One of the biggest struggles applicants, and writers more generally, face is evaluating their work. That’s natural, as you can’t be an outsider to your own writing. An outsider views a piece of writing without any of the assumptions the writer might have had when writing the text. Even though there will always be a need for outsider feedback, strategies do exist for editing your own text.
A writer can look at the piece of writing from a structural perspective. Structurally, does the paper fit together? Is something out of place? Is there something that just doesn’t fit? Is your letter all about fruit, except for that random paragraph about celery? Doing a reverse outline of your writing can help you identify this type of higher order concern. A reverse outline is exactly what it sounds like. You outline your text after you’ve written it. In the margin, write a brief note about the point or topic of each section and paragraph. You can do this for each section, for each paragraph, and then within each paragraph. For instance, do you have a paragraph in your cover letter all about your sales rep success that mentions without reason that you also worked as a bartender?
People who are looking for a job may not immediately think of reverse outlining as being relevant to resume writing, but it is. When writing a resume, you want to tell your story, to show that you’re a good fit for a particular job. Carefully consider what information is needed and relevant to tell that story. For instance, if I were to apply for an editing job, very few people would care that I was a factory worker for several years, unless I could show how that job prepared me for the demands of editing. My employer from my grad school days, Duke University Writing Studio, has an excellent resource with clear, actionable, and more detailed steps for reverse outlining your text.