Make your Resume and Cover Letter Work

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A resume is the most foundational element to a job search, as you probably already know. What you may not know is how to make that solitary document stand out from hundreds of others and compel the hiring manager to contact you for an interview.

Put your laptop aside, and let’s look at the goals you want to achieve when you produce your resume and cover letter.

Job Search Goals
It’s imperative to connect with the right people. Your mission in a job search is to get the attention of and connect with people who make hiring decisions. The right person is a recruiter, hiring manager or their support person. Eighty percent of companies use a resume management system known as Applicant Tracking Software, or ATS. For your resume to make it into the hands of the right person, it must be searchable and computer friendly. From there, it needs to be desirable to the person reviewing it.

You must be memorable and stand out. You want your resume to be solidly branded with your unique set of capabilities. At the same time, you want to project a professional image. Your resume should be well written and speak for you. Your resume must rise to the top, even if you are competing with hundreds of others.

Key Words
Your resume is like a website. In order for your resume to be found in a database, it must be rich in key words, which are the words most commonly used or associated with a specific occupation. Study job descriptions and select up to 12 words you can incorporate into your resume. Use some of those same key words in your cover letter.

Simple Tools and Formatting
While you may hear of and see trendy infographic resumes, keep in mind your resume will first be “read” by a computer. You can use the infographic resume when you hand it to someone in person or when you post it, but if it’s going into an online applicant portal, keep it as simple as possible. Use Word or PDF versions. Even graphic elements such as separator bars are enough to kill a resume inside an ATS. If that happens, no connection will occur because your resume is now in the computer trash.

You can take more liberties with your cover letter format, but you need to ensure you state the position you are pursuing and a couple of your skillsets that support the stated requirements.

Writing Hygiene
Keep in mind that your resume and cover letter are a representation of you and your expertise. It makes no difference what type of position you are pursuing; these documents should never make you stand out for the wrong reasons. Your documents must be free of typos, grammatical errors, punctuation blunders or confusing phrases. Ask someone you trust or a language expert to review or edit your materials.

Focus on Results
Avoid the tendency to merely write the responsibilities of your previous positions. It’s okay to include some, but the meat of the resume is accomplished by outlining your results. To take that up a notch, incorporate numbers or data to add real credibility to your results. Avoid over-used terms such as “people person” or “results oriented,” as they say nothing. Look up powerful verbs to help you describe your results.

There is no specific format that is right when it comes to a resume. Your aim is to make your information easy to skim and easy to find. If you’re stumped on where to start, Google resume samples and find a layout you like and use that style consistently.

Personal Branding
Lastly, the most important element in your resume and cover letter is ensuring your personal brand creates distinctiveness. If your resume is no different from the last 50 marketing manager resumes, it becomes a needle in a haystack found only by luck. To accomplish the goal of developing a well-branded resume, you need to communicate a few concepts about what is unique and desirable about you and your work. Figuring this out can be challenging, so to help you think through this task, ask yourself these questions: What do people seek me out for? What do I want to be known for?

Use your resume and your cover letter to communicate all the gusto you bring to the party. A word of caution: don’t get outrageous with your job search materials or it will backfire on you. Your job search materials can stand out by giving others insight into all your many assets.

Your resume is your first opportunity to market your abilities to employers. Just as with any brochure you see, you want it to be attractive, and you want it to compel the reader to pick up the phone and call YOU. ■

Sources: and the experience of the author.