The Hill Life: Finding a Job, Part III

Mar 16, 2011

From the moment you send your resume to a potential employer, you cede control to them.  Sure, you can try to influence their decision, but ultimately they, not you, will decide whether you get an interview, a callback or ultimately get the job.  So your resume needs to be as impressive as possible.

Hire a Professional.  Last year, I brushed the dust off of my resume and was horrified to discover that it was out of date, poorly formatted and not exactly stunning.  Even after hours worth of edits and a massive reformatting operation, my resume still struck me as blah.  It needed professional help, STAT!

Fishbowl Resume’s charges $50 to work on your resume.  You tell her about yourself, the kind of jobs you are applying for, and what you would like to highlight or downplay.  In a little over a week, she will provide you with a completely new resume that was far better than anything most of us could have managed.

Was the resume she sent me perfect?  No.  I still spent about an hour editing and re-wording some of the descriptions, but when I was done, I had complete confidence in my resume.  A feeling that I had never felt before. 

Given the competitive job market on the Hill, making your resume stand out for all the right reasons is important.  For the cost of a nice dinner, you can improve your resume four-fold.  So why wouldn’t you give it a try?

Holy, Typeface, Batman.  For whatever reason, a lot of job seekers like to get fancy with their font choices.  Don’t.  Resumes should be in Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri, that’s it. 

And please, for the love of Guttenberg, use only one font.  You might think that it’s cute to type your name in calligraphy or Courier New but it isn’t.  It reeks of vanity.  So please, keep the fonts simple and utilize bolding, bullet points and other accents sparingly and with purpose. 

Don’t Lie.  This should go without saying.  Embellishing, fudging or concealing facts on your resume is a death sentence.  Here are some of the most common resume lies.

Concealing a break in employment by pretending that you left job A in April instead of February.  Being three credits shy of a minor in accounting, but claiming you received it anyway.  Your job title was “Junior Account Executive,” but you removed the “junior.”  Having limited or no experience with Dreamweaver, Photoshop or Excel but claiming to be proficient. 

These are just some of the half-truths that I’ve seen people include on their resumes.  They assume no one will check, or that these little white lies won’t matter, but why would you take the chance?  Especially when applying for a Hill or government job, expect the hiring manager will check everything because usually, they will.  And it doesn’t matter to me if you lied about your graduation dates or your middle initial, a lie will put you at the very bottom of my applicant pile.

Getting Attached.  Never, ever send a hiring manager an e-mail attachment titled “resume.doc.”  Why?  Because they probably already have a file on their hard drive title resume.doc, and if  they have to change the title to save a copy they’re likely to save it as, “guy with zero attention to detail.”

Never save your resume as “Belle Resume 3.”  Why does she have three resumes?  What is different on the first two? Why wasn’t I good enough to receive resume #1? These are just some of the questions a hiring manager will ponder when confronted with your third choice resume. 

Same applies for resumes titled any of the following: Bellegoodresume.doc, BelleHillresume.doc, NewResumeDraft.doc.  All of these titles turn your selected file name into a cryptic puzzle that once decoded reveals things about the job seeker that you don’t want an employer to know or assume about you.

So how should you safe your resume?  File names should be last name(dot)first name(dot)resume.  Cover letters should be last name(dot)first name(dot)coverletter.  And all documents should be saved as a PDF.  This will help you avoid any trickey Windows to Mac issues and it will prevent anyone from altering your attachment.

Extras.  If a job posting asks for references, send them.  If it asks for a cover letter, send one.  If it asks for a writing sample, add one.  But if it doesn’t, don’t. 

When e-mailing a resume, you should include a short version of your cover letter in the body of the e-mail.  And you should mention that you can provide writing samples and references upon request, but don’t include materials that people did not ask you to provide.

