Communicate Effectively With Employers

Getting a job is mostly a matter of communication. Very simply, you need to communicate that you are the best person to do what an employer needs to be done.

To do that, you need to be able to write a good application and resume. You also need to demonstrate your intelligence, courtesy, and responsibility every time you communicate with an employer by phone or email, and through anything that the employer may learn about you online.

Everyone knows how to use a phone, and most people can use email and social media. But by using some basic business rules, you can show employers that you are the type of professional they are looking for.
Please take a few minutes to review this simple guidance on how to communicate more effectively through written documents such as applications and resumes, and by phone, email, and social media.
Phone and Computer
  1. Applications & Other Documents
  2. Phone Calls
  3. Email
  4. Social Media

Job searches always involve documents. There are a half dozen types of documents with which you need to be familiar: job applications, resumes, cover letters, reference lists, job search records, and post-interview messages.

There is quite a bit to know about these important documents, so you will spend some time discussing them with a staff member at DSS, the NCWorks Center, or Pitt Community College. But here is an overview.

1. Job Application Forms: Most people are familiar with job applications. Years ago, all job applications were simply printed forms on which job seekers wrote their names, addresses, and phone numbers, along with summaries of their education and previous experience. Today, employers use either printed forms or online forms. 
      A. Paper Job Application Forms: Some small employers still use printed forms, which you can obtain at the employer's office or download from its website. Many downloadable applications are in a type of plain document format ("PDF") that can be completed on a computer, but some downloaded forms must be completed by hand.

Here are two important tips for completing an application by hand. First, be sure to ask the employer for two copies of the blank application form, or print two copies of a blank downloaded form. You will be filling out the application form with an ink pen, and it is very easy to make mistakes, so it may be handy to have a blank backup form. If you make a mistake and need to start over, be sure to use a copy of the blank backup form, and keep the original blank form in case you need another backup.
Also, if you are given an application form at the employer's office, don't complete it right there unless the employer asks that you do so. Instead, thank the person who handed it to you, and then take the form home or to someplace where you can complete it privately. When you have filled out the application, make a copy to keep. 

It is helpful to have some time and space when completing an application form by hand. For example, you might need to look up addresses or phone numbers of previous employers, or you might want to get someone's advice about how to respond to a question. You will also probably need two other documents that are discussed below: your resume, which you might need to help ensure that you are completing the application accurately, and a cover letter, which you should attach to the completed application form before mailing or taking it to the employer.  

But sometimes you might be asked to complete a job application at an employer's office, and if the opportunity is unexpected, you might not have a resume with you. To be ready for this type of situation, download and print this Pocket Job Application (PDF). Then complete it, fold it up to the size of a business card, and carry it with you so you won't have to rely on your memory for all the details about your education and past jobs. 
     B. Online Job Application Forms: Most employers today use online applications. These call for the same information as printed forms, but they are filled out using a computer and keyboard rather than a pen. If you need to improve your computer skills or learn how to type on a keyboard, please consider taking one of the Basic Computer Skills classes offered through Pitt Community College's Human Resources Development program, or one of the free classes listed on the PITTworks calendar or at the Goodwill Community Foundation's Learn Free - Computers.

Just as with a printed application, it is usually helpful to have a resume you can refer to when completing an online application. Many online applications also offer the opportunity to upload a resume and cover letter. Here's a tip: Before uploading, save your documents as PDFs, which are more likely to retain their proper formatting than uploaded Microsoft Word documents. And just as with printed applications, keep a paper copy of your online application if possible.

After submitting an online job application, many employers ask supplemental questions. These may include a few questions about training and experience, which the employer uses to screen out people who do not meet the job's minimum qualifications. But many employers require applicants to complete longer assessments containing a hundred or more supplemental questions. These are typically timed tests designed to evaluate applicants' honesty, reliability, and problem solving skills. Some of these long assessments can be a little intimidating. But as with all your job search communications, be honest while still being careful to put your best foot forward.  
Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Job Applications (PDF).

