Friday, May 22, 2009

Cover Letter and Resume Tips from a Tired Resume Reader

True story: this anonymous blogger works in an office that is currently hiring. The hiring process obviously involves reviewing the resume and cover letters that candidates submit for an open position. And after reviewing many, many cover letters and resumes, I have some tips about using key words and tailoring your cover letter to a particular position.

Here's what not to do, based upon my personal experience:
1) Do not state in your cover letter that you do not possess the skills that I am looking for. Instead, highlight the skills that you do have, and indicate how those are relevant to my position.
2) Don't be vague. Instead, use key words that are found in the job posting. If my job description says I am looking for a strong writer, in your cover letter discuss your strong WRITING skills.
3) Don't use a generic resume. Just as your cover letter should be targeted, the same is true for your resume. If my job description calls for management experience, your resume should indicate when you've MANAGED a project or a team.

The idea of using key words is also important, because in some cases it's not a person like me reading your resume or cover letter, it's a computer program. This can be true when you're applying to large organizations who simply do not have the human resources staff on hand to review hundreds of resumes a day. To help crack those software programs and get your resume into the hands of an actual living and breathing human being, here are some more tips, courtesy of Edison International's website:

To maximize our computer's ability to read your resumé, you should provide a "clean" original, and use a standard style. Follow these style tips:
• Use white or light-colored 8 1/2 x 11" paper
• Provide a laser quality original if possible
• Do not fold or staple your resume
• Use standard fonts such as Times or Courier
• Use a font size of 10 to 14 points
• Place your name at the top of the page on its own line
• Use standard address format below your name
• Use boldface and/or all capital letters for headings
• Avoid fancy treatments such as italics, and shadows
• Avoid vertical and horizontal lines, graphics, and boxes
• Avoid two-column formats
• Don't condense spacing between letters

A Word about "Key Words"
Because the computer extracts information from your résumé, you may want to include a few key words that will increase your opportunities for matching job requirements. Recruiters and managers access the résumé database in many ways, either to search your resumé or search for specific experience. Here are a few tips to get your resume noticed:
• Use enough key words to define your skills, experience, education, professional affiliations, etc.
• Describe your experience with concrete words rather than vague descriptions
• Be concise and truthful
• Use more than one page if necessary. The computer can easily handle multiple-page resumes
• Increase your list of key words by including specifics
• Use common heading such as: Objectives, Experience, Employment, Work History, Skills, Affiliations, etc.
• If room allows, describe your interpersonal traits and attitude
• Use jargon and acronyms specific to your industry (spell out the acronyms).

Bottom line: Tailor your resume. Because even if a person is reading your materials and not a computer program, trust me when I say that presenting your most relevant skills in an easily understandable format will really make that person really happy.

Questions or comments for today's blogger? Post them here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

When I Network I Feel: Dirty, Desperate or Discouraged?

An article on MediaBistro(create a free MediaBistro account to read the article in its entirety) last week asked the following question:

I wish more people thought of me as:
a) Aggressive
b) Obnoxious
c) Annoying
d) Pathetic
e) Slimy
f) A name-dropper

This pop quiz is useful, because it explains why so many people, especially students and recent alumni who are entering the job market for the first time, cringe when they think about "networking." It can feel slimy, irritating and sometimes desperate to actively be seeking out individuals to talk to, in the hopes that they will help you land a job.

We talk about networking A LOT on the CAPS Blog, and with good reason - there is no way around it, you must network to find job leads, especially in this tough job market.

Some of our favorite points that this most recent article made, include:

"This is my mantra: Stop looking for a job and start looking for a person. The right person will lead you to the right job. This applies whether you're looking for a job or just personal and professional connections in general..." That's the thing with networking - it's about making personal connections. So even if your roommate's brother's girlfriend works in an industry that does not at all relate to your interests, she might have a friend, cousin, neighbor who does. The point being, don't discount the people you meet - they might have an insider connection that will help you out.

Also good advice - Be specific: "Don't tell people 'I'll do anything' or 'I'm interested in everything.' They can't help you without specific guidelines about what you want. You are not being flexible; you are being naïve. I'm willing to talk to you and open my Rolodex but I need parameters: specific jobs, industries, geographical areas. Help me help you!" This doesn't mean you need to know EXACTLY what you're looking for or EXACTLY what type of job you want - but it helps to provide a little bit of background information. For example, "Wow, I didn't realize you were a biology major in undergrad. I'm actually graduating with a degree in biology this spring, and I'd like to use my degree at work. Do you have any suggestions of organizations I could look into?" Simple, right?

Our favorite piece of advice from MediaBistro? Use your career services office: "These offices and associations range from the highly structured to informal or nonexistent; private institutions in particular place great emphasis on maintaining these kind of networks. You can call up the alumni association, career or magazine office, explain that you're interested in talking with alumni in your industry or area, and see what they come up with. Some schools have online databases or alumni magazines, some with "class notes" sections. Read these to find names of like-minded alumni and find out if they're willing to be contacted and what their preferred mode of communication is. Your class may have regional officers or representatives; reach out to them. The people who volunteer to serve in these roles are generally connectors. Attend local gatherings or reunion events." The good news - the University of Chicago DOES have an on-line database of like-minded alumni who are willing to serve as career contacts for students and fellow alums. It's called the Alumni Careers Network, and to log on, click here.

