In this edition of the Student Affairs Job Search series, I have decided to cover two items that cause a lot of consternation for many Student Affairs professionals: cover letters and résumés. There is a lot of advice on the web about how to write "the perfect cover letter" or on the "right way to write" a résumé. Due to an extreme lack of "J" in my MBTI, I tend to shy away from lists whenever I can. However, please indulge me if I use a bullet point or two in this post. Besides, I get extra Student Affairs points for incorporating the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in a post, right?
Cover letters, in my opinion, are the some of the most fun bits of prose to write in the known universe of writing. Yep, I used the "F" word: fun. Cover letters cause a lot of anxiety because of several reasons. The biggest issue is usually the issue of telling your own story without sounding overly narcissistic. The second is most likely the never ending phenomenon of the template. Cover letters need to be interesting. A letter that grabs your attention and makes you want to meet someone...makes you want to interview them, that's a great cover letter. I've read a lot of cover letters that sound like they have been recycled more times than everyone's favorite Nevitt Sanford theory. If you use a template, you're basically telling a hiring committee that you're boring and/or you couldn't be bothered with writing something interesting.
Narcissism usually will not get you an interview. However, in your cover letter, you have to talk about yourself. What have you accomplished that's relevant? What sets you apart from the other applicants? Are you boring or are you interesting? Share your personality!
Here is my sole piece of wisdom regarding résumés:
- The "right" way to write a resume is whatever way actually results in you getting an interview.
That's it. Period. Everyone talks about the various forms of résumés as if there is a singular magical recipe for the "right" one. Well, in my experience, if you get an interview, that means that your résumé was amazing. It had to be, right? Maybe not. Although, how many of us ask for feedback about our résumé after we interview, regardless of whether or not we got the gig? I know that I haven't, but I wish that I had. We ask for feedback about how we did in an interview, perhaps it's time to ask about what worked (or didn't) with our résumé. One last thing about résumés: templates are boring. Show us who you are, what you can do, and what sets you apart.
Clarity during the job search is usually murky at best. Dealing with ambiguity and rejection is a learned skill. A fascinating cover letter coupled with an equally fascinating résumé can be the difference between getting a call for an interview versus having your documents in the discard pile. In a sea of sameness, how are you radically different?
Write your cover letter with a sense of boldness. Construct your résumé with a sense of purpose. If writing a cover letter makes you anxious, think of it this way: A runner generally gets better at running with practice. Practice writing your cover letter. Design 7 different versions of your résumé and let your friends/colleagues tell you which one would make them call you for an interview. Oh, and don't forget...be bold!
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