Chapter 17: Rhetoric and the Job Search

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Reflect how to apply rhetorical theory we cover in this course to the job application process
  • Explain how the three elements from Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation”—rhetorical exigence, rhetorical audience, and constraints—can impact the quality of your job package
  • Identify reasons why it is better to have a job package that is audience-centred instead of one that is not
  • Analyze an organizational profile in a job posting and identify at least 3-4 keywords

Key Terms and Concepts

  • job package
  • rhetorical communication
  • rhetorical exigence
  • rhetorical audience
  • constraints
  • audience-centred
  • keywords
Photo #1: Talking at a table

Employment materials are some of the most important—and most challenging—pieces of writing you will ever undertake.

The aim of the this chapter is to ease your mind and demystify the job application process by giving you some core principles to follow. With these principles, you can create a job package that will make you a more desirable candidate to potential employers.

Whether you are applying to be an administrative assistant or an engineer, a web developer or a caregiver, many of the strategies are the same.  As you read through this chapter, keep the following principles in mind:

  • The more customized your materials are, the more successful they will be—generic materials are unlikely to capture an employer’s attention.
  • Your materials should not demonstrate why this job would benefit you. Instead, they should show how you, as a unique candidate, can benefit your potential employer.
  • Your materials should not simply list every job you’ve ever held, but instead emphasize transferable skills, making an argument for how your past accomplishments prepare you for the job you are applying for.

Tailoring your materials to a specific audience is to work smarter, rather than harder. In fact, tailoring is one of the core principles of technical writing. Imagine yourself in the position of a hiring manager.  Would you be more likely to hire a candidate whose generic résumé looks like it has been sent to dozens of similar employers? Or would you be more likely to hire a candidate who has researched your business and understands what the job entails?

The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Applying for a job is a great opportunity to practice your developing rhetorical communication skills!

Exercise #1: Reflecting on Theory

Take a look back at the rhetorical theories we’ve discussed over the last term, and reflect on how you can apply these rhetorical strategies to the job application process.

You may not have encountered the theory in Wayne Booth’s “The Rhetorical Stance” yet. If that’s the case, feel free to quickly skim the chapter if you would like to get ahead.

Applying the Rhetorical Situation to Job Applications

Knowing how to apply the theories above will set you on a strong path when you start applying jobs. We now want to focus on the theory of Lloyd Bitzer, who you should remember as the author of “The Rhetorical Situation”. This article provides foundational theory for RCM 200. Recall the three rhetorical elements he discusses:

Let’s have a look at all three of these theories in the context of a job search.

Rhetorical Exigence

What is your rhetorical exigence as you begin your job search? You may be thinking that you want a job so you can make some money, and you may want to develop skills and get experience. While these needs are understandably important to you, employers will seldom hire you to solve your problems or fulfill your needs.

Think of it this way: why did the employer post the job in the first place? What problem prompted the job being posted? Well, the employer needs someone with skills and qualities to do the job. They want someone who can get along with people, and someone who is reliable. This means that the more you can show in your application materials that you are the solution to the employer’s rhetorical exigence, the more successful you will be.

Rhetorical Audience

Who is the rhetorical audience for the job posting? This is pretty obvious: it’s the employer! The more you know about the employer, the more carefully you can put your job package together. Thus, you must  begin your research before starting your cover letter and résumé and especially before going into your interview.

How do you do begin your research? Simply google the employer. Check out any local news stories about recent projects or company developments. Read the company’s mission statement and learn about any projects they are currently working on. This will give you a sense of how the company sees themselves in the world and what is important to them. This process may seem like it would take a while, but it’s important to do it because this is how you show that you care about these things as well. If you can show that your mission and goals align with those of the employer, then they are more likely to call you in for an interview.

Use this information to make your job application materials more audience-centred.

Rhetorical Constraints

It is possible that you will run into some constraints as you create your job package. Here are just a few to consider:

The Employers’ Needs

Photo #2: Researching the company

A job posting usually lists many different things that an employer wants from a candidate. It is important, then, that you are selective in the information that you include in your cover letter and résumé.

Go through the job posting and pick out keywords to put in your cover letter and the front page of your résumé. Whether your job application package is viewed first by a person or a computer tracking system, both are going to be looking for those keywords to make sure you meet the company’s needs.

Ultimately, what will is that your application package will be not be looked at in isolation. Rather, it will be looked at as part of a stack of other viable candidates, and at the early stage of the hiring process, employers are actively looking for reasons to get rid of your application, and not consider it. This is why it is so important to make your job package materials audience-centred by tailoring to the needs of the employer!


