Applying for a job is frequently a nerve-wracking process. The first step is usually the submission of some paper, the sole purpose of which is to get someone on the hiring end interested enough in you to offer you an interview for the position. While there are literally hundreds of books and in-depth papers published on the subject, what follows is a quick reference guide – developed over 30 years of reading thousands of applications and interviewing and hiring scores of people – to what you need to know to do this task so that it works. Again, works means getting an interview and the chance to present yourself in person.

First, The Résumé Itself

No matter how many years of experience, education or training you have had, keep it to a maximum of two pages. Managers screening résumés spend only a few minutes on each one. If it is too long, you lose. Use only white paper and black ink. Colored paper or ink and photos are considered ‘gimmicks’ by most employers and will reduce your chances of being selected for an interview. Section it into Education, Training, and Relevant Work Experience. List each item chronologically starting with the most recent. Say no more than a sentence or two about any one entry. Keep it brief and succinct. Do not exaggerate or fabricate – inevitably, lies and distortions will catch up with you and cost you the job.

Secondly, The References

Unless required in the job listing, do not send any ‘generic’ references in with your résumé. The most helpful references are those written by people who know your work – ideally from those in supervisory positions and addressed to suit the specific position you are applying for. Generic references and photocopies of them tend to detract from the vitality and focus of your application. No one will take them seriously.

Finally, The Often Overlooked Cover Letter

In many instances, this is the most important part of your written submission. The cover letter should always be custom written for each application because its job is to connect the information on your résumé with the details you know about the specific job you are applying for. This demonstrates to the potential employer your skills and interest in their company and ability to tie your own background in to their expressed needs. Points for you! The cover letter, also, can reveal elements of your personality and style not well suited to the more formal description of your activities in the résumé itself. A résumé without a well thought out and a carefully composed cover letter is virtually worthless.

Both the cover letter and résumé should be grammatically and syntactically perfect, if you are in doubt seek advice from writing experts. Most potential employers regard your paper submissions as being reflective of the kind of person you are and about how careful or slovenly you are about work. Well done, this initial packet makes an impression sufficient to get you a call inviting you to interview or it does not. A few extra minutes spent proofing what you send out and carefully considering the content of the cover letter can and does make all the difference.

Good luck and may you find and secure a job you really want!

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