Recruiters will probably look at your cover letter before seeing your résumé. Unfortunately, too often we don’t put much thought into how to make that cover letter zing.
After getting no response to her efforts, marketer Lisa Siva used a simple process to generate interviews from more than half of the job applications she submitted.
First, she says, dig out the exact issue the company is trying to resolve with the hiring. Study the list of responsibilities and try to determine why each was important to the company. Keep asking why until you uncover the root problem.
Then, offer the solution: You.
Explain what makes you particularly qualified to solve the problem. Finally, close with confidence, not a timid, “Hope to hear from you soon.” Instead, she writes in her The Muse blog, “Seal the deal with a sentence that displays confidence, competence and a genuine interest in the company.” She offers this example from one of her pitches: “I’d love to learn more about your production needs and how I can help!”
After the cover letter, the recruiter will see the summary atop the resume. Often, because they are so general and bland, many advisers recommend against wasting the space. But the GetFive career site recommends a strong summary that makes you stand out. Like the cover letter, it should be tailored to the job. “Never put something generic like ‘seeking a challenging position at a progressive company.’ It will get ignored,” the site advises.
Instead, determine what skills and qualities the employer wants for this job and figure out how your background shows you can meet the challenge. Combine that into a short, strong summary that begins with the title of the job, follows with a sentence on why you are uniquely suited to it, and offer bullet-point backup. “And don’t be afraid to brag a little,” the site says.
As with summaries, there is debate over whether a résumé should be kept to one page. Kim Isaacs, a résumé expert for Monster, urges you to eliminate old experience if your career has been a long one, focusing on the last 10 to 15 years. Keep your bullet points to no more than two lines each, according to Lily Zhang, manager of graduate student professional development at the MIT Media Lab.
And there’s no need to waste space advising that references will be available on request since the readers know that, career writer Alison Doyle says.
Finally, some tips for the résumé itself, from Carson Kohler, a contributor at the TopResume writing site:
- Don’t list your education first. That may be necessary during your school days, but afterwards, it goes at the bottom.
- Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell them you are creative, for example; let that flow from the work you have done.
- If it’s not a design job, don’t show off your design skills. “Keep your résumé layout simple. You don’t need a headshot, a fancy border, or clip art. It distracts the reader from what’s important: your qualifications,” he says.
- Pick one thing to do today that you were going to put off, says productivity consultant Craig Jarrow. If you do that every day, you will be amazed at what you achieve.
- Most meetings are called not out of necessity but out of laziness, says David Barnett, founder and CEO of PopSockets, a consumer-electronics-accessory company.
- Don’t just tell your boss about problems without helping to solve them. Consultant Roy H. Williams says you should bring an issue to your boss’s attention if three requirements are met: You feel confident the boss is not already aware of it; you have a solution in mind; and you are prepared to implement that solution if asked.
- Research suggests we have a revision bias. We believe revising something will always improve it, but experiments found that is not necessarily true. Sometimes revisions make things worse.
- Our greatest fear, according to career adviser Steve Berglas, is that people will think we’re stupid.