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Getting into lots of short readings on resumes and cover letters

by Steve Krause on October 26th, 2014

Let’s push into the readings on writing/creating a resume and a cover letter. There are a fair number of readings here, but they are all short and pretty straight-forward. And don’t forget– suggest some of your own here, too!

First, the Purdue OWL has a lot if very useful readings on resumes here:

Lots of good advice here and the stuff that I think gets overlooked the most by students creating resumes (and actually, this goes for almost everyone who aren’t students too) is the design of a resume: sensible fonts, white space, balance, etc., etc., layout that is all important because most resumes are “scanned,” either by someone looking through them very quickly or by a machine.

In the “old days,” the only kind or resume that anyone ever really wrote/taught was the chronological resume. This briefly explains some alternative ways to organize experience, and it seems to me that a lot of these alternative resume styles are especially useful for folks who don’t necessarily have a ton of experience.

Here’s a slideshow that the folks in EMU’s University Advising and Career Development Center, a service/center that in my experience is kind of under-utilized by a lot of students, especially in fields like English. Beyond just this assignment (and they can help with things like suggesting internships and suggesting ways to change your resume), this really is a place that should be a part of your “beyond college” job search.

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  1. Brian Gardner permalink

    Being in the business school, I’ve redone my resume many times over. I’d like to say I’ve had experience with it, but the most I can really say is I’ve gotten multiple opinions on what employers like. It’s a bit like people are tugging me totally different ways (which is realistic, since no two recruiters are the same).

    It seems like a needless struggle to get a resume under one page sometimes, but I think it’s more than worth it. I cut out things like the objective and reference sections that became too obvious when those sections look the same for every single candidate. There are always some more relevant experiences and skills than others, so weeding out repetitive, cliche, or common experiences, I’d think, is priority.

    The surprise was that it suggested anyone to use more than a page – let alone three. With the mindset that “there’s always something to cut out”, it shocks me to think how much experience is needed for some positions that three page resumes are customary.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      I think the one page thing is important too, Brian.

      There are a lot of different bits of advice about the resume, and for good rhetorical reasons, too. It isn’t a single “genre,” but rather, it is a series of genres depending on the kind of job and such. In academia for example, the resume is called a “curriculum vitae” (or CV) and it typically lists everything you’ve ever done. Mine is over 10 pages long. And resumes are also about audience and purpose: that is, it depends on the job you’re applying for, etc.

      That said, I do think that about 90% of the time and for most “normal” jobs, your resume should be a single page. If you are someone with a lot of previous experience, that means focusing on the most important items for that position. If you are someone who doesn’t have a lot of previous experience, that means finding ways to highlight and explain what you have done both as an employee but also in other capacities– as a student, in some kind of club or organization, as a volunteer, etc. But like I said, 90% of the time it’s one page.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I have also received different recommendations for resume-development. It can be incredibly frustrating when trying to create the “perfect” resume, but it’s nice to have options. By knowing that there are a variety of ways we can group, organize, and write about our resume content, writers are empowered to make effective choices. We can’t choose the best resume approach if we don’t realize there are options.

      • Kristen Smith permalink

        I like the positive spin you put on the frustration of resume writing. Personally, I’ve always looked for the “right” way to write a resume, but the idea of options makes it less frustrating and makes me feel like I’m able to better customize my resume for my personal needs.

        • Brian Gardner permalink

          I think Natasha is on point too; it’s not that different employers’ opinions will always work to your disadvantage, but catering your submission to the employer can help you.

          I got the suggestion recently that I should go into detail about “skills” I have as opposed to experience, since the jobs I’m looking into involve office work and most of my experience is only menial labor. Personal skills will stand out to some employers and work ethic to others.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      Interesting that you would cut out the objective section. I have done this when my experience was plentiful but I can see how using an objective to show the company you have done your homework on their industry and that you have a very specific idea on how you can improve business can work in your favor.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        I have a professor who once told me, “Your resume doesn’t necessarily have to have an objection heading, but all resumes need an objective.” I thought this was insightful because whether or not an objective is listed, an applicant *must* have a desired goal that he or she wishes to achieve with a resume, and communication choices in the resume must reflect that goal/objective.

        • Jessica Kane permalink

          I’ve never heard that before before. Excellent advice, thank you!

