Career Corner - What employers want: Their views on resumes and cover letters

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If you need a little help with your resume and cover letter, the friendly staff at Fanshawes Career Services department are always available to help! Check them out in room D1063.

Often critical to a candidate's success in today's employment market is a well-written resume and cover letter. So, to ensure that the advice given to students and graduates is as current as possible, a resume and cover letter questionnaire was sent in July 2011 to approximately 300 employers. Employers were asked to respond to a variety of questions geared specifically to the content of resumes and covering letters. Responses were received from 95 employers and they represent a broad range of business and industry. Responses and comments are as follows:


Should resumes be two pages in length?
Eighty per cent of employers prefer a two-page resume. Many employers commented that any longer than two pages and your resume may not be read. For each job you apply to, make sure you tailor your resume to that job by including your relevant education, skills and work experience.

Should a resume follow a chronological format?
Nearly all (98 per cent) employers prefer a reverse chronological format. List your most recent education and experience first as the most recent information tends to be the most relevant and it also makes your resume easier to follow. Be sure to include the specific time frame for each experience; don't just list “2010- 2011”, include the months, such as “May 2010 — June 2011”.

Include career objectives?
Eighty 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 skills you bring to the job and what you can do for the employer, not just what you want in a position with them.

Should skills be included?
Ninety-four per cent of employers responded in favour of candidates identifying skills on their resume. Many stressed the importance of listing skills that are known to be a requirement for the position applied to. List specific examples of where and how you acquired your skills. Remember, transferable skills are often subjective, so back them up in terms of work, school or volunteer experience. Include a ‘Summary' or ‘Highlights' section on the top of your resume to provide the reader with a snapshot of your related skills, education and achievements. For each position you apply to, make sure you review your skills list and refine it to match the requirements for each job.

Include interests, extracurricular activities or community involvement?
More than three-quarters (77 per cent) responded in favour of including interests and activities with many comments indicating the need to be brief. This section often provides information not apparent from your work history and amplifies character traits such as initiative, team and leadership skills and may demonstrate to an employer how committed you are to achieving goals. Volunteer positions and career-related interests or activities seem to be of most interest to employers.

Include references?
More than half (60 per cent) of employers advised NOT to include references when applying for a job. Fewer and fewer employers are checking references prior to an interview. Generally, references are pursued only if a candidate shows promise during the interview and if the employer is considering an offer of employment. As a courtesy to the employer, simply state that “references are available upon request.”

If you are invited to an interview, you are expected to provide complete reference information (names, company information and current phone numbers) and make sure to advise your references that they will be contacted. Work- or school-related references are preferred, so reconsider listing your neighbor next door or other personal references.

General comments on resumes:
Quite clearly the message from employers is that they expect job seekers to itemize their relevant skills and abilities and to target their resumes specifically for each job applied to. Many employers emphasized that candidates need to pay attention to detail, as too many resumes are received with spelling/grammatical errors or incorrect information on them. Remember, your resume should be neat, clear, concise and easy to read in 30 seconds. Proof read carefully as your resume and cover letter are examples of your written communication skills.


Is a cover letter important in the application process?
More than three-quarters (77 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 and how your experience and education relates to the job you are seeking.

General comments on the cover letter:
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. A good cover letter should demonstrate your professionalism and provide insight into your language and writing skills. Employers also look for correct spelling and grammar so pay attention to detail and proof read carefully. And remember, one typo is one too many.

Need assistance with your job search or writing a resume and covering letter? Drop by the Career Services office in D1063. The Career Services staff are available to assist you on an individual basis. Visit the office in D1063 to arrange an appointment with the consultant responsible for your program or call 519-452- 4294. To access job listings for Fanshawe students and graduates, visit or Follow us on Facebook, Twitter @FanshaweCS and Pinterest