In an earlier article, I shared what you have to do to gain consideration for an interview. With LT, Test #1 is the reasonably easy requirement that you submit a cover letter and resume using the instructions attached to the job posting. Surprisingly, less than 25% get this right. So, assuming that an applicant passed this test, now we’re looking at the details of the cover letter and the resume. In this segment, I’ll share my thoughts on the resume and make a few comments on the cover letter.
Rule #1 – Nail the Top
You will find lots of suggestions on length and on using the right action words, but I am convinced that Rule #1 is that you nail the first 1/3 of a page you’re working with. The person scanning through the resumes will likely have many to go through. Frankly, he or she is looking for a reason to toss yours to the side. You have 1/3 of a page to convince this person that they should give you more than a glance. It isn’t about stuffing the top 1/3, but making sure you have something good to share. It might be a strong overview statement or a strong objective. If you’ve recently had a job that makes you an excellent candidate for the current position, you might start listing your job history right off the bat. If something in that top 1/3 intrigues me, I’m very likely going to pay attention to all of the details and it won’t concern me that it is a full 2 or 3 pages long (and frankly, I worry more about getting too few details from someone).
Rule #2 – Grammar Matters
This is true for both the cover letter and the resume and I see applicants blow this one on a regular basis. Poor grammar and misspellings are nearly a kiss of death. Missing important details can cost businesses large amounts of money, and in order to convince a hiring manager you’re attentive to detail, you absolutely MUST make sure your resume and cover letter are as perfect as you can make them. Take the extra time to make sure everything is spelled correctly, that punctuation is used correctly and consistently, and that sentences are grammatically correct. Get help if necessary. Ask someone to review everything before you send it out. A fresh pair of eyes can often catch mistakes that you’ve overlooked.
Rule #3 – Easy on the Eyes
Make it easy to read your resume. If you submit it electronically, you need to think about how the resume looks both on a computer screen and when printed. Don’t get carried away with fancy use of fonts. Don’t stuff items together to try to make it fit a certain length. A resume that’s more than one page in length isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here’s my list of suggestions on this one:
- Use a font that is easy to read and use a point size of 11 or greater. This can vary based on the font.
- Use bold on key items such as job titles and past employers.
- Use bulleted lists – they make it easier to catch key items when reading.
- Use white space appropriately. I prefer more white space because I’m probably going to print out the resume and write notes on it.
Rule #4 – Match the Position
If you are applying for an advertised position, take advantage of the fact that the person reviewing the resume is looking for a person to fill that position! Your resume should be tailored/modified to show that you are a great fit for that position. A generic one-size-fits-all resume will likely fall short. You don’t want to be misleading, but you do want to make sure that the aspects of your work history and skills that best fit this position are clear to the person reviewing your resume. And frankly, computers make it extremely easy to modify a resume for a specific position. When someone doesn’t take the time to fit their resume to the position, I assume that either they’re too lazy to put 100% effort into landing this job or that they just aren’t a good fit. This applies to the cover letter as well. A generic cover letter only hurts your chances. Not all candidates have the same qualifications but every candidate can nail the resume. Since most don’t, you’ll give yourself an advantage if you get this right.
Now that I’ve covered two important aspects of the job-seeking process – applying for a position and making sure your resume and cover letter are review-worthy – I’ll wrap up my thoughts on this subject in a future post. Once you’ve made it past the first two and scored an actual interview, you’ll want to make sure that you knock it out of the park when you’re talking to a prospective employer. In my final article, I’ll cover some important points about the face-to-face meeting that will help you approach it with confidence.