.
As a Writing Center tutor, I meet many students enthusiastic about getting an interview with a company or nonprofit. Some writers worked with me in the composition of their first resumes, and others I advised have extensive work history with bachelor’s degrees.
When people describe the work they want to do and the field experiences they’re excited about, I want to do everything I can to help them realize their ambitions.
Together, we often consult resources such as sample resumes and cover letters alumni and faculty members donated. I also work with writers to apply such things as content guidelines, format templates and active verb lists from Career Services.
But I wondered what advice employers could give students.
After all, executives are the primary audience of these documents.
What could they tell me about the preferences of today’s employers and about the faults they find in applicants’ documents. What are the current trends, and what practices have become old fashioned?
I decided to find out. Through interviews and informal surveys, employers shared their points of view.
When it comes to resumes, several employers told me readability is their first concern.
Joyce Hynes of Means Industries, for example, says she prefers resumes that are “easy to read with clear and concise highlights.”
“When you are getting a large volume of resumes, important data can be overlooked because it has to be waded through,” she says. “Make information categories stand out. If it is easy I am actually going to read all of it.”
While Hynes says she prefers an objective specific to the company and employment position, other employers say an objective is not necessary.
They supported what Heather Rising, interim assistant director of career services, told me: many employers find the objective statement outdated.
My survey of area employers also found that while most employers still prefer employment history in chronological order, listing the month and day is an outdated practice.
Providing a year is sufficient, and if there is a gap in the employment history, employers may want more details.
If applicants are concerned about a noticeable gap in employment, Hynes and others suggest job titles such as mother, father or homemaker. Hynes says, “It explains the break just fine.”
For example, one job candidate indicated that for eight months he took various odd jobs such as snow plowing and light carpentry while seeking full-time employment. Some applicants list the job title primary care giver for grandparent or parent under work history.
Employers also said students should always put their names, addresses and phone numbers on each resume page they send. This way if employers lose any of the pages, they can still contact the person.
Nearly all the employers I contacted prefer a brief, memorable story to demonstrate the applicant qualities they desire and describe in the job posting.
Randolph L. Stevens, the president and CEO of career marketing and outplacement firm R. L. Stevens & Associates Inc., also pointed out additional problems with applicants’ documents.
Stevens says many resumes and cover letters fail to reflect applicants’ knowledge of the company or of the industry in general. He says employers want applicants to demonstrate their awareness of a company’s strengths and weaknesses, growth opportunities and competitors.
Applicants should also show a progression in their employment history, says Stevens, an indication they have taken on additional responsibilities and duties with each position held.
Finally, I learned it is increasingly common for applicants to ask people listed as references in their professional documents to contact employers directly on their behalf. Employers tend not to view this initiation of contact to be too forward.
Students should take advantage of the services the University provides for assistance with these professional documents, but they should also heed the advice employers freely offer when asked.