Chapter 54: APPLYING FOR JOBS
do you prepare the three main types of resumes,
an application letter, a personal
statement, and a preparation for a job
Writing the Resume and the Three Types
for an Interview
an Application or Cover Letter
a Personal Statement
Samples of a
Application Letter, and a Personal Statement
(Separate web page)
This chapter is
It covers the
of resumes, how
to write the
called a "cover
letter"), how to
how to write the
There are a variety of types of resumes, some of which are typical only to
their professions and to no others. However, the great majority of resumes can
be divided into three groups. Some people who move from job to job every several
years keep two of these types of resumes ready to send:
Sometimes a cover letter of substance, called an "application
letter," must accompany your resume. Yet another type of presentation
similar in nature is the "personal statement" that often is required
for admission to academic programs. Before we examine each of these five types
of application materials individually, here are some basic pointers that apply
to all of them.
LENGTH: Most resumes should not be more than 1-2 pages in length. In unusual
cases, however, especially if there is a large body of relevant information to
present, a longer resume might be appropriate. However, the longer a resume is,
the more graphically simple it should be made--so that it is easy to scan
quickly for major headings and subheadings. Application letters usually should
be limited to one page. Personal Statements usually are limited to 300-500
PRINTING: Your resume, application letter, and personal statement are your
suit of clothes that you wear on paper when you present them to a potential
employer or academic program. They should be professionally printed using a
laser or ink-jet printer on 20 to 30-lb. cotton bond paper. The paper should be
a very clean, attractive white, or it may an off-white shade, usually very light
cream, tan, or gray. You should almost never use unusual print styles or colors:
doing so is considered tactless and inappropriate.
Try to have your application letter, if one is required, printed on the same
type of paper using the same type style as your resume. If your resume is
professionally printed but you type your own application letter at home, ask for
extra blank sheets of paper when you have your resume printed, and use these
blanks at home for application letters.
EDITING: Resumes and application letters are the poetry of the business
world, and personal statements the poetry of academic applications: every word
should be as perfect as you can get it. Ask for help from friends or a
professional unless you're an English major. Your resume should be edited
perfectly for spelling, grammatical usage, punctuation, and typing. Many
companies and schools receive dozens or even hundreds of applications for any
one position, and resumes must be culled quickly: the fastest and one of the
first ways to get yours rejected is to have editing errors in it.
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Resume; Three Types
Writing a resume is a relatively simple but time-consuming process. You need
only collect data--information--about yourself. However, you should do so
thoroughly and arrange it in an attractive graphic format.
Many resumes start with a title such as "RESUME OF JANE R. SMITH"
and add the writer's address and phone number directly under it. Less common is
to start with a title only, and to put the address and phone number at the very
end of the reusme. Many resumes also open--after the title--with a statement of
the applicant's job objective (your short- or long-term employment goal) and/or
present position. An application letter usually opens with a statement of
interest in the job position.
Many job resumes (but not all) have a final section called "Personal
Background"--a short paragraph at the end describing a little of your
personal history such as whether or not you have a family, where you live, where
you have traveled, and what you do for a hobby or leisure time. Often, too, the
very last sentence of a resume will offer a references statement: for example,
"References available on request" or "Letters of Recommendation
Attached" or "...will arrive separately."
Many resumes, especially if they are short, have subtitles in a column on the
left and descriptions in a larger column on the left. This kind of resume is the
easiest to read--for the eye to scan--because of all the graphic space:
University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts
B.A. degree, English
Dean's honors list,
Spring 2001-Fall 2002
Dormitory Council, 2001-2
Richfield Community High School
Finished in Top 10% of
Lettered in Track, 1991,
However, other resumes, especially if they are long, place
subtitles--underlines or in bold--on a line above the description of them. This
allows for the placement of more information on each line under the subtitle.
This kind of subtitling can make a resume more difficult to read, so be sure to
employ sufficient graphic space:
1992-1994: NEI COLLEGE OF TECHNOLOGY. Earned A.A.S.
degree in Information Management Systems with concentration in
small- and medium-business computer information services.
Awarded scholastic honors for high grade-point average and
participation in college activities. Elected student body government
secretary twice (both years attended).
JOHNSON COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL.
in top 1/3rd of class. concentrated on technical and professional
development courses in last two years. Lettered in hockey.
Student of the Month" in October of senior year.
Next brief descriptions of the three types of resumes most commonly found in the marketplace:
chronological, functional, and targeted.
The chronological resume offers a history of your work experience, most
recent first. This resume is the most common type. It is simple to read, often
is used in the earlier years of one's career, and is perhaps the most desired
resume in lower-level jobs, smaller companies, and more traditional employers.
