Opinion: Resume and Cover Letter Writing

I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s resumes and cover letters lately. In general, I’ve noticed a high frequency of basic errors as well as the lack of effort in coherent and aesthetic organization. The result is that I, the reader, wind up believing that the writer of the resume or cover letter in question either lacks motivation for the objective position or struggles with fundamental writing and compositional skills. When reviewing resumes and cover letters for a position, I tend to decide whether or not I like the documents or not (and therefore the applicants) within just a few seconds. Spelling errors, inconsistent formatting, and an ignorance of aesthetics are all immediately noticeable and quick solvents for any obligation I ever felt to thoroughly review the applicant in question.

So, after being on the other side of the job application process, I’d like to share some dos and don’ts as well as some general advice.

Undoubtedly (and I had thought, obviously) the most important aspect is effort. If there is ever a point during the composition or editing process that you ask yourself, “do I really need to (edit it again/go over this/rephrase that/reformat/resize etc.)” – stop asking yourself the question. There’s not a second option. If something causes you to want to call into question what you’ve written and you care at all, you will take the extra steps to ensure that your application materials are flawless. Otherwise, you are risking that you get rejected or put on the bottom of the pile in just a few seconds.

Resumes

Do:

  • Clearly, neatly, and coherently structure and format
  • Include a header containing the name of the applicant in bold and the contact information
  • Use lines to separate sections
  • Use consistant formatting (including the “-” between dates, etc.)

Don’t:

  • Write more than 1 page (or if you are FORCED to under pain of death, 2 pages)
  • Include a language section if you only speak one language (e.g. Languages: English [Native])
  • Include Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or other social media (unless the job description specifically mentions and requires these skills) under your skills section. I mean, this is the 21st century version of knowing how to seal an envelope, sharpen a pencil, and pick up a phone – would you put that in your resume too?
  • Include more than 4 bullets under any 1 position if you have more than 1 former work experience
  • Use fonts other than Times New Roman or Helvetica
  • Use periods unless it’s a full sentence

Cover Letters

Do:

  • If you are emailing, include both in-message and attached versions – not everyone likes printing out emails people
  • Format it as a formal letter – if you don’t know how to write one, take the time to figure it out
Don’t:
  • Use fonts other than Times New Roman or Helvetica (must match resume font – no Comic Sans, ever!)
  • Misspell the addressee’s name
  • Address the reviewer by their first name
  • Use the wrong address (i.e., Ms. when it’s a man or Mr. when it’s a woman. If you don’t know, call the organization, do not identify yourself, and ask if they are a man or a woman. Or, alternatively, use a different form of address)
  • Use Mrs. all the time – since you do not know the marital status or age of the individual in question, erring on Ms. is better than erring on Mrs.
  • Use the same cover letter for multiple jobs, replace the position name and company name but forget to delete the old one… ahem
Additional Advice when emailing job applications:
  • Do not include quotes, images, or personal affectations in your email signature. Not matter how great you think your message is, the only things that are ever appropriate are the following: Name, contact info, address (if necessary), LinkedIn.
  • If you mention in your email that you have attached something, make sure you attach it. For those of you who have had problems with this before, when you first open the email attach the files immediately before typing in the email that you will attach them.
  • Send ideally .PDF or .DOC versions of your documents. Not everyone can open and read .DOCX and it would suck if you that’s the reason why you didn’t get picked.
  • Make sure the file names of your attachments do not indicate that you are applying for other jobs. In other words don’t name your files “Name_Resume4” or send “Resume_Macy’s” to a job application for Sears. If you have a problem of having multiples with names that are too similar, keep separate folders for each job – this way you can always keep your resume title as “Name_Resume” and still have different content. The same goes for cover letters.
  • Do not send an entire folder of documents.
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