by Laura Brown
Originally Published Jun 9, 2014
This spring 1.6 million students will graduate from US college and universities. The good news is that the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicts that employers plan to hire 7.8% more new graduates this year than they did in 2013. The less good news is that this year’s grads still face stiff competition in the job search: desirable jobs can attract hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of applications. In the face of such competition, the pressure is on make your application stand out from the crowd. Taking some care with your writing as you pursue that elusive job can give you a leg up on the competition. These tips will help you write your way to your first job.
Customize Your Résumé and Cover Letter for Each Application
Even if you’re applying for dozens of jobs, you should take the time to customize your résumé and cover letter for each job application. It can be a lot of work, but the effort will pay off in more interviews. Many career coaches will tell you that simply blasting out generic résumés with boilerplate cover letters to dozens of employers is a waste of time and energy. When you apply for a job, you’re doing much more than just presenting your credentials: you’re helping the hiring manager understand why you’re a good candidate for this job. Your résumé should be crafted to highlight the experience you’ve had—jobs, internships, coursework—that most closely matches the requirements of the job. Your cover letter should be brief and should explicitly state why you’re a good fit for the job and point the reader to the relevant sections of the résumé The screening process for job candidates is conducted very quickly and can be ruthless. Your objective should be to pique the reader’s interest and motivate them to bring you in for an interview—not give them an excuse to reject your application out of hand.
Use Keywords in your Résumé
Keywords are the name of the game in online job advertisements—and in successful applications for those jobs. Employers use keywords in their job descriptions to make the job postings more easily searchable. You, in turn, should use keywords drawn from the job description in your résumé. Many large companies use scanning software to screen résumés, and if your résumé doesn’t show the keywords from the job description, it won’t get past the initial screen to be viewed by a human being.
Using keywords effectively can be more challenging if you don’t have a lot of job experience on your résumé. Don’t ever falsify the information on your résumé in the interest of incorporating keywords (or for any other reason). If you can’t honestly mention a keyword in the education or experience section of your résumé, you can mention it in your objective section, especially if it’s a job title or function you’re particularly interested in.
All the customizing and tailoring you’re doing on your résumé and cover letters introduces the risk of typos and other errors. Carefully proofread your résumé and cover letter before you send them out or upload them. Be particularly careful with punctuation and formatting on your résumé if you’ve made changes to it. If you’re customizing cover letters from a template, check and re-check that each letter has the name of the correct company and recipient. It’s a good idea to ask someone to proofread your résumé and cover letter before you send them out—looking at the same documents over and over can make you cross-eyed and make it very hard to detect errors. Hiring managers who have hundreds of résumés to wade through are looking for a reason to weed some out. Sending a cover letter that includes typos or other errors broadcasts that you don’t care, and no one wants to interview someone who doesn’t care. Don’t lose the opportunity for an interview through carelessness.
For more information about writing for the job search, check out How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide. You’ll find sections devoted to résumés, cover letters, internship letters, and more.
Next week we’ll talk about what to do once you’ve got your new job, and I’ll be sharing some tips to help smooth your transition from writing at school to writing at work.
 Source: National Association of College and Employers (www.naceweb.org)