Your resume often will include traditional categories such as Work Experience,
Education, Military Service, and Personal Background. Only include those
categories that apply specifically to you.
The functional resume offers functional categories of expertise without
regard to a time order. The most important categories should appear closer to
the beginning. This kind of resume is not as common as the chronological resume.
It is useful, however, if you have an unusually long resume or if there are
significant gaps of time, work, or education in your professional life. Your
resume might include some of the traditional categories above and perhaps
additional categories such as "Additional Training," "Management
Experience," "Communications Experience,"
"Technological" or "Computer Experience," or others that
state major functional categories.
The targeted resume offers a job objective and only your qualifications that
apply to it. It "targets" a specific job position and your background
just for that position. It is the least common of the three types described in
this chapter, and this kind of resume may surprise or confuse an employer unless
he or she is used to seeing such a resume. The categories you choose are for
only those parts of your work history which apply directly to the job for which
you are applying or your stated job objective. Categories may include any of the
examples mentioned in the descriptions of the other two types of resumes, above.
An additional category some people add to a targeted resume is one called
"Other Work and Education" or something like that: a section in which
you describe parts of your work history that are not directly related to your
specific job objective.
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Preparing for an
It also is wise to prepare carefully in written form for your interview.
There is, of course, the normal set of guidelines--dress appropriately; prepare
to be calm, collected, and yet clearly interested; get rid of most or all body
jewelry and weird hair styles; clean well ahead of time; etc., etc. However, one
very helpful preparation that few people know about is to write a list of
questions ahead of time that you might be asked, then to answer them in writing
Making your own list of questions and answers not only prepares you for how
to answer; it also shows your potential employer that you are well prepared,
thoughtful, and quick-witted. In addition, preparing ahead of time in this way
can give you quite a bit more confidence. What kinds of questions should you ask
and then answer? Here is a rough guide:
1. Obvious questions.
2. "Problem" questions (e.g., "What would you do if. . . .
3. Ethical-decision questions (e.g., "Do you think making bombs for our
company is wrong?").
4. "Conflict" questions (e.g., "What if a customer yelled at
you?" or "What if one boss said, 'Do
X right away,' and another boss said 'Do Z right away'?").
5. Questions about wages and work time.
6. A final statement of a few sentences, to be used if you are asked for it or
if giving it seems
You may never have to answer many of these questions, but it is best to be
It is important for you to not only write the questions, but also your
answers, for two reasons. First, writing your answers--not just answering them
out loud--will lodge them in your memory much more surely; in fact, it is wise
to both write them and speak them aloud. Second, if you have a set of written
questions and written answers, you can review them much more easily just before
your interview--when you are more likely to be nervous and forgetful.
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Application letters, also sometimes known as cover letters, usually should be
sent with a resume. A resume without a cover letter is like a meeting without a
friendly, professional greeting. Your application letter is your way of
introducing yourself to your potential employer. Not all companies require or
even want it; however, when in doubt, send one. Often you can find out whether
such a letter is desirable by calling a secretary or assistant to the person in
charge of hiring. You may also ask this person what kinds of questions or
subjects in particular should be addressed in the letter of application.
Use a business letter format. Always make a new letter with your original
signature on it. You should start by addressing the letter to a specific person
if at all possible. You can learn this, too, by calling the secretary or
assistant of the person in charge of hiring. Also ask this person whether the
hirer wants to be addressed as "Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms."
After the salutation, start your letter by stating the position for which you
are applying. You may also want to summarize in brief sentence or two your
overall or most important qualifications.
Then, in the body of the letter, you may do one, two, or all three of three
things: (1) discuss your qualifications in a little more detail, especially
hitting highlights or using explanations that clarify or add to what is in your
resume (some repetition is okay, but don't write all of your application letter
this way); and/or (2) in some situations, you may make an extended statement of
intent about what you would hope to accomplish; and/or (3) in some situations
you may also want to make your personal philosophical statement about the
meaning or importance of this kind of work.
A fourth and very important element of an application letter is to tell your
potential employer why you have picked him or her. In other words, what makes
his or her company or place of work special to you as an individual? This is an
excellent opportunity not only to show that you have done your homework and
understand the differences between her company or place of work and others like
it, but also--and especially--to begin establishing a positive personal
relationship between you and your potential workplace, a relationship for which
your potential employer can value you more highly.
Say what you need to in order to sell yourself; however, say it honestly and
firmly. The more you know or can discover about your employer, the more you can
target what you say in your application letter. Discussions of your
qualifications, statements of intent, and/or statements of philosophy usually
either dramatically improve your chance of getting hired, or dramatically narrow
it. If you are going to use them at all, be forthright in doing so.
