First Impressions: Job Interviews That Get You Hired
Writing a Great Resume and Cover Letter
THE MOST EFFECTIVE tool in your job-acquisition kit is a professional resume that highlights your experience and accomplishments. You will want to give copies of your resume to contacts in your network, so that they can assess your skills and pass your information along to others. Even more to the point, you will need a resume and a well-written cover letter just to get a foot in the door for an interview. Your resume will be an interviewer's—or an employer's—first impression of you, and it will be the deciding factor in whether or not you get an interview.
Creating a resume can be a challenging task: How do you condense your skills and experience into a single, one-page document and still manage to express what is most unique about you? Putting together a winning resume-plus-cover-letter package, like all aspects of the job search, requires a little preparation.
Before focusing on the mechanics of resume and cover letter writing, give some thought to your previous work experiences. Whatever you do, don't assume that certain jobs don't count in the marketplace. You will discover that the secret to writing a good resume lies in the telling of accomplishments rather than tasks.
What's so Special About You?
The biggest mistake most people make in writing resumes is focusing on job responsibilities, instead of emphasizing accomplishments on the job. At the same time, you want to be pragmatic and show prospective employers that you have already demonstrated some proficiency in the skills for which they are looking, no matter what kind of work you've done. This is especially important for students and recent college graduates whose work experiences, at first glance, might seem limited or unmarketable for one reason or another. These obstacles, however, can be overcome.
For example, if you worked as a nanny when you were in college, you might be tempted to think that the experience was limited in terms of marketable skills. But you would be wrong. If the terms you use in your resume are relevant to the job you want, you can translate "taking care of kids" into "business skills." How? It's largely a matter of using the right vocabulary.
First of all, don't overemphasize the obvious tasks for which you were responsible as a nanny, such as watching three small children and opening the family house in Martha's Vineyard, and so forth. No doubt it takes a lot of organization, planning, and responsibility to care for three children, but what other skills did you develop and put into use? Did you have certain budgetary responsibilities as a nanny? In all likelihood, you did. So, if the job you want is in a financial services industry, for example, emphasize your experiences with money management. Exhibit 2–1 shows other ways you might capitalize on your experiences as a nanny.
Capitalizing on What You've Already Accomplished
Another way to maximize your work experience on a resume is to clearly specify what you've already accomplished. For example:
- If you want to emphasize your leadership qualities, don't just say that you were the editor of your college newspaper. Instead, itemize your accomplishments. For example, you met tight deadlines—in fact, didn't miss a single one—and published 32 editions of the paper over a nine-month period, and so forth. This will tell your interviewer that you are well organized and know how to meet certain business expectations.
- If you are interviewing for a job in a food-related industry, don't just say that you were a writer for your college newspaper. Instead, emphasize the fact that you covered the food beat for two years and wrote at least one story a month. This will be an especially resonant detail if, for example, your interviewer loves gourmet dining and is an avid reader of Bon Appétit.
The more you say about your experiences, some which might not seem that valuable to you at first glance, the better—as long as you describe them in a way that enhances your viability for a particular job. Make your accomplishments jump off your resume, rather than assuming that the interviewer will pick them out. The interviewer is not a mind reader. The only information he or she will have is the information that you provide in your resume, so make every word count.
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