These are just a few of the things that you need to do to ensure that your resume stands out in a good way.  If you have any questions or anything to add, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Update. Resumes should be one page, unless you have been working for a decade or more.  today, I received a three page resume for a 23-year-old.  It contained everything from her high school clubs to her hobbies.  I don’t care about your hobbies.  After two years of working on the Hill, you won’t have any hobbies anyway.  (Just kidding.  Okay, half-kidding.)  ONE PAGE.

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  1. job seeking hilltern says:

    Thank you so much for your great advice Belle! Do you have any example cover letters or sources for example letters specifically for Hill jobs?

  2. job seeking hilltern says:

    Thank you so much for your great advice Belle! Do you have any example cover letters or sources for example letters specifically for Hill jobs?

  3. cia says:

    All excellent advice, although when I was a resume tutor at a local university that begins with a G, we told our students never to include “references available upon request” because that is understood.

  4. Serena says:

    Great advice. I was once told by a group of federal clerks (for federal judges) that some study or survey or something was done (all very scientific, I'm sure), and Garamond was found to be the best font for resumes b/c it makes you look smarter.

  5. lulu says:

    Very useful, especially the part about naming the file. I can't tell you how annoying it is to review 5 resumes all called “Resume”, and to have to rename them to include the name of the applicant. Make it easy on your potential employer!

    I have even received resumes with tracked changes. No one should be able to see the changes you made to fit the job description…

  6. BlueFish says:

    Having gone through this after not applying to jobs for more than 2 years, I recommend also sending it to a couple of people who you trust with career advice (especially if they're in the field you're in/ moving into) to look over it completely for wording that doesn't make sense outside of your organization (in addition to typos, correct grammar, concise descriptions, etc.). Talking about what you do to someone not familiar with your job may also uncover skills/ talents that you didn't think to mention (e.g., I taught myself a coding language for a communications role but it wasn't in my resume).

    I use Garamond on my resume as well since it looks so similar to Times New Roman and I think I actually can fit more on a page.

    For PDF conversions, there are tons of free downloads. I recommend PrimoPDF – you simply drag and drop your word doc and it immediately pops up in PDF form using the same file name and in the same folder where you filed the word doc.

  7. Marie-Christine says:

    Speaking of lies, I've started mentioning in the education section the birth name under which I got my diplomas… people can check them online now, and I don't want them to think I'm fudging my education. I suffered too much for it :-).
    Totally agree with the single-typeface directive, and the names discussion (although I think it's fine to have .fr and .en for my different-countries versions). Read the instructions before doing auto-pdf, some places require Word in order to index you into their Large Database of People Not Hired (stupid, I know, but you're not doing the hiring, they are).
    However you seem to imply it's ever OK to send a resume without a cover letter. I can't imagine any circumstances where that wouldn't get tossed right out. If they're going to take a few minutes to examine your credentials, the least you can do is compose a couple polite paragraphs about why it'd be worth their while to do so.

  8. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    In addition to giving your resume a easy to understand doc or PDF name, I suggest making sure the subject line is very clear so people can search and find it in their inbox. Very simple like “Subject: Jean Grey resume for [name of position]” I've had numerous people send me resumes to help them with their job search and when I want to find it in my inbox a few weeks later, it's impossible, Make it easy. I always search my email before looking all over my desktop for something.

  9. Belle says:

    MC- I hate cover letters as attachments. I've actually seen job posts on the Hill that say “no separate cover letter needed.” So I just put it in the body of the email.

  10. A says:

    I disagree about fonts! In my current role, I'm involved in hiring interns and junior staff. Looking at dozens of dozens of resumes in Arial and Times New Roman gets boring — it also becomes difficult to remember whose resume was whose! I think it's great to use an interesting font to make your resume stand out, provided that the font selected is still simple and readable. Nothing heavily stylized. Garamond is a great example.

  11. Belle says:

    A- Garamond is fine. I'm talking about the ninny's who put their name in Cotillion, their title headers in Copperplate and their text in courier new.

    One font. One simple freaking font.

