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  • Kristen Struys

Resume & Cover Letter Clean-Up - Prepare to Flourish series

Resumes and cover letters are essential tools to have ready when an opportunity for a new role presents itself to you. Legend has it; Leonardo da Vinci created the first resume over 500 years ago when he applied for a job with the Duke of Milan. Since then, using a resume and cover letter has boomed since the 1950s. They are now essential assessment tools for hiring managers and recruiters. The most important thing to demonstrate with your resume and cover letter is how your skills and experience meet the employer's needs.

A resume is a marketing tool highlighting your skills and achievements. The goal is to make yours stand above the other candidates.

Resume types

Depending on the role you apply to, and your years of experience post high school or college, you may consider one of the following resume formats:

  • Chronological - lists your job history starting with your most recent job. If you have worked over 15+ years, only list the last 15 years of work experience. This resume is excellent to show the upward movement you have made in your career.

  • Functional - provides your skills with relevant achievements and less emphasis on the companies, roles, and timeline. This format works well if you have career gaps or plan to pivot to a new career path.

  • Combination/hybrid - shares your employment history and relevant skills for the job. This flexible format allows you to adjust the content based on what is more important to showcase first.

Resume format

All over the internet, you'll receive advice on the best layout for your resume, and no two opinions are the same. In general, your resume should be no more than two pages, and you should keep your formatting simple. Use easy-to-read fonts (Arial, Calibri, Veranda) and be consistent with the resume and cover letter layout.

Resume content

A good resume is clear, concise and lists previous responsibilities of past roles. An outstanding resume highlights achievements, quantifies success, and spells out the impact you had on the organization.

Recruiters and hiring managers look for how your breadth and depth of experience will fulfill the role. Include the following sections in your resume:

  • Heading - your name and contact information

  • Summary - who you are, what skills you bring and what you have accomplished

  • Core Competencies or Areas Of Expertise - your relevant skills to the job

  • Professional experience - your work experience

  • Education - degrees you've received or training or certifications you've completed

  • Special skills - awards, volunteer work, computer/software skills

While it may not seem obvious in some roles, there are ways to share your results and your impact on the company in your resume. Here are some examples for a variety of roles:

Information Technology (IT) help desk manager:

Resolved over 200 helpdesk tickets through telephonic and email ticket system, with a first call resolution rate of 83%.

Retail associate:

Awarded "Salesperson of the Month" honor three times in 2019, with average monthly sales of $15,000.

Human resource manager:

Investigated and implemented a new HR payroll system, resulting in $20K savings.

Recruiters and HR managers are interested in facts and figures, they are the best way to sell your abilities and achievements.

Application Tracking Systems (ATS) and keywords

Most organizations require candidates to apply to roles through an online application called an Application Tracking System (ATS). These systems collect, and sort resumes, and compare your resume to the job description and score it to see how you rank. These systems help recruiters quickly sort through a high volume of applications. Use these two strategies to increase your chances of getting to the top of the list.

  • Tailor your resume to the job opening. Review the job description and figure out the most critical challenges or needs of this role. You'll use this information to modify your resume with your relevant experience to the top. Hiring managers only give resumes a 6-second scan; make it easy by sharing why you are a great candidate with those important details at the top.

  • Add the keywords from the job description into your resume. What are keywords, you ask? Keywords and phrases are skills and traits a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. They are your hard and soft skills and accomplishments you will include in your resume. And use the exact same terms detailed in the job description. For example, if they say ‘business development’ don’t think because your resume talks about accomplishments in ‘sales’ the ATS systems will score you as high as the candidate who used ‘business development’ in their resume.

A website like jobscan will compare the job description and your resume and give you a rating and suggestions to update your resume with the keywords found. Or use a word cloud tool like to see the top words mentioned and incorporate them into your tailored resume for this job. It would help if you used the specific keywords and phrases to make it through the pre-screening of your resume in an ATS.

Cover letter

A cover letter is your opportunity to dazzle your future employer with your knowledge about the company and the pain points they may have. In addition, it's your chance to identify how you will help them solve these challenges. A cover letter may or may not be a requirement to include in the job application.

Some recruiters are not interested in them. Others say well-thought-out cover letters have won them over because the applicants shared their passion and enthusiasm for the role and the organization. In addition, a cover letter allows you to highlight the not-so-apparent links between your experience and what they're looking for in the role. If the job application requires a cover letter, make sure it is fantastic! This is your opportunity to shine.

  • Address the cover letter to the hiring manager or recruiter if you know their names. Use LinkedIn to find those individuals.

  • Share one of your success stories that tie back to a challenge identified in the job description.

  • Identify in one or two sentences why you want to work for this specific organization.

  • Tailor the cover letter for the company you are applying to. Most recruiters will be able to sniff out a general cover letter sent to every other organization.

A note about social media profiles

Back in the day before all our lives could be found online, you only needed a resume and cover letter. Now, recruiters and hiring managers are also scouting out your social media profiles to learn more about you and what you bring to a role. That means you should do an audit of your social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, MySpace) and delete any posts or comments you believe an employer may be concerned about. Another alternative is to make these social media profiles private or non-searchable.

LinkedIn is a valuable platform for making connections, showing your work, and staying informed about your target companies. Be sure to keep your LinkedIn profile updated when you’re looking for a job. There are several parts of your profile you can use now.

  • Connect: reach out to former colleagues and clients to build your network.

  • Recommendations: did a great job in a past role? Ask a colleague or client to share their feedback about your work and personality.

  • Experiences: If you don't have an online portfolio to show examples of your work, post links or documents of your past projects.

  • Follow: Follow companies and CEOs to learn more about your target companies and what's happening.

Getting everything ready for the big interview and beyond

Take the time to update your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, and other industry profiles, so they align with the job you want next. Ensure your content is consistent with the same message and job history information so a hiring manager will see consistent information from one tool to the next. Your resume and cover letter should have the same look and feel to show a cohesive application package to top it off. If you feel overwhelmed by this project, hire a resume writer or cover letter writer to help you.

By having your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile updated and ready at all times, it means that you'll be able to act quickly and with confidence when you see a job that excites you.

Join us for the accompanying podcast where we’ll be speaking with Dionne Gray, a Certified Professional Resume Writer. Dionne shares some great tips and more practical ways to clean up your resume. You can listen to our accompanying podcast here.

What steps will you take this week to flourish?

Edited by Stephen Flanagan at Talent Attract


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