Resume & Cover Letter

First of all, you need to know that I am only going to give you my opinion. There is no right or wrong way to do your resume, only choices that you need to make. Some of those choices may be reflective of your personality, style, etc. They may also be influenced by the business climate in your region. Regardless, don’t let anybody tell you that you “must” do or not do something. There are things that are more effective, but nothing is wrong. Keep this in mind as you write your resume and it will help you make the needed choices to design the resume to be the most effective for you. I will only give you my opinion, but you are free to choose to use my suggestions or reject them; it won’t bother me either way.

My first suggestion is for you to completely rethink the resume. Your resume should not be a historical document. Instead, your resume should be marketing collateral that will sell you to a potential employer. With that viewpoint, your resume should clearly convey the reasons why the employer should hire you. The hiring manager will be looking at your resume and asking, “What can this person do for me?” If your resume clearly answers this question for the hiring manager, then you have an advantage. If it doesn’t answer that question then your resume will go into the “No” pile. Of everything I will tell you, this is about the only piece that is absolute: you must make yourself stand out from other applicants by clearly demonstrating your value.

You may be asking, “How do I demonstrate value if I am not working there yet?” The answer is twofold:

  1. you show how you created value for previous employers; and
  2. you customize your resume and cover letter for each position you apply for, so that your marketing materials target their needs.

Every hiring manager has a problem (open position, company growth, etc.), so they are hiring someone to solve their problem. You need to show how you can solve their problem.

All that being said, here are my suggestions for your resume:

  • Put a “value statement” at the top. You can call it a “Summary” or use the title of the job you’re applying for, just make sure it conveys your value. What makes you different than everybody else that’s applying? Why should the hiring manager choose you? How will you help the hiring manager solve his or her problem? You want this to be clear to the hiring manager; connect the dots for them.
  • If you have technical skills, certifications, etc., put those next on your resume. Highlight the important things and keep connecting the dots for the hiring manager.
  • Put your work experience next, in reverse chronological order. Be sure to highlight accomplishments in your resume. An accomplishment is defined as something that you did that increased revenue, decreased expenses, or improved efficiencies. Show them that you made an impact for a former employer so that the hiring manager will see how you can make an impact in their department. The worst words to put on your resume are, “Responsible for;” you may as well say, “Hire someone else.”
  • Only list the last 10 to 15 years of work history on your resume. It is quite likely that any job older than that is irrelevant to the job you are applying for. If you only had 1 job for the last 20 years, you may want to add something else, but seriously consider whether it adds any real value.
  • After your work experience, list your college education; don’t include high school information unless you just graduated from high school. Just list the school, graduation year, and the degree(s) you received. If they want more information they’ll ask. If you graduated Cum Laude, Summa Cum Laude, or Magna Cum Laude, include that also, but don’t list your GPA; the hiring manager doesn’t care. The one exception is applying at an education institution, but they will often want to see transcripts with your application.
  • Only list relevant information. If you want to be a network administrator, is it relevant that you are also a high school theater advisor? If so, connect the dots for the hiring manager and show how it’s relevant in the position description. If it’s not, remove it.
  • Be sure to put your name and phone number at the top of every page. If the pages become separated you want the hiring manager to be able to contact you.
  • Your resume should be as long as necessary to fit the relevant information in it. Typically, 1 to 2 pages should be appropriate for most people.
  • Have 2 or 3 other people check your spelling and grammar. When a lot of people apply for an opening the hiring manager is looking for reasons to eliminate candidates. Spelling and grammar mistakes are often easy ways to start whittling down the pile. This also goes for common mistakes like your/you’re, its/it’s, there/their/they’re, then/than, to/too/two, etc.

One more suggestion: Make the style of your cover letter and the first page of your resume match. By this, I mean the header should be the same (think of it like letterhead) and the fonts, margins, size, etc. should all match. This presents a more professional image.

If this isn’t enough for you, a web site that I have found helpful is Tim’s Strategy. When you get to the site, click “Free Downloads” at the top. Then download and read the “30 Ideas” book (easy reading). Once you’ve read that, check out the other downloads offered. It’s all good stuff. But like anything, use what works for you, ignore what doesn’t. There’s nothing right or wrong, only suggestions. He also has a good blog on the site that I suggest you take a look at.

If you do not have one, I would strongly suggest creating a LinkedIn profile. It will not get anywhere near the amount of use as Facebook, but it will help you connect to your professional contacts. Its value really depends on the hiring manager; some will ignore LinkedIn, others (like me) will check out an applicant’s profile. To me, if you’re not on LinkedIn, you don’t exist; I won’t hire anyone without a profile unless they are literally the greatest thing since sliced bread. There are just as many opinions about what to include on your LinkedIn profile as how to format your resume. Again, it comes down to what works best for you and represents you best. Overall, it should be viewed as a way for others to find out more about you.

I hope this helps you out. Please let me know what works for you in the comments below. Good luck!

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