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Sex: __________

How would you fill in the blank above? My dad once regaled an incident in his youth when he was a manager and had to conduct recruitment exercises. This particular lady applicant wrote,

Sex: Twice a week

This article is not on finding the man/woman of your dreams. It’s on some of the problems that HR professionals face in trying to fit the right person to the right job at the right time.

Read on if you want to avoid the common boo-boos while scoring some bonus points when looking for a job.

1. Writing your cover letter.

Keep this to a single page, with reasonably sized font (generally a 12 or 10 if you’re using Times New Roman or Arial, etc.). Include a short introduction of yourself, your portfolio, what you know about the company and job you applied for, why you want that position, and how you learnt about the opening, etc. Simply put, market yourself on paper. As you must have already surmised, everyone is unique and our experiences are different, so there is really no excuse that your cover letter looks exactly the same as your friend’s.

Consult friends and websites, etc., but do try to write it yourself. If you don’t, the discrepancy WILL show when you’re hired and actually expected to perform on the job (assuming that you will need to send out e-mails/submit reports).

Keep it original, creative, concise, and ERRORPROOF.

If you need help in the language department, do use the spell check or bribe your linguistically talented pal, but whatever it is, do not, I repeat, DO NOT send in anything that is not free from error. Imagine the mountain of resumes a recruitment officer often has to look through, and you can bet that your error-filled cover letter, together with your similarly error-filled resume, would be swiftly deposited into the recycle bin.

At the very least, there should be no spelling errors at all, and keep grammatical mistakes minimal by avoiding long, convoluted sentences. I’m basically saying that you should write everything yourself, but ask another person to proofread your cover letter and resume AFTER you have done all you could with them. No matter how comfortable you are using the English language, this is highly recommended because all of us have blind spots.

I’m not anal. Seriously. If you can’t even bother to check your work (before you have even started working in the office), what is there to stop me from assuming that the quality of your work would be just as bad when you work in my office? End of the story.

DO NOT PUT EVERYTHING IN CAPSLOCK.

If you are using a good-sized font, there really is no need to do so. You would only appear to be shouting at the person reading your résumé. Not a nice thing to do when someone takes the time to read it.

As mentioned above, be original and creative when writing your cover letter, but do not try to be funny (read: ridiculous). I came across someone who started off with the attributes and strengths of a person born in the year of the Horse. Besides being directly copied from some Chinese Astrology book (plagiarism, anyone?), it was also irrelevant and there was no flow between that paragraph and what followed after that. Unless you are applying to be a Feng Shui master, do not attempt. It sure made me remember him, but NOT in a good way.

The first impression is usually made in 10 seconds or less, and once formed in the mind, it is rarely the case that people will budge from their original opinion. Not impossible, but this is generally the case. Hence, it is vital that you submit something that is a breeze to read, and comfortable to look at.

At the risk of repeating myself, you should

– Check the font size,
– Check the font type (no cursive, please),
– Check the layout (beware of too narrow margins and no spacing between paragraphs)
– Check for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

2. Tidy up your résumé.

Try to keep it to 2 single-sided pages. Yes, you only have that space and maybe about 5 minutes or less to convince the recruitment officer to grant you an interview slot. If you have tons of experience behind you, you may want to take out those part-time jobs that you did more than 10 years ago. In the event that you have tons of experience and you decide that everything must absolutely be down on paper to effectively market yourself, put less focus on prior experiences/tasks that may have less relevance on the position you are aiming for.

There are a few kinds of format out there that you may choose for your résumé. The most common one is of course, the chronological resume in which you list your work experiences, with the most current one at the top. Some people put their first work experience at the top, which is not appropriate, I think. That first work experience might have been more than 10 years ago, and might have been in a different industry than your present job/the position you’re applying for.

If you’re at the middle to top management level, you may want to consider using the skills-set resume format. Instead of using your previous positions as the main bullet points, your core skills (leadership, management, marketing…) are used instead and your prior experiences become the sub-points. For instance,

– Leadership Skills:
i. Led a team of 8 people in a 6-month marketing project…(insert position, company name)
ii. Supervised the Safety Committee in planning and training for the Workplace Safety Programme…(insert position, company name)

Note that your position and company might be different for i. and ii. in the example above. The focus of the skills-set resume then, as the name implies, is really your skills.

I’ve yet to come across anyone using the skills-set format (I did one for a friend though), but that is mainly because of the positions that I was doing recruitment for. They were of the executive level and below, not the top management level. Another grouse that employers could have about the skills-set format (and hence their unpopularity) would be the suspicion that the job applicant is trying to hide a period of long absence from the workforce. It is indeed more difficult to keep track of where the applicant has been in his working life, ALTHOUGH (I must stress this) it is generally the norm to list your work experiences in chronological order at the end of the skills-set resume. For example,

– Creative Director, RJP Pte. Ltd. (Mar 2007 – Jul 2011)
– Senior Marketing Manager, True Colours Pte. Ltd. (Apr 2000 – Feb 2007)

Personally, I would take into consideration the level/position the applicant is eyeing before choosing the résumé format. For middle and top management employees, they are valued because they have certain skills. Ok, every employee is valued for the contributions they bring to the company, including their skills. However, people at the topmost levels are required to have certain VITAL skills that are deemed crucial in ensuring that the company survives and thrives. If there is no planning, no strategising at the top, you would end up having employees (and they may be talented ones) doing their own thing and trying to run in different directions at the same time. NOT effective. Of course, if there is no proper communication that ensures the message is passed down from the top to the bottom, it’s as good as having no leadership as well. Leadership…one of my favourite topics, and a digression from this one…

Anyway, some contract workers may want to consider the skills-set resume as well. Companies need contract workers for numerous reasons, one of which would be the undertaking of certain projects with a timeline to keep to. These companies may then need people with certain skills to complete these projects, and this is where the skills-set resume comes in useful.

No matter what, the basic principles are the same as that for your cover letter. Proofread, proofread, and proofread.

3. Get your act together and capture that professionalism…in your photograph.

In America, you’re not required to send in your photograph; in fact, you’re also not required to state your age, sex, race, marital status, religion, and sexual orientation, etc…anything that may ‘activate’ the discrimination laws. In Singapore, it’s common to do all these and more. I’m not here to argue about the whole human rights and discrimination issue, so please hold on to your missiles even if you feel strongly about this.

Just a normal, passport-sized colour photograph will do. Really. I prefer a white background, but it’s ok if it’s blue.

No victory signs. No profile pictures. No posing of any sort. Just smile and be…normal. You know, how you usually look? Maybe for some of you out there, it should be how you usually DO NOT look…This is not the time to be creative, UNLESS it has a certain relevance to the position you are applying for.

I’m quite severe in a way…very corporate and uncompromising, perhaps. The above just depicts some of the problems I encountered in recruitment exercises, and my personal preferences and pet peeves. In no way do they represent the views of the general HR community (in any country or state), and should not be taken as such.