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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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Tips on submitting resumes and cover letters

Barry Waldman

As an attorney and small business owner, Barry Waldman of the Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman law firm in Spotsylvania County has reviewed thousands of resumes and hired nearly 24 employees over the past dozen years. In so doing he has learned a good bit about what makes an effective resume and cover letter. Here are 20 tips from Waldman on what to do and not do before delivering a resume:

  • Do send a cover letter. Most office positions will require some level of written communication. A well-written cover letter can be the difference between landing in the “maybe” pile and landing in the “keeper” pile.
  • Don’t write a cover letter longer than three paragraphs. The cover letter is a brief peek into your reasons for applying, your qualifications that are not obvious from your resume, and an opportunity to show you have communication skills. It is not the place to convey your life story.  Remember, the person reviewing the letter probably has another 200 to read after yours.
  • Do include your name, mailing address, telephone number and email address somewhere easy to find in the materials you send. How else will the prospective employer contact you for an interview? Although this advice seems obvious, during the last hiring cycle for my company, I discarded at least three resumes for failing to provide a first and last name, no less a means of contacting the applicant.
  • Don’t use an embarrassing email address on your resume. It is wonderful that you like to collect dolls, but does not convey a professional feel for the prospective employer. If necessary, create a nice, generic, free email account solely for your job search.
  • Do tailor the objective section of your resume to the job. If you are sending a resume in response to an advertisement for a receptionist position, your objective should not be “to obtain a position as a nursing assistant.”
  • Don’t apply for a position that pays significantly less than you are willing to accept. If the position is advertised as having a salary range of $40,000-$48,000 per year, do not include a salary requirement that exceeds that range. If you will only accept a $75,000-a-year job, don’t apply for a $40,000-a-year job.
  • Do briefly explain any significant lapse in your employment history.  This information should be in your cover letter; be concise and factual.  While I agree that the opportunity to stay at home to raise your children was probably a fabulous experience, no employer needs three pages describing the fulfillment you achieved in staying at home. On the other hand, simply ignoring the 14-year gap between jobs may seem odd.
  • Don’t tell me that you “have excellent written communicasions skills” (sic). You have immediately disproved your statement. (Try spellcheck, “communication,” and the correct use of the singular on this modifier).
  • Do let the potential employer know if you will need more than the standard 14-day notice to your current employer before your start date.  If you are currently employed, telling the prospective employer that you are available immediately may also be a red flag.
  • Don’t use a website to deliver your resume unless it is the employer’s own website. Losing control of the appearance of the materials you submit to the prospective employer is likely a negative. The result may be formatting and compatibility issues created by the third-party website. Your resume and cover letter may end up being unreadable or very difficult to read.
  • Do make sure your cover letter is written as professional correspondence. This requires, at minimum, your legal name, your address, your telephone number, the date, a salutation (“Dear ______”), and a closing ( i.e. “Sincerely” or “Very Truly Yours”) followed by a signature and your typewritten name under the signature. (If being sent electronically, in Word format, a signature is not necessary).
  • Don’t use more than one exclamation point. Seriously! It doesn’t matter how excited you are about the job!! On second thought, never use an exclamation point.
  • Do use punctuation, sentences and paragraphs.  You are not ee cummings.
  • Don’t make derogatory comments about your former or current employers in your cover letter or resume. Nothing will cause me to toss away your resume faster. If you are interviewed, I will probably ask why you left former employers or are contemplating leaving your current position. Be gentle about the reasons for your dissatisfaction.
  • Do keep your resume to one page. If you are less than 35 years of age, a resume that exceeds one page will simply highlight that you change jobs frequently and are unlikely to stay very long. Small businesses generally value loyalty, dedication and longevity. If necessary, be even more sparing in your description of anything prior your last two positions, unless an older job highlights skills that are identical to those necessary for the job you are seeking.
  • Don’t say the following, or anything similar: “Stop. You need search no further. I am the candidate you have been looking for.” If that statement is true, I will figure it out from your resume and the accompanying simply, but elegantly, written cover letter.  Otherwise, you start with a skeptical reader who will be even harder to impress.
  • Do review the company website. Reviewing the website will help to ensure that your resume, and in particular your cover letter, list relevant goals, or that you briefly highlight experience in the areas that the company does business.
  • Don’t misspell my name or the name of the company. It shows you do not care enough to take two minutes to double-check the spelling.  Remember, as Dale Carnegie explained, nothing is more important to a person than his or her own name. In the business world, that includes the person’s name, and the name of his or her business.
  • Do explain why you are applying for the job if you live more than 45 minutes away from the office (unless you are positive that the employer expects to pay relocation expenses). If you live in Annapolis, I want to know why you are willing to drive over two hours, each way, to get to and from my office in Spotsylvania, each day. Unless the position pays a significant salary, your distance makes me wary that you will stay only until you can find something closer to home.
  • Don’t send your transcript, letters of recommendation, master’s degree thesis, picture, most-recent annual evaluation, diplomas or random poetry (unless specifically requested). I have received each, unsolicited, from individuals applying for an entry-level office position. Each of these enclosures may be appropriate, in certain limited circumstances, for specific positions. For most jobs, however, sending these materials with your initial cover letter and resume gives the impression of desperation, and not in a good way.

The ideal resume is clear, easy-to-read and concise. It highlights the prospective employee’s recent employment experience, and is accompanied by a simple, error-free cover letter expressing interest in the position. While a particularly well-organized resume may emphasize the relevant skills and experience of an applicant, a poorly organized resume can frustrate the reader in his or her attempt to find such simple elements as the name of former employers. Keep it simple, avoid spelling mistakes, avoid errors of grammar and good luck.