Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Practical resume and cover letter tips

My assistant handed a resignation letter 2 weeks ago and his last day was on Friday. I almost cried. There are about 6 major projects on the to-do list and training a new person will take time no matter how bright they are.

This also meant that besides being incredibly busy, I have to sift through 50 resumes to find applicants for interviews. I did it today. I want to write down some things that stood out to me when I was looking at a stack of resumes so that I remember it next time I am looking for a job.

Here are some things that I considered and realised while sifting through a stack of resumes.

Profile vs objective
I am a strong believe in a profile, rather than objectives. Objectives always sound generic, where a profile summarises the applicants key strengths. If these key strengths fit the needs of the position, it's an instant tick and I continue reading. Instead of an "objectives" section, I would recommend a "career summary" section.

Resumes in rtf format vs word doc or pdf

I got an rtf file resume and was wondering what the heck is going on. Then realised that big companies might do resume scanning. Well, I am the resume scanner in this case and it's just too annoying. It might be a good idea for big companies but in this case I would suggest making sure there is a word or a pdf version attached.

The 'creative' resume designs

Hmmmm. Not sure how I feel about it. Perhaps I have not seen high quality design but generally I have no interest in seeing the neon green, the underlined words, the 50 lines on one page, the blocks of colours or any other artistic approaches. It distracts me from the content even if it looks ok. And if it's 'ok' instead of 'awesome', it's really not worth it. Simple, clean, easy to read is always the winner.

Applicants qualifications

We have SO MANY people with Masters degrees applying for the job. It's just an assistant position and as soon as I see "Masters", it goes in my 'probably not' file. I know that these people, however good they are, will not stick around for the salary we are offering and won't want to bind reports. To be honest, when there are overqualified people applying for the position, I don't put much effort into reading the applications. This is the honest truth... As sad as it might be (and I remember being really frustrated about it when I was looking for a job), it is a very important point.

Spacing & design

I am a big believer in bullet points. However, when there are 100,000 of them on a page, I get dizzy/bored/etc. Make sure the resume is easy to read - especially, easy to skim through because with 50 applications, I don't have time to "read" the resume unless the applicant is in the top 5 pile. In fact, I would go as far as suggesting to have a professional designer work on the resume to lay it out so that it's very easy to read and the key points stand out in a subtle manner.


There are people who clearly don't have enough experience, however, they have cleverly taken the experience& personal skils they do have and made them fit the selection criteria. I have no problem with that.

File name

All the applications for this position were saved in one folder. All the ones that didn't have name in the application would not even get considered as I don't have the time to match up the name with the right resume. I know it sounds snobby but a simple thing like that can make a killer difference.

People who sent in files with names like FirstSecondname_Resume, FirstSecondname_CoverLetter, FirstSecondname_SelectionCriteria, were at the top of my pile. I also had selection criteria sent in with no name in the file name or in the actual paper. It made me angry because someone has spent so much energy to fill it out and now loses out because it would take me ages to go through every applicants email in the admin folder to figure out who it is. Also it tells me that this person probably does not have attention for details. It's a must in this position.

The quality of the resume

The resume that I picked up and subconsciously thought "I want to interview this person" before I even read what the content was had a subtle header and footer, a pdf signature (not necessary at all but the extra effort that she'd put into getting it in there was noted), easy to read language, clear dot points and a selection criteria response. It answered all my questions in a glance. Clean, clear and professional - winner!

Cover letter

The opening sentence to me is a huge clue.

These are some questionable opening sentences:
"I wish to apply for the marketing and communications assistant position to assist in your hours of trade."
"I, K... D..., am a dedicated, motivated and reliable young man looking to further my career in the marketing and advertising industry."

Good examples:
"I would like to apply for the position of Marketing and Communications Assistant advertised on Seek website."
"I am writing to apply for the position of Marketing and Communications Assistant."

I always read the cover letter first to see how well the person can write and get a summary.

I think that one line bullet points are much easier to skim through - try to stick with one line.

Also, it is common knowledge that it's clear in the first paragraph which applicants have taken the time to write a cover letter and tailor it to our requirements and which ones have a generic letter that is sent to everyone. The latter takes major points off an application, even if the experience is relevant. Also, I think 2/3 of page content is sufficient. Unless it's a really specialised job, I don't need a lot of detail, I just want the summary to get me interested to read through the resume.

Photos on the resume
Believe it or not but it does happen more often than you'd think... And judging by the photos these are people who are good looking and to me that says "I know that I am good looking so I will see how I can use to my advantage". It's also clear that they have not figured out yet how to present themselves professionally.

The bottom line

Have a well written cover letter with a good summary of your key strengths as relevant to the position, education and all relevant experience. Have a concise resume that is easy to skim through. If you take the time to write a response to the selection criteria, your resume will be set aside and noticed. If it's a position that might require samples of your work (communications), sending in the samples right away will land your application on the top of the pile.

Most importantly, remember that the perfect job is waiting for you!

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