Ready, Set, Switch! Make Your Resume And Cover Letter Stand Out


Despite a decade of predictions that infographics, video bios and slideshares would revolutionize the job application process, resumes and cover letters are still very central in getting invited to an interview. However, these documents have changed drastically, so if you’re using versions from even just a few years ago, you’ll want to read this post.

Continuing in the “Ready, Set, Switch!” series, which focuses on indispensable tips to land your new job (see posts one and two), this article focuses on ensuring your application materials don’t get tossed.

While there’s a lot of bad career advice out there, many of the resume tips that fall into this category are simply outdated. They may have worked well at one time, but newer strategies have replaced them. Unfortunately, hirers notice if you’ve neglected to make an effort to remain current and it can hurt your chances of advancing to the next round, even if you’re qualified.

There are already plenty of obstacles to landing the job, so don’t let your resume or cover letter be what knocks you out of the running. Here’s what’s out and what’s in for 2018:

• Out: Including every little thing you’ve done for as far back as you’ve been employed.

• In: Including your most relevant accomplishments for the job that you’re applying to, which may not necessarily be paid roles (volunteer experience counts too, if it supports your candidacy!). The resume is no longer a repository for every detail of your work history. In fact, you may choose to remove skills or achievements if they detract from the brand you’re attempting to convey. Tip: Including work history beyond 15 – 20 years or adding your graduation year can open you to potential age bias. It’s unfair, but it’s reality.

• Out: An “Objective” that states what you want from an employer.

• In: A results-laden “Profile” statement that brings your best achievements to the top of the page. This will become the lens through which the reader views the remainder of your resume and will allow you to succinctly and specifically demonstrate how your strengths can solve the hiring manager’s challenges. Tip: Hirers spend 8 – 10 seconds reading your resume – make it count!

• Out: Overused buzzwords that aren’t backed by accomplishments or can essentially describe any applicant for any role (e.g., team-player, results-oriented, excellent communicator, responsible for, motivated, etc.). Since I’ve yet to see a job ad requesting a lazy loner who doesn’t follow through, these words offer little value and communicate to an employer that you’re unoriginal.

• In: Show (don’t tell) your achievements so they have credibility with the reader. For example, “Led the global implementation of a new operating system for 750 employees across 4 locations in California, resulting in greater data processing speeds and less than .01% downtime.” Tip: Find tips on creating a results-based resume here. Invest in yourself so an employer invests in you.

• Out: Functional resumes (a format that lumps competencies together and minimizes the places/dates of employment). Hirer’s have caught onto this method of hiding gaps in work history, job hopping and career changes, so it’s not working any longer.

• In: Reverse chronological resumes (research shows these are the preferred format). If you’re switching careers, rebrand your resume by highlighting transferable skills from previous roles and removing experiences that are misaligned with your new career direction. If you have a gap, either own it and explain the reason briefly in the cover letter (see below), or lump together part-time roles, gigs and volunteer experience to show you’ve spent your time productively. If you hopped around significantly, it may not make sense to include every job. Tip: Months are no longer expected on your job history; using years only (e.g., 2011 – 2014) can help gloss over gaps.

• Out: Long strings of bullets, skill lists, and hobbies.

• In: Every word must count. In our one-click Twitter world, everything has become more succinct. On a resume, don’t let the great stuff be overshadowed by the good or okay stuff. Four to five stellar bullet points for each role can leave them wanting more, whereas 12 may leave them bleary-eyed and ready to move to the next resume. If your hobbies are “Won Two Olympic Medals” or “Summited Everest,” then include them. If they’re “Love to cook, play piano and travel,” drop them. Tip: Use LinkedIn for relevant content that doesn’t fit on your resume. Include your custom LinkedIn URL on the resume so hirers can easily find you online.

• Out: Including “References Upon Request” – no need to state the obvious.

• In: Three awesome references who will sing your praises. References will definitely be checked, along with social media. Be prepared. Tip: If you have “MS Office Skills” or “Word, Excel, PowerPoint” on your resume, drop ’em. Those programs are needed to simply apply to jobs, so it makes you look tech un-savvy.

A Word On Cover Letters:

Despite a well-circulated statistic that only 17% are read, it’s worth spending time on a solid cover letter. The truth is, cover letters are read after the resume, once the hirer has some interest in the applicant. And considering that surveyed employers reported they only consider about 25% of applicants to be qualified for their open roles, it makes sense why so few cover letters are read.

Don’t skimp on this simple step that lets an employer know you’re a serious contender willing to put effort into the application process. Cover letters are now tailored to the company and job, as well as more concise, communicating your value and personality in three to four targeted paragraphs.

Final Tip: If you approach your cover letter like an afterthought, it’s going to sound exactly like that to the reader. Start here The Dreaded Cover Letter Made Easy to create a document that lands you an interview.

Happy Hunting!

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