On average, 250 people apply for every job.
Now that it’s time to start applying for summer jobs and post-graduation work, that statistic should worry you. There are countless people looking for work all the time, which means there will always be competition. Despite your qualifications, education, and work experience, it can still be difficult to stand out in an inbox full of candidates.
You’ve probably heard this before, but recruiters spend an average of only six seconds on each application. The only way to break through and get noticed is to have an application that stands out. Your cover letter and resumé not only need to be polished, but should catch the eye of the person scanning them.
We’ve compiled a list of best practices and new ideas so you can revamp your resumé and force recruiters to think you’re the star they need on their teams.
The days of the standard cover letter are over. Even in the most serious of industries, recruiters are looking to find out more about you—fast.
After a simple introductory sentence, your first paragraph should hook the reader, (and you don’t have to be a writer to grab their attention!). It should be a combination of an introduction and a showcase of your interest. If you’re applying to a position in branding, speak about what brands are important to you and why. Show your passion right from the start.
Too many people apply for jobs from the job posting alone. You should be spending a good chunk of time researching the company to ensure you fit in with what they could be looking for, and determine if you want to work there. Find out stats, people, history—anything that can help you prepare. You’ll need to know this information before you step in for an interview anyway, so it’s better to know it at the earliest stage.
Recruiters love knowing that you’ve put thought into your application, so if you can sneak a piece of information into your cover letter that couldn’t be found in the job posting, consider it gold.
Change it up
Never (ever) send the same cover letter twice. If you have a form letter and you’re only changing the company name and position title, you’re not doing it right.
Cover letters need to be tailored to both the role and the organization. If you’re applying to a more relaxed company, you should use relaxed language. A pro tip is to match the speaking style of the job posting and pair it with the research you found on the company’s atmosphere and vibe.
Do’s and don’ts
Do: Compare and contrast. One way to show that you meet exactly what the recruiter wants is to take lines from the posting and compare how you match the role. In the middle of your cover letter, rather than having more beefy paragraphs, use a two-column comparison. The first column: “What You’re Looking For,” is a list of up to five points copy-pasted from the posting. The second: “What I Bring to the Table,” lists your exact qualifications for the matching points.
For example, the posting says “two to five years in a customer service setting, helping customers with finding and purchasing products.” Copy that into the left column, then list how you match: “Three years at retail level with Company X; one year of client-based sales with Company Y.”
This will make your cover letter less dense and more appealing. It also automatically includes words and numbers that will be picked up by parsing software, a kind of system big employers use to sift through large quantities of resumés before ever reaching a human recruiter.
Don’t: Make your cover letter too dense. Rambling on about your qualifications is exactly what you shouldn’t do in a cover letter; that’s what your resumé is for. Be professional, but show a bit of you. It’ll pay off.
Facts and figures
One of the most important aspects of a resumé is conveying that you’ve actually made a difference in your previous roles. The only way to truly state that is by using numbers.
Focus on budgets or sales figures, the number of people you managed, amount of projects you completed, scale of a project, or even rankings: “managed departmental budget of $55,000; worked 10% faster than company average; posted 50 articles to company site each month; ranked second of 500 associates nationwide; delivered 140% of yearly quota in 2014.”
Dollar signs and per cent signs are especially useful as they draw the recruiter’s eye, so think budget sizes and reductions or increases by a certain per cent or value.
Also, it’s a good idea to keep a running list of facts and figures so you can use them at a later date. Chances are that six months down the road, you’ll forget the number or the accomplishment altogether.
In a recent study by theladders.net, having an easy-to-read resumé with high usability is incredibly important. Your resumé needs to have a clear path and should be “airy”—meaning not too dense.
Recruiters want to be able to find the right information quickly: your name, current and previous titles and companies (including start and end dates), and your education. Use main headings for sections and smaller headings for your job titles, degrees, or certifications with companies and schools listed under those, respectively. The key is to have everything broken up, so the right information is pushed forward.
Use the same main heading on your cover letter and your resumé, and include your name, address, phone number, and email. It’s also a good idea to put a few keywords as well: “Bilingual Call Centre Manager with 5 Years Experience.”
While you’re putting together your cover letter and resumé in Word or a similar program, you should also be keeping a simpler, plain-text version. That way, if you have to input your resumé into a web template, you have it ready to go.
Unless the posting says otherwise, always send your application in .pdf format. If you send it as a .doc, .docx, or .pages file, your formatting could change on their end or, worse, it may not open at all.
Remember that applying for jobs takes time, but if you put in the effort in the quality of your application and complete the necessary research, you’ll begin to get noticed. Nothing is fool-proof in recruitment, but this should give you a good head start.
Do’s and don’ts
Do: Pop of colour. Colour on a resumé is a great idea, but only in moderation. The best idea is to choose a standard colour for your name only. As it’s the most important piece of info, you want to make your name jump off the page. Red is probably best (since the human eye is drawn to red first), but other dark tones of blue or green could work too. Be careful, though, with using a weird colour; you want to come across as innovative, not silly or childish. Oh, one more thing: if you’re giving a paper copy of your resumé, keep it to standard white paper. Coloured paper—especially antiqued or marble paper—is never appropriate.
Do: Get a second opinion. Once you’re finished your cover letter and resumé, have at least one other person look it over. There could be typos, spelling mistakes, or design issues that you don’t see.
Don’t: Use weak language. There are terms you need to stay away from on your resumé. Never use fluff words like synergy, proactive, and team player; and stay far away from obvious phrases like results-oriented or hard worker—everyone wants to demonstrate they work hard and demand results, so stating it is pointless and shows you have nothing better to add. Instead, use words that convey real change: increased, decreased, negotiated, launched, under budget, improved.
Don’t: Use Comic Sans. It’s important to keep your fonts simple, since you only have six seconds for the recruiter to decide to spend longer on your application. Best practice is a typical, readable font for the body—Gill Sans, Garamond, Georgia, Helvetica, Univers, Times New Roman, to name a few. Plus, use a bold but simple font for your headings. Stay away from something that’s too decorative or unreadable.