Occasionally, I will work with an individual and do some career counseling; it is not really my forte, however, I am always willing to help a friend or a colleague who knows someone that needs some help. I recently worked with a young woman who was unsure as to how she wanted to pursue her career…she had a bad experience with an unethical employer, as I’ve had and she was looking for some direction. It really is difficult working with someone from a career path perspective when they are not sure which direction they want to head….especially when one is not accustomed to career counseling.
I continually stressed to her the importance of a cover letter and her resume, not so much the content…even though we all know that is important…but I feel that it is just as important to have an ‘error’ free cover letter and resume….in fact, in a 2014 survey by the Society of Human Resources’ survey, 77% of all HR Managers will not consider a candidate with even one (1) error on the cover letter or resume. The bottom line is that HR Managers expect to see your best with that first impression; they will tolerate ‘errors’ on the job much more than they will tolerate ‘errors’ in an introductory piece of correspondence.
The basic advice I can give regarding your resume is that most HR individuals want to see experience and education (in that order) in descending order (last position/school first). There is no rule as to how long a resume is to be, however, if you are a recent college graduate, keep it short. If you have a good deal of ‘volunteer’ work, please consider a separate ‘Volunteer’ resume. Send it along with your regular resume; this will give the HR individual an opportunity to decide if they want to look at it or not at that point in time. You may have a few versions of your resume for various types of positions so please spend the time insuring that you are forwarding the correct resume for the position.
Regarding cover letters….that tends to get a bit, more tricky. You want to tailor your cover letter to fit the company and the position. You want the individual reading the letter to know Why you are writing, Why they should be interested in you and What action needs to be taken next….I always recommend that you state that you will be the one following up, instead of waiting for a potential employer to call you.
Here are a few things to remember:
Make it personal. Your letter should be interesting and relevant to the employer while including pertinent facts about your candidacy. You do not have to tell them your work history in the cover letter; that should be in your attached resume. The letter should reflect your personality…send a letter that mirrors your style. Don’t try to ‘fit’ into the mold you think the potential employer is looking for….if you are not that style, it will be identified early on in the recruiting process.
Let others praise your abilities. Place a quote from someone that thinks highly of you from a professional perspective in the body of the cover letter…it is good to let others speak for you. If you’ve done something notable in a former position, let your former supervisor/colleague, etc. write a testimonial to you. Having something a little imaginative/creative can help as well.
Use research to differentiate yourself. Try to learn all you can about the potential employer, including ‘background’ checks. You can learn whether the hiring company has IRS/Department of Revenue, etc. liens against them. You can also learn through a local Better Business Bureau, Professional Organization, etc. if the company has received any accolades. Go on web sites like glassceiling.com to see positives and negatives about a company. Be in charge when you apply for that job….you may decide you don’t want to work for this company, but more often than not, you are going to learn the good things that have come out of this organization and you want to be able to let them know how you can contribute to their organization. If, in fact, you learn that they have nearly $500,000 in IRS and Department of Revenue liens against the business, you can offer to help them in ways that will be cost cutting for the company….but, don’t mention the liens. Look for repeat offenders when it comes to IRS/Revenue issues. If they have liens in say, 2005/2006 and then new liens in 2012/2013, you know they are making the same mistake….probably ‘stealing’ from trust fund taxes. If the company is liened one year and then the owner is liened in a subsequent year, then you know they are been ‘stealing’ trust fund taxes. Be careful.
Tailor your comments to the employer’s needs. In essence, tailor the cover letter to the employer; if you have any outstanding accomplishments that you feel would enhance the employer’s work environment, please mention them in the cover letter.
Do not ever mention money in a cover letter. If the potential employer wants to know your salary requirements, they will call and ask you.
Be careful with risk taking in a cover letter. My overall recommendation is to stick to the words/phrases that you perceive the potential employer is looking for. If you have loads of experience and feel that your age is a positive, then you can write about that but there again, that falls under the ‘calculated risk’ category and I would be careful.
Turn negatives into positives. The cover letter is where you can explain gaps in employment before they are red flagged on your resume….this is a great piece of advice and is very helpful for the individual reading the cover letter.
Please remember that the average Human Resources’ individual does not spend more than five (5) minutes looking at a resume…you want that cover letter to catch their attention…you want the cover letter to have them want to look at the resume.
If you have any questions regarding cover letters, resumes or researching a potential employer, please feel free to contact me, Rosanne Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 484-798-1236.