RWS 503 Fall 2002
“Transcripts have become devalued by grade inflation and are viewed as little
more than evidence of the courses students have taken. Thus, the burden of proof
has shifted to reference letters.” National Employment Weekly, spring, 1992, page
“When faced with the mind-numbing prospect of interviewing dozens of
identically qualified, newly shorn, and business-suited graduates, anyone sensible
will turn to the references provided by the candidates‟ tutors or supervisors.” A
recruiter quoted in the National Employment Weekly, spring, 1992, page 37.
Colleges are being asked to supply reference letters more often than before.
Reference letters are now more important due to grade inflation. They also allow further
How to Get Good Reference Letters
1. Start Early
2. Choose Writers Carefully & Ask Appropriately
3. Provide Background
Make an appointment to discuss the letter and provide background information. You
could also provide your resume, job letter, job description, and sample reference letters.
4. Explain the Letter‟s Purpose
Identify your audience. Is it “all-purpose” or for a specific position? Give the
recipient‟s name (try avoiding letters addressed: “To whom it may concern.”) Some
suggest having the recommendation addressed as a memo rather than a letter.
For specific jobs, inform the referee about the position and organization, and the 3
main traits required.
Give the date the letter is needed, and information on how to contact you
Explain whether the letter will be in a closed or open file, and whether you need/can
have a copy of the letter. To get a copy, include a self-addressed envelope.
5. Follow Through
Write thank-you letters. Let referees know how you did.
(Re)Searching for a Job
“Even those with impressive GPAs, excellent class rankings and inside
connections will have trouble if they lack an in-depth understanding of employers
before interviewing, say recruiters and placement counselors.” National
Employment Weekly, spring, 1992, page 22.
”It doesn‟t impress me very much when an applicant sits down in an interview
and says, „Now, what does your company do?…On the other hand, it does
impress me when applicants start off interviews demonstrating knowledge of the
types of products we make.” A manager of Dow Chemicals, cited in the National
“If they‟ve been active on campus, held part-time jobs, participated in co-op
programs and can relate their capabilities to a company‟s needs, they‟re more
attractive than students who can only point to good grades.” National Employment
Weekly, spring, 1992, page 22.
These days, hiring managers will often begin interviews with questions like “Why did
you choose our organization?” or “what type of position are you interested in, to gauge
how much applicants know about/want the job.
It is important to go to the library and research the companies/organizations you are
How to Organize your Research
- Check the company‟s web site
- Ask a reference librarian for help finding publications about specific jobs
- The Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media lists most U.S. and
Canadian magazines and trade journals. Use it to look up or order journals
relevant to your search.
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook and its quarterly journal, the Occupational
Outlook Quarterly are published by the department of Labor. Very useful for
information on occupations, prospects, qualifications, salaries, etc.
- Federal Career Opportunities – for government jobs.
- Visit the university placement office to review information provided by hiring
organizations (they‟ll sometimes have annual reports, corporate videos, job
- Get annual reports and focus on the section by the CEO called „Letter to
Shareholders” which describes major products, trends, goals, etc.
Relate the Research to Your Skills, & Be Memorable
Once you know enough abut the position for the interview, review your skills and
experience, and find ways to relate them to the employers needs.
If you aren‟t hired by a company, the research you do may still be useful in future
interviews. Now you know about competitors, and this can help in interviews and in your
Use Your Research to Ask Intelligent Questions
Make sure you have prepared questions for the interviewers. This shows you‟re engaged
and serious, and is often an important opportunity to show how much you know about the
Resumes on the Web
See CalCopy book – Andre Sharp on Resume Tips for examples, and Lannon page 397.
Resumes are frequently scanned and stored by the human resources section of
organizations (or stored in the database of a recruiter/agency.)
You may thus want to create two resumes, one to be scanned, and one for one for a
To create a scanable resume:
1. Use plain paper (not fancy, embossed paper). Make sure you have top-quality
printout rather than a photocopy.
2. Use text-only. Get rid of graphics, borders, shading, italics, bold, underlining, etc.
3. Focus on content & choose a standard font. Times, Palatino, Arial, Helvetica, and
Bookman are good. Size should be 10-14 points
4. Put only your name on the top line.
5. Use Job-Specific Key Words. Industry terms, buzzwords, jargon; hard skills and
commonly used trade terms are what the computer will look for. You can also include
job titles, departments, key functions, relevant personality traits, computer hardware
and software, programming languages, academic degrees, fields of study, foreign
languages, all relevant to the target job. You can include a separate keywords
6. Don‟t Use Columns
7. Don‟t staple or fold pages