Career Psychology   |   A Free Career Book

Chapter Six

Career Psychology is copyright © Dan Joseph Cavicchio. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be republished, reproduced, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author. The material in this book is provided solely for informational and educational purposes. It does not substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Information in this book does not represent clinical advice for treatment of psychological disorders.


Chapter Six
Resumes, Cover Letters, and Applications

Finally we come to my favorite career topic: resumes!

Just kidding; resumes aren't anyone's favorite topic. But for whatever reason, I do find them somewhat interesting. Even back in college, I was the guy who helped people with their resumes. I've always had a curious affinity for the things.

All these years later, I spend much of my day reading through resumes. I've probably reviewed over 250,000 of them during the course of my career. I've had job postings which received a thousand resumes in a week, and I've spent a chunk of my work life searching through resume databases.

I've also helped many of my career counseling clients write resumes. I don't do the writing for my clients; we work together, and they do most of the writing themselves. But I do help them understand how companies are viewing what they write.

In this chapter, I'll discuss resumes from the perspective of a recruiter. I will show you what we look for, how quickly we read each section, and what elements are most important. I will also discuss how to write a simple, clear cover letter.

Resumes: The Basics

Before I begin, let me state that articles about "how to write a resume" usually make me frown.

I generally agree with 80% of the tips in these articles. But other 20% seem completely off-base.

Suggestions like, "Use an unusual format to stand out from the crowd," or "Include colorful graphics on your resume," are simply not wise. Those resume tips are not written by people who have to read through piles of these things.

When you're writing your resume, think of us recruiters and have pity on us! We are usually working under enormous time pressure, and usually have dozens (if not hundreds) of resumes to process each day.

Because of that, the best practice is keep your resume clear, simple, and customized to the job at hand. We recruiters would love to find a match between your skills and our jobs. We are searching all day for matches, often frantically. If we have to spend time navigating unusual resume layouts or formats, we will probably give in to fatigue and move on.

In this chapter, I'll share many ways to make your resume, cover letter, and application pop. But that will only happen if the overall package is readable.

Keeping your resume clear and easy to process is the most important thing you can do. Although that's not very sexy advice (and it wouldn't make for an exciting "resume tips" article), it's the truth.

Resume Length

Let me begin the discussion of resumes by answering a common question: How long should your resume be?

My answer is: Your resume should be as concise as you can make it, while still including as much relevant information as possible.

Practically speaking, I generally recommend that:

People who are early in their careers should have one-page resumes.

People who are in the middle of their careers should have two-page resumes.

People in senior positions can have three-page resumes.

No one should have more than three pages.

Now, there are a few exceptions. Folks in academia often have a "Curriculum Vitae" (CV) which contain lists of published research papers, patents, and so forth. If you're applying for an academic position, a lengthy CV is appropriate and expected.

On the opposite side of things, an attorney friend of mine told me that one-page resumes are expected for all law applicants at his company, regardless of seniority level. I've never recruited in the legal field, so I defer to him. There may be other fields where single-page resumes are the norm even for experienced people.

For general purposes, though, I like the lengths above. One page for junior folks. Two pages for most people. Three pages for very experienced people. No one outside of academia needs a four (or ten) page resume.

These are not simply my own preferences. I've had corporate clients say to me, "Dan, why does this person need five pages to describe his work history? If he can't communicate concisely, he's not a fit." I've had to battle to give these candidates a chance for an interview. Their overly long resumes made it harder for me to advocate for them.

You can safely assume that everyone who reads your resume is busy, tired, and eager to get to the end of the recruiting process as quickly as possible. No one will be looking for a good, long read. Resumes that very quickly show matches between your skills and the job you're applying for are the best.

Having said that, let me share a few caveats.

First, don't cram things in order to hit the page lengths I mentioned. Don't run text close to the edges or eliminate spacing between lines. The layout of your resume should appear as normal as possible, with at least half-inch margins on all sides. It's better to edit-down content than to squash it all in.

Also, it's not a good idea to use very small fonts, as some readers of your resume may have less-than-perfect eyesight. If your readers struggle to process the content of your resume, they will be tempted to move on to another candidate. I encourage you to bump up small fonts by a point or two.

If you are unable to fit all your relevant information on one or two pages, certainly go ahead and add another page. If you expand to an additional page, try to fill at least half of the new page you added so that you don't have a mostly-blank page at the end.

