Not long ago I ran a classified ad for a free-lance writer. It was a blind box ad, but it was a real job. My association is small, understaffed and busy. Blind box was our only option.
Although I received more than 150 replies, I wonder if many of you really wanted the job.
I asked for a re'sume' that indicated experience in a particular field and for clips. Did you really think I didn't want a cover letter? Or are you so unfamiliar with job hunting that you don't know that you should always include a cover letter? Your re'sume'--out of necessity--is probably broad, general, matter-of-fact. But your personality can come through in a cover letter, and it gives you a chance to direct an employer's attention to those parts of your re'sume' that are particularly relevant. Why did you pass up this opportunity to present yourself to me?
Or perhaps you did enclose a cover letter, but you opened it "Dear Sir." Well, nice try; you had a 50-50 chance. I certainly won't deposit your materials in the circular file because you made an incorrect assumption, but why should you risk offending a potential employer when good jobs are so hard to come by? There are many adequate substitutes: Dear Sir/Madame; Dear Friend; Dear Employer; or even, as one applicant wrote, Dear Boxholder.
And why do you try to be cute in your letters? Instead of just sending a straightforward statement of why you think you are qualified for the job, based on the information supplied in the ad? One applicant sent me the following letter (I quote it in total, minus the writer's signature):
Dear Boxholder Number ------:
Please give me this job because I want it and I need it and you'll be delighted with the product.
Perhaps I would be delighted with the product, but I was turned off by the letter.
And did you proof your letter? I--and other employers--will disqualify you for typographical errors. In fact, I won't read any further. I advertised for a writer, didn't I? A typo in your letter or your re'sume' tells me that you may be careless or you don't want the job very badly. In either case, I don't want you.
Now let's take a look at your re'sume', specifically "Job Objective" (sometimes "Career Objective"). Frankly, I assume your objective for the moment is employment by me. Most such Job Objective statements are so broadly drawn that they are meaningless to the individual employer. I don't read them and I think they're a trendy frill created by the career-development folks.
Skills. Well, maybe, if they are applicable. But I can usually judge your skills for myself by reading your clips and looking at your previous employers. I don't want to read a lot of psychobabble about your fantastic ability to interact with people at all levels. I can assess that when I interview you.
Past Employers. I'm old-fashioned. I'd rather see a neatly arranged chronological re'sume' than one that has your experience grouped by function, such as Management Experience (including every management task you ever carried out for seven different employers); Writing Experience (everything you ever wrote, no gory detail too slight to overlook); Editing Experience (same); and so forth.
This structure doesn't tell me if you are growing and developing. I want to see a progression of experience, maturity and responsibility. To be honest, when I see this functional format, I think you have something to hide, and I feel challenged to find it.
Interests. I like to know what you do besides work. Do you have interests outside of your job, and what they are? Are you involved in politics? Tell me; I know then that you are probably a person who takes an interest in how your community, your state or your country is governed.
Do you like classical music, the theater and long walks in the woods? Or do you play pick-up hockey, coach a Little League baseball team and make great stir-fry meals for your friends? Or any combination of the above? I bet I'm not the only employer who wants to see a well-rounded personality.
References. Of course you'll furnish me with names and phone numbers of people who can vouch for your work.
In my ad, I also asked you to enclose clips. If you were smart, you sent me something that touched on the field of expertise I need. If you've never written in that area but your re'sume' shows you have some experience, then you should have included some of your other work. I am baffled by the candidate whose letter said "enclosed are my re'sume' and some clips"--but there were no clips--and astonished by the candidate who said she would furnish clips on request. My statement in the ad should have been a sufficient "request." With more than 150 re'sume's in hand, I am certainly not going to take the time for that kind of follow-up.
Appearance. A nicely laid out, typeset re'sume' is a plus, but most employers are more interested in substance than form, unless, possibly, you are applying for a graphic-design job. If you type your re'sume', don't send it to me on coated, erasable paper. By the time I see it, it will be hopelessly smudged. Although a choice of good paper tells me something about you, don't go overboard. I was a bit put off by the applicant whose re'sume' was printed on expensive parchment-type paper. And by the way, the word "RE'SUME' " blasted top and center. Of course it's a re'sume'. That's what I asked you to send. Your name is the first thing I want to see.
Some of these points may conflict with what you have read in the How-to-Get-a-Job books, but these are real reactions from a real employer. Let your "paperwork" say something about you. Let it reflect your personality and your ability. Read carefully each ad that you are responding to for clues as to what kind of person and skills the employer is looking for.
A cover letter in the word processor--just waiting for you to zing in a fresh name and address--is convenient but will be nearly as general as your re'sume'. Take the time to write a tailored letter. Don't respond to ads for jobs you really do not want, or for which you are not qualified. You waste good postage money and the employers' time. Your lack of skills or enthusiasm will show.
Did I fill the job? You bet. A talented and enthusiastic young writer is now free-lancing a monthly newsletter for my association. It is the right mix of employer and employe. If you take the time and care with your job applications, you, too, may stand out in a crowd.