          • Carly permalink

            I actually wasn’t aware of placing an objective into your resume. (I’ve never applied for a high-enough level job to need one.) But I would always do my homework on where I was applying, and know what kind of duties the job would call for so I could make my experience out to be relevant for those specific duties. I guess this was my way of creating a sense of objective.

            Other thoughts I had were about the types of resumes. They really correspond to where you are in job experience, like they explained, but I think some of them can be tricky to do correctly. I guess I think from the perspective of the employer who scans major points, as that seems to be the idea pushed in relation to the “one-page rule”, but the Functional Resume just seems too wordy to me? It may be personal preference, but I view blocks of text to be bad on a resume, and short bullet-point ideas to be better. Also with Purdue suggesting that 2 and 3 page resumes can be done set off alarms in my head, going against everything I’ve been taught about them.

            Honestly, I thought I had a basic understanding of how resumes worked before, but reading all of this information has left me a little baffled with all the different ways to deliver one. It’s a lot to take in, but I think this project will be extremely helpful.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      When I was a lot younger and first start applying for jobs, I would always think that more was better and would write as much as possible. I have since over the years received different peoples advice such as other co-workers and managers; and have really taken a lot of unnecessary information.

      I think its also important for people to cater their resumes based on what position they’re applying for.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        One thing I’ve learned that is REALLY helpful is to include skills in your task lines. So, for example, instead of saying, “Assisted customers,” you would say, “Used exemplary social skills to assist customers.” Or something like that.

        • Nijea Wilson permalink

          Yes I absolutely agree that its best to actually say what your skills are instead of just putting a general term. It’ll definitely make you stand out more.

          • Carly permalink

            I try to do what LeeAnne recommended in my current resume since I’m still working customer service jobs, but in relation to your first comment, Nijea, I totally understand where you’re coming from. I had to rework my entire thinking before I made a decent resume. It was a lot of trial and error with emailing it back and forth to my brother, and having him tell me what was unnecessary and why. But once it “clicks” and you understand the format, I think making a decent resume becomes pretty easy.

  2. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    Almost every semester, I have a class that requires me to redo my resume. Interestingly, I learn something new each time. Purdue OWL suggested giving our resume the 20-second test, which I had never heard about before; however, it makes sense to use this test because employers will simply scan the resumes they receive.

    It’s also interesting to think about the seven different types of resumes listed in the second reading. Although each resume type is a little different, they all have the same general expectations–one of which includes limiting information to one page. Last year, I met with a PR professional with twenty-five years of experience. She disclosed that even with all her experience, her resume is still only one page long.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      Also, I wanted to share an article that discusses the importance of prioritizing information on resumes. Obviously we should be using headings to help make the document more navigable; however, are we laying out those headings and pieces of information in the most effective order? This article discusses the importance of prioritizing information (from the employer’s perspective), and how to effectively show that on a resume. It also presents tips like quantifying results whenever possible, which I think can be useful because people relate to numbers as solid pieces of evidence. For example, quantifying an “excellent turnout” for an event that was planned could make-or-break whether or not someone is offered an interview. The article is short, but also valuable.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I think the 20 second test is a really important piece of advice. Employers have so many different resumes to look over that they will just scan for the important things. So its a good idea to put all of your most important skills and accomplishments on one page and make it easy to read.

      • Brian Gardner permalink

        I think I missed the part about the 20 second test, but it sounds like the person looks at your resume the same amount an employer would. It should help since you need to make sure the important skill you’re trying to emphasize is easily noticeable.

  3. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    I’m glad that more information about our UACDC was posted in this post. I agree that they are often under-utilized, and often wonder if it is because students have a negative experience with general education advising, and then never want to go back. However, April from UACDC spoke with my sorority yesterday evening about tips for successful interviewing tips, and it was really informational.

    I love that the UACDC offers so many services, like mock interviews, help with resumes and cover letters, and help with job searches. If you need help with any of this professional development, their office is definitely the place to go.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I’m glad this was in here too. I knew of this resource center but not to much about it. I’ll definitely visit soon!

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I used the UACDC services one time during my freshman year and didn’t have a good experience with the wait time and services so haven’t been back. I will definitely have to go back now and get more information on things that I may need help with after graduating at the end of this semester.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      In the face to face version of this course, I’ve had those folks come over to present in person about resumes and the services available for helping you find an internship or a job. Really useful stuff.

