Many people think that in this day and age sending a cover letter is pointless. Some are convinced that their resume already contains all the necessary credentials. Others infer that HR’s are too swamped with applications to read any cover letters at all.
However, even though you never know whether the cover letter you have carefully crafted will end up being read, you should write and send it every time. Why? Because most Hiring Managers will give your application bonus points just for submitting one. After all, the fact that you took the time to write a cover letter demonstrates your motivation, initiative and genuine interest in the position. And if actually read, an effective letter will set you well apart from other candidates.
So don’t forgo a chance to get bumped to the top of the employer’s list and follow these five useful tips to take your cover letter from passable to powerful:
1. Be focused
The cover letter gives you a perfect chance to state your case and present yourself as the best possible candidate for the position. Take advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate your professional value. Tell the HR what makes you better than others. Do you have any accomplishments you’re proud of? What can you do for your potential employer?
And in case you were wondering: yes, that means you write a different cover letter in response to each job posting you apply for. You can either create a general template and add relevant details for every application you send out, or have a long comprehensive version of a cover letter ready, deleting unnecessary facts to suit each vacancy.
We’re people, we’re not perfect and we all make mistakes from time to time. But in a world where one or two typos can cost you a job, you just can’t afford to be sloppy. What to do?
- It’s a no-brainer, but you’ve got to proofread your documents, edit, and proofread them again.
- Ask a friend to take a look. After working on a resume for a long time you’ve probably learnt each word by heart, so you might be missing some obvious errors.
- For the same reason, sleep on it to see your documents with a fresh eye the next day.
- Don’t rely on the spellchecker to do all the work for you. Otherwise you may end up having experience in “renovating horses” instead of “houses” and be an expert in “sock control”.
It’s no secret that the job market is tough these days, and finding stable long-term employment is a feat in and of itself. So it’s not surprising that many qualified professionals take up consulting and freelance projects, or even start their own private businesses to make a living. And while some derive great pleasure out of being self-employed and go on to develop successful careers this way, others strive to eventually return to being an employee.
This latter group of jobseekers is often hesitant about mentioning their short-term projects and experiences on their resumes for fear of being considered job hoppers. However, this perception is quite misguided. In reality, your freelance or consulting history can turn out to be an ace up your sleeve.
Still don’t see how? Think about it this way: you most likely had to get out there, find and negotiate with clients, strike deals, deliver on targets, solve problems and ensure top-notch quality all by yourself. Now that’s impressive! It shows a potential employer that you are proactive, independent, inventive and great at getting along with others.
So how do you convey all this through your resume? Here are a few tips!
You’d be surprised at how many people feel uncomfortable talking about themselves, particularly when it comes to describing work-related successes. However, failing to mention your achievements is likely to greatly impede your job search. Practice shows that listing professional accomplishments on the resume gives you an instant boost in the eyes of a Hiring Manager, which translates into more chances of landing you the job interview.
So if you’re still struggling with recollecting your professional victories, try answering the following questions:
- Have you exceeded sales or performance targets at the workplace? How often?
- Have you suggested or implemented any improvements to operations or processes?
- Have you saved your employer money?
- Have you contributed to business growth in some way? (Expanded the client base? Attracted funding?)
- Have you successfully completed any challenging projects?
- Have you received any awards or commendations from your employer? How about praise from customers or clients?
Remember, if you did something well – don’t be afraid to own it!
You might not be aware of it, but by using weak words and phrases in your resume, you are sabotaging your own chances of landing a great job. These employment-speak clichés can make even the most qualified candidate come across as incompetent, dull, and lacking both initiative and confidence to succeed in the workplace.
Take a minute to go through your resume line by line and see if any of these seven phrases are the reason why you haven’t received as many interviews as you’d hoped for.
1. Responsible for / In charge of
Saying that you were “responsible for” or “in charge of” something does not mean you did it well. In fact, these statements create an impression that you might be hiding some major mishaps or know next to nothing about the subject in question. So spell out what your responsibilities entailed using active verbs. For example, instead of saying “Responsible for opening and closing the store”, write “Opened and closed the store independently every day” and add any other relevant details. A small tweak like that instantly makes your profile much more attractive.
