From a grad that’s been there and gotten a job: Advice on presenting career materials

First, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Courtney Miller, and I am a recent UNC-CH grad. I graduated a semester early (in December ’08) to save tuition money and get a jump on finding a full-time job ahead of May grads. I expected to find a job in public relations within a month or two, but the job hunt proved much more difficult than I expected. After six months of learning, constantly sharpening my skills, networking, tweaking my resume and promotional materials, and solidifying my goals, I finally landed a solid gig near my hometown of Fredericksburg, Va. But more importantly, I learned some very necessary life skills that they don’t teach you in college, and it’s my pleasure to share my experience and what I’ve learned with you over Kelly’s blog every Monday, in a five-week series.

Presentation Advice

Many grads don’t think about the overall presentation of their job-search materials (resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc.), but it’s crucial because it directly affects the first impression employers have of you. Think about it: if the person on the other end of the computer only spends 10 to 30 seconds looking at your materials, you want to make sure that your presentation is every bit as effective as your content. In addition, consistent presentation is good personal branding.

Aside from the basic and most obvious things to consider (spelling, style, grammar, unclear/inconsistent message and congestion), here are few tips and tricks I learned about presentation.

E-mail PDF versions of your materials. I always convert my materials into PDFs using the Neevia PDF Converter tool. PDFs can’t contain viruses like Word documents (which is why some offices will only accept PDFs), and they preserve the carefully crafted formatting of your materials.

For example, I use the Calibri typeface for my resume, but earlier versions of Word don’t have Calibri. If my resume is opened in an earlier version of Word, the entire format (including spacing, length, bullets, indentions, etc.) is thrown off because the program uses a substitute font. When I use a PDF document, though, whoever opens my resume will see it exactly as I intended. In addition, it is smart to have a scanned PDF version of your most recent transcripts. (

Remember font and design consistency. Use the same typefaces for your resume, cover letters, and supporting documents. It makes your work look more professional, and consistency helps your personal branding efforts.

For a classic, professional look, Times New Roman could be a good option, but some criticize its letterspacing issues and clichéd usage. Other serif options include Garamond, Georgia, and Palatino Linotype. I’ve also seen Century Old Style recommended for business positions.

For a more contemporary resume, consider professional sans serif typefaces, like Helvetica, Ariel, Geneva and Tahoma. That means NO PAPYRUS OR COMIC SANS MS – the only places for these typefaces are elementary school classrooms and comic books.

Don’t set your point size smaller than 9 for sans serif and 10 for serif typefaces.

Frequently Update. Always keep your materials updated and ready to go. You never know when someone will call you wanting you to send over your resume and writing samples immediately.

Make writing sample summaries.
On each writing sample I send out, I include a short description of the piece. The description includes what organization I wrote the piece for, the intended audience, where the piece was published, the purpose of the piece, and how many readers it reached. If you won an award for a writing piece, also include which one and how many people you competed against to win.

(Kelly’s note: The same advice goes for anything you include in a portfolio. It doesn’t matter if it was a design for a physics class, or a feature article for the Daily Tar Heel, give some context and explain why the piece has value.)

Use a job-hunt buddy. Buddy up with another job-searching friend. If possible, pick a friend that has different strengths and perspectives than you. Let your friend proofread every communication piece you write – resumes, cover letters, thank you e-mails, and writing samples. Proof all of her communications too. Help each other by making constructive criticism and sharing articles, job postings and resources. You can also try the 20-Second Resume Test with your buddy to gain constructive feedback.


2 responses to “From a grad that’s been there and gotten a job: Advice on presenting career materials

  1. totally agree with I went through a period of sharpening my skills getting advice it all seems endless

  2. These are great tips, Courtney. Practical, tangible, and likely unrecognized to many of your fellow recent graduates.

    Summarizing writing samples is a great suggestion. I’m looking forward to seeing what you will share next week.

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