Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey look, Ma! I'm all gradumacated! Part 3

So, how many of you got that Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You'll Go as a graduation present? Everyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Well, I did. It was great. It was awfully generic, though, and I was more in need of something like, "Hey, TAB! Don't worry about this! Focus on that! Don't apply to this internship, apply for that one instead!" You know, the specifics. In an effort to give you n00bz some of what I lacked, this is my attempt to impart the tiny bit of wisdom I possess to you in the easiest way possible.

Wait, what? Graduation advice? How did this all start?

Oh, I get it. So... then what happened?

Okay! Now that you're caught up, let's move on.

Part 3 of this ridiculous series is going to cover something that I am often asked about but probably should be giving advice on: resumes and cover letters.

Here's the thing: because I'm a writerly-type, friends, family, disaffected youths and the like often come to me asking for help, advice, and/or edits to their resumes and cover letters before they send them out to apply to jobs. Now, I am always happy to help a friend in need, but I feel rather unqualified to do so because of the fact that my resumes (yes, plural, more about that later...) and cover letters have failed to net me a whole lot of amazing jobs... or interviews, for that matter. Thus, I feel as though I am the *wrong* person to ask and frequently vocalize this, but still, they press on. I could be missing something intrinsically important or leaving something in that I should have taken out, and of course, every industry is looking for something different. I have, however, done some extensive research on the matter and have compiled a few points that everyone really *should* know about applying for jobs. With the above disclaimer, if you're not at all interested in my advice and you think I'm full of wrongness, don't pay any attention to the following and instead go watch the cutest puppy in the entire world.


DO NOT APPLY TO ANYTHING WITH A 'FORM' COVER LETTER! I cannot stress the importance of this one. We've all been there... you've been applying to jobs for hours and you're mentally exhausted and it's just so easy to cut out "Dear Company A" and replace it with "Dear Company B," but unless you want your job application to go directly into the trash bin, stop for a second. Put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving your cover letter. Instead of addressing it "To Whom It May Concern:" take the extra five minutes to search the company's website for a name, preferably in the HR department. Depending on the job posting, you might be able to call the company directly and ask to whom you should address your resume.

Additionally, stick to the form of a formal cover letter, BUT make sure you tailor each letter to each company. Companies want to know *why* you would be a perfect fit for the position with their company, so instead of just listing your skills, concisely explain how your skills could benefit their company. Specificity is key! For example, let's say you're applying to be Bruce Campbell's chainsaw technician and you spent years operating chainsaws as a rogue lumberjack. Instead of: "I am a very punctual and hard-working individual who can demonstrate a degree of expertise with chainsaws," use something like, "As a seasoned lumberjack who learned safe and efficient chainsaw operation at age 8, I've demonstrated my expertise with chainsaws year after year by cutting down over 400 trees annually, with absolutely no loss of appendages. Furthermore, last year I was nearly mauled by a rabid grizzly bear, but lived through the attack because I was able to think on my feet and improvise, using my chainsaw as a weapon. These skills can readily be applied to any type of adversary, as I understand your need to use your chainsaw against zombies."

Also important: remember how I told you to tailor your letter to the job/company? Hiring folks want to know that you're familiar with their company and the specific needs of that job. Wording your letters to show that you know something about them is vitally important, hence how we ended our letter: "These skills can readily be applied to any type of adversary, as I understand your need to use your chainsaw against zombies." DEFINITELY REMEMBER: to check ALL spelling and grammar, have another person read your cover letter to catch mistakes that you missed, double check your contact information (there should be AT LEAST TWO WAYS TO CONTACT YOU! Email and phone number work just fine), if you're enclosing your resume and clips/samples of your work, be sure to add an "Enc. 1 Resume, 3 Clips" line after you sign your letter.


Okay, one time after I graduated college, my dad was like, "you need more than 1 resume!" and I was all, "sure I do, Dad... ::rolls eyes in that obnoxious know-it-all way::" and then I started broadening my job hunt (re: I couldn't get a job so I had to expand my search) and I started not only applying to writing jobs, but editing jobs, publishing jobs, coffee making jobs, book selling jobs, etc. Every time I did, I sent out the same resume and cover letter and guess what? No one called me back. Then, I was complaining to my dad again about how I was a useless, unhireable sack of meat and waste of space and my dad asked me once more, "well, which resumes are you sending out?" and I was all, "uh."

So I revamped my resume! I started with 3, but I have more versions now. I made one for writing jobs, one for editing jobs, and a general one for retail/coffee/bitch jobs. Each resume specifically focuses my skills into what I think the Hiring Gods would want. Granted, fresh out of college, I didn't have a lot of experience to put on said resumes, so I had to get creative. With the exception of things I had published in high school and college, most of my "real" job experience was working in the kitchens on my college campus and some retail during summers. So... how did that all work for me? Well, I listed it on all 3 of my resumes under OTHER WORK EXPERIENCE and described how it demonstrated my leadership skills (I was promoted very quickly) and how I learned important lessons about management and employee relationships, customer service and patience, and the value of working efficiently.

Yep. I translated working behind the counter of a cafe into understanding how it's important to work quickly and meet the demands of a rushed customer, which, in my line of work, means I understand tight deadlines. You feel me?

As I was later able to add internships, experience and other crap to my resumes, more appropriate and relevant career moves slowly pushed my dining/cafe jobs off the page. You have to start somewhere, though, and you can definitely make those jobs work in your favor.

And speaking of pushing things off the page... keep the thing to one page. Put on the most important stuff. Also, depending on how conservative your industry is, you might want to leave off the "OBJECTIVE:" statement. Honestly, I've never had one on there and everything I've heard and/or read from hiring staff is that it's pretty damn useless. Obviously, everyone's objective is to get the job, have the job, succeed in the job, so unless you're delivering new information like "OBJECTIVE: to obtain teh skillz to rule the world" I'd say save the space for something that highlights your real skills and experience.


- keep it a legibly-sized font. Don't make anyone squint or struggle to read it, otherwise they won't.


- be creative with the descriptions of your skills, but don't lie. Saying you speak fluent Klingon and can demonstrate formidable origami skills on command will not help you, especially if you really don't know Klingon or origami. (But I might want the job that required them! Cool...)

- don't be afraid to talk yourself up, but don't be a dbag, either. Find the balance between explaining your skills, awards and accomplishments and telling people you're the greatest thing since sliced bread.

- did I mention double checking all spelling and punctuation?

There's really so much more, but I think this covers all the basics. I heartily wish you all the best of luck in your job hunt and hope my advice has been helpful. If not, definitely go check out that puppy link. Seriously, so cute.

Also, I'd be more than happy to offer up any additional advice to anyone interested. You can post questions in the comment section with your email address and I'll be thrilled to respond.

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