Let me share a very important point about resumes: Many recruiters will spend less than thirty seconds with your resume before deciding to put it in an "advance" or "decline" pile. That's it. Just thirty seconds before a decision is made. That's why readability is so important.

In the next section, I'll talk about what happens in that short window of time—and how you can position things for best effect.

Resume Scans

You may think I'm exaggerating about people spending only thirty seconds reading your resume. However, studies have shown that some recruiters take only six seconds before making a decision!

That might seem completely unfair. After all, you may spend quite a while crafting your resume. You customize it slightly for each job. You triple-check it for errors. And then, in the end, someone spends just six seconds reading it?

Unfortunately, yes. That's sometimes how things often go—at least, for positions where there are many applicants.

When I am doing a high-level executive search, I may work for weeks to find just two or three qualified candidates. In that case, I'll spend plenty of time reading resumes very closely.

But if I have a job that garners hundreds of applicants, I need to process things very quickly. I personally try to spend at least a minute reading each resume. But other people will make a near-instantaneous decision based on a few elements that catch their eye.

Let me share an important note about how recruiters like me "scan" resumes on a first pass. Most of my counseling clients are surprised when I tell them this.

When I first read through a resume, I look at the following, in this order:

  • Your name and your city of residence.
  • The first couple sentences of your "summary" section.

  • Your most recent job, plus just the first one or two experience bullets.
  • Then I jump down to the your next job and read just the first bullet.
  • Then I jump down to your education.

That's it.

Usually from that read, which takes a minute or less, I have a sense about whether someone is a great match, a possible match, or not a match at all.

Great matches I re-read in detail immediately. Possible matches go into a pile to hopefully review later. For non-matches, I'll still hold on to your resume for other positions. But the sorting takes place quickly.

An Example of a Resume Scan

To illustrate the scan process I described above, here's how a resume looks to me on a quick first-pass:


Grace Washington
New York, NY
[I skip the rest of the contact info]

SUMMARY

Software Manager in the computer gaming industry with experience developing mass-market titles using both Unity and Unreal engines. Skilled at managing teams of up to 15 people, including software developers... [I skip the rest]

EXPERIENCE

Lead Producer: 3D Games
Braidwood Studios
2015 to present

  • Led the production of six cross-platform titles on PC, Playstation, and Xbox systems which sold a combined 1.5 million units. Oversaw budgets up to $10 million per title and assisted with marketing campaign development.
  • Managed a team of 12 direct reports, including...
  • [I skip the rest of the bullets]

Associate Producer
Windpeak Systems
2000-2015

  • Assisted with the development of three mobile games for both iOS and Android platforms, including prototyping, alpha builds, beta testing, and QA.
  • [I skip the rest of the bullets]

[I skip the rest of the experience section]

EDUCATION

BS, Computer Science, 1993
University of Connecticut

[I skip anything else]


You can see from that "scan map" which parts of the resume are the most important: your summary, your most recent job and its first bullet or two, your next job and its first bullet, and your education.

Other recruiters may have slightly different scans. But it's likely that most of them will move through your resume like I do.

You can probably guess what we don't want to see: a resume that's difficult to read. When there's a resume that's unusually formatted due to design, layout, fonts, or simply organization of content, it prevents us from processing the resume quickly. When that happens, any possible matches get lost.

Unless you're a graphic designer, your resume should be in a standard, basic form. Graphic designers can (and should) play with creative flairs. For everyone else, though, simplicity and standard formats are crucial. Recruiters are simply processing too much to wrestle with anything unusual.

"But Dan," some of my clients have said, "I don't want to work for a company that can't take the proper time to read my resume."

Let me say that I wish that we recruiters had more time.

I personally would love to leisurely read through my stacks of resumes. I would enjoy delving into the details of everyone's backgrounds. After all, I'm a therapist; I'm always curious about people's lives. I enjoy studying career journeys.

But the truth is that most of us in the recruiting world are overwhelmed by multiple job openings with many applications crossing our desk every hour.

While we're reading resumes, we're scheduling interviews, trying to gather interview feedback, and fielding phone calls from people who were interviewed last week and need a decision immediately because they now have an offer with another company.

We just learned that the parameters for one of our jobs has changed, and now we need to cancel the interviews we set up, apologize to candidates, and start the entire search over from scratch.

We're in the middle of salary negotiations with someone via email. At the same time, we're waiting for calls back from candidates we cold-called earlier in the day, who may or may not get back to us, and for whom we'll need to drop everything if they do decide to call.

