Job Tips

There are three common components to getting a position:  a lead, a letter of application, and a resume. Students frequently come to me for help so I decided to summarize some of the ideas I usually share. I hope these are of help.

Dr. Jane L. Wolfson

Job fair


Everyone knows that looking in the classified section of the newspaper or professional newsletters with employment listings can lead to connections to a future job, but when you are looking at the newspaper or other listing of jobs, don't restrict yourself to the job titles that come to mind readily. Not everyone uses "your" terms to describe "your" perfect job. Look through all the listings quickly. See if other job titles seem relevant. If you browse a classified section of the paper for "environmental" jobs you might find potential jobs for Environmental Science and Studies graduates under "Environment," "Ecology," "Engineering," "Education," "Laboratory," and who knows where else. No two classified are the same, so the first time you decide to start to use a specific classified you want to browse the entire paper to see where they put "your" type of job.

You might want to consider sending application materials for a position in an organization that has not posted an opening or which has an opening for a position for which you are not qualified. You can sometimes find appropriate organizations by looking in the Yellow Pages. You need to have a reason that you are sending the letter to them, but that should not be too difficult. For example,

        1) you are moving to the area and wanted to contact them about future opportunities, or
        2) you know about their activities and they are the type of organization with which you want to be associated.

If your well written letter and impressive resume fall into the hands of a generous person they might just send it on to someone who is hiring (or figure out a way to use someone with your skills). If not, you have wasted postage and a bit of time; these are a very small investment to gamble considering the potential large return.

Do your homework before applying for a job. Find out what you can about the organization from the library, the internet, or from friends. The more you know about them, the more effectively you can "pitch" your application letter and resume towards them. I know this might sound a bit "crass" but it is a matter of sales. The role of your application letter and your resume is to "sell" yourself to this potential employer.

Cover Letter

You make your first impression with your cover letter. I would include one even if it isn't requested in a job posting. The recipients can always choose not to read it, but if they do read it and if you say something that catches their eye... you get the idea. I maintain that a cover letter needs to tell the reader: a) why you are writing to them; b) why they should be interested in you; and, c) why you are a better candidate for their job than someone else. With the exception of the first item I strongly recommend you try not to say any of these things directly. I would be unimpressed by someone who told me, "I am the best person for this position." I would consider them to be arrogant. I find that "showing them who you are" rather than "telling them who you are" is a better strategy for writing a letter. Therefore, if you were applying for a research assistant position, for example, you might express your enthusiasm for research based on the experiences you have had in laboratories or with a research experience -- you don't just say "I love research" although you could include that too. Similarly, if team work were a component of the position you might talk about the positive experiences you have had in group projects and how the group interactions contributed to the final product rather than saying "I work well in a group" (although again, you could include such a thought). You want to be (and sound) sincere, serious, thoughtful, engaging but always be honest (don't claim you can do something you cannot do). Don't lay it on too thick but remember, if you don't tell them who you are and what skills and talents you could bring to them, there is no way they will ever learn about them.

Finding the right balance in your letter can be difficult. The best way to develop a good letter is to work on drafting your letter and then when you have done all the revisions you can do, show it to a good friend or professor who thinks highly of you. You ask them what they think of the letter and whether you might have left out things that they consider your strengths. Ask them to describe to you the type of person they "see" in the letter. If it is a good description of you, you have done a good job. If it doesn't describe you, keep working on it.

Each job you apply for will require a slightly different letter but once you get the major parts developed, you just have to revise a little bit. Don't ever delete or discard all your copies of any letter you send. Some phrases or paragraphs from past letters might come in handy for a new application.

Tips for Resumes [from me and others]

The purpose of a resume is to make you sufficiently interesting that you get an interview. It cannot say everything about you. The career center at Towson has many resumes on file. They will give you a sense of how they can look. Personally, I notice clarity, neatness, and ease of reading. Fancy doesn't appeal to me but everyone is different (and you aren't sending your resume to me!).

The thought of writing a resume is intimidating. It’s difficult to know where to start or what to include. What follows are some tips to get you started. It is worthwhile to show your resume to many different people and listen to their responses. But remember, it is your resume so it is up to you whether you want to make the changes they suggest.

Material that I think you need to include in a resume (this doesn't mean you cannot include more but think about the impression the material you include sends).

  • Personal information (i.e., name, address, phone number, e-mail, citizenship) goes at the top.
  • Educational information follows (i.e., colleges attended, date(s) of attendance and graduation date).
  • Professional experience (internships, jobs, volunteer activities, etc.)
  • Professional skills (computer skills, laboratory skills, familiarity with types of equipment, etc.)
  • Relevant coursework (listing courses which reflect the breadth of your academic experience as related to the position)
  • References. I think for new graduates, a list of references (after you have asked those individuals you wish to list if they are willing to serve as one) is helpful. It tells the person reading your resume, "Oh, this person's teachers must think highly of them." Listing references as "available on request" says to me "I couldn't be bothered asking anyone before I sent this out."

