Creating Great Job Docs

I would like to thank Dana Bright from Career Services who came and talked to us last week about job application documents. Creating these documents–affectionately known as resumes and cover letters–are difficult for students and professionals alike. The talk helped to add clarity around this ever evolving topic.

Before I relay the highlights from the discussion, let me first stress that the items listed below are the norm. That said, there will be outlying situations that are not accounted for in these statements. The items below, like Dana mentioned, are the safe bet.

I have broken down the information into 2 sections Cover letters and Resumes. Inside the Resume section there is information regarding government and industry resumes.

Coverletters

Cover letters should be prepared for every job you apply to. Below are some items to keep in mind while creating them:

  • Limit to 1 page.
  • A four paragraph cover letters should:
    • Introduce yourself to the hiring manager
    • Argue why you’d be a good fit for the job
    • Fill in places your resume cannot describe
    • Further explain other aspects of your resume
  • Consult resumegenius.com for more detail.

Resumes

First and foremost, there is a big difference between the documents needed to apply to government jobs and those needed for industry jobs. As a result, the two are addressed separately below.

Government Job Resumes

The government requires a standardized and highly specific resume. Therefore, using the resume builder found at usajobs.gov to create a resume is the best option. When using the resume builder, the questions should be answered in their entirety, including the sections that are not often required in industry resumes, like hobbies, coursework, or information about High School experiences.

Industry job Resumes

There were a number of recommendations pertaining to industry resumes. For the sake of brevity (and reference) I use bullet points to cover the items. The list is further sorted into the broad categories: generalities, content, and design.

Generalities

  • Resumes should be clean looking and professional.
  • Use 1 page unless you have 10 years or experience.
  • List your strongest assets first. For students, that usually means education is the first section.
  • Tailor the resume to the job application, make sure to address all of the requirements fully.
  • Ensure that each job listed has a job title, employer, date, and location. Do not use summer, fall, or other seasons. Instead list the start and ending months.
  • Do not overly use keywords (e.g., creating a list of skills just to use keywords), simply employ the keywords naturally in the description of your job duties.
  • Use present tense for current jobs and past tense for previous jobs.
  • Eliminate the objective, it takes up real estate and is not helpful.
  • Streamline the resume to cover only the sections and material that represent you well. Remove hobbies, personal interests, previous colleges, and odd jobs if they do not pertain to the job you are applying to.
  • Remove bullet points for obvious jobs.  For example there is no need to describe duties for cashier or waitress, unless the duties are atypical.
  • Google resumes from your field and model the good ones.
  • Do not include non-professional links (e.g., Facebook or Twitter). But do include professional links like LinkedIn and your portfolio. Add links these links at the top of your resume with your contact information.

Content

  • Show your expertise, don’t just tell it.
  • Do not embellish or lie.
  • Stick to job duties that demonstrate strong transferable skills.
  • Remove HS and your HS experiences from your resume unless they are directly applicable to the job (e.g., you led the accountants club for 2yrs in HS and you the job you are applying to is an accountant). The only exception is Eagle Scouts.
  • List accomplishments over mundane tasks. For example, instead of “I answered the phones” say something like “Responsible for…”
  • Avoid listing nebulous unsupported claims in a list of skills (e.g,. good communicator, trustworthy), instead show these attributes through examples from your job duties. For example, you might you would list public speaking to demonstrate your confidence in communicating.
  • Remove “I” or “me” and stick with action verbs.
  • List any proficiency with foreign languages in a skills section. In that case, use the modifiers of basic, intermediate, fluency, or native speaker to describe your aptitude in the language.
  • Remove hobbies unless they directly relate to the job. For example, you would keep your guitar playing if you were applying for radio station work.
  • Provide a “relevant courses” section if they help to demonstrate your fit for the job.  In it do not include general education, instead list the 3 or 4 courses that are completely relevant to the job. When doing so include the course name (without the catalog number) and any tailored highlights that relate to the job
  • List your cumulative GPA ONLY if it is above 3.0. Do not include your major GPA or substitute it for cumulative. The major GPA can be misleading and can cause confusion once your transcript is reviewed.
  • Include a summary or profile statement at the top of the resume, if you need to explain some transition. In this case, the statement should be your elevator pitch where you pick 3 or 4 of your top assets. Include a few words that support the need for the statement (e.g., “seeking to transition into”).
Comments for specific majors
  • If you are a humanities major, eliminate a skills section and incorporate those items in your list of job duties or courses.
  • If you have a government security clearance, it should be listed on your resume. Try to place it near the top. A summary is a good place to include your clearances.