More tips on completing job applications can be found at GCF Learn Free - Job Applications.

2. Your Resume: This is the most important document you will work with. Your resume is simply a summary of your education, training, and experience, all laid out in a format that can quickly show an employer that you should be interviewed. It is your advertisement, your calling card, your main reference for completing job applications, and ideally your key to the door of the employer's interview room.

You should begin preparing your resume as soon as possible after beginning a job search. Preparing a good resume is a little complicated, so it is best to rely on a job counselor for advice on how to design the best one for your particular goal and background. A counselor can also give you some good examples to follow. 

Although there is an ocean of resume advice online, much of it is unreliable. But you can find some good tips at GCF Learn Free - Resumes, or by creating an account at NCWorks Online and using the site's resume builder.  

In addition to any other resume advice you receive, please try to avoid making the common mistakes below. And remember this: When one of the employer's human resources is looking through a fresh batch of resumes, they are NOT looking for good resumes. They are looking for bad resumes that they can throw out. Your first goal is to avoid having your resume end up in the wastebasket.   

Mistake #1: Errors in spelling or grammar. Employers want to hire people who are careful, and they assume that you are never more careful than when you are preparing your resume. A misspelled word or a grammatical mistake could mean sudden death for your resume. Be careful, use a dictionary or grammar guide, and maybe have someone else proofread your resume before you give it to an employer.

Mistake #2: Missing contact information. Every resume needs to have a phone number and email plainly displayed near the top of the page. It doesn't matter how much an employer may want to interview you if they can't get in touch with you.

Mistake #3: Irrelevant content or flourishes. Don't include your age, sex, or other information that is not directly relevant to the job. And don't use colors, pictures, or fancy graphic elements, or print your resume on anything other than plain white paper. Many employers use electronic scanners to sort resumes, and anything other than black text on white paper may cause the scanner to reject you. 

Mistake #4: Hard to skim. Employers do not read resumes. They SKIM them, at least when making the first cut. So rather than blocks of text, your resume should concisely list the main points of your background and accomplishments in a way that will allow an employer to get some grasp of them in just a few seconds. For the same reason, your resume should ideally be only one page long, but certainly no more than two pages, and should use language that is clear, direct, and specific. 

Mistake #5: Passive language. Employers are not especially interested in what positions you have held. They want to know about your skills and accomplishments. So rather than just listing your former employers, job titles, and responsibilities, it is important to use "action verbs" that emphasize what you actually did.

When you choose action verbs, keep in mind that most jobs involve combinations of five types of skills:
  • Leadership and team skills, which involve making decisions and taking initiative. Incidentally, you don't have to be a supervisor or foreman to use these skills.
  • Technical skills, which mostly involve working with your hands.
  • Analytic skills, which involve making judgments and organizing information.
  • Communication skills, which involve working with groups of people and with media.
  • Helping skills, which involve working with individuals who are dealing with problems.  

Below are some suggested action verbs that can be used in your resume to highlight your responsibilities and achievements. And here's a tip: Quantifying your achievements  using numbers to describe them  is often much more impressive than simply referring to them. So instead of saying "Increased production efficiency," consider saying something like "Increased annual production efficiency by 14%."     

