The 2 Major Documents: Cover Letters and Resumes

First off, let me say that I'm no kind of expert in cover letter. I know that in many industries the cover letter is the main means of selling yourself. If you are looking for a job where you will be writing for much of your livelihood, you need to do whatever it is with your cover letter that sells you to those employers. The best I can do for generic advice, after talking with friends in those kinds of industries, is to say that you should have a boilerplate cover letter that you modify for every submission if you're in that type of career. Aside from that you really will need to find someone who's either a career consultant or in that industry to know what that document will look like.

The other half of this is the resume. I also understand that if you are in one of those "cover letter centric" professions you will normally only have 1 or 2 versions of your resume and it will need to be very short. The cover letter sells you and the resume is supporting documentation. For the rest of us the cover letter is there to act as a paper towel if the HR guy spills his coffee. I've had several people in hiring tell me that they never read cover letters. The resume is the key for us.

It should start with a 2 or 3 sentence statement about what you're looking for, that mirrors your job hunt business card's job title. It should also say if you are looking for contract, contract-to-hire, or full-time work, or any combination of those hiring scenarios.

You then need to have a skills summary where you list everything that you are selling yourself on. That will be altered for every job you submit if you have a job post listing. You want to put your skills in the same order as their posting so the HR person can just check everything off. And, by the way, list everything on the main version of your resume if you can. Back in the early 200s I literally had people ignore my resume because I didn't list HTML as a programming language, even though 1) it technically isn't (it's a markup language) and 2) I have other languages on my resume that are HTML dependent like PHP, xhtml, and ASP classic. Non technical people may not know that, and so you just write for the lowest common denominator. Then you can edit for each job submission.

For those of us in the resume-centric fields, the job listings should be a defense of your skills, showing when you acquired said skills, what you did with them, and how you have been successful throughout your career. There are a lot of other things on resume writing, and they cover this well, so I'll let you find some of those on your own.

The final things though should be an "other interests" section with 2-3 bullet points that give your hobbies if your hobbies can start conversations during interviews and your references. I've been told by some HR people that "available upon request" is ok, but others will prioritize resumes with references listed. So if you have 3 trusted references that don't mind being contacted whenever, go ahead and list them.

You'll note that both documents suggest that you tweak them with every resume submission. I mean it. If you have too many skills listed then your relevant information gets lost on the resume, and that's no good. If you need to add something to your resume, you should do it for your job history section as well. You should have a master document that you add everything to and then remove things for focused resumes or cover letters, but you really should have focused documents for your submissions.

That's why I suggest doing your job hunt in the evenings. You can get your job submissions bundled up and make your resumes and cover letters in order, then send everything out all at once in the morning. You don't want to be killing time during the business day with this type of work unless you're sending a resume out to someone who wants it TODAY. You likely will need to be flexible to take phone calls during the day too, and it's just easier if you aren't focused on sending out a resume to the next place while you're talking to someone about a different job.

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