Posted by Karina Wiener, CCPA
Congratulations on surviving the week AFTER fall break! I don’t know why, maybe it’s because you’re coming off a week of relaxation, but that seems to be one of the hardest weeks for students. Hopefully many of you drafted a resume and maybe even a cover letter over break–last week’s 3S session will help you make those the best they can be, and remind you of the resources available to you!
We began the session by discussing our “alumni conversation” homework. Students attended various events on campus with alumni present, shadowed professionals in their workplace, or had a casual conversation with a family friend in an industry of interest. There are endless opportunities to ask professionals about their work–everybody loves to talk about themselves, right? If you’re thinking about a certain field and don’t know anyone in it, sign up for the externship program offered by the CCPA, in which you can sign up to shadow professionals in their workplace over winter break! There are over 170 professionals in various fields, go to CareerConnect to learn more and apply by Thursday, October 29!
The rest of this session was focused on the “Applying” step of the job search process.
Barbara Hall from the Writing Center talked to the class about the ways in which the writing center can help in the job and internship application process.
Barbara suggested that writing a cover letter, personal statement, or statement of interest should be a process, similar to that of any other academic paper. There should be drafts and feedback, ideally from the writing center and the CCPA. She also reminded students that if there is a prompt, be sure to answer the questions that were asked. And lastly, make sure what you write can withstand both the “quick read” and the “slow read.” It needs to stand out upon first glance so it gets put in the “maybe” pile, and then there has to be some interesting meat to it so that it moves from “maybe” to “yes”!
After Barbara left, we touched on the importance of professionalism in terms of corresponding with employers. We did this by watching a video on Career Spots. Career Spots is one of the CCPA online subscription sites; it has hundreds of short videos about internships, the job search, and careers. Career Spots can answer questions anywhere from “what does a dental hygenist actually DO?” to “what should I wear to my interview?” to “how do I negotiate a salary with my new employer?” These videos are just four minutes, perfect to watch when you’re on-time to class and have to wait for haver-time to kick in, or you’re waiting for your quesadilla at the coop.
We returned the students’ resumes and went over some tips based on common mistakes we saw students make:
- Under experiences, list bullets in order of relevance/importance
- Quantify results whenever possible
- Under bullets, try to answer “how” and “how much”
- Only list high school if relevant
- Use minimal accents (ideally just use bold and italic)
- Be consistent in terms of layout, font size, wording, style, etc.
- Be aware of tenses
- Don’t use “I”
- Right-align the date
Additionally, we provided a sample education section for students to model theirs after.
Next, we asked the students to begin thinking about career values using this image:
A career is not just about one of these four things, but it’s about the intersection of the values that matter the most to you. If you’re really lucky, you can find something that intersects with all four categories and reach a sort of “career bliss.”
Students were asked to stand in a single file line and step to the right if I read off a value they held strongly, step left if they did not hold it at all, or stay where they were if they were neutral. I read off of a values checklist that Kelly created while she was at Penn. The goal of this exercise was to get students to start thinking about what really matters so that they know what they’re looking for. Maybe you think you want to be a consultant but you don’t want long hours and hate traveling—those would be good things to realize and odds are you’ll be able to find a job with the things you need. Additionally, values change and that’s okay! Maybe now you want to travel to the end of the world and work all day, but one day you may care more about settling down with a family. It’s important to continue to re-evaluate which values are most important to you.
Lastly, we discussed cover letters. Cover letters should address four basic questions:
- Why are you writing?
- Why me?
- Why you?
- What’s next?
Here’s a breakdown of what each paragraph of a cover letter should contain:
• Introduce yourself (without saying your name)
• Tell the employer why you are writing (and briefly why you are interested)
• Say how you heard about the job
• If you have a connection to the company, make sure to mention it!
• Include job title (if applicable)
• Be concise
• Answer the question of why you would be good for the job
• Do not restate your resume
• Don’t get bogged down in details (avoid the “kitchen sink” syndrome)
• Address the concerns in the job description
• Be enthusiastic
• Be positive (don’t dwell on negatives-”although I don’t have experience…”)
• Why you are excited about this company/position
• Show that you know something about the organization and position
• Don’t be vague (“I’d like to work in a challenging environment.”)
• Can be omitted if first paragraph covers this information
• State what you would like to see happen next (interview, provide additional materials, you will be in town, follow-up with a phone call, etc.)
• Follow up if you say you’re going to follow up
Basically, a cover letter should be why you are a good fit for the company or organization, not why the company is a good fit for you. If the job description suggests specific traits or qualifications they’re looking for, restate those in your cover letter and have strong examples to prove that you embody them.
Some common mistakes students can make when writing resumes include:
- Writing your whole life story
- Only talking about yourself and why the job is good for you
- Spelling mistakes (such as Deer Jane)
- Repeating your resume without offering any more information
*Remember, if you’re emailing your cover letter as an attachment to save it as a pdf and to include something like the first paragraph of your cover letter in the body of the email.
The homework for next week is to draft a cover letter for the internship posting they found the previous week, and to update their resume based on the feedback we gave them. I’ll be back in a few weeks with some advice on interviews and online persona.
Stay warm everyone!