Job Hunting Advice

Starting from Scratch: The First Draft

Although most job seekers retain a copy of their last resume on file, it may be of benefit to construct a new one from the ground up if the old one is out of date by more than one or two years.

Start by listing basic details (e.g., time and place) regarding education and job history. Next, fill in job duties and course of study. Then list any credible awards, honors, or distinctions. If additional information is needed to fill the first page, consider adding relevant volunteer work or professional development courses.

At this point, it is advisable for the job seeker to weigh his or her education and qualifications against those of the position(s) sought. If a strong match exists, he or she should consider constructing a Chronological Resume and proceed to refine the original draft (click here for tips).

If employment history is spotty or unrelated to his or her field of interest, it may be to the seeker's advantage to construct a Functional Resume. Alternatively, the seeker may wish to highlight certain skills with a Combination Resume. In either case, the seeker should review his or her job duties and list the skills required to perform them; the skills can now be presented directly to the Employer in order of importance.

The Vital Peripheries: The Heading and Education Sections

Your resume starts with your contact information. Employers must know how they can get in touch with you. List your full name, mailing address, "land-line" and cell phone numbers, email address, and fax number if available.

With few exceptions, this contact information belongs on the top of the page. It is usually center-justified, but can be flushed left or right for added effect. Savvy writers sometimes use an underscore to set this section off from the rest of the document.

For each entry in the Education section, list the degree, course of study, institution, and year the degree was received. Any specialized course of study, minor, or double-major, should also be provided as well as any honors (e.g., magna or summa cum laude) conferred upon graduation. A high school diploma should not be listed if the seeker has received a college degree.

The Education section can be constructed in reverse chronological order, or backwards from the job seeker's most advanced degree (i.e., graduate degree, then bachelor's degree, then professional certification). The seeker should choose whichever listing order highlights their most relevant credentials.

Job seekers currently in college should list the institution they are attending, major(s) and minor, degree sought, and anticipated year of graduation. They should also be sure to list such academic distinctions as a high Grade Point Average or Dean's List semesters. Any merit-based scholarship(s) may also be of interest to employers.

Job seekers with vocational certification should list their training in the same manner, including course of study, conferring institution, and year completed. It is appropriate for these seekers to list their high school diploma, unless it has been more than 15 years since graduation.

Seekers should take particular care that the information in these sections is accurate and able to withstand scrutiny.

Additional Information: What to Include and What to Omit

Some difference of opinion exists as to the value of opening a resume with a Career Objective or Qualifications Summary. Some experts consider such a statement to be a prime opportunity for job seekers to highlight their most marketable skills. A Career Objective or Qualifications Summary can be customized to fit an employer's stated requirements. Others believe that this type of statement draws attention away from the seeker's actual qualifications.

Job seekers should assess whether a well written Objective or Summary would truly give employers a clearer picture of their qualifications. If the qualifications are strong enough, they may be able to stand on their own.

Hobbies and personal interests should generally be omitted unless related to the seeker's field of interest. Volunteer work, if related to the field, can help fill out a resume short on experience. Service on an organization's governing board can be listed to demonstrate leadership experience.

References should be provided on a separate document for privacy and space reasons. The phrase "References available upon request" can be listed on the bottom of the page, but is generally not necessary. Employers will ask for this information if they wish to see it.

Height, weight, and personal measurements should be omitted. An exception would be for those individuals pursuing an acting or modeling career.

It is illegal for employers to ask for information regarding marital status, children, or religion, and the information should not be offered on a resume.

Refining Your Resume: The Finishing Touches

A resume is written in a modified business writing style with extra emphasis on brevity and precision. The idea is to save space to allow room for important information. The writer should avoid speaking in the first person and use conjunctions sparingly. The statement "I managed a staff of 30 employees for a Fortune 500 Company," for example, should be pared down to "Managed staff of 30 employees for Fortune 500 Company." This is not a complete sentence and is not grammatically correct. However, it is accepted resume style.

Text visibility is vital to passing the initial screening. Hiring personnel typically spend 30 seconds or less per resume on this first pass. Specific qualifications or accomplishments can be set apart in bullet points. Underscoring or italics can also be used for emphasis, although care should be taken not to clutter up the text.

Keep in mind that employers will likely be viewing your resume as an electronic document. Most companies scan the submitted paper resumes into their computer system. Writers should use black ink and at least a 12-point text size to ensure that the resume can be read easily after scanning.

It is also important to retain enough "white space" to avoid crowding and to maintain clear boundaries between sections. Sections can be set apart by setting the headings in boldface or using a larger text size. Headings can also be set in a different font for additional contrast.

