Résumé and Cover Letter Tips to Stand Out From The Crowd
By Bradford Dworak
August 14, 2009
Christine Dennison, a self-proclaimed job search coach and owner of Dennison Career Services has been helping the unemployed for more than 20 years. With the national unemployment rate above 9 percent, Christine says she's busier than ever. Many of the calls she's receiving are from baby boomers ready to start their first job searches in decades.
So, boomers, it's time to get that résumé and cover letter updated. Learn how you can get ready to face the "new media" market.
Learn how to amp up your résumé.Amp Up Your Résumé "A résumé is an important tool for your job search, serving as a concise presentation of your experience, skills, knowledge, credentials, education and attitude," Christine says.
These tips have helped her clients land new jobs:
Get Rid of the Pitch
You know what this is: the opening line on your resume. For example, "Seeking accounting manager position with a progressive, dynamic organization which will use my CPA credentials and offer rapid career advancement." It's all clichéd, meaningless and overdone. Instead, try filling that space with your target position title or area of expertise.
"Include a brief bullet-point presentation of your skills, expertise, credentials and accomplishments," Christine says. "Your objective is conveyed by what you choose to include in the summary, which can be changed to fit different targets."
Bottom line: Tailor your résumé to each industry you are applying for, be different and really highlight your skills.
Make Your Case Through Examples
Don't tell employers what to think about you. Instead, lead them to make the right conclusions by explaining how you get things done. It's important to demonstrate that you can adapt to any work environment. "Show you can handle change and that you're not set in your ways," Christine says.
Prove You Never Stop Learning
Christine recommends putting an emphasis in your continuing education—whether that's through seminars, workshops, courses or self-study. Sure, advanced degrees help, but you don't necessarily have to have every degree under the sun to prove you're capable of learning. Put those weekend work seminars you attended on your résumé...you were there and you probably learned something that can help you. Or, include a class you took at a community college. Even if it's that once-a-week cooking class, it shows you have the drive and motivation to learn something new.
One of the biggest résumé trends Christine has seen with baby boomers is that they list every piece of experience they have. Instead of trying to fit everything on your résumé, focus on your past 10 years or so of experience.
"[Add] a very short reference to [your] early career path," Christine says. "[These] are ways to make yourself look current."
Instead of putting the old phrase, "References provided upon request," on your résumé, Christine says it's assumed you'll come in for an interview armed with this information.
Create a business card version of your résumé and keep it with you. Include your contact information and a brief description of your qualifications. You never know who you will run into, and you don't want to miss the golden opportunity.
Reconsider Snail Mail
If you're trying to send your résumé to someone you don't know, Christine says to forget e-mail and try snail mail.
"Unsolicited e-mail doesn't get read," she says. "At least some clerk is going to open up [mail], so there is a better chance that it's going to land on somebody's desk."
Christine also advises spending less time on the job boards. She says that less than 5 percent of job seekers find employment through them. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of networking and meeting people. Although she says it's hard and can be very intimidating, people need to get past these barricades if they want to have a chance at finding employment.
Learn to write stronger cover letters.Write Stronger Cover Letters
Cover letters are another great self-marketing tool. When there are vast numbers of people applying for a single job, a good cover letter can take you from lowly applicant to potential candidate.
"The résumé certainly shows your qualification and track record, but the cover letter gives you a chance to speak to the company a little more," Christine says. "Most people miss an opportunity with the cover letter."
Do I Even Need One?
Yes...the answer is yes! You need a cover letter to tell a company who you are and why you're interested in working there. It's important to keep them short and concise, but don't skimp on your research.
"Find out what's going on with [the company] and connect your qualifications to that." Christine says. "If you show that you've done a little extra digging, you'll definitely stand out from the crowd."
Tell a Personal Story
Since a cover letter showcases your writing skills and personality, make it a reflection of you. Christine says to keep it balanced between the formal and informal because while you don't want to sound stuffy or old-fashioned, you certainly don't want to come across as eccentric and weird. At the same time, figure out how to intertwine a personal story or two to illustrate your qualifications. Show, don't tell.
A résumé and cover letter are two separate documents—please keep them that way. While it is okay to put the most relevant points of your résumé, don't rehash it.
Christine says you have to have hope that they will actually read your résumé. "Emphasize your availability for interviews, flexibility on relocation, if appropriate, and indicate if you plan to call to follow up," she says.
Forget the Hype
"Many people write what I call the 'leaps tall buildings in a single bound' letter," Christine says. "That's when you tell the company all the wonderful things you will do when they hire you."
Enthusiasm is great, but let's not overdo it. You need to allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about you based on your track record.
Also, don't throw all your wonderful personality traits into a long list. Look for ways to present them indirectly...again show, don't tell.
Christine says that while you could have the perfect background and everything an employer is looking for, you might not get an acknowledgment from every application you fill out.
"People get frustrated and can't figure out how to get past that," she says.
Just remember to keep thinking positively. You can do this. You will get back on your feet again.