Should I write a cover letter?

This is a question everyone asks. Do you really have to write a cover letter? Why bother? The answer is, spoiler alert, YES.

Do you have to write a cover letter.

The obvious answer is you should only write a cover letter for positions you would actually accept. If you aren’t serious about a job, you might not want to invest the time to write a cover letter for your application. By the same logic, if you wouldn’t accept the job anyways, you probably shouldn’t be applying for it. The plain answer is, if you want to stand out, write a cover letter. It isn’t fun or glamorous, but it is an often ignored tool in your arsenal.

What should go in a cover letter?

If you are applying to many jobs and are trying to send each a “unique” cover letter, you may want to make your letter a little formulaic. When writing a cover letter,start by mentioning the company and the job you are applying for, then write a short paragraph about why you are interested in that company, a paragraph or two about what makes you a good fit, and a conclusion asking for follow up. Let’s dig into these sections individually.

Intro:

In your introduction, you should tell the reader who you are, what position and what company you are applying for. You could also include a sentence that says you are impressed with the company and believe you are a good fit with the position.

A little about the company:

The next paragraph should highlight something you like about the company. This will require a little research, but is well worth the effort. Showing you care about more than the position puts you way ahead of the crowd.

A little about you:

Some experiences may need some explaining to make their relevance known. Sometimes, you just want to put extra emphasis on an important project you worked on. Take a few sentences to point those out and highlight what makes you the best choice for the job.

Request follow up:

The final section should be a summary. Restate that you are interested in the company and the position. Review the high level of what makes you a good fit. Finally, ask for follow up either by email or phone and mention that you look forward to hearing from them.

Wrap up

A cover letter is your secret weapon in the job hunt. If you write it well, employers will definitely take notice and you will see a much better response to your applications. Have you recently started sending cover letters, or do you never send them? Let me know why!

How should I describe my experiences?

Describing your experiences is the most important piece to your resume. If you can’t accurately describe what you’ve done, why would a recruiter want to talk to you? Pointing out important details of your experience are the key to writing a better resume that gets results.

Be Specific

Keep in mind that someone reviewing your resume has seen, or will see, hundreds of resumes in a day. Most will just blend together because of the generic descriptions contained in them. If you can be specific about your experiences, they are more likely to stand out and will be remembered when it comes time to offer interviews. If you work in a coffee shop and were able to teach coworkers how to make a drink, you didn’t just ‘serve coffee’ or ‘work well in a team’, you ‘trained 7 coworkers on new beverage recipes’. Specific details are much easier to remember and easier to recommend than general statements.

Be Relevant

The most compelling experiences relate to the position you are applying for. They don’t necessarily have to be exactly what you will be doing in the future, either. Just show that what you have done in the past relates to what the position is looking for. If you are looking to move into hospitality, include details about customer service even if it is in a different industry. If you don’t believe your experience is relevant at all, check this out.  Relevant experience is very helpful in getting your resume noticed.

Be Results Oriented

This piece is more difficult than the other two. Being results oriented means you talk about the outcomes of your work. Don’t just talk about the work you did, talk about the benefits or the end product that you generated. A typical resume may include ‘Provided great customer service’. Put down the results, like ‘Consistently received 90+% on customer satisfaction surveys for excellent service’. If you worked on a project that made something, a book, video, or anything, that is actively being used, include that as well.

Wrap up

Providing specific, relevant, and results oriented details about your experience is a challenge. Not many people will put this level of thought into their resume, so if you take the time to really put these principles into your resume, you will surely stand out. Are there any challenges you face wording your experiences this way? Did you figure out a really good way to explain your experiences? Let me know in the comments.

How should I format my resume?

You’ve taken the time to outline your resume and you have plenty of excellent content. Now what? You need to put that content into a legible, smooth format that will catch the eye of your potential employer. This section will review why formatting is important and a few things to think about to format your resume better.

Why bother with formatting?

Formatting is the second most important consideration on your resume. The first being what you actually write down. Formatting your resume the right way can speak volumes about who you are as an employee and helps make life easier for your recruiter.

Clean formatting shows that you are organized and methodical. Any one hiring for a position that requires attention to detail will be able to see immediately that you have an eye for detail if they see that your resume is well structured.

Additionally, recruiters review many resumes a day. One of the best things you can do is keep your resume organized so you can help them find the information you want them to see most easily. If you want them to know about your years of relevant work experience, it will be easier for them to find at the top of your resume than at the bottom.

What does good formatting look like?

Good formatting, like many arts, changes depending on what you want to convey. If you are a student and don’t have much work experience, it wouldn’t make sense to put that section up front. If you have been out of school for 10 years, it wouldn’t make sense to put your degrees front and center. So what general guidelines can you follow to get a head start on formatting?

  1. Keep ’em separated – Group your work experiences together, group your school experiences together, and group other activities or awards separately as well. You want to have easy to recognize ‘sections’ on your resume. If someone is looking for your work history, it should be easy to find.
  2. Order by date and relevance – In each section you should list experiences from most recent to least recent. Usually what you were doing a month ago is more relevant than what you were doing five years ago. This also applies to whole sections. As mentioned earlier, if you are recently graduated and have a limited work history, your education is your biggest asset and should be at the top.
  3. Be consistent – An excellent way to improve the readability of your resume is to be consistent in your fonts, spacing, even bullet points. Using the same font across sections helps unify your resume and make it look cohesive and well thought-out.