Most of us recruiters are dealing with all that, and more. That's why we are very grateful for resumes that help us see the relevant elements quickly. You are helping us enormously by presenting information that we can easily process.

Now that I've communicated how frenetic the daily life of a recruiter can be, and why an easily-readable resume is so important, let's talk about how to create that.

Resumes: The Early Sections

Let's begin at the top with your name. Your name can be simple; if you prefer that people call you Dan, you don't need to use Daniel on your resume. It's fine to have your name in a slightly larger font size than the rest of the resume if you wish.

Your resume should include a city and state. It's important for us recruiters to see how far you are from the company in case of a commute. We also may be searching databases using city names.

However, you're welcome to leave out your street address. In this era where people can find an old real estate listing and see the inside of your home, it may be wise to protect your privacy by simply listing city and state.

As I mentioned previously, I recommend to my clients that they set up a dedicated Gmail email account and Google Voice phone number for use on resumes. If you do create a new email and/or phone number, please make sure to forward or check messages regularly.

In the old days, people would include an "objective" at the top of the resume, right below their name and contact information. An objective would generally be a basic statement like:

      Objective: To obtain a job in manufacturing working with electronics.

There's nothing wrong with including an objective, but it usually doesn't add very much. It's also fairly old-school. A better approach is to include a "summary" section instead.

A summary is a one or two sentence overview of your background, skills, and what you are offering with your work. As you may recall from the previous section, the summary is the very first thing we read after your name and location. Therefore, it is your best chance to show a recruiter how you match with her job.

If your summary sounds like a fit for the job at hand, a recruiter will have to put you in the "possible match" group. There is no way that she will pass you by. You showed her, right up front, that you're a potential fit. That is why the summary is one of your best places to catch your reader's attention.

I encourage you to slightly customize your summary for each individual job application. It only takes a minute or two to rewrite these couple of sentences. It's worth the time to modify your summary on an application-by-application basis in order to help the matches pop.

Let me share a few examples of what I mean by a summary.

Let's imagine that you're applying for an Office Manager job with a small, high-tech company. Part of the job involves working with an outside IT firm. Your summary might say:

      Versatile Office Manager with experience working for small, fast-paced companies. Skilled at working with technology, including management of IT functions.

As soon as a recruiter sees a summary like that, she will say, "Wow! This person might be a great fit!" She will then read your resume very closely and carefully.

You might have actually spent a good part of your career working in non-technology fields, or at large companies. But your summary shows a potential match for this specific job you're applying for: the small companies, the technology focus, and even the IT piece.

Those matches are what a recruiter will be looking for. There they are, right up front.

Here's another example. Let's say that you're interested in a sales job at a car dealership. You don't have any experience selling cars. However, in order to show some potential matches, your summary says:

      Sales professional with experience negotiating and closing high-value deals. Skilled at building relationships, including relationships with walk-in customers.

Car sales aren't listed there. However, a recruiter will see "high value deals," "negotiation" skills, and work with "walk-in customers." Those are all extremely relevant. After all, you will be selling expensive cars to walk-in customers, and there will be price negotiations. There might be a great match here.

Your summary is one of the most important parts of your resume—especially if you customize it to show potential matches.

Now, do you have to include a summary section? No, it's not essential. Only half of the resumes I receive have one.

But can it help? Yes indeed—more than almost anything else, given that it's one of the first things we recruiters see. I highly recommend including one.

Resumes: The Experience Section

Let's now move on to the heart of your resume: your work experience.

A typical "experience" section of your resume will list your past jobs in reverse chronological order, with your most recent job first. Each job should start with the following header:

      The company you worked at
      Your job title
      Dates of employment

It's fine to put your title before the company, if you prefer that order. Some people also include the location of the company.

If the companies you worked for aren't well known, you can add a short one-sentence description of what each company does. This will help your reader understand your line of work.

After the company, title, and date information comes a series of four to seven bullets that describe your work responsibilities and accomplishments at each job.

I've seen resumes with only two or three bullets for each job; that is probably too little information. I've also seen resumes with eight or more bullets; that is too many. A reader simply can't process that much information.

As a reminder, a recruiter may only read the first bullet or two of your most recent job, and then the first bullet of your next job. At least on a first pass. So like the summary, those are the elements that are the most important.

Please consider re-ordering and re-writing those first few bullets for every job you apply for. The matches between your experience and the job you're applying for should pop right out.