Sick of hearing about the importance of networking? Tell us about it - and post your comments, suggestions and ideas here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

International Experience Grants and Summer Action Grants awarded to 23 University of Chicago College students

Today's post comes from guest blogger and CAPS' staff member Shayna Plaut, Assistant Director, Employer Relations, specializing in non-profit and government fields.

From rural China to downtown Chicago, from predatory loans to foreign diplomacy – this year’s recipients of the International Experience Grants and the Summer Action Grants span the spectrum of geographic region, thematic focus, class year and major – but all share one thing in common: ideas of action, generated by the student, and funded (at least in part) by the College.

Experiential education, the idea that learning takes place by doing, is a not a new idea. It was most formally promoted by John Dewey and has served as a cornerstone for liberal education. The University of Chicago has supported the notion of experiential education in many fields however, much of the support was tied to particular disciplines.

And there are times where students' ideas just don’t quite fit into a specific discipline.

The International Experience Grants and the Summer Action Grants were a response to this. The Grants allow students to propose their own ideas, to pitch themselves and explore the nitty-gritty of budgets, personnel and proposals. And when students are given such creativity and responsibility, they excel. This is the first year the College has offered the International Experience Grants and the Summer Action Grants and the student response to these opportunities was very strong.

We want to thank Dean John W. Boyer for providing the funding, the committee members for providing the time and energy and the students for providing the ideas. Due to the diverse and rich reach of the program, the funding for these grants will again be available next year.

Below you will find the recipients of the 2009 International Experience Grants and the Summer Action Grants; and please offer your congratulations to these students:

International Experience Grants

• Samuel Berkowitz, Economics, Beijing Global Village, China
• Lee Davidson, Economics, Community-based Conversation and Development, China
• Peter Slezkine, History, European Court of Human Rights, France
• Lady Velez, Biological Sciences, Hospital de Manta Rodriguez Zambrano, Ecuador
• Brittany Jackson, Anthropology, Marj Rabba, Israel
• Shashin Chokshi, Political Science, Self-Employed Women’s Association, India
• Jessica Dragonetti, Anthropology, Tshulu Trust, South Africa
• Karry Lu, International Studies, U.S. Commercial Service, Australia
• Anonymous, U.S. Department of State, Russia
• Shengziao Yu, Undeclared, Zhejiang, China

Summer Action Grants

• Rebecca Maurer, Interdisciplinary in the Humanities, interactive community mapping program, Chicago
• Charles Gerstein, Economics, Bronx Legal Aid, New York
• Rachel Cromidas, Law Letters and Society, Chicago Studies Olympic Bid, Chicago
• Lucy Little, Undeclared, CircEsteem, Chicago
• Isabela Blatchman – Biatch, Political Science, Center for Wrongful Convictions, Chicago
• Abimbola Oladokun, Political Science, Coalition for the International Criminal Court, New York
• Meredith Spoto, Law, Letters and Society, Cook County Public Defender, Chicago
• Jonathan Hartley, Economics, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Chicago
• Kathryn O’Mara, Public Policy, Glaser Progress Foundation, Seattle
• Lauren Winer, English, Global Witness, Washington, DC/London
• Dallas Donnell, African American Studies, Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, Philadelphia
• Alexander Abbott Boyd, Economics, Neighborhood Economic Development Agency, Chicago
• Pater Salib, Philosophy, STRIVE, Chicago

Questions, ideas or feedback about grants, internships and summer plans? Post them here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The New Academia: Should Graduate School be Restructured?

Earlier this week the New York Times published a somewhat controversial opinion piece about the current state of academia and graduate school programs. The author, Mark C. Taylor, who is the chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, boldly stated that faculty tenure should be eliminated, permanent academic departments should be abolished, and that graduate programs should focus on such broad, interdisciplinary topics as "water".

In the past, academia seemed to be a natural path for many University of Chicago students - the vast majority of a given first year class believes that they will attend graduate school immediately following graduation from the College - but as the years pass, this number declines, and more students push off grad school for a few years, or leave the ivory tower completely, instead pursuing full-time career paths in a variety of industries. Now, the academic market is as challenging as the full-time job market, with Ph.D. candidates vying for just a few select faculty positions, and most graduate students relying on adjuncting to gain work experience and pay the bills. Students in graduate programs grapple with the choice between continuing their work in academia, and hoping that job prospects will materialize, or leaving academia to pursue another career all together - an oftentimes frightening and jarring possibility.

Which begs the question: are undergraduates reconsidering the move to graduate school? And are graduate students thinking more about leaving academia? Is Professor Taylor right - does the American academic landscape need to be restructured entirely?

Post your comments and ideas about this topic here.

Want to hear more about the academic job market? Come to these upcoming CAPS programs:

Faculty Forum on the Economy and the Academic Job Market, May 4, 5pm, Ida Noyes Library Lounge (first floor)

Your First Year as a Professor, May 20, 4pm, Id Noyes Hall East Lounge (second floor)

Academic Networking, June 1, 5pm, Ida Noyes Cloister Club (first floor)

Preparing for the Academic Job Market, June 2, 4pm, Ida Noyes East Lounge (second floor)

Always check the CAPS Calendar for updated dates, times and locations.