Employment Writing AdviceEmployment, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2004

The All-Important First Impression

If you're looking for a job, you're also looking for an interview, and the path to that interview is strewn with discarded resumes and cover letters. Why? A resume and cover letter present a first impression – the all-important first impression that will determine whether you are considered for further inspection by your potential employer.

Appearance

Just as you would be clean, neat and well-groomed for your personal interview, so should your resume/cover letter. Choose stationery carefully; your local office supply or quick-print shop can help. Bright white is always a good choice, but consider pale gray or off-white as these are professional-looking and may help your papers stand out from the rest in the pile.

Cover letter layout

If you don't have your own letterhead (most of us don't) and you're experienced with creative software (Adobe Illustrator, for example), you could create your own "logo" to position at the top of your "letterhead." Caution: this has the potential to do more harm than good if you have no design skills. Use block style layout, which means everything on the page will be flush left, leaving a margin of 1"-1.5" on the left and 1" on the other edges. Single-space your letter, leaving a double space between date line and address; between address and salutation; between salutation and first paragraph; between all paragraphs; and between last paragraph and closing. Leave at least four spaces for your signature between the closing and your name.

Research

Before you blindly send out resumes, do some research on your potential employers to determine where your information should be sent. Use the Internet, the telephone, the library or someone who already works at the company to glean everything you can about the job you seek, the company and the hiring decision-maker. If you are applying for a job in the marketing department, you don't want your resume to end up in the accounting department, so whenever possible, get the name and title of the person who should receive your resume, and make sure the mailing address is correct.

Cover letter content

You now have your stationery and know where to send your plea for employment. What do you include in your cover letter? The most difficult part about writing your cover letter is what NOT to include. Don't rehash your resume; don't "gush" about the company; don't write more than one page; don't use slang or off-color humor or anything that might offend the reader; and above all, don't lie.

Since the cover letter is really the first thing your reader will see, you should spend more time with it than with your resume, which is basically just a list of facts and experience. Start with a proper salutation; if you've managed to get the name of the person, that's great. If not, address your letter to the Manager of the department that has the job opening, or to the Human Resources Director or to the department or title discovered in your research.

The first paragraph is crucial. This is equivalent to your personal appearance when you walk through the door for your interview. Whatever you write afterward, do not begin this paragraph with "I." Try to make some true comment about the company (Since ABC Company has a reputation for marketing excellence, your opening for a Marketing Assistant immediately sparked my interest.). If you talked to someone on the telephone about the job, reference that (Thank you for taking the time yesterday to explain ABC Company's need for a Marketing Assistant.). In other words, concentrate on the company where you want to work rather than yourself.

In the following paragraphs, explain why you are a good candidate for the job. Leave the specific position descriptions for the resume, but focus on personal attributes (detailed, energetic, sense of humor), similar job or school experience (awarded Marketer of the Year at ABC College, created several successful advertising campaigns while interning at XYZ Agency) and why you would be the best choice for ABC Company (excited about the opportunity and potential for growth, believe you can contribute to ABC's success). A total of three-four paragraphs is plenty; do NOT overwrite this letter. Your sole purpose is to guide your reader to your resume.

The resume

If your resume is more than two pages, you've lost your reader. Begin with a SHORT statement of your objective – you want to expand your skills, be part of a company where you can grow a career, etc. Then list your work history in chronological order, starting with the most recent. Do not list jobs more than 10 years in the past; with rapid advancement in technology and a fast learning curve in most industries, any experience you gained that long ago is not relevant. Do not list short-term jobs (less than six months) unless they were internships as you don't want to appear to be a "job-hopper." Do not "over-explain" each position; concentrate more on the jobs that have direct relevance to the job you seek.

The next element after your job history should be your education. List your academic degrees, universities and dates of attendance. You could also list any awards or special honors you received. Information about your high school should be included ONLY if you have just graduated and are applying for your first job.

If applicable, you can include specific skills as a separate item, such as computer software or hardware.

Although some applicants offer references "upon request," I suggest you include three business references with your resume. Name, title, company, phone number and/or email address are sufficient for contact information.

That's all there is to it! Just remember that your cover letter and resume should be:

  • easy to read
  • interesting
  • well-written and grammatically correct
  • factual

Good luck!

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