Bullet Format

To maximize the impact of your bullets, I recommend that you use a "verb—detail—results (if available)" format.

Bullets should start with a verb, and then describe your work and accomplishments. It's helpful to include some quantified detail if possible. If you can add specific results to a few bullets as well, that's great.

Let me share a few examples of bullets the follow this format:

      (Verb:) Managed (detail:) a team of ten people to conduct quality checks on manufactured products, (result:) resulting in a cost savings of $50,000 per year.

      (Verb:) Provided (detail:) addiction recovery services to over forty in-patient clients, (result:) leading to long-term substance use reduction in 75% of the population.

      (Verb:) Taught (detail:) five classes of beginning algebra with an average class size of thirty students. (Result:) Helped to raise test scores 22% over prior year.

Each of those followed a "verb—detail—result" format. As a bonus, all of them included some numbers in the detail, and each ended with a measurable result. (Note that the third example has the result in a second sentence within the same bullet. That's fine to do.)

Now, you certainly don't need to list results in every bullet. But results give a strong "kicker" to your descriptions. They describe precisely what you accomplished, and how your efforts impacted the company or the public. This gives significant weight to your description.

"Dan," you might be thinking, "I have absolutely no idea how to measure my results at work. In fact, I don't think I'm getting results most of the time!"

That's fine; that's the case for many of us. Certainly don't feel pressure to come up with results for every bullet. However, my guess is that you can sprinkle in at least one or two impact statements about your work.

These can be general things like:

      Managed a coffee shop, including all advertising efforts, leading to an increase in traffic and revenue.

      Designed a new user manual for a manufacturing client, resulting in improved customer satisfaction.

      Edited thirty books in both fiction and non-fiction fields. Two of these books reached local bestseller lists.

If you do include results, be prepared to discuss them in an interview. What type of advertising did you do at the coffee shop? How did your user manual improve customer satisfaction? How did the editing help the books land on bestseller lists?

You did—and do—make an impact with your work every day. By all means, claim the credit you are due! Resumes are not the place to be overly modest. If you can describe how your work helped to produce results, your impact will come across in a very powerful way.

Let me now highlight one of the most crucial parts of resume writing: including relevant keywords. Keywords are what recruiters are looking for in computer-based searches. Part of resume writing involves skillfully weaving keywords into your bullets.

Try to think like a recruiter when you're writing your bullets. What are some unique terms that recruiters might be searching on? What are some phrases that they might be looking for? To help answer this, you can take a look at several job ads in your field. What are some unique words that are included in the ads?

Try to weave those keywords—and related ones—into your bullets. Recall the electrical engineering search that I mentioned in chapter four. I'm looking for keywords like "FPGA" and "Zynq" and "embedded systems." Resumes that contain those keywords in the bullets will pop up on my list.

There are undoubtedly many unique terms, phrases, acronyms, and systems in your line of work (or the line of work you want to get into). Try to weave those naturally into your bullets.

Resumes: The Rest

As a reminder, the most important parts of your resume are:

  1. the summary at the top,
  2. the first two bullets of your most recent job, and
  3. the first bullet of your next most recent job.

Those are the parts that many recruiters will focus on in a first-pass read.

After those, I myself usually skip down and read the education section at the end of the resume. For technical or medical jobs, this section is crucial. If a degree in mechanical engineering is required, I need to confirm that.

For most other jobs, the education section may be less important—but it can still be impactful, especially if you include relevant trainings and certifications in addition to any formal degrees.

It's not typical to list your high school in your education section. However, if you attended college for any length of time (even if you didn't complete a degree), you're welcome to list the college. Folks without degrees can use a statement like, "Completed classes in business management," or something similar.

Please also include any trainings and certifications in this section. Especially in information technology and medical fields, certifications are often valued as much as degrees.

Now, what about sections like "interests," "volunteer experience," and "skills" that many resumes include at the end? Are those worth including?

My answer is: sure, an "interests" or "volunteer experience" section is fine if you have extra space. You're welcome to include those if you have room. They can give us interviewers a great jumping-off point for conversations. ("You're a rock climber? Me too! Where do you like to climb?") However, these sections are optional and should not be included if you're struggling to fit more important information.

A "skills" section at the end of the resume is common. For technical people, this often includes programming languages or computer systems. Feel free to include this section if you have specific skills that are relevant to the job at hand.

A Sample Resume

Let me now pull all of this together by sharing a sample resume. The person in this example is applying for a marketing job with a focus on internet-based work.

