First impression

Recruiting expert Brad Karsh offers résumé dos and don'ts for those just entering the field.

Recruiting expert Brad Karsh offers résumé dos and don'ts for those just entering the field.

Erica Iacono: What are some of most common résumé on outstanding leadership and accomplishments.” and cover-letter mistakes you see from new job-seekers?

Brad Karsh: Ninety-nine out of 100 people write a job description résumé. Most will say, “Wrote press release promoting [so and so].” I might argue that any person seeking a job at a PR firm has written a press release.

Recruiting directors want specific accomplishments. “Wrote 50 press releases that led to 50 million impressions and a Wall Street Journal story” is much better. Even if seeking your first PR job, highlight relevant experience from college. If you led your sorority's PR, for example, write, “Promoted campus fundraising event that drew 3,000 attendees.” The key word is “specific.” And in listing experience, go from most important to least; it needn't be in chronological order.

Iacono: Should you include an objective on a résumé?

Karsh: I'm not a big fan of objectives. They're often nothing more than self-ascribed attributes. If you're applying for a specific job, your goal is to get that job!

Objectives might come in handy if you send a résumé to a company and there isn't a specific job advertised. Without a stated objective, that company may not know if you're applying for a marketing or a PR job.

Iacono: Do you have any pet peeves about résumés?

Karsh: Approximately 20% of all résumés have typos. That's mind-boggling.

I always love when people include things like “recipient of the Skeeter McGee scholarship.” Were you just one of 10,000 students that got it? Is Skeeter an uncle that gave you beer money for your 21st birthday? Never list something a reader won't understand. What you should write is “Skeeter McGee scholarship, awarded to one student out of 10,000 applicants based on outstanding leadership and accomplishments."

I've also received résumés with an e-mail address like or I don't want The Dirthead working for me!

Also keep in mind bullet points and action verbs. I'm not a big fan of sentences.

Computer skills is another area. Too many people still list Microsoft Word as a skill. Is there a college student in the US that doesn't use Microsoft Word? Don't fill your résumé with self-evident computer abilities.

Iacono: So what skills are important to list on a résumé?

Karsh: Anything you've done in PR, be it an agency internship, publicity for a campus group, or a meaningful semester-long class PR project. The biggest error students make is not including some of these real-world PR experiences. If you don't have a lot of PR experience, leadership is another key trait to include.

Iacono: How do you make your résumé and cover letter stand out without going overboardand looking foolish?

Karsh: There is a fine line between clever and stupid. First off, cover letters are an extraordinarily underused medium. Think of your cover letter as a writing sample. In my last job, I probably received about 10,000 résumés and actually read fewer than 200 cover letters.

Every student writes the same one: It starts with how they heard about the job, discusses their interest and why they'd be a good fit, and closes with an invitation to follow up. It's a rewrite of what's on the résumé.

Instead, think of a cover letter as a teaser ad for your résumé. It needn't tell the whole story. Force yourself to make it short, interesting, and personal. The first sentence can say something like, “I knew I loved PR from the moment I opened up a lemonade stand when I was five years old.” Don't say, “As you can see from
my attached résumé...” If someone spends 10-15 seconds reading your résumé, they'll spend even less time
reading your cover letter. You want to show that you know what the story is – how you got interested in PR.

Iacono: Many job ads don't have a specific contact name. Do you recommend doing research to find the hiring manager's name or is that considered too intrusive?

Karsh: Absolutely do that. I'd much rather get an e-mail to “Mr. Karsh” than “To Whom It May Concern.”

Iacono: A lot of job ads ask for salary requirements, but I don't want to appear presumptuous and box myself out of consideration. How do I handle that?

Karsh: Unless salary requirement is listed as an absolute necessity, I wouldn't include it. It is the first level of negotiation. If you're not careful, you can low-ball yourself. If you must give a number, offer a range.

But before you do anything, do research. Then you can say that according to sources you've researched, an entry-level PR associate in New York makes between X and Y, and you're looking to earn in that range.

Iacono: What about follow-up once you've sent the résumé? There seems to be a fine line between appearing interested and being annoying.

Karsh: I call it “persistent versus stalker.” Upon initially sending a résumé and cover letter, say you'll follow up in a week. But don't expect anyone to get back to you. Recruiting directors likely have 300 résumés; they simply can't get back to you. You call once to show that you're interested, and then you wait. If you have inside knowledge that they're looking to fill the post soon, then you can be much more persistent.

As president of JobBound, Karsh travels the US delivering presentations and workshops to job seekers. He also works with corporations conducting training programs on workplace issues.

Karsh is author of Confessions of a Recruiting Director (Prentice Hall Press, April 2006), and is a frequent contributor to outlets including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour, and Fortune.

Prior to JobBound, he spent 15 years at Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago, where he was VP/director of talent acquisition. While there, Karsh critiqued more than 10,000 résumés.

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