You never get a second chance at a first impression. In the job seeking process, your first impression (usually) relies on your resume and cover letter. While you may think these are ready to go, your dream job chances can be dashed before you get the opportunity to show them who you truly are: 1 out of 5 recruiters will reject a candidate before reading to the end of their resume (New College of Humanities).
We’re one of the largest staffing companies in the nation, so we see thousands of resumes and cover letters every week. Here are our tips to create the most professional and effective resume and cover letter.
Your resume is intended to serve as both a snapshot and an invitation. It’s a snapshot that shows how your past will indicate your future potential, and it’s an invitation to find out more.
Curating and presenting the best resume possible is crucial, especially when 75% of candidates are eliminated by their résumé alone (CIO). And with more organizations incorporating Applicant Tracking Systems, the odds are getting slimmer and the need for a killer resume is even higher.
Check out our tips for creating the ultimate resume:
Your resume should never be longer than a page. A typical medium-large company gets around 100-200 job applicants per position – making the amount of time spent on each resume very limited.
When recruiters are reported to only look at a resume for less than 10 seconds, the odds of them turning the page are low, and the odds of them getting frustrated are high. Reminder: 47% of recruiters will throw out a resume if it is too long.
Cutting your resume down to a page can be difficult if you’ve had a long career, but recruiters are only interested in what’s recent and relevant. You can bring up your other career experience on your LinkedIn page and in your interview. But always keep your resume to one neatly formatted page.
Now that you know how long your resume should be, you can focus on what you want to include in it. Remember, you have a limited time frame to make an impression, utilizing bullet points and creating easy-to-read content is vital.
Additionally, if you want to increase your odds of getting an interview – and the job – cater your resume to each position you are applying to. That means emphasizing your past experience to best match the position. Don’t lie or overly embellish, 51% of recruiters claim they will automatically dismiss an applicant who was caught in a lie. Simply give them the information they are looking for and always write in the first person (I, me, we, etc.).
But most importantly, DOUBLE/TRIPLE/QUADRUPLE/QUINTUPLE CHECK YOUR SPELLING AND GRAMMAR. We cannot stress this enough. It matters more than you think.
Typically, these are the sections that you will include in your resume:
You’d be surprised how many resumes we receive with incorrect contact information – how are we supposed to hire them if we can’t find them?! Full name, phone number, and email are absolutely required. Addresses can be clunky and take up too much space, it’s best to include your general metropolitan area. Claim your vanity URL on LinkedIn and include that as well.
(714) 939 – 8600
Orange County, CA
We cannot overemphasize the importance of a professional email address (this applies to LinkedIn vanity URLs as well). It’s best if it reflects your name in some way, rather than being funny or clever.
Double and triple check this section is both current and accurate.
These can feel helpful but often end up as vague and confusing mashups of corporate zombie talk. “An efficient team player seeking opportunities…” what does that even mean?! This hollow language doesn’t speak to how amazing you are.
When space and time are precious, it’s best to avoid this section all together. You can tell a recruiter your true objective in person.
This is the meaty part of your resume. Your experience section will speak loudest to recruiters. However, it is still important to make sure this section is easy for consumption. Keep this section short and sweet by getting straight to the point.
Introduce each position in reverse in chronological order, with your most recent position first, followed by your second most recent position, and so on.
List the position, the organization, and the time spent working there. You can lead with a quick sentence that describes the position, then use bullet points to describe your accomplishments and responsibilities.
Lead with your accomplishments first, followed by your responsibilities. Use action verbs to describe these (oversaw, managed, analyzed, increased, etc.) and introduce quantitative information whenever possible.
Also, don’t forget to speak in the correct verb tense (present tense for current positions, past tense for former positions).
Ambassador, Roth Staffing Companies (2014 – 2017)
Served as a temporary employee on a variety of short-term and long-term assignments within the administrative and clerical space.
- Simplified data entry process for weekly reports, decreasing time spent from 10 hours to 2 hours.
- Greeted visitors from Fortune 1000 organizations and coordinated their daily activities
- Coordinated inventory orders, office supplies, and daily office activities
- Organized daily meetings for CEO
- Scheduled weekly flights and travel itinerary for a team of 12 executives
There’s no need to list past salaries. This can hurt your salary negotiations.
Some like to list a reason for leaving each position. Only do this if you had a job for an unusual amount of time or have had several jobs in a short time frame. Reasons to cite include: temporary or contract work, organization closing or outsourcing, and layoffs.
If you were fired, quit, or were recruited out, there’s not much reason to cite a reason for leaving.
Be proud of your education, no matter the level. However, your graduation date will affect how much you include. Always include the school, dates of attendance, and majors and minors.