Wrap up

There is a lot of thought and effort that can go into formatting, and a quick refresh on your resume’s format may be all you need to get the interview. What tweaks have you made to your resume format that got results? Let me know in the comments!

What if I’m underqualified?

We’ve all been there. We want to move up, or are afraid we don’t have the experience necessary to qualify for the job we want. In my own experience, I felt underqualified for the job I have now when they hired me. Just keep in mind, a recruiter may have many ‘wants’ printed out in a job posting. They ‘want’ someone with 3 to 5 years of experience; they ‘want’ someone who is fluent in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Tamil; they ‘want’ someone with a Masters degree in Particle Physics. This is very different than what they ‘need’. They ‘need’ someone who is comfortable picking up new skills on the fly, they ‘need’ someone who can communicate with their customer base, or they ‘need’ someone who doesn’t mind getting into the details of the work. If you can find out how to sort through a job’s ‘wants’ vs ‘needs’, you will find that your qualifications can match what is actually required.

What they say vs what they mean

There are many job postings out there with a massive list of requirements. Those requirements, though, really boil down to an idealized candidate. Not many people come in knowing everything they need to do their job. Most people come in with a few of the necessary skills, and then learn the rest as they go. Can you get comfortable with that idea? It took me a while to figure that one out. My first job out of school, I was overwhelmed by how much responsibility I had, and how quickly I got it. After some time though, I learned a few things and became a better employee because of it.

Knowing that a position you are interested in will have a long list of potentially unnecessary requirements, how are you supposed to figure out what is a necessity to the recruiter and what is filed under the ‘nice to have’ category? My short answer, “read the posting”. Many job postings have a consistent format. There is a block of text that describes the position in a few paragraphs, then at the end, there is a big list of requirements. Definitely scan through the big list at the end and see if you match up to some of it, but your real requirements are going to come out of the paragraphs above the list. Do they describe a high energy, client focused position, or are they looking for some one who is more detail oriented, risk-averse. These aren’t necessarily exclusive, but they describe different requirements.

Your secret weapon

So, you’ve really read through the posting and feel like you have what it takes to be successful in a job(or, like me, you are pretty sure you can figure it out). What is your next step? Maybe you still feel like your resume can’t show why you are a good fit for the position. In that case, it is time to pull out your secret weapon, a cover letter. Now, a cover letter is not a guaranteed in, but it will separate you from the crowd. A cover letter is also a great chance to explain how your experiences relate to what a job posting is asking for, especially if you think there isn’t a clear link between the two. If your ideal position requires a technical background, but you haven’t done anything scholarly or professionally related, talk about your hobby of building or fixing computers. Does the position ask for leadership experience and you are just out of school? Give an example of a group project or club activity that couldn’t have succeeded without you.

Wrap up

There are positions that you want to apply for that you may feel underqualified for. Don’t let that stand in your way! Find the commonalities between the experience you have, and the real requirements a job posting is asking for. Really understand what the job requires and write a cover letter that shows you understand the role and how you would be a great fit. If you’ve had success applying with a cover letter, or feel underqualifed for a job and are applying anyways, let me know in the comments.

What is a resume?

As a student, or someone who has been in a position long term, you may have never dealt with a resume, or at least not written one recently. This section will just get you familiar with what a resume really means for you as a job seeker and to your potential employers.

What a resume does for you

What benefit do you get from writing a resume? I’m sure you know, your resume is the first impression you make on your potential employer. Your resume should brag(in a good way) about your past accomplishments and what makes you great. So let’s dig in to what that means your resume should showcase.

Primarily, your resume should be a list of the things you’ve done well. Achievements from school, other work, any certificates or awards you’ve received, these all belong on your resume. Think of this as a list of your greatest hits. Did you have exceptionally high grades? Great make sure that is on your resume. Do you lead a successful team at work? Excellent, write it down. Are you certified in an obscure technology? Perfect, display it proudly. Your resume is the place to show off. At this point, don’t worry if you don’t have the most amazing track record, because there are ways that you can make even mundane or average work or grades stand out from the rest.

Do you have a few ideas for what you are going to put in your resume? Great, the next thing to think about is how a potential employer will evaluate your resume.

What a resume does for an employer

An employer gets a lot of job seekers. A great employer may get hundreds, or thousands, of applicants to sort through a day. If you had to sort through thousands of people to find the one or two that are right for the position you are looking to fill, how do you think would be the fastest way to do that? You can’t talk to everyone, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Even better, ask them to send a brief history of who they are and what they know. Then, you can sort out the candidates who are a good fit and spend more time with the right people. Does that sound good to you? It does to many employers and that is why they ask for resumes.

First, a resume helps them identify who is a potential match for a job. Any one can apply to any job, but if a job posting requires a specialized skill, it would make sense to only seriously consider people with that skill.

Second, a resume is a mini psych profile. It gives a reviewer a glimpse into how your mind works. Are you creative, goal oriented, or organized? A well crafted resume reveals some very important characteristics about the way you think. Start thinking of how you want to order your resume, and you can check here for some ideas if your feeling stuck.

Wrap up

Are you feeling more comfortable with why you will need a resume? It’s ok if you aren’t. If it’s been a while, or if it’s your first resume, this is a new skill and something that will take a little time to learn and master. Fortunately, now that you know why a resume is important, you can start brainstorming what should be on your resume. Or, if you are like me, you might want to come up with an outline or structure first. Either way, I wish you the best of luck in your resume writing and would love to hear your thoughts on what your resume means to you!