 Suggested Action Verbs for Leadership and Team Skills:
 Accomplished  Cooperated  Directed  Increased  Planned  Reorganized
 Achieved  Coordinated  Executed  Led  Prioritized  Scheduled
 Administered  Delegated  Handled  Managed  Produced  Spearheaded
 Assigned  Demonstrated  Headed  Motivated  Proposed  Strengthened
 Consolidated  Developed  Improved  Oversaw  Provided  Supervised
 Suggested Action Verbs for Technical Skills:
 Assembled  Constructed  Documented  Maintained  Redesigned  Standardized
 Built  Debugged  Engineered  Operated  Remodeled  Streamlined
 Calculated  Designed  Fabricated  Optimized  Repaired  Systemized
 Calibrated  Devised  Identified  Overhauled  Replaced  Tested
 Computed  Diagnosed  Installed  Programmed  Resolved  Upgraded
 Suggested Action Verbs for Analytic Skills:
 Analyzed  Constructed  Discovered  Forecast  Interviewed  Reviewed
 Clarified  Derived  Drafted  Formulated  Investigated  Summarized
 Collected  Designed  Evaluated  Identified  Modeled  Surveyed
 Concluded  Determined  Examined  Inspected  Organized  Systemized
 Conducted  Diagnosed  Extracted  Interpreted  Resolved  Tested
 Suggested Action Verbs for Communication Skills:
 Addressed  Corresponded  Drafted  Liaised  Presented  Reported
 Arbitrated  Delivered  Edited  Mediated  Promoted  Rewrote
 Arranged  Developed  Formulated  Moderated  Publicized  Spoke
 Collaborated  Directed  Influenced  Negotiated  Reconciled  Translated
 Convinced  Documented  Interpreted  Persuaded  Recruited  Wrote
 Suggested Action Verbs for Helping Skills:
 Advised  Coached  Enabled  Facilitated  Instructed  Referred
 Assessed  Coordinated  Encouraged  Familiarized  Motivated  Served
 Assisted  Counseled  Enhanced  Guided  Participated  Supported
 Cared for  Demonstrated  Expedited  Helped  Proposed  Taught
 Clarified  Educated  Explained  Informed  Provided  Trained

Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Your Resume (PDF).   

3. Cover Letters: These are business letters that you write to employers to introduce yourself, briefly explain why you are a good candidate for a particular job, and emphasize anything on your resume that you want to be sure isn't missed. Whenever you give an employer your resume, or complete a printed application form and return it to an employer, it should be attached to a cover letter.
Your job counselor can give you good advice and examples for cover letters. You can also find guidance at GCF Learn Free - Cover Letters
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
  • While you might not always need to adapt your resume for each job, you will certainly need to write a separate cover letter for each one.
  • Keep it short  never more than one page.
  • You may not know the name or title of the person to whom the cover letter should be addressed. But you might be able to find out if you call the employer, introduce yourself, explain that you are planning to apply for a job, and simply ask to whom your cover letter should be addressed. If this is information that they can share with you, be sure to also ask for the person's title. If you cannot find out the person's name and title, just address the letter to "Human Resources Director" or other appropriate position, and in the salutation say, for example, "Dear Mr. or Ms. Director."
  • As with any documents you give to employers, keep copies of your cover letters.
  • If you are sending an application or resume as an email attachment, include the cover letter as an attachment too. The email itself should be very short. In the email's subject line, include the title and job number of the position for which you are applying.  The body of the email should simply point out that you would like to apply for the position, inform the reader which documents you have attached, and invite the reader to contact you if any more information is needed. The email should conclude with "Thank you for your consideration" followed by your name and phone number.
4. Reference List: This is a list that includes the name, title, business address, email address, and phone number of three or four people who are familiar with your character and work habits. If an employer is seriously interested in hiring you, the employer will probably ask you to give them the list, and will then call or email your references to learn more about you. More information is available from your job counselor, and from GCF Learn Free - Obtaining References.
When thinking about your references, please keep these points in mind:  
  • Any reference has to have three characteristics: they must be familiar with your work (for example, a former boss, coworker, fellow volunteer, or teacher); they must be willing to say good things about you to any employer to whom you apply; and they must have given you their consent for you to use them as a reference. If your reference is a former boss with whom you have a good relationship, you might also ask them for a letter of recommendation that you can attach to your reference list.
  • When you ask someone to be one of your references, make sure that you also get their current job title, phone number, and email address. These may have changed since you worked together.
  • Don't include your references on your resume. Most employers will only want to see your reference list if they are getting close to making you a job offer, so only provide it if asked.
  • After providing your reference list to an employer, it's a good idea to call your references to let them know they may be getting a call from the employer. Give them some information about the employer, and about the job for which you are being considered.

