What does it mean to tailor employment documents?
Employment documents include resumes, cover letters, and any business message that concerns employment. Your message will be directed to your contact(s) in the organization and will vary depending on what your intent is upon writing. Regardless of the type of message, it is very important to make sure that you use a writing strategy that will effectively reach your reader.
In any piece of writing it is important to keep your audience in mind. Ask yourself, who will read my document? When you tailor a document to a particular audience, you are adapting your writing for a reader. It is important to consider what you want your message to convey to the audience.
Why is it important for me to tailor my employment documents?
It is important to tailor your employment documents for a specific audience in order to convey your message clearly and convincingly. Considering your audience will help you to personalize the document and make it relevant to the reader. If you write without a specific audience in mind, the document might be far too general and vague, or it might include too much information. When you tailor a document to a specific audience, the document will have better "unity of purpose and style," and it will make the reader feel more involved (Hale).
Audience is important for all pieces of writing, and even more so for any employment document because employment documents must be able to persuade the reader that what you are saying is true in order to be effective. You are directly communicating with the organization, and you want the reader to understand your message and its relevance.
For what types of readers should I tailor my employment documents?
There are two kinds of readers that an employment document should be tailored for: Skimmers and Skeptics.
Skimmers are readers that are typically very busy. Pressed for time, they often skim employment documents in a rather short period of time. Consequently, the documents you prepare for this particular reader should:
- State the main point clearly and up front
- Place the most important information at the beginning or ending of paragraphs
- Highlight key dates or figures
Both of the following examples represent the same experiences. A skimmer would be able to understand Example 2 much more quickly, though.
- Managed $10,000 in project accounts.
- Compiled and published engineering reports as Assistant to Vice President
- Coordinated registrations, payments, and literature for software training seminars.
The second type of reader is a Skeptic. A Skeptic is a reader that is cautious and doubtful. Skeptical readers will tend to read a document carefully, questioning its validity. Ultimately, they will question the writer's claims. In order to meet the needs of the Skeptic, it is necessary to support your statements with sufficient details and evidence. Provide specific examples, numbers, dates, names, and percentages to meet the needs of the skeptical reader.
NOT: I performed very well in my classes.
BUT: I received the Dean's List Honors 7/8 semesters and received a Women in Communications Scholarship in May 2001.
You may also reference the OWL's Professional Writing Audience Analysis resource for more information on learning about your readers.
In addition to following general guidelines for writing to both busy and skeptical readers, it is a good idea to determine who your particular reader is likely to be and to write specifically for that person. So, you may be asking, how do I tailor an employment document to an audience?
Determine your specific audience.
Ask, "Who am I writing to and what is her or his position(s) in the organization?" You can gain a surprising amount of information about your reader simply from carefully reading job ads.
John Doe is an Advertising Director at a city newspaper. This may clue you in to the fact that he is a sales-oriented individual, highly motivated, and creative.
Jane Smith is a Pharmacist. You might assume simply from the position she holds that she is very customer oriented and skilled in the area of pharmaceutical sciences.
In some cases, you may not know who to write to if a name or title is not listed in an ad. Take the time to contact the organization and ask for this specific information. However, you may at times run across a blind ad, which means that there is no contact information other than an address available. When this happens, specifically mention in your cover letter where you saw the job advertisement and tailor your document to meet the needs of the position. You may address these documents to the Human Resource Manager.
In any case, it is necessary to consider your reader, their background, and what they may expect from the employees they decide to hire.
Research and analyze the reader and the organization.
What are their objectives, values, needs, time restraints? This can be done by reading and evaluating company literature and profiles. This research will give you some background information about the organization and any current issues they are facing. When you find out what is relevant to the company, you can tailor your document accordingly.
Consider these points as guides:
- Determine what qualifications the employer is likely to look for in a job applicant by asking yourself what qualifications you would look for if you were the employer.
- Visit the company's website, if they have one, to become aware of current events and news releases that pertain to the company's mission, goals, and objectives.
- Read the company's mission statement; it will illustrate the goals and objectives of the organization.
Fully research the company so you can adequately address your reader and assume a more knowledgeable base for your statements. Ultimately, if you know the company well you can make sure that you illustrate how you can meet and surpass their expectations.
You are writing a resume to apply for a customer service position at Joe's Grocery Store. On their website, the job description stated:
"Looking for a highly motivated, customer-oriented individual to work full-time at the customer service desk."
You could then tailor your objective statement to use key words that the company included in its own profile and utilize them in a way that accurately reflects their qualifications.
Objective: To obtain a customer service position at Joe's Grocery Store, where I may apply interpersonal and customer service skills, to create friendly and productive interaction between the store and its customers. In this case, the writer used key words that the company included in its own profile and utilized them in a way that accurately reflects their qualifications.
Recognize and utilize key words
Key words are words that stand out as especially significant within the text. When you are reading job ads, key words are those words that signal what an employer considers important or essential in hiring for a position.
Consider the previous example again. On their website, the job description stated:
"Looking for a highly motivated, customer oriented individual to work full-time at the customer service desk."
The key words have been underlined. It is necessary to read for keywords, and you should keep these in mind as you research and prepare your business or employment documents.
Where should I address my audience?
Ideally, all writing in an employment document should be written with the audience in mind. From how you structure your resume to how you decide to write a job acceptance letter, you need to write for a specific audience.
There are times in your document when you may specifically mention your reader. This establishes greater rapport with your audience. For example, in a resume you may mention the position you are applying for and the organization you are applying with in the Objective Statement. In a Cover Letter, you may mention a previous meeting or interview with the reader in the introductory paragraph. You should always address your Cover Letter to a specific person as well, unless you are writing in response to a blind ad.
Objective: Seeking a position in pharmaceutical sales at FEELBETTER Industries where I may utilize my health care expertise and interpersonal capabilities.
Cover Letter: I appreciate that you took the time to meet with me last week for an informational interview. It was very exciting to learn more about FEELBETTER Industries.
Did I effectively reach my audience?
Evaluate your writing and consider whether or not you effectively addressed your reader. This is part of the revision process, and ultimately part of the writing process. It may be necessary to rewrite or reorganize the document to make your message clear.
To proofread for skimmers: Perform a 20-second test on your document to see if your message effectively reaches skimmers. Simply skim your document for twenty seconds, as an employer may do, and see what stands out most to you in that amount of time and if what stands out is able to convey your message clearly. Even better, have someone else skim your document before sending it, and see if your message is clear to them as well.
To proofread for skeptics: In order to proofread for skeptical readers, you should question each of your assertions and be sure that you provide specific and sufficient evidence to support each assertion in your employment document.
You should also ask yourself:
- Is my main point stated clearly in the first paragraph?
- Did I include enough details and examples to support my main point?
- Is it clear by the end of the message what I want the reader to do or know?
- Do I provide enough context for the message or is more background information required?
- Have I included keywords in my document?
- Did I specifically mention my reader's name (or the company's name)?
- Did I use language that the reader will understand?
- Does my message have a sincere and appropriate tone?