Recruitment: Creating a first impression that lasts

The ability to present yourself well is probably more important in PR than in any other industry. Christie Casalino discovers how your resume can work hard for you

The ability to present yourself well is probably more important in PR than in any other industry. Christie Casalino discovers how your resume can work hard for you

The importance of the resume and cover letter is undeniable within any industry. These documents are usually the first chance a potential employer has to become acquainted with a candidate - and they can either get a foot in the door for an interview or knock the applicant out of the running, even before a face-to-face meeting. While resumes and cover letters should not be underestimated by any job-seeker, those in the PR industry should exercise extra caution with this first opportunity to exhibit their communications skills.

Regardless of seniority, position, agency, or corporate candidacy, "the most important thing is to be honest on your resume," explains Lisa Ryan, SVP/managing director at Heyman Associates. "Be chronological, with your most recent job first, and then work backward - but everything should link back to being honest."

While this might seem difficult for those who have gaps of unemployment or non-industry work on their resumes, it's generally better to account for those.

"That's one area I perceive as having changed - there's not quite as much of a stigma about high turnover as there once was," points out Linda Hamburger, PR consultant and founder of On Call resumes. "If you have to be underemployed for a period of time, don't lie or be dishonest, but show how you've been active."

"I think that many job-seekers make the mistake of not including volunteer work that they may have done," says Donald McIver, SVP of management services at MWW Group. "Any kind of experience that could be relevant should be put on a resume. It's very valid to include non-paying and volunteer work."

Such work, as well as internships and school-related activities, might be the only information a recent graduate has to include on a resume, leaving one page the standard length. "When students have two- or three-page resumes, somebody reading it is going to be skeptical, even if all of those achievements are true," says Hamburger. "For someone younger, it's best to keep it to one page. But for an older person, it's just the opposite."

"You are doing yourself a serious disservice to have only a one-page resume once you're an accomplished professional," says Don Spetner, SVP of global marketing and communications and CMO at Korn/Ferry International. According to a survey of more than 300 Korn/Ferry International consultants, the appropriate length of an executive- level resume is two to three pages. "For someone in a senior executive position, you want to see that they have a certain level of achievement, and, as a recruiter, I have no qualms about receiving a multiple-page document to articulate that," says McIver.

In comparison, cover letters should be no longer than one page across the board.

"It's no different than a pitch letter to a journalist," says Spetner. "Get right to the point, and make it compelling, otherwise it's not going to get read."

"In the cover letter, I think, it's most important to be concise and get to the point," says Ryan. "If you've written more than three quarters of a page, it's too much, and no one is going to read it. Also, you don't want to redo your resume. ... Instead, emphasize the value that you could bring to that position."

When applying for a corporate position, "breadth is far more important than depth for senior executives," says Scott Walker, a consultant with Spencer Stuart. Walker notes that recruiters for corporations look to see exposure within various functions, especially internal and external communications, media relations, corporate reputation, and crisis management. "The more fields that you can represent in your paperwork, the more compelling you'll be as a candidate."

At any level, tailoring the resume and cover letter to the job description is essential.

"The type of information included needs to be demonstrable results," says Spetner. "You should describe where you worked, what your title was, and use bullet points to pull out the most critical things you accomplished there. You might change the order of the bullet points that you've called out based upon the job that's open or the type of issues the company is facing. If you're joining a company that just went public, use your top bullet point to show that you've taken companies through IPOs. Likewise, if you're going to a senior agency position that's focused on new business, you'll want to move your business development accomplishments to the top."

"You always have to show your current roles and responsibilities and then give your three greatest accomplishments in each of those posts because that will set you apart from someone else," says Sheila Greco, president and CEO of Sheila Greco Associates. "It's also important that your cover letter is customized to the reader and that you follow all requirements. When they tell you to put your salary expectations, do it."

In addition to following content guidelines, there are technical aspects to consider. Gone are the days of worrying whether to mail your resume on white or ivory paper. "It's actually worse to send it by regular mail," says Spetner. "The recruiter or in-house HR person will have to call you and ask you to e-mail it to them because circulating it within the company or to clients is all done electronically."

But even if every technical aspect is executed correctly, good old-fashioned networking seems to never go out of style.

"In 2004, about 40% of our hires were from employee referrals," points out Steve Fogarty, a staffing partner with the People Services Team at Waggener Edstrom. "You can put together the best cover letter and the best resume, but do your homework - establish a connection that's not in HR or recruiting, get them to submit your resume, and your chances of getting a job probably just doubled."

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Technique Tips

Do have someone else read over your resume and cover letter

Do call the company to confirm the hiring manager's name and title

Do make your cover letter cater to the job description

Don't leave periods of your employment history unaccounted for

Don't lie or exaggerate any work experience in your resume

Don't include graphics or over-stylize your resume

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