Communicate Effectively With Employers
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.
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:|
|Suggested Action Verbs for Technical Skills:|
|Suggested Action Verbs for Analytic Skills:|
|Suggested Action Verbs for Communication Skills:|
|Suggested Action Verbs for Helping Skills:|
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.
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.
Your phone is your most important link with employers. When an employer reads your application and decides to interview you, they will probably give you a phone call.
If you have a smartphone, you will also probably use it to do online searches, check your email, and use social media. It will be your main job search tool.
There are several very important rules for using your phone during your job search:
1. Use only one phone number. Make sure it is on your resume, and on every job application you file. Then don't change your phone number, or decide to carry more than one cell phone, or make other changes that could cause confusion.
2. Don't let your phone service get cut off. An employer who tries to call you but finds that your phone isn't working will not try again. If you have trouble paying your phone bill on time, call your service provider and work out a payment arrangement that will keep your phone from going dead.
3. When you begin your job search, make sure your voice mail is set up and working properly. Record a new message for callers to hear if you are not available. It should not be casual or funny, and it should not contain music or other background noise. Instead, it should be professional — for example, "Hello, this is (first name and last name). I can't take your call right now, but please leave a message and I will call you back soon. Thank you."
4. You should also be professional when you answer the phone unless you are sure that the call is from a friend or family member — for example, "Hello, this is (first name and last name)."
5. Don't text employers unless you are returning texts you have received from them. Also, be careful of texts, pictures, and voice messages you send to others, or that you post online. You don't want a statement like "That guy who called me for an interview sounded like a jerk" to be floating around in cyberspace. (The same goes for any messages or pictures that you would not want your mother to see.)
6. Don't call employers to ask if they have job openings unless someone has told you about a possible opening AND you have already checked online to see if it has been posted. But if you have received a good tip and can't find the job posting online, it's okay to call the employer's Human Resources office or, for a small employer, the main phone number. You might say something like: "Hello, my name is (first name and last name). I'm looking for a position as a __________, and I heard that there might be one available at (name of employer). Could you please tell me who I should speak to about it?" If you have to leave a message, don't give the reason for your call. Just leave your name and phone number, and politely ask for a return call.
7. Don't call employers to ask about applications you have filed until at least two weeks after you have filed them. At that point, you might want to follow up to show how interested you are in the job. Try to be helpful — for example, "Hello, my name is (first name and last name). On (date of application) I applied for a position as a (job title). I just wanted to check with you to see if there is any further information you might need to evaluate my application." The answer will usually be "no thanks," but that's okay. You can follow up again in a couple of weeks to see if the position has been filled, but don't call more often than once every 2-3 weeks. No one ever pestered or bullied their way into a job.
8. If a job posting says "no phone calls," then don't call unless the employer calls you first. Otherwise, the first message you will communicate to the employer is that you don't care much about the employer's rules.
9. When talking with an employer or leaving a message, speak clearly, and don't speak too fast. When giving your phone number, speak slowly enough to allow someone to write it down as you are speaking.
10. When leaving a message with a person or on voice mail, always give your phone number. Don't ever say, "You have (or he or she has) my number." If you find yourself playing phone tag with an employer — if you and the employer keep returning each other's calls but can't connect — end your message by saying, for example, "I'm sorry that we're having a hard time catching up with one another. I'm looking forward to talking with you. Please call me back at your earliest convenience. If you would like to schedule our conversation, please let me know of a day and time that works well for you, and I will call you then. Thank you."
11. Check your phone messages at least once each day, delete old messages to keep your voice mail from filling up, and return calls promptly. Remember that the person who called you may not be the same person who answers the phone. Always be professional when returning calls — for example, "Hello, my name is (first name and last name). I'm returning a call from (Mr. or Ms.) __________."
12. When an employer calls you to arrange an interview, it is a very important moment. If you are in a noisy place, go somewhere quiet. If you are driving, ask for a moment so you can pull over and talk more safely. In addition to any other information that you receive from the caller, be sure to get: 1) the name of the person who is calling you, 2) the name and position of the person (or people) who will interview you, 3) the date, time, and place of the interview, and 4) a phone number to call if you have any trouble getting to the interview. Repeat the information back to the caller to make sure you heard it correctly. Write all of the information down immediately, and put it in a safe place. And always thank the caller.
But what if you don't have a phone? You need to get one.
If you can't afford a phone, please look into the federal Lifeline Program, or call the Universal Service Administrative Company at 888-641-8722. This program may help you to get a free cell phone, or a discount on either a cell phone or a traditional "wireline" phone service.
Finally, you can learn more about smartphones and other digital mobile devices at the Goodwill Community Foundation's Learn Free - Devices.Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Phone Calls To and From Potential Employers (PDF).
Email is how individuals send and receive most written communication. It is essential to a job search, and to many jobs.
Setting up an email account is free and fairly easy, though if you have not done it before you may need a little help. The most popular free email services are Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Outlook, and Yahoo Mail. If you would like to learn more, the Goodwill Community Foundation's Learn Free - Email Basics is a good place to start.