      And interestingly, one of the reasons why I have this assignment is I never actually took a class where I learned anything about resumes and cover letters and the like. I guess that’s because I was more or less an English Literature major, but still, it’s experience I wish I had had back then.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        That’s what I was saying about high school. I had a Career Planning class, but we never learned about resumes. Which, really is the optimal time to learn, don’t you think? I could have been much more ahead of the curve, if my teacher had thrown resumes into the lesson plan.

  4. Nijea Wilson permalink

    I think it’s important that Purdue OWL states that you may maintain a general resume, but that you should tailor your resume to fit the needs and expectations of each company and job prescription. To ensure making a good resume, you will need to gather information on the company and their goals and also get information as to who will be looking at and evaluating resumes. I think it was very informative for this site to list what is needed in each section of the resume also.

    It was good to learn about the many different resume types that are used. I’ve personally have only used the chronological however can definitely see myself using the “Resume with Profile” and “Targeted Resume”.

    I love the saying by Confucius “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” that’s in the UACDC slideshow. That statement is so true; if you can do something that you really like to do in life it won’t feel like you’re actually working. I actually didn’t know that they had so many different services that you can use. They have so many different programs that help with resumes, interviewing, job services, career coaching and many other different things that can help with your future.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      In reference to the general vs. tailored resumes, I’ve been thinking a lot about job fairs recently. For a job fair, I almost feel like it’s practical to have a general resume to hand out; however, I believe tailored resumes are much more effective. I suppose a person should research the different companies that are planning on attending the job fair, and tailor their resumes to those specific companies. That seems like it would make a candidate stand out, since most people would probably just bring a general resume.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        I agree about researching the companies. If you don’t have time to individually tailor the resumes before a job fair, you could say a few things in person that would show the recruiter that you are interested in more than just the job and the paycheck.

      • Nijea Wilson permalink

        If I was to go to a job fair I would definitely bring a general resume. I know sometimes you can actually look up what different companies are going to be there and if one is fitting to what you’re looking for, you could create a resume to cater to that company and also bring that along.

  5. Melanie Waller permalink

    I’m seeing a whole new version of resumes. When I had to do mine (many different times I might add) it basically looked the same. Not much too change, just add a little more experience and education. After reading these articles, I can now see a little more clearer in what to put in it to appeal to the job I want. There are certain things that can be left out or put on the back burner (so to speak). I see that not everything needs to be on paper. But making it too condensed isn’t the way to go either. It will take some time and effort to decide what is really important and what really needs to go into a resume.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      This was exactly my take on this article. I’ve only ever had to write resumes one way. Sure, there may have been small differences (including an objective or not including an objective), but it’s always been basically the same. I really like the various types of resumes. It’s great that we can build around our focus.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        I like that one of the articles discusses that some information can be included in a cover letter. Not everything needs to be documented in a resume; in fact, it might be easier and/or more appropriate to mention it briefly in a cover letter and move on. Too often (and I’m guilty of this too), we paint resumes to be the sole document that employers rely on to judge our character. While that is mostly true, it’s smart to utilize our cover letters to our advantage.

  6. Kristen Smith permalink

    I created my first resume in high school, but didn’t begin real world application of my resume until I was a couple years in to college. Resume writing has always been something I’ve found frustrating as it seems everyone has different advice. I’ve read multiple sources and heard different opinions on how to create a resume that will be best received by potential employers. I’ve always found sending out my resume to nerve wrecking, but it has gotten me a few job offers. I found these readings very interesting, especially the one that documented breaking your resume into quadrants to see how balanced the text is. Also, I have heard resumes should be reduced to one page, so I found the reading on that interesting as well. Overall, I’m looking forward to this portion of the class and getting feedback on my resume so I can have a powerful resume that is able to make a point in the competitive job market.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      You know, it’s strange, I took a career planning class in high school, but we never did resumes. I realize now how weird that is. Don’t you think that would be one of the main projects?

      • Kristen Smith permalink

        That is very strange! I have taken a few classes that have had us work on resumes, but I always felt that the feedback I received was scattered and made it difficult to pinpoint exactly what my resume should look like.

        • latasha permalink

          I agree with you Kristen. I really liked the different readings and it gave great ways to create different types of resumes. I also have been in many different classes that have critique me my resume but I didn’t get a lot of variety of examples. I am very excited about vamping my resume up for this assignment.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I agree that I have seen so much different advice on resume writing. I really think that the style of your resume depends on what career field you are going into. For example, someone going into the medical field or engineering probably needs a more traditional resume. However, in my PR course, my instructor stressed that the more nontraditional your resume, the better. PR employers want to see your creative side, and you also almost always have to have a multi-media resume (such as a website) in addition to a more traditional-style resume.

