Beyond the Cover Letter: Resumé Tips


So you want to apply for that cool new job you saw online today. You want it really badly, right? Well, first you have to get the interview. Here are some things you need to check before you hit the send button, or else your application will end up in the trash.

Make it short and sweet.

Don’t fluff up your job descriptions with whole sentences as to how you were a liaison to so-and-so and consulted for such-and-such. Words like “liaison,” “filing,” and “communication” tell us that you’re trying to cover for having done very little work.

If you answered phones for a living, write that you “answered phones,” don’t say you worked “Advanced Customer Service”. When you write “supervised three employees” or “designed advertisements” we know exactly what that means.

Less is more.

Unless you’ve been in the work force for many (read 15 or more) years, your resumé should only be one page long. I’ve received a number of multi-page resumés from people applying for jobs, and I have to tell you, I only skim them. Whereas I’m more likely to read every word on a one-page resumé.

Make it pretty.

Take the time to make your resumé stand out. If you’re a graphic designer, you better bet I’m looking for a smartly designed resumé as well! I want it to be pretty. If you want to work in my art department, you have to work hard to show me what you can do before you even get the interview. I’m not saying that if it’s just a standard resumé you won’t get the interview, but others who took the time will rise to the top of the list.

Objective: I want this job.

Yes, we know that your objective is to get this job. You don’t need to tell us that.

Chek yur speeling.

Please use spell check. It takes two seconds. Don’t forget to spell check your cover letter as well. It doesn’t matter what job you’re applying for. It doesn’t matter if you’re not going to do any writing at all or if you’ll have editors going over your work. When I get an application in my inbox and there are typos, it goes straight in the trash. Wait, what? You ask. You don’t even look at the resumé?! That’s right. I don’t. You could have been the perfect candidate. But when a job requires attention to detail, that applies to your cover letter.

Dear Sir.

Typos aside, one of my biggest pet peeves is being referred to as a man in a cover letter. I find it offensive (and very little offends me). I can’t tell you how many resumés I threw directly in the trash after reading the first three words of the cover letter. I’m deadly serious on this one.

When the job posting says to contact “Stephanie Lewis,” I expect to be referred to as “Ms.” or “Mrs.” One applicant started his cover letter with “dear sir” and continued on, rather carelessly, referring to me as a man. If you don’t know for sure that you are writing to a man or a woman, address your cover letter to “to whom it may concern” or “dear sir or madam.” It may sound old fashioned and it may make you feel a little awkward, but believe me, on the other end, a “dear sir or madam” is not in any way out of the ordinary.

Write your own resumé!

Or if someone else writes it for you, make sure you know what’s in it, backwards and forwards. Or better still, go back in and reword descriptions in your own voice. I will freely admit that I have my husband help me with my resumé. If I get stuck, he’ll take over and have me describe (albeit haltingly) what I did at a certain job and make it sound like a coherent person wrote it. Hey, we all get flustered and nervous, especially when there’s a job we really want. But I promise you that after my husband is done, I go back and rework things to sound more like me. That way I know exactly what’s there and when I get to the interview, I’m not left stammering and stuttering when I have to confirm what is written.

Software proficiencies.

This can be a tricky one. Usually you know what is expected of you with software. If you’re a graphic designer, you should know Photoshop and InDesign like the back of your hand. But what if they list Excel or PowerPoint? You may not be able to tell from the job listing what exactly is expected of you. Speaking from personal experience, I always thought I was horrible at Adobe Illustrator until I had to take a test at a placement company where I scored an A+. I was shocked. I completely underestimated myself. However, when I hire someone because they say they’re capable of using the office suite and they sit in front of a computer and ask “what is this (the computer)?” well, that person isn’t staying long. (True story!)

Yes, we really do look at your Facebook profile.

Before I bring anyone into an interview, I google them. I look at their Facebook and MySpace profiles. Once, when we were looking for an editor and though we found a good candidate, we sat down and googled him. As it turned out he was all over the internet, topless and labeled as a home wrecker. We threw his resumé away.

Another person had listed himself on MySpace as a convicted felon just so he could look “cool.” Seriously people, make your Facebook and MySpace profiles private! You can say all the stupid stuff you want and we’ll never see it! Unless you have a blog we can get to … that’s a whole different story. Just take care of your web presence. You are what you tweet.

So you got the interview, huh? Good for you!

Don’t let down your guard yet.

Aside from dressing the part, (make sure you take the tags off of your new suit), minding your manners, sitting up straight, and relaxing (not too much!) there are some very important things to remember:

Be honest.

Don’t say you’ve completed a master’s degree if you’re still in the program. I don’t care if you’re only one class away. You never know what could happen between now and then!

Just, well, don’t be an idiot.

Someone I know interviewed a person who had gotten a speeding ticket on the way to the interview. He wanted to know who was going to reimburse him for the ticket.

We’re not hiring you because we’re bored. We’re hiring you because we have a problem that needs fixing. And we want to do it as fast as we can so we can get back to work. Can you solve our problems without giving us new problems? Sell yourself as being able to solve our problems. Ultimately, we don’t care what your career goals are. We just want to get back to work doing what we do best and put the interview process behind us.