2005 – 2009
B.S. Business, Minor in Communications
Feel free to include major projects like dissertations, theses, research, and honors and awards. Go further, if and only if, you are less than 5 years out of school. Additional elements can include GPA (ONLY if it’s over 3.5), consulting projects, organizations, clubs, and notable positions.
Education and graduation are two very different things. We live in the age of technology and checking on a graduation status doesn’t take much time or effort. Catching yourself in a lie, or even a half truth, does not look good. Even “suggesting” that you might have graduated can cost you the position and your reputation. If you haven’t graduated, list your degree as “In Progress” or list the number of credits you have completed.
In the interest in time and space, if you attended community college, do not include high school. If you have a Bachelor’s degree, don’t include community college. In essence, list the highest earned.
Use this section to display your professional skills. Include work-related technical skills required to be successful in a position. Add in programs and other technologies you are skilled in.
Again, don’t lie. Don’t include skills you are not versed in or out of date. Only include it if it meets the skill rule: if you were in an interview and the interviewer asked you to demonstrate a skill on the spot, you could perform it with flying colors.
Do not include “soft skills” – they don’t mean much to recruiters and there is no way to measure them. Your experience section should have already demonstrated those skills.
Extras: Awards/Hobbies/Volunteering/Side Hustles
Include these if you have them and they are professionally relevant. These add dimension and create a more well-round vision of you as a candidate.
Format & Design
How your resume physically looks can have a big impact. Make sure you create clear sections and employ bullet points in each one. Keep spacing consistent and keep a good balance of white space.
It is imperative that you use a legible font – nothing fancy, trendy, or crazy. Standard fonts are clean and easiest to read. Size 12 font is best for formatting. Make your headings and other major points stand out.
If you are a designer, or work in the creative space, your resume design should be a demonstration of your talents. If you’re not, simplicity is key. Feel free to get a little creative, but make sure it’s printer-friendly. This means predominantly black text and being wary of colored accents. If a recruiter prints it out to share with someone else, you want to make sure it’s crystal clear. Save it as a PDF to make it easier for recruiters to view across platforms.
How much design flair you add should reflect who you are and the organization you are applying for.
We’re seeing the demand for cover letters less and less now. But that doesn’t mean they have lost their value. Cover letters give you one more shot to make a good impression, add some depth to your resume, indicate your intent, and illustrate why you want that position and that organization.
Cover letters are much more structured and absolutely must be tailored for the the position and organization.
Again, recruiters have limited time to indulge in the written word. They just want the information they are looking for, 70% of employers prefer half a page or “the shorter the better” (the Harvard Business Review suggests even shaving it down to 5 sentences). A half a page comes out to about 250 words. This can feel intimidating. You either finally get a chance to express yourself and you’re limited OR you’re worried about even reaching 250 words.
William Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” meaning getting your point across efficiently is more impressive than taking the long way to express something.
To keep it in this frame, here are some of our tips.
The Template Temptation
Templates are everywhere and can be tempting. However, your cover letter should really be custom made for every position.
But fear not, there are some basic points you should address in your cover letter.
- 1st paragraph: Who you are
- 2nd paragraph: What you can do for them
- 3rd paragraph: Why this company
- 4th paragraph/closing: Close with an action item
It’s best to address the letter directly to someone, rather than relying on “To whom it may concern:”. If you are responding to a job post with no clear recipient, it’s okay to make a general address or use “To whom it may concern:”.
Again, it can feel tempting to shift back into corporate zombie speak. This is your chance to speak in your true voice. Make sure your content is honest and genuine, while still being professional. Feel free to match your tone to their culture. A startup in Silicon Valley will require a very different tone than a financial firm in New York.
It can feel awkward to brag about yourself. Simply imagine someone who is proud of you is writing it. What would they emphasize? Never self-deprecate or sell yourself short, you don’t want to give them reasons to excuse you before they’ve even met you. Focus on your passions and what makes you great.
This is not your chance to repeat your resume. They already saw that. However, you can elaborate on some impressive projects or explain a gap.
Focus on your skills and continue to provide quantitative support. Establish what you can do for the organization and flaunt your skills. Remember to avoid soft skills unless you have concrete evidence.
Try and steer away from your educational experience unless you have something really important to emphasize.
Talk about Them
Recruiters want to know if you’re invested in their organization. Reference articles the company has written or programs they’ve implemented and relate them back to yourself. Mention connections you have to the organization (if you have one) and briefly discuss why you want to work for them.
Now that you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, take a deep breath. You have plenty to flaunt and now you know how.
Go get your dream job!