Spacing and indents should be checked for consistency between sections. The spacing of the text itself should not be too loose or too tight. Avoid excessive word breaks between lines, and do not end a sentence or paragraph with a single word on a line by itself.

Be sure to make a final scan of your resume for overall appearance. Employers look to it for hints as to your performance as an employee.

Cover Letter Considerations

Your cover letter works in tandem with your resume to grab the employer's attention. Employers consistently praise candidates who submit a personalized letter with their resume. However, you must strike a balance between the employer's wish for a custom fit cover letter and resume and your need to pursue multiple opportunities. Most job seekers develop a general purpose letter that can be customized as needed.

The employer (or screener) is often most attentive to the opening paragraph of the letter. It should include a strong statement about your interest and key qualifications. If you are replying to a posted job ad, it should also clearly state the position to which you are applying.

The letter should then steer the reader to your resume, highlighting any key matches between your qualifications and the employer's requirements. This is your opportunity, as well, to discuss any special skills or qualifications not listed in your resume.

Cover letters are subject to the same electronic screens as resumes. You should seek to utilize any keywords that may be relevant to your field or the position to which you are applying. In fact, strive to mirror back the employer's ad verbiage while drawing connections to the employer's needs and your skills.

The letter should close with an invitation for further discussion. For sales or certain management positions, consider concluding with a specific action step (e.g., "I will call you after the 18th to schedule a time to meet").

An effective cover letter formally introduces you and allows you to express your interest. More important, however, a cover letter is your opportunity to directly connect your qualifications to the employer's needs.

Writing your KSA Statement

A Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) statement is a narrative statement relating your knowledge, skills, and abilities to the requirements of a Federal agency job posting. In effect, you are expected to state whether you are qualified for the posting, and why.

KSA statements are "scored" according to their match to the exact requirements of the posting. In fact, your experience rating will be based solely on the score derived from your KSA statement (not the information contained in your resume). Your first step in writing your KSA statement, therefore, should be to read the posting carefully.

Make note of the posting's key requirements and how they are worded. As much as possible, you should strive to incorporate the exact words and phrases into your statement. Awards and recognition are viewed favorably and should be mentioned when relevant.

Thoroughness is essential to any Federal job application, and you must be certain to address every requirement referenced on the posting. Also, you must substantiate your claim to each skill by explaining how you acquired it, where, and when. At the same time, however, you must not stray too far off topic as this will distract the scorer.

Although not required for all Federal postings, the KSA statement is a very important factor in filling those postings for which they are required. Click here for a sample KSA statement.

Thank-you Notes and Emails

Despite the common knowledge that employers expect and appreciate a personalized thank-you note after an interview, most job seekers do not follow through with this extra step. You should take advantage of this one last opportunity to gain the employer's undivided attention.

Your thank-you note should use a less formal tone than a cover letter, and can be sent by email. Email has the added advantage of being received and read quicker. If you interviewed with more than one individual, for example a Human Resources recruiter and a manager, send each a copy (and address both in the note).

The note must be brief and should open by thanking the recipient(s) for the interview. Try to personalize the note by making reference to something you specifically discussed or someone you met during the interview.

Employers will expect you to promote your candidacy, but self-promotion should not be the focus. If the interviewer expressed a concern or brought up a particularly important point in the interview, briefly address it here or remind the recipient(s) of your strongest selling point.

The note should close with a restatement of your interest and an invitation for the employer to contact you further. If you are sending the note as an email, be sure to provide your full name and contact information beneath the letter body.

Click here for a sample thank-you email.

The Importance of Proofreading

Your resume and cover letter are the basis of an employer's first impression of you. A typographical error blatantly undermines the image of competence you are seeking to project.

Research has found that if the first and last letters of an English word are correct, but the letters between are scrambled, an experienced reader will still able to read the word. The eye effectively "reads" the first and last letter and fills in what it expects to see in between. This speeds up reading comprehension but, unfortunately, allows typographical and spelling errors to escape the writer's notice.

Proofreading is nothing more than rereading a document to find and correct these errors. On your first pass, strive to see each and every character (including spaces), taking particular care to read every letter in every word. It is highly advisable to skim the text for sense and clarity in a second pass. You should also check for consistent spacing, font size, and overall appearance.

A second, fresh set of eyes often finds things the writer will overlook. If someone is willing to proofread your documents, take advantage of the offer.

Take the time to proofread your resume and cover letters. Employers expect such thoroughness from potential employees.

Last Updated: 05/23/2014

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