Provide a closing and signature for an application letter just as you would
for any formal business letter.
A simple but useful formula for application letters is as follows:
(1) Letterhead and date (or date and return address). (The
date--and if you need it, the return address, should start at the center point
of the page.)
(2) Inside address (reader's name and address)
(3) Salutation ("Dear Mr./Ms. X:," "To the Search
Committee:," or "Dear People:")
(1) a very brief paragraph that states what job you are applying
for (and when you were interviewed or most recently in contact), summarizes in
a sentence or two how or why you are qualified, and offers a positive message
of your interest in this position.
(2) one full paragraph on your background or preparation for the
(3) one full paragraph on your philosophy of doing this job.
(4) one full paragraph on the good points of the employer and/or
company drawing you to work for him or her.
C. Closing (1-3 below should start at the center point of the
(1) Proper closing (usually "Yours truly," or "Yours
(2) Your signature in good dark ink, contained within three blank
(3) Your typed name
For a sample
application letter, go to "Applying
for Jobs Samples."
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is it unique
much, or is
Introduction: Four points to cover
As you write a rough draft for your personal
statement, consider these four major guidelines (given to a student applying to
medical school, and passed on for publication in this textbook):
1. Qualities for this discipline: Are
you showing how you have the desirable qualities for the particular job,
discipline, or area in which you are applying?
2. About you, not about others: Is the
personal statement mostly about you, and not mostly about other people?
You can and sometimes should use story examples involving others, but these
always should come back to you.
3. Original/unique: Is your statement
individualized to you? In other words, could several, a dozen, or hundreds of
others written much the same statement, or have you personalized it so it is
specifically about you as a unique individual?
4. Depth: Is your personal statement too
broad? Does it try to cover too much? Or is there real depth?
A personal statement usually consists of a
discussion of your own experience and ideas concerning your purpose for seeking
admission to an academic program. Most applications guide the contents of your
personal statement by asking specific questions. Some personal statements need
only be written well enough to show that you are minimally qualified. Others,
however, may become the single most important document in your application
materials. Often you may access the importance of--and therefore how many hours
of time you should spend on--a personal statement by calling the admissions
counselor or head secretary of the program to which you are applying. If you
have any doubt at all of your statement's relative importance, you probably
should plan to spend many hours perfecting it.
One of the biggest mistakes many people make in their personal statements is
being too general. It is okay to make general statements; however, the majority
of your statement should be concerned with very specific examples, stories, and
facts. Use general statements only at the very beginning and very end of
paragraphs in which you are explaining yourself. Be as specific as you can
(within the limits of the word- or page-count limits). Give specific examples of
your experiences and beliefs: don't just tell people; show them. It is in the
details that people will find you both knowledgeable and believable.
In fact, so important is this guideline of using specifics that the best
personal statements often start with a specific story example that in some way
summarizes or highlights the main point or points you want to demonstrate in
your statement. Start, for example, with the story of how you first became
deeply interested in your future profession; or perhaps with the story of how
you first helped someone and enjoyed it--and realized what kinds of skills you
needed to continue doing so. Use all of the five W's of journalism--who, what,
where, when, and why/how--to help you fully develop your introductory story. Use
several of the five senses--sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell--to help it
Then continue on by telling other stories--narrative examples using the 5 W's
of journalism. They don't have to be long; in fact, good personal-statement
writing is like good writing of poetry--compact, efficient, and yet very lively.
A good personal statement might have three, five, or even as many as ten small
story examples in it, making it a delight for the selection committee to read.
Finally, end with some kind of closing story--or perhaps the final half of
your beginning story--in order to leave your readers with a strong impression.
Once again, this story should someone exemplify the deeper or most central part
of you that is applying to the academic program. If possible, make your final
sentence or two the most stirring in your entire statement. Move your
readers--the selection committee--honestly, forthrightly, and subtly. Make them
enjoy accepting you.
Conclusion--Your chance to shine
statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the individuals who are
reading you application. You may even want to imagine, as you write, a
specific friend, family member (other than a parent), or mentor to whom you
are writing. You want to show your soul, the part of it that grows and will
have both joy and productive work in your discipline. And you want to show
your reader your professionalism and commitment. This means not just showing
examples of your professional work and abilities, but also dotting all your "i's"
and crossing all your "t's" in your manuscript--in other words, making it
perfect in storytelling, organizational principles or writing, and grammar. It
is your chance--and expectation of you--to shine.
For a sample
personal statement, go to "Applying
for Jobs Samples."
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(A separate web page)
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