Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive & Eliminate the Negative

By Claire Klieger

This 1940s Johnny Mercer song (catchy, in the hey, I can’t get this out of my head way) offers sound advice as we approach the spring OCR season. Recently, I’ve spoken with so many students who are concerned about things that they worry make them less competitive: a slightly lower GPA, lack of experience, and…dare I say it…not being in Wharton. Because the process is so competitive and therefore intimidating, there is temptation to try and explain away these perceived faults on a resume or, especially, in a cover letter. This is a BAD idea.

Here’s why…

Much like those pesky zits we all get from time to time, chances are these flaws are much more noticeable to you than they would be to any employer. In fact, it’s possible that what you see as a possible negative isn’t even something that has occurred to the employer. All hiring managers consider a wide range of factors and they are thinking about the things that you do bring to the table, not what you are lacking. Discussing “blemishes” in any way only shines a brighter spot light on the issue (kind of like the green colored pimple concealer that was popular when I was in high school—seriously, what were they thinking?).

You have very limited space on your resume and cover letter to get across the message you want. Why would you want to waste any of it on something negative? Think about it—would you want to hire someone who starts off a paragraph by saying, “Even though I’m not in Wharton…” or “The poor grades from last semester do not accurately reflect my potential”? Trust me, there is no explanation you can offer that would in any way make you look like a strong candidate. Your chance to explain anything (if and only if an employer brings it up–because if they don’t bring it up, they don’t care) is during an interview.

As the song says, you are much better off focusing on the positive attributes you bring. Tell them about all of the things that make you a great candidate for the position. You obviously think you could do the job or internship and there are reasons for that. Use your documents as a way to Ac-cen-tchu-ate whatever great qualities, skills or experiences that you bring. In other words, only include what would come after the proverbial “but” in one of those negative starting sentences. The more you can e-lim-in-ate the negative (see, it’s stuck in your head already, isn’t it?), the better off you’ll be.

Author: Claire Klieger

Claire Klieger is an Associate Director of Career Services for College of Arts & Sciences undergraduates. She earned her Ed.D. from Penn and did her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia. Fun Fact: Claire spent 11 years in the Middle East and North Africa.

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