You are constrained by the length of your documents. You do not have ten pages to tell an employer all the reasons why you are great for a position. A cover letter and résumé that are too long will go straight into the recycling bin because they show you cannot be concise. Instead, aim for a 1-page cover letter and a 2-page résumé.

Additionally, the look of both documents is important. If they don’t have good visual appeal, both documents will be set aside immediately. Therefore, be sure to think about white space, bolding, indentation, horizontal design features, etc. Your documents will need to be visually compelling and engaging; they should invite the audience to look at them. We will see some examples of different formats in the next couple of chapters.


You obviously want to show yourself in the best light, but you also need to tell the truth. If a résumé or cover letter suggests a lie, they will be thrown out right away. This means you need to think about what is relevant and most recent, and include that information on your résumé. Keep in mind Booth’s discussion of the rhetorical corruptions, and in particular, the Advertiser's Stance. You will want to avoid sacrificing the logos of your message as you put together your application materials.

Reading the Job Ad

Job advertisements provide a lot of information about what is important to a company. It is very easy to immediately skip down to the skills section, and not consider the rest of the posting. Instead, take the time to read all of the job ad carefully to find keywords which highlight skills, qualities, and values that are important to the company.

Let’s look at an example. Below is an organizational profile for Nutrien Ag Services. Organizational profiles are generally found at the top of job posting and are great places to search for keywords. This profile was found in a job posting for an internship position targeted towards students and new grads. See if you can identify at least 3-4 keywords. Keep in mind though that there are many more than that in the profile.

At Nutrien, our Purpose is to grow our world from the ground up and we do so with safety and integrity as our core values. Nothing is more important than sending our people home safe, every day.

Nutrien Ag Solutions is the retail division of Nutrien™, the largest crop inputs company in the world. As part of our collective mission of Feeding the Future, Nutrien Ag Solutions provides full-acre solutions through our trusted crop consultants at more than 2,000 locations in North America, South America, Europe and Australia. For more than 150 years, we have been helping growers achieve the highest yields with a wide selection of products, including our proprietary brands: Loveland Products, Inc.; Proven®Seed and Dyna-Gro®Seed; as well as financial, custom application and precision ag services.

We harvest the best. Diverse views and experience make us strong. We look for people who have a safety-first mindset, who are collaborative team players, who deliver on their commitments, who are innovators in search of a better way, and who believe in inclusion.

Working at Nutrien Ag Solutions will provide you an opportunity to help us Feed the Future, and grow your career.

You probably noticed that there is fair amount of information that is not relevant to our purposes. That’s okay, though; as long as you can find at least a few keywords that you can use to make you job application package more audience-centred , you’ll be in a good position. Here is a list of keywords that you could potentially use for this job posting:

  • safety
  • integrity
  • trust
  • helping growers
  • customized services
  • precision
  • diverse views
  • collaborative
  • reliable
  • innovative
  • inclusive

That’s a lot! Don’t worry though, you don’t have to include all of those keywords in your job package. Instead, pick at least 3-4 that apply to you and your experience and include those in your materials.

Exercise #2: Reading a Job Ad

Now it’s your turn.

Below is a paragraph from a Cargill job advertisement for a summer production management engineering internship position. This paragraph was listed under the organizational profile heading of the job posting. See if you can pick out the keywords that let you know what is important to Cargill:

Now, reread the job ad and answer this question: how does Cargill see itself?

They see themselves as a unique, leading international produce that is growing their reputation every day.

Ultimately, you will be more successful in your job application if you can show you share these same values, and that you are the person with the same set of skills and qualities that the company has.

Key Takeaways

As you start putting together your job package, keep the following things in mind.

  • Focus on the employer’s exigence, not your own. If you can solve the employer’s exigence, you will probably solve your own.
  • Know your audience. The more research you can do about the employer, the more you can tailor your application materials to be audience-centred, which means you will be more successful with your job search.
  • The best way to tailor your materials is to search for keywords in the job posting’s organizational profile. Try to include at least 3-4 keywords in each of your job package materials.
  • Consider all the constraints you face while still making your application stand out. Make sure your application is targeted and is something that people actually want to look at.


This chapter is adapted from “Technical Writing” by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva (on Open Oregon). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Photo #1 by Christina on Unsplash

Photo #2 by Duncan Meyer on Unsplash



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Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach Copyright © 2021 by Rebekah Bennetch; Corey Owen; and Zachary Keesey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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