Writing Strong and Effective Resumes and Cover Letters
Hello PLYMC Community:
We at the library want to keep in touch with the community and give advice on the job search process and make it easier for people to visit one place to get all of their questions answered. Judy is a certified Career Facilitator. She has worked with many patrons over the past five years assisting them in writing effective resumes and cover letters. She has guided individuals through the online job application process and has helped them register for Ohio Means Jobs. If you need assistance or would like to send her your resume for review, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to call her to book an appointment, please call 330-744-8636.
RECOMMENDED JOB BOARDS
HARD AND SOFT SKILLS
APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEMS
With a username and password, you can get into this site and place information into organized resume sections. Please bear in mind that you will need a library card to gain free access to this site.
***It is important that before you begin a job search you must have in place a well-written resume, cover letter, and a list of professional references. Many online job boards and company employment sites require these.
Tips on writing effective resumes
- Use keywords from the job posting—you want to talk the company lingo and use effective words that will grab their attention. The whole point of the resume is not to get the job but to get the job interview.
- Show where value was added to the organization (achievements, commendations from supervisors and co-workers). Employers are looking for behavioral, competency and unique- based skills.
- Have a friend or colleague proofread your resume. Oftentimes we don’t see our own mistakes, so it is good to have a second pair of eyes check it for you.
- Use a font that is legible, you want to make sure you audience can read it. Also, don’t use font that is too small.
- There are times when people want to put a lot of information on their resume. Remember, it is not necessary to bombard your resume with everything you have done. You don’t want to distract the reader. You want to entice them with effective writing.
- “References upon request” do not need to be the last thing listed on your resume anymore. Most human resource professionals and managers agree that this information is not relevant as you will be expected to provide professional references.
- There are many different ways of doing your resume, but what we have found is that most people use the reverse chronological resume. But the chronological resume doesn’t work for everyone. A functional resume may be more suited to you, especially if you have worked the same type of job at different places. A functional resume focuses on your areas of expertise. This type of resume eliminates the redundancy that might be found in a chronological resume, especially if one has done the same type of work for a long period of time.
Some people have contacted me saying, “well, I want to start applying for jobs, but I have been out of work for a while, and I am concerned about that.” I explain to them well there are legitimate job gaps and then there are gaps that may need more explaining.
Legitimate Resume Gaps
- Perhaps you were a stay-at-home Mom or Dad for several years taking care of children. This is a legitimate gap. You may not have been working in the field, but you were you definitely working at home.
- Sometimes life takes us by surprise, and a loved one becomes ill. We may have to give up our job temporarily because of this. This is understandable.
- Long-term injury or illness
- Maybe you were ill or on an extended leave. When you are sick, you can’t be at work. This can be explained. You are under no obligation to explain to a potential employer what your illness was.
- If you decided that you want to pursue your studies instead of working, this is acceptable. Some people choose to focus on this completely so that they can get good grades and learn without the distraction of having a job too.
- Travel opportunities
- Sometimes people take some time off to travel. If you had the opportunity to travel abroad for a good amount of time, this would be a fortunate circumstance. This would be a good gap to explain to a potential employer because it shows them that you went out and tried something new and have gained experience with people from different backgrounds.
- Prison time
- If you served time and were incarcerated, you will have to honest about this. You don’t need to put this information on your resume, but during the job interview, you will need to be forthright about this. Always put a positive spin on a negative situation. Talk about what positive growth happened to you while you there. Perhaps you did a certain job during your time there. Maybe you got a college degree while you were there. Explain how you have learned a valuable lesson and that you are ready to come back and contribute to mainstream society.
Gaps concerns an employer may have
- Duration of the Gap
- If you have been out of work for a long period of time and it was not a legitimate job gap, you may have more difficulty explaining this to a potential employer.
- If your gap was less than three months, employers may not be too concerned with this.
- Job Hopping
- Job Hopping is frowned upon. Generally, employers like to see that you have been in one place for at least a year or longer. But sometimes things do happen. You may have worked somewhere for six months, but then something better came your way. You decided to change jobs—that’s okay. But if you work at one place for a couple of months, and then another place for a few months, and then somewhere else for six months, employers aren’t going to like to see that because they will then think that you are not reliable.
- If you work at a temp job through an agency, working here and there for a few months, a few days, or a few weeks is acceptable because the employer will know that you did this type of work while trying to find something more permanent. You must put on your resume that you worked temp jobs so that the employer will know that you weren’t job hop.
- Quitting jobs on a whim is never a good idea. If you worked somewhere and did not like and just quit, don’t plan on using that employer as a reference.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a marketing document. It is a letter you write to a potential employer outlining and detailing your skills and accomplishments. Most importantly the letter should tell a potential employer what you can do for them. In fact, most of the letter should be about them and what they need from you. It should be an engaging read and pertain to the job or position you are applying for.
