A cover letter is a vehicle that hopefully drives recruiters to your resume. The resume is the path to an interview – the next step on the road to a job. Both the resume and its accompanying cover letter are really just sales tools. And you are the commodity that you’re selling. When you think of your services as a desirable product, you’ll want only the best marketing tools to sell them.
While you’ll find lots of information on the Web about the various kinds of resumes you should use and the proper formatting for cover letters, the best tools are those that get you results. Each job you apply for is distinct and has unique characteristics and people doing the hiring. To target that market, don’t cut short the time you spend developing your marketing. Customize each resume to suit the job and the needs of the company. Make the cover letter sing with praises for the company and for the role you’ll play in its future.
Recruiters shouldn’t have to scour through long lists of job duties and dates of employment to find out what qualifications and experience you bring with you to the job. A resume is an easy-to-read inventory of your strong points, your credentials and your assets. List those certifications that are required for a job right at the top of your resume if they’re needed for the position. Forget about naming your previous employers unless the names are big enough in the industry to impress the recruiters. Use the cover letter to introduce your inventory, making a compelling case for the recruiter to read it.
Think of every word and line you write in your resume and cover letter as a sales pitch. Online sales marketing, for example, relies on keywords, those words picked up by software programs designed to weed out irrelevant content. To get past the computerized gatekeepers, you’ve got to incorporate words the company used in its online ads all through your cover letter, resume and application. Place a strong, unique objective at the top of your resume that touts the features and benefits you bring to the job. Explain in the first couple of sentences in your cover letter why the recruiter will want you on her team. Sell yourself with every line.
The resume and the cover letter must be easy on the eyes. It actually should be pleasing to look at, with a well-balanced format and easy-to-read font. Each sentence must spell perfection. You can’t afford a single grammar or spelling error. Review email attachments and insertions to make sure the formatting doesn’t lose some of its beauty in the sending. Use bullets, spacing, underlining and bolding to draw attention to the highlights and make it easy to scan. You may have only a few seconds to make an impression before your resume and cover letter get tossed in the circular file. Make them count.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."