An optional item that could help you is an "objectives" statement. This is a brief statement [one sentence, two maximum] of what your employment goals are at the present. If you include it, it goes right after the personal information. The idea is to tell them what you are looking for in words that make you sound as if you can get what you are looking for from them (and that you bring them something they need). Spend a great deal of time crafting this statement if you chose to include it. Each resume you submit for a job can have a different objective.

The Order is Important so Lead with your Strengths
As a recent graduate, your educational achievement should go at the top of your resume but this will change. As you obtain work experience, you might decide that your work experience is more relevant to your next employer, so change the order. Even within an area, coursework for example, put the relevant topics first. If you are applying for an job in a chemistry laboratory your analytical chemistry course should be listed before your economics courses.

The Purpose of the Resume is to Get You an Interview
Do not go into detail about every accomplishment. The purpose of your resume is to make you interesting so that you get an interview. Your extracurricular activities show you are multidimensional. It is good that you were involved in intramural sports, but do you have to list the position you played on the team? I think not! Consider your resume as a brochure designed to market who you are. How do you "appear" in your resume? Remember, your resume is the only information available about you to your potential employer.

Use Bulleted Sentences, but with Discretion
In the body of your resume, you might want to use bullets with short phrases rather than detailed sentences. This makes it easier for someone to quickly scan your resume and still absorb it. At the same time, you must employ bullets using some common sense. Having thirty bulleted items under a list of professional skills doesn't make anything in particular stand out. If there is so much to list (and there might be) you might be better listing the items in a paragraph form (or dividing the skills into different sub-categories (e.g., computer skills, laboratory techniques), each with a bullet and the skills presented under the categories with brief phrases).

Use Action Words to Describe Activities and Responsibilities
Resumes are one place where complete sentences are not always needed. Bulleted points starting with action words can bring your resume to life. Use words like prepared, developed, monitored, organized and presented. Each of your Professional Experience listings could be followed by several well crafted phrases. Consider all the professional skills you developed even through those dull, routine jobs that paid the bills.

Use #’s, $’s and %’s
Numbers, dollars, and percentages stand out in the body of a resume. Use them if it helps to make you look good (omit them if it doesn't). Here are two examples of numbers well used:

  • Managed a department of 10 with a budget of $1,000,000.
  • Increased band bookings by 25% over two years.
  • President of a fraternity with 100 active members

Here is an example of what you don't want to include (the information might be accurate but it doesn't make you look impressive):

  • Graduated 190th in a class of 200.
  • Supervised 1 person.
  • GPA 2.2 (this is honest but not something you want to brag about in a resume).

Your Resume Should Match the Job
Review your resume and be sure that you used terms in it that reflect the position for which you are applying. If you have missed any key words, consider where you can add them to your resume (but be honest).

Speak Well of Yourself
If you have had some experiences that don't directly support your job search objective (waiting tables, mowing lawns, being crowned the "Frisbee King or Queen at the State Fair), leave them off your resume or put them at the bottom under 'Other Experiences.' It is best to focus on the duties and experiences that support your objective and make you sound "professional." At the same time, these other experiences do indicate your work ethic, early financial independence, etc. There is no need to tell a future employer that you are 'fit as a fiddle and ready to work'--they are assuming that.

Design your Resume So It Is Easy to Read
Leave white space. Use a font size no smaller than 10 point (but realize that some 10 point fonts are smaller and harder to read than others). Make sure there are NO errors and it is NEAT and CLEAN (what does a messy resume with errors say about your work?). Limit the length of your resume to 1 – 2 pages. Remember, resumes are reviewed quickly. Help the reader to scan your resume efficiently and effectively.

Have Others Review Your Resume
Since you are so close to your situation (and your personal strengths), it can be difficult for you to hit all your high points and clearly convey all your accomplishments. Have someone review your resume and encourage them to ask you questions. Their questions can help you to discover items you inadvertently left off your resume. Their questions can also point to items on your resume that might be confusing to the reader. Clarify your resume based on this input (but the final choice is always yours) .

Don't be Afraid to Submit Your Application
The only way you are going to get a job is by applying. Apply for some jobs that appear to be beneath you. Perhaps they will turn out to be not for you once you interview for them (but it will also have given you interview experience which is valuable). Or perhaps once you have your foot in the door of this organization you can learn of other opportunities. Apply for jobs that seem to be just at your level. You will get interviews for some of those jobs. Try for some jobs that seem like a stretch. That’s how you grow – by taking risks. Don't underestimate what you bring to potential employers.

Good Luck!