How long should it be?
Try to write one that is only one page. If you write one that is longer, you may lose the attention of your audience. People have short attention spans.
Can Job/Career gaps be explained in your cover letter?
Yes, they can! If there is a job gap on your resume, you may explain to them what you were doing during this time, but make sure it is legitimate. Some legitimate gap reasons are listed below:
- Parenting-perhaps you worked for a while and then stopped because you wanted to start a family. This is a legitimate job gap.
- Being laid off or losing your job-you can indicate that this is the reason, but do not harp on it too much. Maintain focus and describe to them why they should hire you!
- Perhaps you were a caregiver to a sick relative. This is an acceptable job gap. People know that life happens and sometimes we need to take of our families.
- Perhaps you are a student and went back to school to completely focus on your studies. Instead of working, you decided that you wanted to focus on your education. This is a legitimate job gap.
You can put as an example put in your letter, “As I prepare my return to work in my health care career after having spent a year caring for an elderly parent, OR spent a year studying medical coding, OR after losing my job due to lack of work, I am ready to get on board in full swing again, OR my children have now graduated from college and I am thinking about some organizations that I would love to represent.”
Who should I address the cover letter to?
If you can find the name of the hiring manager, please use their name. But that’s not always possible because most people apply for jobs online, and a name is usually not provided. You could call the company to find out the hiring manager’s name, unless the company or organization has a “No Phone Calls Please” policy or message listed on their website or within the job description, then don’t call them. When you see that type of message, they generally mean it.
When you provide references, provide supervisory references whenever possible. Employers generally want to connect with people you have worked for. There are times though that that it is not always possible because perhaps they may have left the company or the company no longer exists. Most companies required three references, but it is always good to get at least five of them just in case one reference does not work out.
Here is a list of other people that you could use as references:
- Volunteer Work Supervisors
- Former co-workers
- Community organizations that you may belong to
Here is a list of people you don’t use as references:
- A supervisor that may have fired you
Be sure to ask for permission before you use anyone as a reference. This is very important. If you get notified by a potential employer that is interested in checking your references, make sure you call your reference to remind them.
HARD AND SOFT SKILLS
These types of skills are more tangible, they give a specific type of technical knowledge, whereas soft skills refer to more of a personality trait.
Examples of Hard Skills
- High School Diploma
- College Degree
- Massage Therapy
- Grad School
- Foreign Language
- Software knowledge
- Microsoft Word
- Propriety Software
- Completion of a computer Course
- Ability to operate machinery/computers
- Remote control cranes
- Typing speed (40-45 words per minute)
- Operating a cash register
Examples of Soft Skills
- Effective communication skills
- Organizational skills
- Leadership qualities
- Research techniques
- Time management
- Problem Solving or Troubleshooting
- Conflict Resolution
**** When you put soft skills on your resume, make sure you can explain them in detail! The person or people who interview you will expect you to provide solid examples of how you might possess good leadership qualities, how you might handle conflict, and what types of research techniques do you utilize for certain projects. Anyone can put these on their resume, but you have to certain that you actually possess this skill!
Combining hard and soft skill key words, examples
- Project Management and Client Relations
- Employee Supervision and Scheduling
- Team Leadership and Data Analysis
- Training and Teamwork
- Business Development and Personal Presence
- Qualitative Research and Writing Skills
APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEMS
An applicant tracking system is a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment and hiring needs from receiving resumes to hiring employees. An ATS can be implemented or accessed online at enterprise- or small-business levels, depending on the needs of the organization; free and open-source ATS software is also available. An ATS is very similar to customer relationship management systems, but are designed for recruitment tracking purposes. In many cases they filter applications automatically based on given criteria such as keywords, skills, former employers, years of experience and schools attended. This has caused many to adapt resume optimization techniques similar to those used in search engine optimization when creating and formatting their résumé. Source: Wikipedia.org
- Nix the headers in your resume. According to Time, headers and footers jam the algorithms.
- Mirror wording from the actual job description in your resume. Yes, this means that you may need a custom resume for every job. While you do not want a word-for-word match of the job description, if a nurse job description calls for someone with triage experience or primary care experience, for example, be sure that your resume contains those keywords. Similarly, if the job description asks for specific software experience, include your experience with that software.
- Nail your keywords. There is lingo in every profession. Whether it’s software, skills, certifications, licenses, responsibilities, or even procedures, there are words that matter in your profession that need to be included in your resume. Here are a few tips for getting the right combination of keywords and phrases into your resume.
