Freelance Fridays: Writing Grant Applications

Applying for grant funding on behalf of a client is one of those very occasional things that comes up in my job. Competition for funding sources can be fierce, and while I certainly can’t claim to be the best grant writer evah, and there’s never any guarantee of a win, a little extra preparation can at least help prevent the application from getting immediately tossed out on a technicality. Below are seven tips to ensure a complete, timely grant application:

Melissa King, “Bills and a Piggy Bank,”

1. Identify the project.
Writing state, private, or federal grant applications isn’t like applying for college financial aid, where one basically checks a few boxes that say, “I need money” and hopes for a Pell Grant. To get funded, you need to have done your homework first. That means planning out your project, in detail. Be prepared to explain exactly what needs to be done, why the grant monies are needed, and how they will be spent.

2. Identify the stakeholders.
Knowing who the project is for, and who will be doing the work, is important for a couple of reasons. It shows the funding agencies that you have a serious proposal, and it helps you quickly determine whether or not your clients are likely to qualify for a given funding source.

3. Identify the funding source(s).
Once you have the basic project needs and interested parties clear, you will need to see how well the interests of those stakeholders align with the interests of your target funding agencies. Your proposal may need to be modified in order to meet eligibility standards or otherwise comply with one or more grant application requirements.

4. Make a checklist.
Grant application packets can easily be dozens of pages long, and requirements are not always especially straightforward. Read the entire packet through once, then reread. Note all deadlines, and make a list of all the documentation you will need to complete the application: maps, cost breakdowns, photographs, diagrams, letters, surveys, client signatures, funding match sources. If you are missing anything, start making calls. You need to get going on this process early, because for a large grant application, rounding up all the necessary data from the various parties involved can easily take weeks.

5. Draft an outline.
Go back through the grant application packet and locate any and all information you can about the formatting that will be required for submissions. Outline your proposal, paying extremely close attention to all of  the formatting guidelines provided — these are not suggestions, they are mandates. If they’ve asked for A, B, and C, don’t give them P, Q, and X, unless you want to get booted.

6. Start writing. And rewriting. And writing some more.
Your grant application will probably have several distinct written sections, such as an overview of your proposal, cost analysis, site description, presentation of interested parties, and explanations regarding the applicant’s eligibility, the applicant’s plans for matching funds, and the relevance of the proposed project to the funding source’s stated objectives. It’s entirely possible that you will need to consult with your client or another stakeholder before finishing your first draft,so you will want several days, minimum, to complete the actual writing and editing portion.

7. Submit your finished application materials as instructed.
Once you have the appropriate n

umber of completed copies in the requested medium, you should take a few moments to do a final review and proofreading session. If you are submitting by mail, package and label everything in accordance with the formatting directives in the grant application packet. It’s a good idea to hit the post office and have the parcel weighed to avoid accidentally underpaying for shipping and having it all sent back to you.

Having a good understanding of the project to be funded is essential to writing a successful grant application. Start well in advance — those deadlines will be here before you know it!


Braless and Bonbons: Combating Work-From-Home Stereotypes

Photo credit: Rosevita, MorgueFile

It happened last winter.

An appliance had gone out, and the warranty repair guy had once again shown up unannounced, without an appointment, and let himself in the back door — after already being informed that was an unacceptable violation of my household’s privacy during the course of a previous, similar incident.

His excuse upon being confronted? “Oh, I figured you’d be home.”

Myths and stereotypes about home-based workers abound, including the apparently widespread belief that we are magically available to all people at all times, and since we don’t have “real jobs,” the usual rules about boundaries and respect for our schedules must no longer apply. In consequence, we face the potential for  both serious privacy and security violations, like the incident above, and well-meant but no less irritating trespasses on our patience from friends, family members, neighbors, and the surrounding community.

While we do realize that much of the outside working world thinks the statement “I work from home” is a code phrase for “I like to sit around in my underwear and eat candy all day,” home-based workers are a diverse lot. Munching chocolates in lingerie on occasion is perfectly plausible for somebody like me, for example, since I do not have to worry about holding face-to-face meetings most days, but the same is not true for my in-laws, whose yard is perpetually filled with customers, truckers, and delivery personnel; for the family friends who manage an RV park and live on site; or for any number of other home-based professionals, designers, teachers, and craftspeople.

Managing successful home-based careers requires us to meet deadlines, complete projects, schmooze with colleagues and clients, attend industry networking events, take classes, research markets, and, yes, stick to functioning schedules designed for our unique situations. I have specific days and dates for certain tasks (completing payroll, depositing taxes), and certain times of day when I tend to plan certain types of work (mornings for checking messages and reading industry news, afternoons for going over accounts, evenings for contracts). Of course, there are also professional activities, volunteer work, routine chores, family obligations to contend with, as in any household with more traditional employment situations.

