Spring Cleaning During the Shutdown

As we all hunker down into our new “norm,” whatever that looks like for you, let me offer you a momentary distraction. Shut your laptop cover, leave whatever Zoom meeting you are currently in (maybe the fifth or sixth of the day?), close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let’s visit another world. Imagine, if you will, that no coronavirus exists, no pandemic has thrust us into a virtual world of social distancing, and we are in the midst of business as usual for mid-April. What would you be doing now? Counseling and encouraging students who have only a short time until final exams begin? Preparing eagerly for the end of spring semester, which is imminent in the next few weeks? Participating in “Accepted Student Days” and getting energized as the potential next generation of the university gets set to make that all-important decision? Planning for orientation, which is set to take place in what seems like mere moments after the last Commencement exercise has concluded? Putting the finishing touches on that summer vacation to Disney, Europe, or cruising to Alaska?

How did that feel? In our current situation, a little visit to “Normal-ville” can be a bit therapeutic, much like getting a haircut or your teeth cleaned (which I am so CRAVING right now!). While the other side of this current crisis situation will likely look a lot different than it would were everything still chugging along as normal, I would encourage you to try to wedge in some thoughts of what you consider normal as you traverse the new pathways you are exploring right now. As the weeks have passed, I hope that the upheaval you felt at first has at least calmed down to a more consistent pattern, even if that pattern involves regularly interacting with your colleagues on a video screen in fine “Brady Bunch” fashion…if you are the talking head in the middle, I guess that makes you Alice (if you do not get that reference, then my age has just proven to be in the OLD category). As you can tell, I think finding the humor in even the worst situations is another therapeutic endeavor, so let me know if you need some laughter around the office/house, I have a million of ‘em!

One of my normal activities this time of year is spring cleaning, whether it’s uncluttering my garage, washing my windows, pressure washing my fence and gutter, or clearing out my computer files. Spring is generally a time of new growth and renewal, so many of us take time to essentially start anew as soon as the temperatures allow it or the clutter becomes too much to handle. With that in mind, and with our sequestration looking to go on for the near future, I would like to suggest a spring cleaning activity for you that may help you in the months ahead, once we get back to work and back to whatever normal will look like. Why not do some spring cleaning on your resume and cover letter?

Yes, we search consultants know that you recycle your resume for each new job to which you apply, and we also know you do not generally change items around to fit the position (if you do, then you get the gold star for the day!). In the normal hubbub of our daily routines, who has time to do that before a submission deadline? And do not get me started with cover letters; how many of you have submitted a cover letter for one job that still has the job title or the name of the institution from the LAST job to which you applied? Ouch. And if you are thinking, “Is he kidding? That just does not happen,” trust me, it is real. So, after leaving that last Zoom meeting of the day, checking in with the boss to show you are “at work,” and helping the kids with that last online math assignment of the day, here are some simple and hopefully helpful spring cleaning tips to get that resume and cover letter ready for the other side:

  1. First, and very simply, read through both your resume and cover letter. And I mean REALLY read through them, word for word, bullet for bullet, phrase for phrase. First time through, look for punctuation consistency. All periods or no periods, just be consistent. Check fonts, ensuring everything is in the same, very readable font throughout. Make sure indentions and tabs are consistent across each job, too. Check your italics and bold items to ensure they are the same in each different section that they appear. This is the kind of thing you can only do when you have time to take it slowly and methodically.
  2. Next, look for phrases and bullet points that may have passed by, or may have been current the last time you submitted a resume, but are now in the past. The only job for which verbs should be in the present tense is the one in which you are working currently; otherwise, past tense only. You might be surprised at the tasks some people are still doing three jobs ago!
  3. This is the last time I will say this, but it is worth mentioning again: get rid of the objective at the beginning of the resume. It is unnecessary, as your objective should be the job for which you are now applying, so you can give yourself some extra space to add more relevant items that qualify you for the job.
  4. If your resume is in paragraph form, looking more like excerpts from War and Peace rather than short and concise bullet points, change it. Hiring officials and search committees do not have time to read novels on the job, so do not put any sort of artificial barrier in there that would encourage them to NOT read your material. Let the paragraphs flow in your cover letter, not your resume.
  5. To avoid any sort of “uh-oh,” where you might inadvertently leave the last job information in the cover letter, highlight the job and institution name wherever it appears on your template. That way, you are reminded each time (it is okay to use the same general format over and over with specific tweaks) that this information needs to be changed. Just do not forget and submit the cover letter with old information AND highlighting…that will ensure this job is not in your future!
  6. Try to include information about the institutions at which you work or have worked, such as type, size, enrollment, etc. It is often important to search committees to know where you have been and how it compares to the scope of their institution, and it helps if they do not have to look it up.
  7. For the most industrious of us, if you are really in a mood to overhaul, why not completely reformat your resume? There are a thousand ways to do it, and a simple internet search will yield a bevy of choices. Now is likely one of the few times you would not have to stay up until 3:00 am doing it, so go for it! Do not get too cute, no outrageous fonts or formats, but sometimes it just feels good to do a refresh. Oh, and in case I forget…NO PHOTOS OF YOURSELF!!

This was not meant to be an exhaustive list of resume/cover letter “do’s and don’ts,” so there are plenty of other things you can do to make these documents even better. I see so many of these on a daily basis, so it is just good advice to review them no matter what, just to catch any small issues that might have been present for a long time. This may be the best spring cleaning you have ever done.

I have to go now; assisting my 12-year old with online sixth grade, updating some documents, calls, and my fourth Zoom meeting of the morning await me. Is that normal? Okay, eyes closed, deep breaths…!

J. Scott Derrick

Search Associate - Spelman Johnson

J. Scott Derrick earned his B.A. in Mathematics from Furman University (Greenville, SC) and his M.Ed. in Student Personnel Services from the University of South Carolina. In a higher education career spanning 30 years, Mr. Derrick has worked at both public and private institutions, most recently as Executive Director of the Student Union & Cone University Center at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Previously, he served as the Director of the Trone Student Center at Furman University, the Director of Student Life at the College of Charleston, and Assistant Director of Student Activities at the University of Richmond. For many years, Mr. Derrick was an active member of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), as well as the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), serving in a number of leadership roles, presenting educational content, and leading interactive workshops. He recently served as President of ACUI, following a two-year term on the Board of Trustees, and conducted a number of Student Union consultations for the association.