You might communicate with an employer by email several times before you receive a job offer. Keep these DOs and DON'Ts in mind:
1. DO consider setting up an email account that you will only use to communicate with employers. If you use one email account for communicating with friends and family as well as with employers, there may be a chance that an email inviting you for a job interview will get lost among twenty emails about cute pictures of cats.
2. Whatever email account you use for your job search, DO remember that you need to check your in box at least once each day, just like the messages on your phone.
3. When choosing a username for your email account, DO remember that you need to convey a serious, responsible image. A username like PartyMonster@yippeedippeedoo.com probably won't do that.
4. When emailing an employer about a particular job opening, DO include the job name and, if possible, the job number in the Subject line.
5. Emails tend to be more casual than business letters, but DO remember that a little polite formality never hurts. When emailing an employer, begin with "Dear" or "Hello" (Mr. or Ms.) __________:
6. DO always be brief, courteous, and to the point.
7. At the end of each email, DO add your first and last name, your phone number, and your email address. Why include your email address, when the person you are emailing could simply hit "reply"? That person may forward your email to others, and you want it to be as easy as possible for any of them to get in touch with you.
8. If you have received instructions from the employer about how to proceed with your application, DO follow them carefully.
9. If you have a smartphone, use it to read email from employers, but DO NOT use it to send email to them. Most of us don't type very well with our thumbs, and it's important to avoid giving the impression that you don't care about making mistakes. Reply as soon as possible, but use a keyboard.
10. DO re-read your message — several times, and out loud if necessary — before you hit Send. Be sure that your message is clear, and that your spelling and grammar are correct. If someone else can also read through your message for you, that's usually a good idea.
11. DO always conclude your message by briefly expressing your appreciation to the employer — for example, "Thank you for your consideration."
12. If you are attaching your resume, references, or other Microsoft Word documents to your email, DO save them and then attach them as plain document format ("PDF") files. PDF files are less likely than Word files to be accidentally messed up.
13. DO NOT copy ("CC") more than one person on an email to an employer, unless you are sending information that will be helpful to two or three other people at the same employer. Don't send a blind copy ("BCC") to anyone. It might make you appear sneaky.
14. A day or two after you interview with an employer, DO send a short, separate thank-you email to each person you met during your visit (yes, including the receptionist or secretary). If they don't offer you their email addresses during the interview, ask for them before you leave.
15. If you don't hear from an employer within 2-3 weeks after an interview, DO NOT send an email asking why. Simply call the employer and politely ask if they need anything further to evaluate your application. Leave a short message if you cannot reach the person who interviewed you, and include your phone number. If you still don't hear back, just let it go.
16. If you learn that you are not being hired for a job you expected to get, you may feel angry or upset. DO NOT choose that moment to send an email (or any other communication) to the employer. Wait a while, then send the person who interviewed you a short email thanking them for considering your application, and expressing the hope that you may someday have a chance to work together.
17. If you already have a job and are trying to find a better one, DO NOT use your current work email account for your job search.
18. DO consider using your email as a handy place to store documents and information. For example, if you are at a public computer and find a good job posting, copy the link and send it to your email address so you can easily go back to it later. Or if you have just updated your resume or your job search record in Microsoft Word or Excel, email the updated version to yourself so you can open it from other locations. If you receive a call from an employer and can't make notes, send an email to yourself so you won't forget who the call was from or how you need to respond.
19. As with all usernames and passwords, DO keep a written record of your email password. But DO NOT keep it on a computer or other internet-connected device that can be hacked, and DO NOT carry it in your wallet, purse, or cell phone, where it can be lost or stolen. For some things, the best technology is still paper, pencil, and a drawer.Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Email To and From Potential Employers (PDF).
People especially like to use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family, and Twitter to share news and opinions. They also share videos on YouTube, hobbies on Pinterest, professional updates on LinkedIn, pictures on Instagram and Flickr, and many other things on many other social websites. If you would like to know more about these services, a good place to start is the Goodwill Community Foundation's Learn Free - Social Media.
Social media can be helpful for gathering employment leads, and for passing some of them along as favors to others who may also be in the job market. You can also share your successes and discouragements, and support others as they share theirs.
But be very careful about what you post. Above all, remember that everything you post on the internet will be out there forever, and you can't do much to control it. It could potentially be viewed anytime by anyone, including people you want to get hired by, people who you work with (or for), people who may be considering you for a raise or promotion, people who are among your employer's partners or customers — maybe even someday by your grandchildren.
Employers know all about social media, and they often check the posts of people they hire, or are thinking about hiring.
Always think at least twice before you post anything that involves:
• Illegal activity
• Alcohol or drug use, even if it's legal
• Sexual activity or sexually oriented remarks
• Irresponsible behavior of any kind
• Racist, sexist, or other discriminatory remarks
• Criticism, complaints, or gossip about other people
It's a free country, and you are free to post whatever you want within the safeguards set by law against libel, slander, threats, and other harmful behavior. But others are also free to respond to your posts in ways that may be unwelcome to you or your employer.
If you can delete any posts that you regret, do so at the start of your job search. They are still out there, but will probably be harder to find. Also, pay attention to the privacy filters that are available on most social media.
Here's a final tip: If you have internet access at your new job, remember to wait until you get home to check Facebook.
Click here to download a print-friendly copy of Social Media (PDF).
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.