I have reviewed HUNDREDS of resumes & cover letters (i.e. applications). This may not make me an expert, but it does provide me experience to share, especially with those new to the workplace or simply struggling to schedule that elusive interview.
Let me first make two comments:
-A great resume/cover letter rarely gets you the job – it gets you the interview. I consider my own applications successful if it opened the door to a positive discussion about my qualities, skills and experience.
-During my 5 years as customer service supervisor for a local telecommunications company, I averaged hiring one new employee per month. After you do the math (I led an entry-level department where often my employees were “stolen” by other departments within the company, so I experienced HIGH turnover), keep in mind the gobs of applications I read in my effort to select each candidate. I now also teach a college course so students can best promote themselves in the marketplace – and yes, one assignment is to prepare a cover letter with resume.
Those applying with sloppy, grammatically-incorrect materials are a waste of time both in the workplace and in this column. However, I love to help those who want to help themselves. So when I review materials, I always make sure to stress these are my suggestions only…I am not the expert on your skills, your experience, your goals or your life plan. I’m also not the expert on your target audience – but you should be! Researching the company you are interested in is one VITAL step often overlooked in our desire to have a typo-free resume. Whether you Google the company, speak to an employee, or actually step into the building to pick up brochures/materials, observe everything from dress code to the look-and-feel of the environment (i.e. office culture). Some of these cues will aid you in presenting yourself most appropriately for the position and environment.
Here are some other specific tips to consider:
Your Cover Letter:
-Truly consider what makes you outstanding compared to others – stress those aspects.
-Explain how education, talent, skills, etc. prepares you for this job. Don’t just list your past experiences.
-Getting an interview is the PURPOSE of the letter – don’t put limitations on when people can contact you.
-Be creative and interesting – this is your opportunity to shine, even if for a few seconds.
-Be as specific about the job you are applying for – a “shotgun” approach to sending out resumes is often not successful and appears lazy to the potential employer.
-Punch your skills or job duties with action verbs. Start each “bullet” after specific work experience with powerful words.
-For routine jobs, focus on skills gained versus the duty itself. For instance “taking the trash out” can be written as “developed discipline and strong work ethic.”
-Consider the order of importance – should you list in chronological order or jobs most pertinent?
-Always ask permission to use others for a reference!
-Ask if they will provide you a GOOD reference.
-Don’t use a reference who has fired you.
(No joke, this has happened to me!)
I don’t hire people with bad references and may choose not to hire based on whether the applicant first asked the reference for permission. (I consider this to be both an aspect of respect as well as attention to details.) I can also assure you if someone used me as a reference without my consent, he/she rarely got the job.