After I present this, I'll identify some important things that she did in her resume.


Jane Adams
Denver, Colorado
(303) 555-1000
janeadams@fairexec.com

SUMMARY

Marketing Manager with extensive experience leading internet-based advertising and marketing efforts, including email campaigns, video production, website search engine optimization, and online advertising placement.

EXPERIENCE

Winterhold Mountain Properties
Marketing Manager
2018—present

Winterhold Mountain Properties is a real estate holding company for residential properties throughout Colorado.

  • Led all marketing activities for the sale of properties, including management of digital campaigns. Helped increase revenue by 45% and reduce time-on-market of properties from 45 to 22 days.
  • Produced a series of videos highlighting properties which were viewed by more than 10,000 people. 25% of new customers reported viewing these videos.
  • Worked with an outside SEO firm to optimize keywords and copy for company website, resulting in a 15% increase in website traffic year-over-year.
  • Launched monthly email campaigns using Constant Contact. Wrote content for email blasts and worked with design firms to create layouts using HTML/CSS.
  • Managed advertising campaigns on Google Ads and Facebook Marketplace, including analysis and A/B tests.
  • Built relationships with outside vendors, including outside marketing agencies.

Riverwood Productions
Marketing Specialist
2014-2018

Riverwood Productions is a marketing agency that specializes in print-based advertising.

  • Helped the company to launch its first major digital marketing campaign, as an adjunct to traditional print advertising efforts. The combined approach led to a 30% increase in sales inquiries for the client.
  • Worked with a team of designers and copywriters to develop ads for placement in magazines and other media.
  • Managed relationships with editors, publicists, public relations specialists, and other industry insiders in the publishing and advertising worlds.
  • Helped develop new clientele by working with account managers to produce marketing collateral.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

University of Colorado at Boulder
B.A., Business Administration

Degree program included classes on marketing communication, digital production, and advertising. Also completed trainings in Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premier, and After Effects. Certified user of Salesforce.com CRM system.


Let me go through Jane's resume and point out a few things that she did very well.

To begin, her resume is in a standard format, easy to read, and filled with relevant information. That is the best foundation upon which to build. Given that she's in marketing, she can add a few design flairs if she'd like.

Because she's applying for a position that is focused on internet-based work, she customized her summary to highlight that. If a recruiter were to only read Jane's summary and nothing else, he would have to place Jane in the "possible match" group. Jane showed the recruiter, right up front, that there's a potentially strong fit. There's no way for him to pass her by.

Jane also included a great deal of relevant detail—including specific results—in her first few bullets. Along with the summary, these bullets are the most important parts of the resume. She highlighted some excellent matches for the job.

Because both of her companies are relatively unknown and have unusual names, Jane did the recruiter a favor by summarizing what each of the companies do. Without that information, he might be delayed and confused while trying to figure out what type of industry Jane was in.

Jane's second job was with a company that primarily did print-based work. The job she's applying for, by contrast, is focused on internet-based work. Because of that, she chose to start with a bullet about helping her company develop a blended print/internet approach.

Even if this was a small part of her work, it is nonetheless an extremely relevant element for this particular job opening. She put that front and center.

She also skillfully wove keywords into her bullets: things like "A/B testing" (a way of measuring ad effectiveness), companies like Constant Contact (email marketing) and Google Ads (online ads), and HTML/CSS (the language for creating websites.)

In addition, she used the acronym "SEO" and also wrote out "search engine optimization." She covered both formats.

Note that Jane used only years, and not months, on her dates of employment. I recommend this. It keeps things simple, and also helps to cover up any gaps. She also included some relevant trainings and a certification in her last section.

This is an easy-to-read resume filled with relevant items that pop up quickly. That is what we're aiming for. Resumes don't need to be fancy; they simply need to highlight matches.

The Cover Letter

Let me now move on to part two of this chapter: the cover letter.

The majority of the resumes I receive have no cover letter at all, or just a few sentences. I'm used to this; it doesn't bother me. But when I see that someone took time to write a relevant cover letter, it strengthens the application.

I strongly recommend that you include a brief cover letter with your resume when you apply for jobs. It's worth the extra time to create.

I'm going to share a format that I call "Dan's cover letter." This isn't industry-standard. (There is no standard.) But it's what I most like to see. Most recruiters probably feel the same.

My cover letter format is only three paragraphs long. Each paragraph has just two or three sentences.