- Use acronyms and spelled out form of titles, professional organizations, certifications, and other industry lingo, etc. If you have experience in electronic medical records, include the acronym EMR as well, for example. You have no idea which keyword the robots are scanning for. Using both allows you to be covered either way.
- Repeat important keywords related to your skills two or three times in the resume, or more depending on the length of your resume. Do not stuff keywords in your resume, however. Not only are the new scanners savvy to this tactic, but it’s a real turn-off to the people who actually read resumes if your resume does get past the scanner process.
- Discuss keywords with an insider, Lifehacker Sometimes, going straight to the source helps. Look for an employer or HR manager in your field and ask them what skills or levels of experience they’re looking for in their candidates.
- Give job-related keywords depth within your resume. You don’t want them listed in one single section of your resume if possible. Sprinkle them throughout your resume, instead.
- Dive deeper into your keywords. For instance, when discussing skills you have, include the basic skills, but don’t forget to dive deeper to mention specific and advanced skills. Some programs are looking for both the basic and advanced skills so include them both. Go in depth and discuss all the relevant skills.
- Use bullets rather than paragraphs to describe your work. Not only are bulleted lists easier for human eyes to read, but they are also easier for screeners to navigate than long paragraphs describing work history and responsibilities.
- Avoid creative wording and descriptions. Screening robots are like Joe Friday. They only want the facts. More importantly, they only want specific facts, in this case, keywords and key phrases, and they aren’t interested in alternative phrasing.
- Use the company website for keyword guidance. Employer websites offer a lot of information on company culture and what they value in their employees. Even lifestyle information can be important to include on your resume.
- For instance, the Wall Street Journal suggests that if a firm has an obvious interest in the environment, it’s a good idea to include volunteer work you’ve done for the environment or organizational memberships you have that promote the environment as these keywords may have relevance in the screening process.
- Include your address. Many programs will kick your resume to the curb without a postal address. Locations may even be included as keywords in the screening process. Just make sure you don’t only include it in the header or footer, which most algorithms ignore completely.
- Replace the career objective section with a bulleted qualifications summary. It’s an easy way to work relevant keywords into the resume without appearing to be using “stuffing” tactics and it eliminates a section that is superfluous and unnecessary.
- Don’t use graphics, logos, or tables in your resume. Essentially, resumes embedded with fancy graphics, images, tables, and logos confound and choke resume filtering software. Confounded robots reject resumes. Aside from the fact that graphics and logos on resumes aren’t entirely professional (unless perhaps you’re a graphics designer or similar), the likelihood of rejection should be sufficient deterrent to avoid them.
- Choose your font wisely. Use sans-serif fonts — like Verdana or Tahoma — instead of serif fonts like Times New Roman or Cambria that some screening software will actually reject, as Lifehacker recommends. Avoid script fonts completely. Also pay attention to font size and avoid using anything smaller than 11-point font, according to Business Insider.
- Use social media to your advantage. Go to the company’s LinkedIn page and check out their employees. Look at the descriptions of their jobs as well as the company’s description. If you have similar skills and qualifications, list them on your resume.
- Submit resumes in text format rather than PDFs or MS Word. Word causes all manner of parsing errors and PDFs have caused problems in the past with application tracking systems. It’s wiser to stick with text, which has no known parsing problems with screening software.
- Don’t place dates before work experience on your resume. While this may look better, it confounds the robots. Instead, begin with the name of the employer. Move on to your professional title and the date range. Don’t forget to include all titles you held at your employer and the dates you held the titles.
- Dare to go long on your resume. Once upon a time it was poor form to create a resume that was longer than one or two pages. The new normal is to create longer resumes that allow you to include the keywords you need to get noticed.
- To complicate things, while writing your resume to make it past the robots, it’s important to remember that the hope is that it gets read by a real flesh and blood person. For that person, you will first need to have crafted a resume that is entirely readable and coherent, that is free of resume errors (Read Big Interview’s post on 13 Resume Mistakes that Make Your Resume Look Dumb).
- You will also need to back up all the claims you’ve made in your resume. In other words, you must not exaggerate your capabilities in order to appease the robot gatekeepers.
- That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention a course you took at a high-profile university. Even if you didn’t get your degree from that school, the fact that you completed coursework at a school that may rank higher within the algorithm is still resume-worthy information that makes you a more interesting candidate to the software and the person who may someday sit in on your interview.
- Caveat! Don’t attempt to game the system. Businesses invest a lot of money into their applicant tracking systems, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. Attempting to include “white words” to get in more keywords and keyword stuffing are maneuvers recognized by these systems consistently. Sneaky resume tactics can cause the resume-filtering software to move the resume that employs them to the bottom of the electronic search pile — or even worse, reject it!
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