Rhetorically listening to students’ experiences of silence in the U.S. résumé and cover letter

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2015-05

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Abstract

The scholarly and popular literature on the U.S. résumé and cover letter is massive and largely focused on employers’ perspectives. This dissertation takes a different approach by reflexively listening to students’ experiences of silence in their U.S. résumés and cover letters: how they use silence to their advantage, resist silencing, and might be problematically silenced by genre conventions. I collected data from interviews and focus groups with 63 students, surveys with 25 students, and interviews with 20 career counselors and instructors (“advisers”) from three research sites. I then combined Rhetorical Genre Studies, silence, and rhetorical listening to analyze patterns in students’ and advisers’ reasons for including/excluding items on résumés and cover letters. Patterns in their reasons revealed five rhetorical constructs that résumé writers attempted to build or silence: the Stand Out, Well-Rounded Individual, Professional, Robot, and Progress Chronotope. These constructs have become equated with ideal applicant qualities, such as initiative and sociability, as well as genre standards, such as relevance and design. But demonstrating these constructs can be problematic for people who are unable to access “appropriate” experiences. When these constructs are reified as “good” résumé standards, it sets genre expectations that not all groups can meet, thus potentially excluding people from marginalized groups. I argue that a more reflexive approach to teaching, studying, and practicing “good” and “bad” résumé genre standards is important for being more interculturally inclusive.

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Keywords

Résumé, Silence, Rhetorical Listening, Rhetorical Genre Studies, Genre

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