Here is the format:

  1. Paragraph One: Introduce yourself, and name the job you're interested in.
  2. Paragraph Two: Highlight some matches between your background and the job.
  3. Paragraph Three: Wrap-up and express your interest in having a conversation.

That's it. Just three paragraphs.

Remember that many recruiters will spend only seconds on your resume. The same is true with your cover letter as well.

I've had numerous counseling clients who found it extremely difficult to write such a short cover letter. They wanted to make a strong sales pitch by including pages of detail. I always recommend against this.

To be safe, assume that you have no more than 15 seconds of the reader's attention. Most readers will skip the final paragraph completely, so your first two paragraphs are what really matters. Your goal is to name the job you're interested in, and highlight the top matches. That's all you need to do.

Let's return to Jane in marketing. If Jane were to write a cover letter using my three-paragraph format, it might look like this:


      Dear Hiring Manager:

      I was delighted to see the opening for an Internet Marketing Manager with your company. As a marketing professional with experience managing digital campaigns, I would like to submit the attached resume.

      In my current role as a Marketing Manager, I lead email marketing efforts, create videos, optimize websites for SEO, and manage online ad placements. In my previous role at an agency, I helped the company to launch its first blended internet/print campaign.

      I am available to speak with you at your convenience. Please call or text me on my cell phone at (303) 555-1000 or email me at janeadams@fairexec.com. Thank you for your consideration.

      Sincerely,
      Jane Adams


That's it. Anything longer will probably get ignored.

Let's look at what Jane did. In her first sentence, she named the job that she's applying for. This is important. Many recruiters are receiving applications for multiple positions. They will need to know which role you're interested in.

The second paragraph is what really matters. Jane knows from the job ad that the company is seeking someone with email, SEO, and online ad experience. She highlighted those up front.

The last paragraph is just a polite wrap-up.

An Alternative

A slight alternative to this format—which is even easier to read—is to convert the second paragraph to bullets. In this alternative format, the three paragraphs might look like this:


      Dear Hiring Manager:

      I was delighted to see the opening for an Internet Marketing Manager with your company. As a marketing professional with experience managing digital campaigns, I would like to submit the attached resume.

      My current and past responsibilities have included:

  • leading email marketing efforts
  • creating videos
  • optimizing websites for SEO
  • managing online ad placements
  • launching a blended internet/print campaign.

      I am available to speak with you at your convenience. Please call or text me on my cell phone at (303) 555-1000 or email me at janeadams@fairexec.com. Thank you for your consideration.

      Sincerely,
      Jane Adams


It's almost identical to the first version, but it uses bullets to highlight matches. I personally like this format a great deal.

My career counseling clients often struggle with cover letter writing until they begin to practice with this simple format. Then things become quite easy. You can quickly modify the first and second paragraphs for each new job. The third paragraph doesn't need to change at all.

Although you're welcome to craft whatever type of cover letter you'd like, I invite you to experiment with this format. This style is quick to write, and quick to read—and as I've stated, speed of processing is essential.

Cover Letters: The Exception

There is one exception to my cover letter rule. If you are applying for a job that is not in-line with your background, the cover letter becomes a crucial tool for helping a recruiter see why you're a fit.

In these situations, feel free to expand things slightly. (Just slightly, though!)

Let's say, for example, that you have primarily worked as a bookstore manager. You are now interested in crossing over into the hotel industry. You don't have any experience in hospitality, although you have some very relevant skills.

Here's how a slightly longer cover letter might look for a job as a hotel desk manager:


      Dear Hiring Manager:

      I am very interested in your opening for a Hotel Front Desk Manager. Over the course of my career, I have interacted with thousands of customers, managed teams of up to five people, and held responsibility for off-hour issues.

      Your role appeals to me because I am eager to join a team in the hospitality industry. I am confident that my management experience will cross-over to a hotel environment.

      My work in retail management has focused on customer satisfaction and responding to challenges. I have resolved conflict situations, managed infrastructure issues including electrical and plumbing problems, and been "on call" in the event that team members needed assistance.

      I am available to speak with you at your convenience. Please call or text me on my cell phone at (212) 555-3000 or email me at tanya@fairexec.com. Thank you for your consideration.

      Sincerely,
      Tanya Jefferson


As you can see, Tanya slightly expanded past the brief three-paragraph format in order to clarify that she wants to cross over to a hospitality environment. She also highlighted some relevant skills for that new industry.