5. Job Search Record: Many job seekers neglect to keep records of their search. They assume they can remember all the employers to whom they applied, what the different job postings said, and what was included on each application, resume, and cover letter. This seldom works.

Your job search will be easier and probably more effective if you organize it like this:

  • If possible, print and keep copies of any job postings that you pursue. Then if you get a call from the employer a few weeks (and maybe many applications) later, you won't need to ask "What job is this, again?"  
  • Keep copies of the materials you give to each employer. If you get an interview, take enough copies for all of the other people at the meeting. There's a good chance that someone won't have received it or remembered to bring it, which gives you a chance to do them a favor (and show how well prepared you are) at the beginning of the interview.
  • After any interview or phone conversation with an employer, make some quick notes to help you remember what was discussed and whether you were asked to provide any additional information.

6. Post-Interview Messages: Most employers only interview applicants who have a good chance of getting hired. So sending a brief written "thank you" to anyone who interviews you is not just good manners: By differentiating you from other candidates who don't bother with this simple courtesy, it increases your chances of landing the job.

Most post-interview messages are now delivered through email, so remember to ask for a business card or email address from each of your interviewers. Keep the email short and professional, and ask the interviewer to get in touch with you if they have any further questions. And as with any written message sent to an employer, be sure to include your name and phone number.
Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Other Documents You Will Need for Your Job Search (PDF).

A Few Other Documents You Will Need: There are three more types of documents you will need to start a job. You won't have to prepare them yourself, but you will need to make sure you have them before you start your new job. Don't wait until the last minute!

  • By federal law, almost every employer needs to complete a Form I-9 for new employees. New employees who are not U.S. citizens will need to show a passport, alien registration card, or similar documentation. New employees who are U.S. citizens will need to show two documents, one of which is usually a Social Security card.
    If you remember your Social Security number but cannot locate your card, you can obtain a replacement by visiting the Social Security office at 2805 South Charles Boulevard in Greenville, or by downloading a replacement card application and taking it to the Social Security office. Be sure to also take a government-issued identification card (see below) or some other form of identification. Since it can take a couple of weeks before you receive your replacement Social Security card in the mail, it is best to take this important step before you receive a job offer.
  • If you are a U.S. citizen, you will also need a government-issued identification card with your picture on it. Most people use either a driver's license (which typically costs $30) or a state ID card (which typically costs $13). These can be obtained by visiting the state Department of Transportation license office at 703 SE Greenville Boulevard in Greenville (756-5099). Please be sure to take the documents you will need to prove your identity, and to prepare for the written and driving tests if you are applying for a license. As with a Social Security card, it can take several days to receive your license or ID, so don't put this off.
  • Finally, most employers no longer issue paper checks on payday. Instead, they make direct deposits into employees' checking or savings accounts. If you do not already have an account, most banks and credit unions will be happy to help you open one. After you have been hired, your employer will ask for information about your account. If you already have a checking account, your employer will probably ask you to provide a copy of one of your checks with the word "VOID" written on it. This helps to prevent errors, and to make sure you get paid on time.

Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Documents You Will Need Before Starting Your New Job (PDF).

Of course, most communication with employers requires that job seekers know how to read and write. But many don't, either because they have learning disabilities or simply because they have not yet learned how.

Many people who cannot read or write well think that they must not be smart enough. But this is almost never true. Reading and writing are simply skills, and like other skills they can be learned.

If you or someone you know cannot read or write well, it should not be a cause for embarrassment. But there is cause for regret: Almost every adult who learns to read and write regrets that they did not take this important step sooner.

Please contact the Literacy Volunteers of Pitt County at 353-6578, or Pitt Community College Transitional Studies at 493-7396. You can also practice reading skills online at GCF's Learn Free - Reading.
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