2. Duties included
Again, by using this phrase you’re essentially saying what you were supposed to do instead of what you’ve actually achieved. Your best bet here would be to shift focus from your duties to your accomplishments.
But wait, there’s more!
Using Curlz MT font coupled with boldface on a hot pink background will certainly make your application stand out among others; in a bad way. So in addition to ensuring that your resume is relevant and targeted to your desired position, make it eye-pleasing, or, at the very least, readable.
Unless you are a professional graphic designer, go by the “Rule of 2 or less”:
- No more than 2 fonts. – Defaults like Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri are a safe bet, while Georgia and Cambria are great for headers. And don’t go lower than 10 pt in font size.
- No more than 2 colors. – Aside from black or dark grey for the text, you may safely use light blue, grass green or some other neutral color to embellish section headers. Take care not to pick hues that are too bright, as these are distracting.
- No more than 2 types of bullets. – And only one of them should be fancy (i.e. a check box or an arrow).
- Boldfacing, italicizing, underlining and using small caps in a phrase all at once is overdoing it. Combining any two of the above-mentioned formatting tools is okay.
And here are a couple of other helpful tips:
- Regardless of how much (or how little) formatting you decide to apply, make sure you leave enough white space.
- Avoid lengthy paragraphs. Opt for bulleted lists and clearly defined sections instead.
- Make sure your formatting is consistent. That means same design of headers, same font and size for the main text, same intervals between sections and so on.
Whether you like it or not, a good old-fashioned resume, while still essential to your job hunting success, is not enough to gain you that much needed competitive advantage anymore. In today’s information-driven society, your best bet is using technology to give your professional brand an edge that will get you noticed – and hired!
Your Social Media presence
There’s no denying that Social Media has become an integral part of our everyday lives. When it comes to the job search, Social Media provides a great way for prospective employees to explore target companies and connect with insiders. However, this is a double-edged sword. Pulling up candidates’ Social Media profiles is becoming routine for many Hiring Managers. And if you want to land the job, you have to make sure that your online reputation is not only impeccable, but also supports your resume.
- Facebook – The recruiter should not see anything inappropriate or embarrassing on your public profile. That includes rude posts (especially about your current or previous place of work) and obscene photos. Also, be cautious about sharing your religious and political views.
- Twitter – The same content limitations apply here. Do take advantage of the short bio section to drill down to the details and crystallize your “elevator pitch”. And confidently include links to your portfolio, website, blog, and LinkedIn if applicable.
- LinkedIn – If you’re still not a member, get an account and make it work for you. Recruiters will check your profile to see if you’re a good cultural fit. So do be an active networker and make sure you have plenty of recommendations and endorsements.
For the creative types
Those working in the creative field, including design, marketing and even sales, should consider capitalizing on the following opportunities:
- QR codes – Use them to lead the prospective employer to your portfolio, professional blog or personal website. However, remember to check that the website works properly (including the mobile version) and provide a URL in case the HR has trouble scanning your code.
- Video and visual – Video resumes and infographics are gaining popularity, as they are a great way to attract attention to your persona and to truly stand out among other candidates. Just make sure you don’t get too carried away – no matter how good the production value, your creative resume will not score any points if the message it sends is weak or inappropriate.
Do you use technology for job hunting? Do you monitor your online presence, or stick to the tried-and-true methods? Share your experiences in our comment section!
The importance of populating your resume and LinkedIn profile with relevant keywords can’t be stressed enough. However, you shouldn’t expect an HR Manager to be well-versed in all the technical intricacies of your job. With hundreds of resumes landing on their desks each day, they simply don’t have time to look up unfamiliar terms and abbreviations.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to make the job-related jargon understandable for lay people. For example, spell out the technical terms the first time you mention them and use abbreviations later on in the document. Otherwise, you’re risking not getting past the first gatekeeper.