Past Issues

July 25, 2016

5 Secrets to Building the Perfect Resume & Cover Letter

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On your first pass in front of the eyes of a hiring manager, you have less than 30 seconds to impress them with your resume. Career professionals like to call this the "applicant black hole." What many people don't realize is that they aren't even getting their resume into the hands of hiring managers for reading! What can you do to avoid the black hole?

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Building the Perfect Resume & Cover Letter

By Jessica Miller-Merrell, Author, Speaker, HR Professional

Assuming that every employee that applies for a job is imminently qualified and many often are - the thing that will set you apart and get a chance to tell your story in person is a set of personalized marketing material. That means the perfect resume. By that, I don't mean the perfect skill set or list of job experience, I mean the presentation. Those pages, whether hard copy or digital are the only shot you've got. But, before most HR directors, recruiters, or hiring managers will even glance at your perfect resume, you need to have delivered a perfect cover letter.

A recruiter spends on average 6 seconds reviewing a resume. Your job search marketing materials including email templates, resume, cover letter and your social media profiles need to be prepared and on point in order to make the most of those 6 seconds and capture the recruiter's attention.

For recruiters, finding the perfect candidate with the perfect cover letter and resume is like hunting for a unicorn. So, what is it that makes up this perfect combo? Whose job it is to get your foot in the door? The answers are surprisingly simple, and they might even be counter to much of what you've been told.

The Perfect Cover Letter is Tailor Made

It's not enough to slap some boiler plate on a page, address it to the company you are applying for, slap a stamp on that puppy and send it out. Quantity will not make up for a lack of quality. Think of it this way, would you do an interview with a prospect who could not be bothered to read your website deep enough to find the hiring manager's name? Each cover letter should be written for the position you are applying for. Here are a few key pieces of information you should be including.

  • Address your letter directly to the hiring manager by name, if possible, or at least to the right department.
  • Specifically mention the position you are applying for. Not only will this make you stand out, it might keep you from elimination if they are hiring for multiple positions and don't like guessing.
  • List 3 qualifications, with stats if possible, that will help them see you have done this specific job, or something similar, successfully in the past. Choose things not included in the resume.

The Perfect Cover Letter Asks for the Job

While you certainly do not want to come across as arrogant or pushy, ask for the job. By this I do not mean beg, needy is a bad sign in the hiring game. Simply tell them why you are a good fit, and why you really want the position they are offering. This should be the last thing they read.
  • Tie your three qualifications in here as benefits you bring to the table.
  • Add a fourth qualification, unique for this position if possible.
  • Make it clear you are excited and passionate about working for them in this capacity. Not with fancy emojis and exclamation marks but within the text of your cover letter document.
  • You are selling yourself. Ask for the interview. Provide your best contact information again and ask for a time to meet to discuss the job.

Perfect Resumes Leave Something to the Imagination

Two pages and no more. When HR or hiring professionals tell you this, we mean it. If you can't fit enough information on two pages to make me want to interview you, you've already failed the interview. Except in industries where a resume is expected, or has been asked for, it is unnecessary to cram your entire life history into your resume. Make them want to learn more.
  • The resume's job is to get you an interview. It should make you look educated, qualified and interesting. Don't let your resume do the interview for you.
  • Start with your qualifications up front in a short, bulleted list. Tell me how many years of experience you have, a highlight of your education and any special recognition you've received.
  • Edit your job history down to your past four positions. Remember, you can include bonus experience in your cover letter.
  • List the highlights of your education. If you earned a master's we assume you earned a bachelor's, no need to detail every semester. Include relevant internships and specialized training.

The Perfect Resume Makes you Look Competent, Not Perfect

Stick to the facts and avoid hyperbole. In each job listing, create a 'mini resume' of up to four bullet points, highlighting your achievements and experience. If your job was cashier, but you also managed shift schedules, include that. Tell me you were three times employee of the year, but resist the urge to add; 'Out of 6574 employees, including the boss's two sons and a nephew'.
  • Highlight the story of your job experience in each position. If you had key roles, mention them. Certifications and specialized training are also valuable information to include.
  • Use targeted keywords for your industry throughout your descriptions. You can pull these from the job qualifications in the employer's job posting.
  • For periods where you had multiple, short-term jobs, a condensed version is often best. List it as a period of years, or months and highlight some responsibilities and tasks you fulfilled.
By telling a potential employer the story of someone on the rise, with a lot of successes in their wake, your perfect cover letter will get your perfect resume a second glance, and working together, the two can get your foot in the door for more interviews. The rest is up to you.

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is an author, speaker, HR professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the VP of Talent Strategies at the Advanced Group and a leader in the recruiting and HR community with more than 15 years of industry experience.

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