    • Kourtney Lovett permalink

      I remember doing mock interviews when I was in the 8th grade. Along with this process, we had to of course make mock resumes. Then, in high school I remember creating another mock resume. However when I applied to a job senior year, I created a new one. Even though I got the job, I highly doubt that I had the strongest resume. I haven’t created one since then. I am excited to see how my resume will turn out this time.

  7. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    I like how the article was to-the-point. I easily picked out what type my resume is and figured out how easily I could change it up in the future if needed.

    • Leah permalink

      I agree as well. I’ve only had one resume written in my life (sad to say). I was given the option to work or school, luckily, from my parents. I’ve always wanted to do both because I absolutely dislike asking for money (like I’m 10 years old). I could relate to this article being that the one resume I do have gets me no where. I have made corrections and moved things around and every time I turn in my resume for a job opportunity I am unlucky. It was never brought to my attention of there being different types of resume letters. I am certain that this article will not just help me for this assignment, but in the future.

  8. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    On page four of the Career Services Overview Slideshow, I found an error: “Create a professional a resume.” One of the things that my teachers have always drilled into my head, regarding resumes, is to do multiple proofreads. In fact, Professor Kurek, JUST had us build resumes, and said, as a former recruiter, that spelling/grammar mistakes are the kiss of death. Even just one error can get your resume put in the circular file, as it shows a lack of attention to detail and a lack of importance to the resume itself.

    It’s ironic that I found this error, and it doesn’t exactly have anything to do with the readings, but it is a critical thing to note when building a resume. You get one chance to get your foot in the door, one chance to get an interview. You have to make sure the resume is the best representation of you.

    Wow. I didn’t know there were so many different KINDS of resumes: mini, functional, chronological, combination, etc. I’ve always been taught one way, and I thought it was sort of universal (well, America, anyway). It’s interesting to see how many different, acceptable resume types there are out there. It gives hope to those who don’t want to subscribe to cookie cutter business politics.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      Good catch! You are absolutely correct about the importance of accuracy in resumes–well, in any professional document, for that matter. Because resumes and cover letters create an employers first impression of an applicant, it is imperative that the writing be perfect. Any inaccuracy is an opportunity that employers will use to cast judgement on a candidate. And when an employer is looking through several hundred resumes, they will look for any reason to get rid of one that will waste their time.

    • Kristen Smith permalink

      Good eye. I remember in a previous class there wasn’t too much stress put on grammar in your resume in cover letter, which surprised me. While doing peer reviews in that class, I suggested grammatical changes and pointed out errors to my group members, which resulted in a discussion about how important grammar and spelling are in resumes and cover letters. Surprising our professor didn’t cover this.

  9. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    Being able to write a good resume is an important skill that I can honestly say I do not think about enough. I get so caught up in school that I often times do not think about things that I’ll have to write in the near future (personal statement, resume, etc) that’ll help me be successful. I am happy that writing a resume has been assigned because I definitely need more experience writing one.

    I found the links on Purdue OWL to be especially helpful. I had never heard of the tactic of dividing the resume into quadrants or the 20 second test. I found both of these suggestions to be quite helpful. I will definitely be using them when I write my resume. I also found the information about fonts to be interesting because it’s something that I do not think about often (since I’m almost always using Times New Roman). Overall, I learned a lot about the design/layout of resumes from simply reading the links. They were very helpful.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      Kourtney, I can definitely relate to not having time to think about these professional documents. I know that I have a series of personal statements that need to be written, but I’m living assignment to assignment for my classes, so it is difficult to find time to think about these important writing projects that will make-or-break my future. I agree that it’s good we have the opportunity to practice these types of documents in class.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I had never heard of those tests either, and I am interested to try them on my resume to see how good (or crappy) it really is. And I am definitely with you on not thinking about things that I will have to write in the near future. I have so many writing assignments for school that I get overwhelmed and ignore the fact that I should be revising my resume and thinking about law school applications.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        I absolutely agree. I am so glad to be doing this as an assignment. I’ll have a head start on some of the things I would have had to worry about next semester.