The assumption that it is somehow acceptable to ignore the boundaries and scheduling parameters set by home-based and remote workers not only disrespects the professional contributions of those workers but also puts their safety at risk. We have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy and security in our own homes. When we say, “I cannot attend this charity event/school activity/party/whatever; I have a deadline,” that means we will not be attending. When we say, “No, I cannot address all your questions right now,  but why don’t you make an appointment? I have a 10 a.m. time slot free tomorrow,” that is not an invitation to pop over and interrupt dinner prep. And when we say, “Please do not come into my house again without permission, did you not see that my dog almost bit you?” what we really mean is, “What an unbelievably unprofessional and creepy person you are! I will never hire you again.”

Do you have trouble convincing the people around you to respect your personal and professional boundaries? What stereotypes have you encountered?


One Story. Ten Examples of Bad Resume Advice

Job seekers know there’s a ton of bad resume advice out there – really, really bad advice.
One of the worst examples I’ve seen recently comes from Yahoo Finance. At first glance, the piece appears to be aimed at job hunters whose resumes will be screened by computer software well before reaching human eyeballs. Even given that consideration, however, I found most of this content to be, at best, naïve, and at worst, poorly thought out.

Photo credit: Click, MorgueFile

I’ll give points for Numbers 7 and 10. If Page 2 of your document ends up loose and floating around the office someplace, wouldn’t you want me to know which candidate it belongs to? All righty, then. Use letterhead or stick a header on both of your resume pages (you won’t be submitting more than two, right?), and make sure your cover letter and any supporting documentation is similarly marked so your application materials are easy to identify.

Listing one’s grade point average is, by and large, irrelevant if you aren’t applying for a scholarship, a post-graduate fellowship, an academic position, or your very first job out of high school or university. Your grades are not something I care about unless you scored exceptionally well, as in honor student well, in a major or minor that is directly relevant to the position at hand. Put your GPA on your CV, if you like, but drop it from the resume. It’s filler that can come across as a little pretentious.

The rest of the linked article, however, is mostly hooey. Let’s do a quick breakdown.

1. Yes, I want your address, and I want an accurate one. Same for your phone number – I’m checking the area code. I need to know whether you’re available to interview in person right away, whether your daily commute is likely to be problematic, and whether we’ll need to ask you about plans to relocate or allow extra time for you to move or finish a semester. I may also plan preliminary interview questions with this information. (“Based on your area code, it looks like you must have spent some time in Colorado. Can you tell me more about that?”) Remember, in the Information Age, pretty much any bad guy can dig up your address at any time. Sorry. Leave it off your generic job board and social postings, if you really feel more secure that way, but do not make it inconvenient or challenging for a company’s recruiter to contact you.

2. I don’t care about your LinkedIn profile, and even if I did, I have The Google. Nobody hides their dirty laundry on LinkedIn, and I’m already reading your resume. Save the space for something relevant. Ditto for your other social media accounts – I’ve seen enough cat videos today.

3. Ummmm. No. No, no, no, no, no. This one is so ridiculous, I’m not sure how the suggestion got into print. Do not do this. Do not give yourself a “professional title” that you never held and haven’t earned. If your previous job had a title (a real one, not “Fast Food Fry Guy”), you may certainly list it under that employer, but don’t make things up in hopes that it’ll sound like you were higher up the food chain than you really were. It gives off a douchenozzle vibe.

4. This is a formatting gripe. While I suspect the author most likely had search keywords in mind when writing this one, if the candidate feels his or her job descriptions, cover letter, portfolio, samples, and so forth adequately sum up the skill set being presented for consideration, I’m not going to argue. I don’t mind seeing a separate list of skills, as long as it can be done without making the entire resume run longer than two pages. If you are going to post a summary of your abilities, though, I expect you to curate them. The selections proffered should indicate some relevance to the overall industry or positional rank, if not the posted job opening.

5. Skip the detailed company descriptions. I don’t care about the ins and outs of your previous employer’s business. I care what you did there and what you learned. Remember, if I can’t manage to figure it out by reading the company name (or by calling your old supervisors), I still haz The Google, and I don’t need to be spoonfed unnecessary details.

6. In general, I like bullets. A blanket ban is uncalled for, although there are occasional overusage offenses. I will concede that the sample resume looks crammed. That isn’t a bullet issue, per se, so much as a paring down and editing the darn thing issue.

