Personally, I feel that a cover letter is more important that resume. First of all, you can change a cover letter. There is not much you can do to a resume except make cosmetic changes. You can’t go back and work an extra summer or add an internship that did not happen.
However, you can make substantive changes to your cover letter.
One common mistake and one tip about resumes:
Most people stop after a recitation of the duties of the job performed. Yes, that gives me some idea about your skills. However, it also screams, “I did the job I was given!” Well, I certainly hope so. That just says, “I wasn’t fired for being incompetent.” Again, I certainly hope not.
What I am getting at is a recitation of duties is setting the bar at about, oh, shin level.
I recommend splitting up the description into for every job in the “Experience” section into “Duties” (this is where your recitation goes) and “Noteworthy.” Here is where you add how you reorganized the office categorization process to reduce processing by 20%. Think 6 Million Dollar Man (is that too dated a reference?): how did you make things better, stronger, faster? Yes, I know you did the job. What did you accomplish that is noteworthy? Did you exceed expectations? Did you go beyond your duties?
Ok, cover letters. How do you pick out a cake? Imagine going into Whole Foods and going to bakery section. They have fruit topped cases, ones with multi-colored chocolate shavings. It’s like an amazing party right-there-on-the-cake! What kind of cake it is, is a consideration, but come-on, you’re picking the pretty one.
Your cover letter is the decoration on the cake. It’s that important in getting selected.
The resume, that’s the cake underneath. Now I’m going to mix up the metaphors. I am asked to review a quite a few resumes. Well, a resume is a tool like a screwdriver. You’re asking to me to tell you is it a good enough screwdriver? Well, I don’t know! What do you want to use it for? That’s where the cover letter comes in! A cover letter says what you to do with your screwdriver.
- What kind of job do you want?
- What do you like about the firm your are contacting?
- Why you feel you could do for the firm?
- What sets you apart?
- What are your passions and goals and how those fit in with working at the firm.
Passions? Goals? I just want to be the perfect drone!
Yeah… that’s how a lot of interviews come across. Let me tell you, if you want a job. You have to be someone. You have to want things, you have to be interested in and passionate about things. Everyone is the hero of their own narrative. Yes, I know you are. But what you miss is that the person interviewing you for the firm is also the hero of his/her story too. Part of their story is are the heroic things their firm is going to do (while hopefully make a nice amount of money).
Pitfall: what they don’t want is someone who tells them, “personal injury is my passion, even when I was little I went up to the parks office after my brother scraped his knee on the playground and shouted ‘I’ll sue!’ ” Actually, that’s pretty good. Usually, though, sucking up is pretty transparent because it is inauthentic.
The person you are interviewing with is looking for heroes. Not necessarily another Superman. But you may be able to show them that they really need an Aquaman on their team. That takes passion and believing in things. You can’t just be the person who scrubs tanks at the aquarium.
So, cakes, screwdrivers and superheroes: stand out using your cover letter, tell the employer why you choose them and what you can do, and show them why you are a hero!