For me, one of the scariest things about job hunting is the horror stories about resume fielding. We’ve all read about employers who throw out resumes because they’re stapled wrong, they use Times New Roman font, etc. While I wish I could say these stories are false, there’s some merit to them.
The competition is fierce out there. It’s not crazy to assume that a company gets multiple resumes a week, or even multiple per day – often without any positions being advertised/available. It’s a big effort to field these, contact applicants, have interviews, etc. so it makes sense to eliminate as many as possible before this stage.
The good news is most (decent) employers won’t just dismiss a resume for something petty like fonts, staple fails, weird signatures, etc. So while most advice focuses on making your resume stand out, my advice is to make it strong, and make sure there’s no reason for it to get thrown aside.*
There’s a million websites that’ll tell you how to write a good resume, so I’ll skip a lot of the gory details and focus on seven things that I think are important – and how they apply to a Planning/urban design position.**
- Be Selective – Before applying to jobs, I recommend requesting an Informational Interview at firms that you are interested in. Just call them up and ask them if there is someone willing to talk with you about a career in Planning, and future opportunities. I love doing this, and most firms will have someone that will meet with you. Use this to find companies that reflect your values, and apply only to these. You are more likely to find long-term success with 5 strong applications than 20 generic ones. Narrowing your scope will also make it easier to tailor each package to the intended firm.
- Be Specific – Everything you submit (resume, cover letter, work samples) should be tailored to the job you’re applying for. It’s likely you’re applying for a Planning position, so probably not necessary to tell me you work at Yogurty’s in the summer (no judgement, we all have to eat – I was a semi-carny in high school). Tell me instead about your internships and/or (relevant) volunteer work. If you don’t have either, think about your interesting school projects and tell me about those. If you’re not applying to a specific job, do a little research on the firm and think of why you want to work there. I mean really think about it – don’t just say “I really like what you did on [insert project name here] and think my experience makes me a valuable asset on future similar projects…” Look at a bunch of the firms projects, read their Twitter account, tell me how your experience, training, school projects, etc. jive with our design philosophies.
- Address it Properly – Like above, this shows you have thought about the position. Call or drop in and say you’re wondering who to submit a resume to. If the person at the front desk says use them, even if they won’t be hiring you, it shows you put in the extra effort to try – and is much better than ‘to whom it may concern,’ or ‘dear Hiring Manager.’ What if the firm is small and doesn’t have either of these positions? Also, don’t go on the company website and chose a name at random – I received many resumes addressed to me when I had been at the office for less than a year – this is awkward for both of us.
- Make Digital Files Easy – If you’re sending digital files, convert them to pdf first. This means you’ll know exactly what they’ll look like. Sometimes word files open differently between computers, and what looks good on your screen, may have a number of issues on mine. Also keep in mind that like paper, digital files may get filed away until later. Make sure they are easy to find and won’t get lost in the shuffle. ‘Matt Reid – Cover Letter’ will be easier to find than ‘MR – 2015 – CL V.27.’ Finally, if you’re sending multiple files (resume, cover letter, work samples) combine them as a single pdf. Again, this will make things simple for potential employers, and ensure your files are read together and as intended.
- Make it Pretty – As mentioned before, graphic design is a big part of my job (though I’m far from a Graphic Designer). A well-designed resume/cover letter is a great way to show off your design chops, and convince an employer that this is a skill you’ll bring to the position. That being said, you may not know how to use InDesign. The important thing is to make it as pretty as you can with your skillset. A well-organized and attractive word document will get you further than a sloppy InDesign document. Spend your time making sure paragraphs are aligned, spacing is consistent, etc.
- Keep It Professional – When I say professional, I don’t mean stiff and boring. It’s actually great if your personality shines through in your resume/cover letter. By professional, I mean don’t offend anyone, or say things that makes me not want to hire you. If you’re a self-proclaimed Planning geek, tell me that – that’s endearing, and I want to work with Planning geeks. But don’t tell me about the Jane Jacobs tattoo you have (unprofessional), or that you’ll be the life of the office party. Use personal anecdotes sparingly, and ensure they are relevant to the job. And finally, make sure your email address and voicemail are appropriate (you’d be surprised how often this gets missed).
- Work Samples/Portfolio – This was the one that always worried me the most. When I think of a portfolio, I think of a beautiful document full of pretty pictures, renderings, paintings, etc. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many of these things – and depending on your hobbies and degree program, you may not either. Don’t fret, that won’t make you less of (or unqualified to be) a Planner. Focus instead on the strengths you do have and highlight those. For example, writing is a huge part of this job, and being able to write clear and succinctly is an invaluable asset. If you’re a good writer, provide some samples of your best writing (i.e. school work, blogs, articles). Similarly, if you’re an amateur urban photographer, show me your best photos. Again, just be sure that whatever you’re including is relevant to the job. Most importantly, be honest. Don’t try to learn SketchUp overnight because you think it will help your chances of getting a job (it might, until you show up at work and don’t know how to use SketchUp).
This is my advice based on the resumes that I’ve reviewed. Be sure to check out a few other advice sites as well, and pay very close attention to the basics (i.e. proof read, proof read, proof read).
*I’m not responsible for the hiring at my office, so these views are absolutely my own opinion.
**Don’t worry about how many people are applying to a position. Sites like LinkedIn will make you panic because they say 80 other people have applied. Even if this is true (it probably isn’t), you’d be surprised how many of these people are completely unqualified (like no Planning degree unqualified).