8. Internships are a judgment call, just like continuing education courses or professional classes and certifications. If you have room for them, it’s fine to add them in or leave them off. Most people with more than five or 10 years’ experience to report probably just won’t have space. Barring some sort of bizarre and unlikely circumstance, though, telling somebody you were once an intern isn’t going to cost you a job.

9. Computer knowledge prerequisites are entirely industry and job specific. This is not a helpful or reasonable across-the-board critique that would apply to all applicants, though it may well be applicable to the sample applicant’s specific career goals.

11. While I agree that references are not required, listing them is not an error and can, in fact, be one of the reasons you get chosen for an interview.  Believe it or not, recruiters and hiring managers sometimes know your references or have secondary connections to them. If you can fit reference details in, it can be advantageous for you to do so.

12. Here we go, again. Times New Roman is a classic because it works. It flows well and is easy to read. Sure, it’s heavily used, but unless you’re applying for a graphic design job, legibility, not ornamentation, should take priority. While we’re on the subject: It’s quite likely that not all those pretty decorative fonts you were so thrilled to find and are now busily slapping on your pages are going to translate well when you go to print them off or squish them into a PDF. Proof everything, or you could end up with a series of dark blobs popping up where words should be.

What’s the worst resume advice you’ve ever heard?


How Long Should My Resume Be?

One of the things I frequently dealt with as an editor, and still notice as a recruiter, is resume length. Since my recruiting is now focused on heavy industry, I certainly get my share of typo-riddled or virtually nonexistent resumes, and because of the labor market I’m targeting, these are by no means a deal breaker. For the purposes of this discussion, though, let’s lay out some generally applicable ground rules about resumes:

Photo credit: dhester, MorgueFile

1. The reason you’re sending me, the recruiter, your resume is to show me you are qualified for this job opening. I’m not trying to be unkind, but you’d better do it in a hurry or I’ll be moving on to someone else. The American Press Institute reported last year that six out of 10 people will never get past a story’s headline (which, by the way, usually isn’t written by the reporter). Page designers know many of the remaining readers will never get past the jump. Resume stats are similar: The average applicant gets six seconds, according to an oft-cited 2012 study by The Ladders. While this figure has faced criticism, the takeaway is that you have, at best, a brief moment to grab someone’s attention before your resume gets tossed into the pile of no return.

2. The good stuff should be at the top. Journalism students spend months or even years learning to undo everything they were taught in English class about organizing a paper. Inverted pyramid comes from the paste-up days, when if a story was too long to fit neatly onto a page, the bottom got cut off. Put the most important information on page one, as close to the top as you can. That’s what I’m going to read first. If your resume had a second page and nobody ever read it, would you still stand out as a candidate?

3. As a fairly reliable rule, with the notable exception of academia, American employers will expect to see resumes, not CVs.  CVs contain loads more detail about your schooling, your other accomplishments, and your publishing credentials, if any. Resumes are all about work. What have you done, and what can you do? If your content does not address either of those two questions directly, it probably does not belong on the resume. (Here’s looking at you, objective statements.)

4. Resumes printed back-to-back are not, in my view, a great idea. You run the risk of someone not noticing your second page at all, not to mention the potential issues with ink bleeds or poor printing on one side. If you must use two pages, make it abundantly clear to me that there are TWO pages: add some sort of corresponding header to the second page, print onto two pieces of paper, and staple or clip if you’re bringing in hard copy. Since I work from home, though, most of the resumes I receive come in electronically, which reduces, but does not eliminate, the possibility of a misplaced or unnoticed page.

5. Resumes really should not be longer than two pages. I have yet to see one longer which couldn’t benefit from ruthless editing. Still, do as you like. Just know that the odds of a page being lost or ignored completely increase with each extra one you submit.

6. When I say your resume should not be longer than two pages, I mean the resume itself, not your CV, your samples, your portfolio, your clips, your cover letter, your client lists, your transcripts, your recommendation letters, or any other supporting documentation in your application package. If an employer has requested such materials, be sure to submit those, too.

7. If your resume is five pages long, the font is already at 10 points, and your margins are at half an inch, you need to chop it down! Nobody is going to pick through all that clutter. If you get called for an interview, it’s likely going to be at least somewhat in spite of, not because of, the monstrosity you chose to submit. Get rid of the meaningless objective statements, the classes you took 15 years ago, your hobbies, your witty “about me” paragraph, your unrelated volunteer work, your high school burger-joint job, and your social media profiles, pronto.

Keep your resume to a readable length, show employers what you’re capable of accomplishing, and go get that dream job!