Writing Slam-Dunk Resumes and Cover Letters
As a strategies consultant, I do a lot of career coaching for people ready to move on to greener pastures.
Whether you’re established in your field or straight out of school, dusting off that sleepy resume and giving some intentional thought to your next cover letter will give you a serious edge over your competition. Secure your next place of employment using my recommended resume template and my formula for slam dunk cover letters.
Ultimately, the goal is to get a foot in the door long enough to wow prospective employers with a stellar interview. Get that far and be ready to speak articulately about everything you’ve already stated in your application documents. So, practice your responses to tough questions, have a prepared answer about the content of your resume, and know enough about their organization and industry standards to convince them you’re legit.
My resume template is a no-frills layout that maximizes visibility, readability and relevance – highlighting training, experience and personal character. As an applicant, you can expect someone to spend about seventeen seconds or less scanning your resume for key words that resonate; that’s only if they’re not using fancy software with complex algorithms designed to narrow the applicant pool. Bomber resumes effectively communicate your strengths in one page with succinct language that supports your compatibility with an organization in a specific position. Do it well and your resume will rise to the top of the pile.
Every word needs to pull double-duty in its ability to describe and imply not just what you’ve done, but how well you’ve done it. Get your message across with powerful verbs and strategic adjectives that demonstrate a mastery of industry standards and operational procedures. Don’t suggest or imply anything that your previous employers would not readily endorse. A good human resources officer checks references and past supervisors to confirm what’s been suggested. Throw in a lot of frilly embellishment and you risk getting called out for it. Stick with the facts and what is verifiable by others.
Cover letters are a genre all their own. This is a one-page formal letter, designed to convey who you are and why you are the best candidate for this particular organization in this specific position. Get it right and your application goes straight to interview scheduling.
Come across too nebulous, too cocky, too nice, too insecure, too needy, or overconfident and you’ll get the fast track to the inside of a recycling bin.
Covers must be concise in a way that exhibits your mastery of their content, your compatibility with their people, and your commitment to reliable excellence. Employers hire applicants who most closely resemble what the company is looking for. It’s the cover’s job to illuminate why you’re that person.
Start with a (figurative) punch to the face to get the readers’ attention. Hit them hard with why they won’t find a better candidate. Then spend the next two paragraphs backing it up with verifiable facts, undisputed points that you can elaborate upon in an interview. Tease them a little with your training, experiences and accomplishments, and throw in something about why those qualities are an ideal fit for their organization. End strong with what makes you human – whatever character traits that will make you a treasured, sought after member of their team.
Employers expect to train procedure and operational systems – not integrity, reliability, punctuality, teamwork, and honesty. Let them know you’ve got all that covered on day one.
Have a few people proofread everything before you submit. Turn in documents with spelling, grammar, or layout goofs – go ahead and put your stuff directly in the trash. Once you’ve got a rock-solid draft, ‘save as’ a PDF file before you submit. Word processing files are easily tampered with and can reformat upon arrival, transforming your gorgeous documents into utter gibberish. Name your docs with your first and last name, followed by “Cover” and “Resume.”
Invest a little in honing your resume, cover letter and interviewing skills – and it’ll pay you back for the rest of your career.