Design

  • Do not use Word templates, they are a tremendous pain in the long run. Stick to a resume without without tables or boxes. Starting from scratch with a fresh new document is your best option.
  • Use an all black serif font, no color.
  • Make your name and other headings no larger than 14pt bold and text between 11pt or 12pt at most.
  • Maintain 1″ margins with single spacing
  • Use a serif font (i.e., Tahoma, Calibri);  it comes across as more formal. Note, there is some flexibility in fonts as sans serif becomes more popular.
  • Send the resume as a PDF, if possible. PDFs will retain your formatting and Word may not.
  • Do not use a full line at the top, it separates information on the page too much.

Should anything in this long list be unclear, I’m sure Dana would welcome any questions you might have about this material.

 

Public Talk on the Persona of the Scientist in the Stories We Tell!

world-war-z-0031The UAH Business and Technical Writing Program is excited to announce a free public lecture from Dr. Leah Ceccarelli, professor of communication at the University of Washington, discussing the way scientists are presented in public narratives like zombie films and presidential speeches.This event is free and open to the public! Join us for the talk and a Q&A session on Thursday, April 14 at 4:00 in Charger Union 227 on the UAH campus. 

The talk, “The Persona of the Scientist in the Stories We Tell,” reveals a contested persona for the modern scientist. The figure of the scientist in the public imaginary occupies the rolececcarelli of both hero and fool, responsible citizen and morally blind outsider. A better understanding of the rhetorical possibilities available for
representing the character of the scientist in various public texts, from presidential speeches to popular movies to judicial decisions, should help us to better select those depictions that are most likely to benefit society and reject those depictions that are most likely to do harm. This event is sponsored by the UAH English Department and the UAH Humanities Center.

National Day on Writing Caption Contest Winners!

UAH technical communication was pleased to represent the National Day on Writing as part of our event today at UAH. We asked people on campus to write captions for three ridiculous images we created. They really delivered! We had to pick two winners in some categories. Here are the winners, as determined by students in EH 303: Research and Practice in Technical Communication. Add your own caption ideas in the comments!

Clippy1

SadClippy2

Zuckerberg

Comcast1

Comcast2

Take EH 442/542 Usability Studies this Spring!

UAH students can take EH 442/542: Usability Studies this spring! The course is a great introduction to interesting theory, marketable skills, and cutting-edge research practices! Check out the course description for this exciting project-based course:

This course will introduce students to usability testing and research as a user centered design strategy and familiarize students with user and task analysis, interaction design, interface analyses, research-based heuristics, usability assessments, lo-fi prototyping and evaluation. Through a process approach, students will learn how to define audiences and issues, design an appropriate investigative procedure, administer the procedure, analyze the results, and report their findings effectively. Through these activities students will apply accepted rhetorical concepts, sound learning theory, excellent design principles, and professional communication standards.

The course will meet Thursday evenings from 5:30-8:20. It counts as an elective for students in the technical writing minor and the graduate certificate in technical communication, but the course is also great for students in psychology, game design and development, and computer science. For more information, email Dr. Joy Robinson at jdr0042@uah.edu!

New Podcast – Working with Subject Matter Experts

Check out this new episode of the 10-Minute Tech Comm podcast featuring Larry Kunz of Leading Technical Communication. The episode features some great advice about working with and interviewing subject matter experts!

When words come unstrung: The Catastrophic Failure of the Martin Archery Jaguar Take-Down OWNER’S MANUAL

The minimum requirement of any good technical document is that it communicates what is required of the user in a clear, concise, manner. Yet, far too often, technical manuals bear a striking similarity to experimental poetry, where the meaning is known only to the author. Peter Vogel once argued that users typically refer to the manual only when they are already frustrated. While this is certainly the case, I would further posit that on occasion, the source of the user’s frustration can be the technical manual itself. Case in point: The Martin Archery Take-Down Bow OWNER’S MANUAL.

The Diagram:

Featured image                           Featured image

To be fair, the exploded view of the bow on the front page of the four page manual does offer clear instructions for assembly. The diagram accurately represents the parts and assembly. The clear directions listed here allowed me to quickly assemble the body of the bow without incident. However, that is only half the task. A bow without a string is little more than a piece of furniture, which leads me to part two.

Stringing the Bow: Where it all went wrong

Page two of the manual features a paragraph entitled “Stringing your Bow.” Martin Archery included a (rarely included) tool called a bowstringer to assist with this task, promising that its use would prevent the limbs of the bow from distorting. The manual offers a lengthy paragraph extolling the virtues of the bowstringer. What was conspicuously absent was any text informing a first time user as to how to effectively use the bowstringer. Instead, there is a drawing that a stringer being used, devoid of any further instruction:

Featured image
Attempt one: I placed the stringer on the limbs of the bow, and then slipped the loops of the bowstring itself over the limbs after the bowstringer. I followed the procedure outlined in the diagram, and it worked—for all of three seconds. The stringer caused the bow string to slip from its grooves. Once the tension was released, the limb of the bow de-flexed, colliding with my ribs. After no small amount of profanity, I moved on to

Attempt two: A few of the more crucial portions of the legal action of Wile E. Coyote vs. Acme Corporation echoed in my mind, as I attempted once again to string the bow. This time, I wound up with the string dangling loose inside of the now taut bowstring. This was problematic because an arrow could potentially tangle in the stringer.

Attempt 3: I placed both the bow and the stringer on the limbs of the bow; then I placed my foot on the stringer. I tugged upward, just as the diagram suggested; this time I wound up with the stringer dangling loosely from the top of the bow with the other end secured to the top limb. At this point I gave up and consulted this YouTube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERWnqmOMURo.

Resolution:

In the space of less than a minute (the video shows how to string and un-string the bow, I paused after the first part), the YouTube video successfully demonstrated, how to quickly string my bow. While the manual was lacking in terminology and proper instructions, the video named each part of the stringer and where to properly place the stringer in relation the bow, demonstrating that the stringer does not “tow” the string into place, but rather bends the limbs of the bow allowing the user to move the loose end of the string to the notches while keeping tension on the body of the bow rather than the bowstring.

Conclusion:

The Martin Archery Take-Down Bow OWNER’S MANUAL stands as a cautionary tale of how technical writing, when done poorly, can be hazardous. A lack of clear verbiage accompanying the diagram, which would inform the reader on where to place the parts of the stringer and how to use it properly, resulted in frustration and lost time. This could have easily been avoided, had the writers applied the same care and attention to detail in crafting the instructions for stringing the bow as they did for its assembly. At the cost of perhaps another page of text, the writers could have added more diagrams, or at the very least, step by step instructions for where to place the stringer in relation to the bow. Additionally, it would have given the user the all important detail that the body of the bow is to be bent, releasing tension on the bowstring, rather than trying to, by physical strength, pull the string into the notches. Had such measures been taken, Martin’s client would have experienced far less frustration, and it goes without saying fewer bruised ribs!

-Allen Berry

Plain language! Simple tips to make your content more accessible

boildownThe UN and the World Bank says that 10% of everyone in the world has a disability of some kind. That is a lot! And in addition to that when we get older, over 30% of us will have some disability. These numbers show that thinking about accessibility when writing and designing our content is extremely important. The first questions that should pop up in our heads are: Will my audience find what they need? Understand what they find? Act appropriately on that understanding? There are many reasons why people have trouble reading: cognitive problems, low literacy, physical or vision disabilities, or reading in a second language. But even proficient readers can have problems reading if they are rushed, stressed or tired. You should write in plain language and present your content clearly and flexibly to make it accessible. But how can you do so? Here are some useful tips:

Think about your audience first

Know your audience and make your content suitable for them. You should know what your audience needs. Writing in plain language doesn’t mean dumbing down the content, but making it clear by getting straight to the point.

Make your information easy to understand, even in poor conditionsindex

Keep in mind that not everyone will read every word you write. People are usually in a hurry or multi-tasking. They also read in places that make reading difficult such as poor lightning or on electronic devices with tiny screens. Your content should be easy to scan through! Use topic sentences to introduce the subject of your paragraph before going into details. Also, keep sentences short and concise: avoid the passive voice and use simple and clear verbs.

Your content should be easy to translate

English is the international language. Many readers are non-native English speakers. Make your information easy to translate. Write simply by using words that your readers will be familiar with.

Use lots of headings

Create meaningful headings for each section. Useful headings should communicate the key points of your content, helping readers scan and find the information they need. They can be questions, statements or topics.

Talk to your readers

Get personal and talk directly to your audience. Talking directly to your readers makes a better conversation. People tend to pay more attention if you are referring directly to them. Use “you” and the imperative to give readers instructions.

Be organizeduh_ah

Put the sections of your content in a logical order from your readers’ perspective. Start with the information they need first. Use bulleted lists or tables to make it easy for them to scan through your text and find specific information.

Be visual

Many people understand information better through images. Use images that illustrate concepts and give them an alternative text or captions. Information graphics and animations showing processes and relationships are also very helpful.

 

For more information, check out:

http://www.plainlanguage.gov/

http://centerforplainlanguage.org/about-plain-language

Source: Horton, Sarah, and Whitney Quesenbery. A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences. Print.

Sarah Bastos


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