  10. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    I learned a lot about resumes that I did not know before looking at the readings. First off, I had no idea what a scannable resume was, so that was new knowledge to me and also shocking–I had no idea that a computer oftentimes will look at your resume before a person even does. Something else that caught my attention was the quadrant test. I had never heard of this test, but it is something I’d like to try on my resume. Some other basic advice that was helpful was discussion of page length. I have always been warned about having a resume that is too lengthy, so I will definitely be using that reading as a guideline to know how long my resume should be.

    Lastly, I’d just like to mention how crazy it is that all of this planning and hard work to create a resume will result in a potential employer giving it about 30 seconds of his or her time! But, this fact definitely speaks to how important it is to have a rock-solid resume. I know that my current resume is lacking, and with graduation around the corner it would be a wise time to use some of this advice and clean it up.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      Yeah! Can you believe that some companies put resumes through a machine, and only keep those who have certain words on them? I mean, what if I want to be unique, and not use the terms “detail-oriented” or “customer service skills?” I don’t want to be thrown away just because I know how to use a thesaurus.

      • Nijea Wilson permalink

        I agree with you! Saying detail-oriented is a very common word that I think companies would get tired of seeing. I just don’t feel that letting a computer or machine look over peoples resumes is the best thing to do.

      • Leah permalink

        Wow! I never heard anything like this. What a disadvantage to those who don’t include certain words. Bummer.

      • Steve Krause permalink

        Stay tuned for the reading we’re going to start talking about next! It’s talking about this practice (at least in part). It’s right here:

        Check it out on the schedule.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I’ve heard of this before but only because my dad is a computer scientist. Years ago, he told me to copy and paste the job listing when submitting your resume electronically (such as “in reference to job listing as follows:”). He says bots scan the area where your resume is to be posted for key words, many of which are in the original listing. If incorporating those words into your resume, this eliminates the need to copy the listing.

      When talking about page balance, like in the quadrant test, you can also flip the page upside-down and look at where the page looks ” heavy “. This was something I learned in graphic design to keep your work centered. White space tells your eye where to travel and can give you a good idea where your reader will want to look first. I’m interested to try the 20 second test.

    • Kourtney Lovett permalink

      Like you, I had no idea what a scannable resume was either. I think I just kind of assumed that there was only one type of resume since the resumes that we typically see are usually similar. I also agree with you on the fact that employers will only take approximately 30 seconds to review resumes. It’s crazy but I suppose it makes sense since they view so many of them. Like you said, that’s why it’s important to have a solid, error free resume.

    • latasha permalink

      I didn’t know anything about Scrannable Resume either. I think that is great! Technology has come along way and with meeting so many new people, even networking has become easier. Yes, Resumes have to grab the readers attention right away or it will be left under a big pile of other potential job seekers. The employment market is getting so hard these days. I also agree that these reading were very helpful!

  11. Leah permalink

    As stated before I’ve never really had to put forth the use of my resume on the behalf of slim working experiences. The last two article readings were great for future references. talks about several different resumes. “Chronological resumes” stuck out the most to me. I think that chronological resume is closet to the original formate or similar to the typical resume writing style. Career services overview slideshow goes into specific details on the information that will be included.

    Two different articles with a lot of helpful information.

  12. latasha permalink

    I like how the reading included how objective are suppose to be used ” Tailored to the specific organization”. I have always had issues with using objective especially because I never knew exactly how to change them. I always worked in the same type of setting since I started working so I would just get rid of the objective altogether. I never new that there was such a thing as “Scannable Resume” I thought that was neat! I really liked the Chronological resume format. I think that it feel my type of experience perfectly but I think I could also use targeted resume too! The career service slideshow I also found helpful when writing a resume and even after the interview. I like how they gave ideas on post-interview where you can write a thank you letter. I never thought about that one! I also like the example that they used in including percentages for growth and potential raise requirements. I found these reading to be very helpful.

  13. Justin Trudell permalink

    The average recruiter spends 6 seconds scanning a resume. Here is an article I found – second-attention-span

    Also I have to agree with what many people have mentioned already, resumes are an inexact science. I have heard to included an objective from most sites and advice on resumes, but everyone I talked to in the field I am trying to get into has said they are unnecessary.

    I have heard the same about cover letters. The basic rule of thumb from my understand is to not include one unless it is required by the company you are applying for.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      I’ve never heard that about a cover letter, Justin. But again, I guess that also speaks to the idea of the kind of job you’re applying for, too. I think at least a brief cover letter for just about any position is really a common curtesy; and in my field, the cover letter is not quite as important as the resume itself, but still important.

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