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June 3, 2004 - Getting a Job, Part 1: Resume and Cover Letter - 2004-06-07

Broadcast on COAST TO COAST: June 3, 2004

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble and this week on Wordmaster, advice on getting a job.

RS: It's a question several listeners have asked us, so we turned to a human resources consultant for answers.

AA: Sharon Armstrong runs a company that helps people find jobs. She says the first step is to draft a short resume -- no more than two pages.

ARMSTRONG: "It should be customized to the company or position you're going for. By that I mean it should use the lingo of the industry. It should be clear and targeted, easy to read, on good bond paper, and it should be perfect. There should be no spelling and no grammar mistakes. So you should use spell check and then have two or three friends at a minimum review it before you send it out."

RS: "You say 'customized.' How do you know that language, the language of the company?"

ARMSTRONG: "If it isn't your industry, you talk to people, you do informational interviews, you read their reports, you get your hands on everything that you can that would give you any type of information that will lead you to a good cover letter and resume."

RS: "How do you structure a resume? What sections are necessary in a resume?"

ARMSTRONG: "I think the first thing that I'm seeing in a lot of good resumes, the very first area that you would have, is called a qualifications summary, where you identify three or four important skills that you have that will be appealing to the new employer."

AA: "Give us an example."

ARMSTRONG: "I actually wrote one. Let's say someone is going for a project manager job. The summary up at the very top would read: 'Project manager skilled at coordinating complex information management projects; proven ability to develop and maintain client relationships; proficient at negotiating vendor contacts; particularly adept at analyzing information for patterns and trends and summarizing complex issues concisely; can-do attitude.'

"So in the first couple of seconds an employer is going to read the top of that and then they're going to know whether they should continue to read. So you want to grab them right away with something strong."

RS: "What other sections should follow?"

ARMSTRONG: "Right after the qualifications summary, I would do work experience, unless you just recently completed a degree, in which case you want to probably highlight your education. But I would do the experience, then the education, then skills -- either computer skills or interpersonal skills -- and then a tag line at the bottom about references, just to kind of close it and end it."

AA: "Should you include references, or do you just put the standard 'references upon request.'"

ARMSTRONG: "I would put the standard, quite honestly, because again this is the resume first going out, you don't know even if there's interest."

AA: "Let's talk a little bit about a cover letter."

ARMSTRONG: "Should be no more than one page, it should be addressed to a specific person. It shouldn't be a 'to whom it may concern.' So you should have title for the person and the correct spelling of their name -- people are very sensitive about that -- and the company name correctly spelled as well. In the cover letter you should come right to the point, identify the position that you're interested it, how you heard about it."

AA: "Now what are some things to avoid?"

ARMSTRONG: "Ones that go on and on, two or three pages -- avoid that. Ones that reiterate what's in the resume."

AA: "Do you begin with 'greetings' -- what works?"

ARMSTRONG: "I think you go right to the point: 'Dear Mister Smith, I recently heard of your opening,' and then you go on. In fact, I did bring a sample one for you: 'I'm applying for the Web developer position that was advertised in the local paper this week. The position seems to fit very well with my education, experience and career interests. Your position requires skills in various types of programming and software used in Web development. My academic program in computer studies emphasized ... '

"And then you go on to indicate exactly what is targeted, not only in your academic program but also in your work experience. 'My enclosed resume provides more details on my qualifications. My background and career goals seem to match your job requirements well. I'm confidant that I can perform the job effectively.'

"And then (add) a little assertiveness at the end. Telling me they're going to give me a call, asking me specifically or an interview, telling me in clear terms how to reach them and when to reach them, either by e-mail or by phone, and good times to reach them. And I would also customize it by doing some research about the company, so that each letter cannot be just a cookie-cutter approach. It has to be a specific letter to that specific company. People rarely do that, and it makes such a difference."

AA: "And the language to use -- plain, simple English?"

ARMSTRONG: "That's a good point, Avi, because people will write it in a very stilted way that they would never talk. It's so odd, you know, 'attached please find my ... ' You say 'enclosed is my resume.' Or just something that is a normal way that you would talk."

RS: Sharon Armstrong is a consultant in Washington. She calls her business Human Resources 911. Nine-one-one is the telephone number Americans call in an emergency. Next week Ms. Armstrong will walk us through a job interview.

AA: You'll find today's program, plus our archives, on the Web at And our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

[Rebroadcast from 2002]