How to Write a Cover Letter and Resume that Stand Out
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In a highly competitive job market, landing an interview often comes down to crafting a stand-out resume and cover letter. Employers sometimes have hundreds of applications to sort through, and if you don’t do something special, your application can be quickly overlooked. Here are our tried-and-tested tips for creating a cover letter and resume that stand out.
The cover letter
A cover letter is a short synopsis detailing why you are the ideal candidate for a job. It introduces your resume to potential employers and highlights your suitability for a particular role. It’s your first impression, so keep it engaging.
Your cover letter should be designed to complement your resume and should be no more than a one page letter or short email (roughly 250 words). If you choose email, attach a pdf copy as well, should a prospective employer want to print a copy off.
Start by finding out the name of the person filtering through applications. Don’t put “to whom it may concern”—this shows you haven’t done your research. Also, figure out which skills you want to emphasise by carefully reviewing the job description. Underline or highlight the most important technical and behavioural skills the position requires, or better yet, find a contact who knows the hiring manager and understands what they are looking for.
Clearly state the position you’re applying for, where and when it was advertised, and the reference number (if applicable). This shows your letter is written specifically for the role you’re applying for. Use clear, direct language, and keep sentences short and sweet. Refrain from using big, fancy words, and pay attention to grammar and spelling. Poor English could make or break your chance at being singled out!
Some more tips:
Use a size 10 or 11 point font and make sure it’s readable. Favourites include Calibri and Arial. Choose the same font for both your cover letter and your resume for a professional finish.
Leave plenty of white space on the page. Include spaces between the greeting, paragraphs and your signature. Your cover letter is much easier to read and skim over if it is well-spaced and contains just the key information.
Choose three skills you feel are your strong suits and focus on these. For each skill, brainstorm some projects, assignments or responsibilities that illustrate your expertise in that area. Select either one in-depth, or a couple of shorter experiences to talk about.
Consider using bullet points for the information you want most noticed. Paragraphs tend to blur together, whereas a bulleted list draws the eye. Make sure each bullet point is short, and start it with an action word ie. executed, facilitated, oversaw, mentored, enabled, improved, managed, developed…
Don’t be too humble. Your employer should know that you’re confident, a great fit for the role, and that you’re ready to meet and get the job done.
Your cover letter should show you have strong interest in the role and the organisation (employers want to hire candidates that have a genuine desire in their job—not just any job). It should focus on the skills and attributes the employer has mentioned in the job description and should highlight your excellent written communication skills. Use structured paragraphs and professional language, and proofread, proofread, proofread!
End with something positive, such as “I look forward to speaking with you and discussing how I can assist you in kicking some great goals.”
Think of your resume as your own personal advertisement. You are the product, and your goal is to get hiring managers to buy into what you are selling. Look at your resume as your marketing tool—your trusty belt buckle of tricks.
A stand-out resume starts with a stand-out name. Don’t just title it “resume”, give it a recognisable name and one that no one else will have. Personalise the filename at least—FirstLastnameResume.pdf. Unless otherwise stated, a PDF should be given so that you don’t have to worry about funky formatting or the recruiter seeing a page of garbled mess.
There are several basic types of resumes used when applying for job openings. Depending on your personal circumstances, choose a chronological, a functional, a combination, or a targeted resume. A chronological resume (in reverse chronological order) is the most widely used, but there might be times when you want to focus your resume on your key achievements instead.
Your resume should include:
Your contact details
An opening statement
A list of key skills
Personal attributes/career overview
Employment history/volunteering/work placements
If you’re entering the workforce for the first time, or this is your first “real job” application, include activities that accentuate your capabilities. If you’ve been the captain of a sports team, for example, you can demonstrate that you’re a leader and that you’re comfortable working with a team.
State the important information first
The most important thing to remember when crafting your resume is to get the most useful information across first. For example, if your education history is not specifically related to the job, put it towards the end of your resume—behind the information that is relevant.
Put in bold your name, job titles and maybe two or three important keywords.
Keep your resume to 1-2 pages—this will stop you from giving your life story.
Move the bullet points to the top and trust that this will be enough to get the recruiter to pick up the phone and call you.
Focus your resume on what you achieved in each job, not your job responsibilities.
And finally… thoroughly edit your resume before sending. Check for grammar and spelling errors, as well as any style inconsistencies. Consider asking a friend or family member to have a read over, or pass it on to a career counselor to seek their opinion.
This is general information only and does not take account of your individual investment objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on it, consider if the information is appropriate and whether you need to speak to an accredited professional.
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