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Keeping Up Appearances

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Resumes and cover letters are the documents potential employers are going to look at and either be intrigued enough to file away for the future or be unimpressed enough to place in cylindrical files for homeless men on street corners to use as insulation on cold winter nights. Unfortunately, most employment-seeking documents are just lackluster or laborious enough to get placed in the latter category without a second thought. Believe it or not, though, there are some initial precautions every applicant can take when designing the appearance of his or her resume and cover letter to avoid being, literally, left out in the cold with the banana peels and appliance packaging boxes.

When an employer glances over your materials, the first thing he or she will notice is your header, which, contrary to popular belief, must be completely consistent on your cover letter and resume. This will allow the employer to reunite your documents if they get separated. Additionally, your contact information should appear at the top of the page for the employer's convenience; if, for some reason or another, the employer forgets your name when perusing your information or relaying your qualifications to others, it will be readily available. Not only does ensuring that your header remains consistent allow for fluidity, but it also allows you to ingrain your name in employers' brains without them even knowing it. Every time the reader turns the page, he or she will be reminded of your name.

As I move on to the next crucial detail, please keep in mind that everything that appears on the page should be there for the convenience of your reader. If something will inconvenience your reader, do not even consider doing it.

For instance, although it seems like a minute consideration, font size is of the utmost importance. You can cram as much information as possible onto a single page when composing your resume, but if the font is too small to read comfortably, chances are potential employers will not be particularly comfortable taking the time to read about all your marvelous qualifications; they will be too overwhelmed by the massive chronicle you have submitted. For this reason, the font size you select should never dip below 10.5 points, and you should be able to read everything without squinting or holding the paper less than two feet from your eyes.

On the other hand, bulk-text font sizes should not exceed 12.5 points because using a large font creates the impression that you are trying to fill space on the page. Also, if you choose a font larger than 12.5 points, your resume will begin to look like a child's storybook. Large typefaces and cartoon illustrations may appeal to four-year-olds, but anything that makes employers want to suck their thumbs will not prompt them to pull their thumbs out of their mouths to dial your phone number.

Rumor has it that employers love reading every last impressive detail you could possibly provide—wrong. Your resume and cover letter are your windows of opportunity to spur more conversation on the telephone or in an interview. If you tell employers everything right away, 1) you won't have any relevant ice-breaking material left for interviews and 2) they might feel slightly frightened.

Make sure your additional information section resembles a Napoleon Dynamite-esque skill set description as little as possible. If your resume looks empty, fine. List a couple of hobbies that might serve as nice chat topics—as long as they are unique and not scary. Interests such as "reading," "visiting coffee shops," and "traveling" will not say anything about you except that you are willing to travel all the time for the organization and have no personal life outside of take-home work.

At the other end of the spectrum, mentioning extreme political affiliations or interest in offensive pastimes such as taxidermy is never a good idea. For the most part, stick to listing volunteer work and community involvements. Mentioning involvement in sports or the arts may be acceptable if you are trying to fill space or seek a personal connection with the person reading your materials. If all else fails, ask a friend what he or she would think—without knowing anything about you—if you were to list some of your free-time activities. Any signs of cringing, hemming and hawing, or facial twitches should be your first indications that something needs to change.

You may think I am kidding, but there are plenty of people out there who include inappropriate details in their resumes. How would you feel about hiring the guy who likes to streak through the laundry room of his apartment building to serve as receptionist in your office?

That's what I thought.
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