End-of-the-School-Year Resource Roundup

Yes, indeed, the end of another school year has arrived, and I am already thinking ahead to the next academic year. In planning ahead, I’ve also reflected on the past year and realized I have gathered a LOT of online resources related to business communication. I’m guessing many of you are like me in that you never really leave the classroom and are always thinking about the next semester, class, or lesson.

The articles below appeared in the news feed generated by my Zite app, and I then saved them to Pocket. (Zite and Pocket, by the way, are probably my two favorite apps.) You can also find more resources by following me on Twitter (@pjglentz) or viewing my teaching board on Pinterest. If you have any “must have” resources you’d like to share with us, please do!

Corporate Culture

Design & Typography

Email

Employment

Grammar

Interviews

Leadership & Teamwork

Persuasion

Presentations & Oral Communication

Research

 Rhetoric

 Technology & Communication

 

Submitting Résumés and Cover Letters by Email

A couple of weeks ago, our Business Communication Advisory Board met to discuss various workplace communication topics. We enjoy hearing from these professionals, who represent a variety of business fields—accounting, human resource management, education, local government, health care administration, and many more.

One of the main topics we discussed is what employers really want when they tell applicants to send their materials electronically. Does this mean they want the cover letter and résumé in the body of an email? Should applicants attach Word documents (a cover letter and a résumé) to an email? Should applicants attach PDF files or Word files? Is the email the cover letter, or should a separate cover letter be attached to the email?

Essentially, our board members said that how applicants submit their documents is not as important as the stories they tell within those documents. However, they shared the following thoughts regarding their experiences.

  • PDF files work better as attachments than Word documents, as the PDF file will likely always open and preserve a document’s format.
  • Fewer attachments are better. If both the cover letter and résumé are attached to an email, they should be in one PDF document.
  • Generally, a concise, well-written email will work for a cover letter.
  • Whether a cover letter is sent as an email or as an attachment, it needs to be short and concise and must tell the applicant’s story well—and honestly.
  • Applicants who send a cover letter as an email must be sure to keep the same level of formality that they would in an attached cover letter or printed cover letter. One board member says that applicants who send cover letters via email tend to use a tone and style that are too informal.
  • Applicants should keep in mind that employers use the quality of the writing in application materials—regardless of how they are submitted—as a measure an applicant’s communication skills and overall competence.
  • Applicants should send thank-you notes immediately after the interview and follow up if they have not heard from an employer within two weeks. Interestingly, while board members say email thank-you messages are fine, they prefer a handwritten note. After emails are read, they are likely deleted or lost in the volume of inbox messages. A handwritten thank-you note will likely sit on the interviewer’s desk and continually remind him or her of the applicant. Email messages, they say, work well if the employer has indicated that a hiring decision will be made within a day or two.
  • Board members say it is also fine with them if they receive both the handwritten and email thank-you note. Regardless, the message should thank the interviewer, address a high point or major qualification that was discussed in an interview (not recap the entire interview), and end with a confident expression of interest in the position.

Does all of this advice sound familiar? Sure. We have been sharing a lot of this advice with our students for years. However, it’s nice to tell our students that we know the advice will work because professionals in their (the students’) anticipated careers have told us this is what they look for.

Class Assignment: Creating an Employment Portfolio

Every semester I have my students create employment portfolios. The assignment serves two purposes: 1) to help students gather their employment documents and best work for discussion during an interview and 2) to provide students a self-check of what they have accomplished compared to what they think they have accomplished during their college careers thus far.

Creating the portfolio is easy. Here are the instructions I provide to my classes. The points assigned in any given semester depend on the other assignments in the class and the weight I wish to give the portfolio toward a student’s course grade.

Materials

  • Hard cover three-ring binder in a professional color (e.g., black, burgundy, gray, navy)
  • Sheet protectors
  • Tab dividers that extend beyond the sheet protectors (look specifically for these; not all tab dividers will extend past your sheet protectors)
  • Labels for your tab dividers (usually these come with the tab dividers). You must type the labels.
  • A formatted resume
  • A reference sheet with information on three references
  • A letter of reference from a superior. Do not wait until the last week of class to ask for this.
  • A description of your degree program listing all of the courses required for your major. This is not available on the Internet. You will find printouts of these outside departmental offices.
  • An official transcript.
  • Three writing samples; create descriptions for your samples telling what the sample is; where, when, and why you wrote it; and what skills/abilities the sample shows.
  • Three samples of other work; create descriptions for your samples telling what the sample is; where, when, and why you wrote it; and what skills/abilities the sample shows.
  • Any other awards or certifications (optional)

Assembly of Your Portfolio

  •  Create a title page with your name and a title indicating that this is a professional employment portfolio
  • Create a table of contents
    Note: Your title page and table of contents do not need tab dividers
  •  Put all documents in sheet protectors. You may place two sheets of paper in one protector. Documents longer than 10 pages may be placed in one sheet protector or stored in the back pocket of your binder.
  • Put your documents in your binder in the following order: resume, references, letter of recommendation, transcript, degree program, three writing samples, three other examples, any other awards or certifications
  • Create a title sheet for your writing and work samples describing what the sample is; where, when, and why you wrote it; and what skills/abilities the sample shows.
  • Insert tab dividers between sections, making sure to type your tab labels. Use the labels that come with the dividers, and make sure the tabs extend past the sheet protectors. The labels must fit the tabs.
  • Make sure your portfolio creates a positive, professional first impression.
  • Turn your portfolio in sometime on or before class time on the due date provided in your course schedule.

Assessment

  • Required materials = 5 points for each item; points are deducted if any materials are of poor quality, contain typos, or are otherwise unprofessional.
  • Assembly = 5 points for each step; points are deducted if the steps are not followed or if they are not followed well and result in an unprofessional appearance.

If students struggle with anything in this assignment, it is how they might use portfolios in an interview. I tell students that they will need to show the portfolio—that an employer is not likely to ask what they’re carrying around in that binder. To help students become comfortable talking about their work, on the day portfolios are due, we have a show-and-tell, where students present their portfolios to a small group. While they are presenting, I visit each group and ask the students questions about their work.

Feedback from alumni, employers, and students has been positive. Most students take pride in their work and turn in portfolios that far exceed my expectations.

I have not assigned electronic portfolios, though we have discussed the benefits of LinkedIn and VisualCV (which is no longer in business) for this purpose. The goal for this assignment is to provide students with something tangible to use in an interview.

If you have used a similar assignment or have experimented with electronic portfolios, please share your experience.