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Career Corner: Survey highlights important resume and cover letter info

Susan Coyne, Career Services Consultant | Interrobang | News | October 3rd, 2005

Job seekers need every advantage to compete in today’s employment market.  Often critical to a candidate’s success is their resume and cover letter.  To determine if the advice given to students and graduates is as current as possible a resume and cover letter questionnaire was sent in June 2005 to 200 employers.  They were asked to respond to a variety of questions geared specifically to content and presentation.  Over 80 employer responses were received and they represent a broad range of business and industry.

The responses and comments are as follows:

How long should my resume be?
90 per cent of employers prefer a two-page resume, and only six per cent prefer one page.

How should I send it?
83 per cent responded that resumes are accepted by fax.  96 per cent of employers currently accept resumes by email or online through their website

How should I design my resume?
92 per cent prefer a reverse chronological format.  List your most recent education and experience first to make your resume easier to read and follow. The most recent experience is the most relevant to employers.

70 per cent of the respondents indicated a preference for career objectives in some manner. Often the career objective is the first thing an employer reads, so make sure it relates to the position applied to. State what you can do for the employer, not just what you want in a position with them.

Should I include related courses?
About half of all employers like to see information listed that describes program content. This assists in establishing if you have the necessary background or specific skills for the position.  And, as not all recruiters are familiar with the content of each program they will gain valuable insight into what you have studied. If you lack related work experience, listing your academic experience is key. But, only list courses if you are applying for a position related to your field of study.

Should skills be included?
94 per cent of employers responded in favour of candidates identifying skills on their resume. Overall, 95 per cent favoured job specific skills and 84 per cent transferable skills. Be sure to list the skills that are known to be a requirement for the position you are applying to. List specific examples of where and how you acquired your skills. Remember, transferable skills are subjective or intangible, so back them up in terms of work, school or volunteer experience. Don’t just make a list stating your fine qualities — be more specific! Include a ‘Summary’ or ‘Highlights’ section on the top of your resume and provide the reader with a snapshot of your related job specific skills, education and achievements.

Should I include hobbies and interests?
Two thirds of the employers surveyed responded in favour of including hobbies and interests but emphasized the need to be brief. This often provides information not apparent from your work history and amplifies character traits such as initiative, team and leadership skills. Career related hobbies, volunteer positions and professional memberships seem to be of most interest to employers.

How should I list references?

Only 31 per cent of employers prefer to see references listed on the resume; one quarter said it doesn’t matter and 45 per cent advised not to include them. Fewer and fewer employers are checking references prior to the interview, and are generally pursued only if a candidate shows promise during the interview and if the employer is considering an offer of employment.

Half of these employers still expect to see a statement indicating ‘References Available Upon Request’. This shows a courtesy on behalf of the applicant and lets the reader know that references will be provided willingly. If you are invited to an interview you are expected to provide complete reference information (names and current phone numbers) and to advise your references that they will be contacted.

General comments on Resumes:
Quite clearly, employers want job seekers to itemize their relevant skills and abilities, and to target their resumes and cover letters specifically to each job applied for. You should use words and phrases associated to the position you are applying for, as it makes the task of matching you to the position easier. Your resume should be neat, clear, concise and easy to read in 30 seconds. And, don’t forget the importance of correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, as both your resume and cover letter are examples of your written communication skills.

Is a cover letter important in the application process?
87 per cent of employers responded in favour of candidates including a cover letter.  This is an opportunity to provide additional information on why you are right for the position. It may be the one chance to sell yourself!

What do you look for in a cover letter?
A staggering 99 per cent of employers look for correct spelling and grammar. 86 per cent want to read how your qualifications match the position applied for, while 77 per cent are interested in the format and layout, and less that half are looking for originality in how the letter is written. A good cover letter should demonstrate your professionalism and provide insight into your language and writing skills.

General comments on cover letters:
Cover letters should be one page in length and clearly identify what position you are seeking. Employers are looking for candidates who give a little extra effort, so personally address your cover letter and explain how your skills and experience meet the requirements of the position.

Need help writing your resume or cover letter?  Why not drop by the Career Services office located in Room F2010 for a copy of our job search booklet “Getting Started” which contains helpful hints on creating your resume and conducting a positive job search. The Career Services staff is available to assist you on an individual basis.  Visit F2010 to arrange an appointment with the consultant responsible for your program or call 452-4294. For student and graduate job listings visit

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