    Oh, and people who put there name in a different font or bigger than 18pt type, should also be on notice.

  12. Megan R. says:

    How timely of you, Belle! We're reviewing resumes for an operations position at my non-profit. We received a cover letter today wherein the applicant expressed how much they admire the work of [x non-profit that is not this one]. In fact, we happen to know that [x non-profit] recently hired for a similar position. Please, if you're going to reuse a cover letter, hit control-F and make sure you've removed all references to the last employer that you sent that letter to. His resume was strong, but it went straight into the trash – attention to detail is essential.

  13. Half-Pint says:

    What are your thoughts on putting your SAT scores on your resume, if they are extremely strong (example: 790 Verbal in the 'old' SAT scoring out of 800)? I always thought that this seemed silly/obnoxious, but I've spoken with someone who says it is common in certain fields.

  14. Kate says:

    For those on the Hill, I found the Senate employment office to be helpful. I sat down with the gentleman there and he gave me several suggestions on my resume and offered to look at it again after I made those edits. He was extremely helpful.

  15. Liz says:

    Okay, so here's my question. When employers in DC want writing samples, what on earth are they looking for? I have a lot of papers from college, but I am not sure if there is a certain topic to focus on or what have you. Any insight would be appreciated.

  16. Belle says:

    Half-Pint- If anyone ever put their SAT, LSAT or other score/GPA on their resume (unless it asks for it, or you're applying for a job in academia) I'd toss it in the trash. I don't care about the score you go when you were 18 if you're now 23. And I don't believe that doing well on a test contributes much to your qualifications for most jobs.

    Liz- NO PAPERS. Nothing over 1.5 pages either. If it's a communications job, they want a press release, a media advisory, or a speech. If it's a standard policy or professional job, an editorial, a speech, a short essay (not fiction), etc. will all work.

  17. Sarah says:

    It seems to me that, “You're wasting my time, this goes into the trash” is an extremely harsh immediate reaction. Someone with an excellent resume, who may have received some out-of-date resume advice, includes their exceptional SAT scores on a resume, and is immediately tossed aside because you think they're being precocious? How many resumes do you arbitrarily throw in the trash because of font, text size, SAT scores, or .doc files?

    (I should say that I love your post, I'm in total support of everything you've put, I'm just curious if that is your serious way to weed out job applicants. This is coming from a NOVA-native opera singer who will probably never deal with this issue.)

  18. RMS says:

    Liz – Most jobs that ask for a writing sample will clarify what type they are looking for. For example, when I was applying to jobs right out of law school, law firms said they wanted a legal memo or brief, while policy jobs wanted an analysis of a piece of legislation or position paper. I agree with Belle that when it comes to writing samples, the shorter the better.

  19. B says:

    i know this is harsh, but a 700 out of 800 is on the lower end for most top 15 schools. including that makes you seem like you think you're a bigger deal than you actually are, instead of making you stand out. then again, if someone included that they got “perfect” SAT's, i'd think they were a hopeless douche. so best to just not include SAT scores at all.
    sarah – hopefully belle was just exaggerating a bit, but hill offices really do get hundreds, if not thousands of resumes. it doesnt take much to get thrown out.
    to the people who have a hard time affording to work on the hill, i feel your pain. but i used to work on the hill, and now work at a trade association with far better pay, better quality of life, and more purpose to what i'm doing. the hill definitely opens doors, but it doesnt have to be the end game. thinking about it like grad school or a chance to build a great network is the best way to go about it, in my opinion.
    then again there are people who love it, and more power to them!

  20. ant says:

    Saving your resume — I would recommend against using (dot). Underscore/dash etc are better, as sometimes macs will truncate the file name after the first (dot) and then you cant open it. We recently hired some contractors for a position and one of the applicants I tossed addressed the woman he was sending the cover letter to as “Mrs. Lastname” – she is not, but that's beside the point – when in professional communication was he taught to use MRS for a woman he didn't know?