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Stephanie is a graphic designer who has managed art departments in the non-profit and corporate worlds. She is currently Work(ing)Awesome(ly) at home with her company Studio Lewis Graphic Design.

Discussion

  1. Chris Morata on the 24th September

    What a great article! As a student who’s getting ready to graduate at the end of the semester, this article was written just in time for me! I’ve always been kind of curious about the “Objective” part of a resume. I always felt like it was kind of pointless and obvious.

    Also, making your resume pretty definitely helps, but when it comes down to it make sure it still looks like a resume. I’ve seen a lot of examples where resumes just don’t look like resumes anymore because they become too graphic, and in my opinion it makes it hard to find the necessary information I’d be looking for if I was an employer.

    Great article!

  2. Jess on the 25th September

    Good points. One thing I do want to mention regarding the “Make it Pretty” section is that legibility and formatting is more important than being “pretty” although I do agree resumes should be somewhat unique (aka NO TEMPLATES) and font choices, spacing, columns, etc are important to an attractive-looking CV. Because most companies transmit resumes through a CRM system, any resumes with graphics/tables/weird fonts don’t process well and most of the time resumes are printed in B/W and sometimes color can go against you. If you are sending out a very creative resume, I would suggest also sending a standard one just in case.

  3. Stephanie Lewis on the 25th September

    You’re all right. When I say to “make it pretty,” I don’t want you to start putting flowers and flourishes on. You don’t need to use graphics at all to make it pretty. Make it neat, clean, easy to read. Choose your font wisely (no comic sans), make your margins consistent.

    I have my “pretty” resume and I have one in plain text for when I’m filling out online applications for the government, for example.

    But if you’re a graphic designer, I want to see a little personality in that resume.

  4. Jason Schwartz on the 25th September

    I totally agree.

    I work as the Creative Director for a company and when we post job openings, I usually see about 100 resumes pour in throughout the first hour or so. You truly have about 15 seconds to make your impression so make your resume work for you.

    You definitely don’t want to get weeded out before you even have a chance to shine because your resume is whack.

    I just wrote an article for AIGA KC which add some additional points to Stephanie’s list. Take a peek.

    Check out the answers to “What advice can you give new graduates from your experiences?” and “What are some of the mistakes job applicants should avoid?”

    http://brightbrightgreat.com/blog/2009/08/jason-schwartz-discusses-design-with-aiga-kc/

    Jason Schwartz

  5. Dels on the 25th September

    Ooops, my facebook account only open to friends i know, is that hurt? do i need to open some publicly info for job seeker?

  6. Web 2.0 on the 25th September

    I would be happier if you guys attached some awesome CV design templates which I couldn’t find online :)

  7. Zac on the 26th September

    Very cool article! Getting all of these steps right really does help! I also think it is useless to list an objective on a resume.

  8. Ted Goas on the 29th September

    Great article! I have two questions:

    1. I’ve heard this advice about Facebook before and keep my profile pretty tidy. But unless you’re connected with the person, can you see anything except their photo and few lines of vital stats?

    2. On the topic of Google-ing someone… how would you suggest getting rid of something a particular search result that appears on the first page? Like preventing a certain social network profile from showing without actually deleting the account? Is it possible?

  9. Joe Chung on the 29th September

    From the thousands of resumes that I’ve scoured through, I specifically remember one in detail:

    The hiring position was for a Creative Director in the interactive media department of a dotcom, and the resume that the prospect submitted was simply amazing… Out of the dozens of resumes that were submitted, his was the only one that was in physical form; he had overnighted it. It was printed on cardstock recycled paper, and sat underneath an “interstitial” page (glued strategically atop his resume) that advertised his top qualities and why he would be the best candidate for the position. This page folded over to display his printed (relevant) portfolio on the backside.

    Definitely the most creative resume I have ever come across, another standout was that he had retained business cards of previous clients for his references section, and had framed them on the resume. The resume was on a standard letter-size, which was not too big as to annoy the hell out of me. It was the only resume I had received in a landscape orientation, and I kept it around to show everyone (great marketing on his part). In his interview, I asked how many resumes he had submitted to other companies, he laughed and said he’s been waiting for this position to open and was confident about filling it. Not cocky, but confident.

    Needless to say, he got the job.

    The most important thing to me was that he had done his research on the position. On our company. He had research our metrics and found our best form of advertising and response, and utilized that as a method to “advertise” his skills to us.

    My point is that if you’re applying for a position, make sure that you take your active part in researching the company and specifically the roles of the position you’re applying for.

    • M on the 31st October

      Thanks so much for this Joe – great idea on his part and it’s nice to hear from the point of view of somebody in your position.

  10. kinn on the 5th October

    Awesome!! Made me think twice on what “stupid stuff” to say on facebook.

  11. Mark Carter on the 7th October

    “Can you solve our problems without giving us new problems?” Nice summary of why you get hired :-)

  12. Leonid Jack on the 17th March

    My online CV + portfolio, tried to be creative and original, and it actually did work:

    http://cv.studio-xl.com

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