If a recruiter only looks at her resume, the matches might get missed. After all, Tanya is coming from a bookstore environment, rather than a hotel.

However, her cover letter confirms that she wants to make a change, and highlights why she's a great fit. She has worked with customers, she has managed teams, she has been on-call during off hours. She has even handled electrical and plumbing issues—helpful experience for a hotel manager!

Hopefully the recruiter or hiring manager will read through this cover letter and see the enthusiasm and matches. The cover letter is still short and sweet. We only expanded it by a paragraph.

Cover Letters: Final Points

Let me conclude the cover letter section with a few important suggestions.

I encourage you to both "over apply" and "under apply" for jobs in order to expand your options. Cover letters can help with both of these situations.

Here's what I mean by over and under applying:

You can apply for jobs that are slightly below your experience level, and make a pitch for the company to expand the role. You can confirm in your cover letter that your experience matches the job description, and also express that you bring additional skills to the table.

I have had job applicants say to me, "Dan, I can do everything on your position description. But I can also do these other things as well. Would you be interested in expanding this role to include those responsibilities?" Although that's a conversation best suited for a phone call, your cover letter can tee up that pitch.

You can also apply for jobs that are slightly above your experience level—jobs which contain skills that you have not yet gained. In that case, the cover letter is a perfect place to highlight the matches that you do have.

Name the matches, and then if you do have a follow-up conversation with a recruiter, you can clarify to them that you will need to "come up to speed" on several other parts of the position description.

I have filled job openings with both of these types of applicants. In the first scenario, the company chose to expand a role to match the candidate's higher-level skills (and salary). In the second scenario, the company was willing to train the new employee on aspects of the job that she hadn't been exposed to.

In both of these cases, the cover letter can help to move you on to the clarifying conversations.

As a final note, I myself like to see the cover letter directly in the body of an email—not as a separate attachment.

I can't tell you how many times I've received a completely blank email with nothing but two attachments: "resume" and "cover letter." In those cases, I skip the cover letter entirely. After all, if I'm going to open a separate document, it's going to be the resume!

For best results, copy your cover letter right into the body of the email. Then attach your resume as a PDF (preferred) or a Microsoft Word document. Send that off, give yourself a pat on the back, and then move on to additional applications.

Of course, please check each new version of your resume for typos, misspellings, alignment issues, and grammatical errors. You may want to ask a friend or family member to take a second look for you.

One thing to keep in mind about resumes and cover letters is that they're simply designed to open the door to further conversations. All you need do is highlight the matches between your abilities and the job description. That is the primary purpose of a resume and cover letter.

Online Applications

Before moving on to the Q&As for this topic, let me briefly discuss online applications.

In general, small companies keep the application process simple. They usually say, "Please email a cover letter and resume to careers@fairexec.com" or something similar. You can then do what I recommended above: Copy your cover letter into the body of an email, attach your resume, and hit send.

However, large companies and organizations often use what is called an "Applicant Tracking System," or ATS. An ATS is essentially a database system that stores your resume, cover letter, and other information for the company. Almost every large company employs an ATS these days. Smaller high-tech companies are beginning to use them as well.

Applicant tracking systems are great for companies; they allow recruiters to sort, organize, and search resumes easily. But for applicants, they can be frustrating. They often require you to enter a great deal of your information manually into forms. Even if the system tries to import elements of your resume automatically, you will still need to double-check and correct things.

Here's what I say to my career counseling clients about ATS's: They will probably only add 15 minutes to the application process. It's best to just flow with things.

Also, many other applicants will become annoyed with the ATS forms and quit the process. This is good news for you, as it means that your application will have less competition.

Once you've entered your information into an ATS for a specific company, you may not need to re-enter it for additional job openings at that same company. Often it's a one-time thing.

In addition, there is a different type of online application system that is the complete opposite of a form-based ATS system. In this other system, all you need to do is hit a single button to apply for a job.

For example, if you have a profile or resume on LinkedIn or Indeed, you can simply click a link to apply for a job. Your LinkedIn profile or Indeed resume is already stored. You hit a button, and we recruiters receive your information.

Those systems are great. However, when using them, you still will benefit by attaching a cover letter and a full resume. Most recruiters give more weight to applications that have those attached—after all, it shows that you took some extra time and are genuinely interested in the role.

Let me now move on to some common questions about resumes, cover letters, and the application process.

click for Chapter Seven:
Resumes, Cover Letters, and Applications: A Deeper Look