  21. Belle says:

    Ant- Good points.

    B-Right on.

    Sarah- If I receive more than 25 resumes for a job, I have to differentiate between them somehow. The person with the SAT score on their resume may not make the final cut as a result. And it's not because I think it's “precocious” it's because I need someone who's ready for adult responsibilities and a person who still thinks their high school accomplishments matter enough to go on a resume may not be that person. That being said, if they were PERFECT in every other way, I'd let it go. It's just one strike, but sometimes, one is enough in a field of strong applicants.

  22. Marie-Christine says:

    You're totally right Belle, that didn't even occur to me. People, a cover letter goes as the body of the email, you only attach your resume. Don't even think of making people open 2 attachments!

    As to conform or get tossed, I think that's about right. The resume functions as an eliminating step. Many jobs (or even not yet jobs!) generate dozens or even hundreds of resumes for the hiring or screening person. You can't possibly comb through the mishandled applications in case some hidden gem hasn't bothered to look up what the conventions are or show their resume to anyone. And would you want to hire someone who cares so little they can't be bothered to comply with your directions? Didn't think so. The interview serves to narrow down who you like and want to hire, to check a likely candidate isn't too loony in person :-). But that's later, after you've passed the resume hurdle.

    I must confess I first scoffed at Belle's Fishbowl suggestion. But I was wrong – if you think you can make the rules on resume writing, or you don't have a trusted friend (preferably in a hiring position), or you even suspect it's too dull, you need to spend the money. At least try to get eliminated later in the game..

  23. Belle says:

    I spent the money on Fishbowl after years of circulating a resume I did myself, and it was easily five times better than what I had before. I still shopped it to friends and edited it myself, but the formatting was vastly improved and the content was even a bit better.

  24. prosecutordc says:

    NOTE: if you apply to jobs in the government outside of the HIll..i.e. DOJ, an agency etc. Follow the job posting on usajobs.gov to the letter. They often want the cover letter as an attachment. Or they want you to include certain things in your resume like your SSN or your high school graduation date. And sometimes they only want a resume. And they mean it too.

    As to the “hobbies”–I don't think that is a terrible section to have. Indeed, for law firms, its actually appreciated (gives the interviewer some insight into who you are as a person) and for clerkships I'd say its essential.

  25. job seeking hilltern says:

    Thank you so much for your great advice Belle! Do you have any example cover letters or sources for example letters specifically for Hill jobs?

  26. ava says:

    I work in legal recruiting, so I look at resumes quite a bit. To chime in — people please, NEVER put your SAT/LSAT, etc. on a resume!

  27. Courtney says:

    I know that this comment is over a year after the blog post date, but I had remembered the advice about Fishbowl resume and decided to give them a try back in February when my husband and I decided to move to a new city for him to pursue a Master's degree. I wanted to enhance my resume now that I'm in the job search. Well, it's mid-May, and still no resume. She wrote and said something about a family emergency and that she'd have a draft to me in a day or so, and still nothing. After several emails and weeks of waiting, I believe fully that this is a scam, and am having trouble having her refund the $50 I put forth for the work which was never done.
    Did anyone else try out this service and experience the same thing? Or have any luck with her? And does anyone know about a resume writing service that ISN'T a scam? Thanks!

  28. Belle says:

    I had luck with her. It took her about two weeks to get my resume back to me. If you haven't received your resume, I'd give her one more chance, and if you don't hear back, I'd contact Paypal or Google Checkout and complain.

  29. Michael says:

    I’ve been looking over all three of your “finding a job” posts and find them very helpful. I am curious about resumes though, and wonder if you think anything substantial has changed in the last three years. I’ve always done a very strait-forward text based resume (and CV) but a quick google search brings up dozens of “modern” resumes that look more like a magazine layout than an old fashioned resume. Do these have any place on the hill? Or… anywhere?

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