Your Cover Letter and Resume is your chance to make a positive first impression with a Recruiter or Hiring Manager. The goal is to use the documents to obtain a phone screen in the next step of the process. The content in these documents has changed dramatically over the last several years from being focused on duties and responsibilities to accomplishments and results. The focus now being on what has been and will be your contribution rather than just what your qualifications are.
Start the processes by listing on a sheet of paper all of your success stories. Pay careful attention to those that are easily definable by numbers. Study your performance reviews or other related documents for ideas. This exercise serves not only to help draft your Cover Letter and Resume but it is also a great tool to boost your confidence. At the end, you will probably be surprised by how much you had forgotten you accomplished.
The following are some tips that will allow you to focus on accomplishments and grab the attention of the Hiring Manager.
• Be concise – A Cover Letter and Resume reviewer will typically give only an initial 10-15 second review before deciding to either discard or read further. It is important that your accomplishments are written in a manner that will allow quick recognition. Avoid long-winded sentences with a lot of narrative. Try to use specific “keywords” that are relevant to the organization, profession, and industry. This will allow your resume to more easily be marked for further review if a company uses an electronic tool to scan resumes.
• Use an outline format – As you noticed in my column over the years, I use a specific format using checkmarks to list my points. I do this for a reason: many believe this is the best way to quickly make valuable points in a style that readers are comfortable with. This format will allow you to quickly organize your accomplishments in a format appealing to the reader.
• Stay specific – Avoid general statements that do not tie back to a specific accomplishment. Examples of this would be statements such as “hard worker” or “works well under pressure”. Instead tie these behavioral traits to specific activities or results you have achieved.
• Make relevant statements – If you achieved a specific result, but you cannot match it to a skill or behavior that is needed in the position you are seeking, then it should be omitted. For example, if you can type 50 words per minute but the position does not require keyboarding skills, you would probably be best served to use this space for a different accomplishment.
• Write passionately – Use descriptive adverbs and adjectives. Experiment with appropriate use of exclamation points. Use numbers wherever possible. If you can make it a dollar amount or a percentage, then do so to grab the reader’s attention. Write the number using digits instead of words. This will grab the attention of a resume scanner to a greater degree.
• Give them what they are looking for – Hiring Managers want individuals who will work more productively and efficiently. Any statistics you have that will reflect your performance, such as units or calls per hour, sales, and words per minute, will help you be noticed. Similarly in these budget conscious times, anything you did to save the company money such as an idea, team performance, or personal accomplishment should be documented. Did you solve a long-standing challenge in the organization with your idea(s) or leadership?Consider using the past as a benchmark to what you did, such as “improved productivity on line 1 by 25% over previous years’ performance”.
• Play the match game – The advertisement that caused you to apply for a position contains valuable clues. Read the advertisement thoroughly for the skills and behaviors needed in the position. Match your accomplishments specifically with what the company needs to obtain. Try to use the key words found in the advertisement so that you write in the same style as the organization.
• Do not over state – Hiring Managers are generally pretty savvy and can tell when someone is overstating their accomplishments. If what you have accomplished was done in a team, then you should state so. Be prepared to have the interviewer ask for details regarding any accomplishments. So unless you are a champion schmoozer, you will most likely have difficulty appearing truthful if you have fibbed.
• Line up strong references – These individuals will help to verify the accomplishments stated on your Cover Letter and Resume. Review ahead of time with these inpiduals what you have stated on your documents and how it applies to the position you are seeking.
Today’s Job Seeker has the challenge of separating themselves from the others who have applied for the same position. Think of your job search as a marketing campaign in which your end goal is to have the Hiring Manager “buy” your product. A great start to that differentiation from your competition is to focus on your accomplishments and results on the Cover Letter and Resume.
As always, best of luck in your job search.
The following has been prepared for the general information of WNYJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
WNY Human Resources Professional
Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at: