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Your Total Handbook for Finding a Job and Making It Work
Résumés and Cover Letters
Welcome to the puzzling...and often frustrating...world of résumés and cover letters. These are your first chances to make a positive, lasting impression and therefore need to be done right. We're not saying there's a "one size fits all" strategy, but we'll guide you through portraying your best professional self. Apply these steps to your résumé and cover letter writing and put them to the test. If you still don't see results, go back, review some of these sections, and start making some small adjustments. Eventually, you'll get to the right combination. When you notice employers are calling more often and you're getting more interviews, you'll know you're there.
I. Writing your résumé
Step one: The formula
Hiring managers spend an average of one minute scanning a résumé. You have just a short window of opportunity to convince them that you're either fabulous or the most boring person alive. Which is it gonna be?
Here are the elements that your résumé should include:
Contact information: Your name (if your formal name is Abigail, but you go by Abby, use Abby), address, phone number, e-mail address and Web site. Make sure to use a professional e-mail address for your job applications. Employers aren't likely to call HotPants1234@hotmail.com.
Career summary or objective: These give the hiring manager an idea of who you are immediately...before spending the 60 seconds skimming your résumé and deciding whether to bring you in for an interview. Many job seekers equate a summary with an objective. While both are two to three sentences appearing at the top of your résumé, in reality, they are very different.
An objective states a job seeker's desired job description, and is often ideal for people who are just starting out in the workforce or changing industries. Some words of warning: It could pigeonhole you and limit how employers see you.
Consider this objective:
"Recent college graduate with a bachelor's degree in finance and honors distinction seeks entry-level position in the accounting industry."
If you are looking to take the next step in your chosen field, consider writing a career summary instead. A career summary gives an overview of your work experience and/or relevant education.
This is a career summary:
"Marketing professional with more than ten years experience in online, interactive marketing and advertising in a B2B capacity."
Is there an exception to these rules? Of course. It's not necessary to always include a career summary or an objective, but with hiring managers spending less and less time reviewing résumés, this could give you the edge by summarizing your experience and job goals.
Summary of qualifications: This calls out the most relevant information for the job. If you include this, the hiring manager doesn't have to hunt for your abilities. This is an easy way to tailor your résumé for each job application. Look at the required skills listed in the job posting and use this as an opportunity to highlight the skills needed for the job. If you are changing careers or industries, this section helps you highlight certain transferable skills.
Technical skills: This is where you can show your computer and software proficiency. Are you missing a technical skill listed in the job description? Don't throw in the towel. Seventy-eight percent of hiring managers report they are willing to recruit workers who don't have experience in their particular industry or field and provide training/certifications needed.
Work history: This is where you list chronologically any work experience...titles, employer and dates of tenure. List only the most recent and relevant information; no one cares about your ninth-grade babysitting club . . . unless you are looking for something in childcare (even then, save it for your cover letter).
Education: Include your dates of graduation, college major and minor, degrees earned or expected graduation date.
Step two: Keywords
You think you have it rough as a job seeker? Hiring managers sort through anywhere from dozens to hundreds of prospective applicants, and some might argue that they have it worse.
Not buying it? We don't blame you...especially because hiring managers have made the job even easier for themselves in recent years. Eager to minimize the task of manually sorting through application after application, employers are increasingly relying on two tools: applicant tracking systems, which scan résumés for keywords relating to skills, training, degrees, job titles and experience, and résumé databases, which employers search for candidates using keywords (similar to how a job seeker searches for a job).
What does this mean for you, the job seeker? The bad news is that a perfectly qualified applicant may never make it as far as an interview merely because his or her résumé lacks certain keywords. The good news is that by finding ways to include these keywords in your résumé, you can gain a strategic advantage over other applicants.
What the . . . ?
So what are these keywords? We're told they're essential to a job search...we should use them in our résumé and cover letter and use them when searching for job openings. But what are they really, and how do you know you're using the right ones? Keywords are specific words or phrases that job seekers use to search for jobs, and employers use to find the right candidates.
Keywords most searched when scanning résumés and cover letters, according to CareerBuilder.com research:
- Problem solving and decision making...53 percent
- Oral and written communications...44 percent
- Leadership...35 percent
- Team building...33 percent
- Performance and productivity improvement...28 percent
- Project management...20 percent
- Customer retention...17 percent
- Strategic planning...13 percent
- Long-range planning...10 percent
- Cost reduction...10 percent
- Business development...10 percent
Other keywords hiring managers may deem important:
- Organizational design
- Competitive market
- Product positioning
- New media
Don't get lost in translation. More and more large and medium companies use applicant tracking software. You want to make sure your résumé gets through the gatekeeper by presenting your qualifications as if the reader is comparing the words on the résumé to a list of desired qualifications.Career Building
Your Total Handbook for Finding a Job and Making It Work. Copyright © by. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.