When you finally click “send” on your job application, the last thing you want is for it to go straight to the bottom of the pile – or worse, to the trash. When hiring managers get applications that are too long, too generic, or too bland, chances are those candidates won’t make it to the next round.
If you’re going to apply for a job, take the time to do things right – read on for the easy things you can do to create a stand-out application package.
When it comes to creating your resume and cover letter, there are some simple rules that you should always follow, no matter the position or the industry. These are things that make you look polished and professional and ensures that the hiring manager gets a clean and easy-to-read package.
• Personalize It
Welcome to the 21st century! If you’re still addressing your cover letter or application email with “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” it’s time to fast forward to the future. Christie Lohr, Founder of Style Nine to Five, is adamant on this point. “Addressing your cover letter with ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is totally out of place today,” she says. “Avoid using it at all costs. There are other ways to personalize your application just by putting a little effort in, and that stands out when hiring managers open your email.”
Instead, today’s cover letter MUST be personalized to the person who is going to be reading your cover letter or opening your email. You should do everything you can to find the name of the hiring manager. You’re usually a LinkedIn search or Google away from finding out the hiring manager’s name. You can also try the company website and look at their “Careers” or “Our Team” pages to see if you can find it that way. Then you can address your letter directly to them. For example: “To Christie Lohr, Hiring Manager of Style Nine to Five.”
If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, personalize it as best as you can. Even a simple, “To the Hiring Manager of Style Nine to Five,” is better than old-school, generic greeting.
• Keep it to One Page
That’s right – you get one page each for your cover letter and resume. If you’re a recent grad or haven’t had much experience, this may not be too difficult. But, if you’ve been working for 20 years and have had multiple roles or worked at several different companies, it can be tricky to cut your three-page resume down to just one. Take these 3 easy steps to condense your resume:
1. Free up some space by ditching unnecessary details like your mailing address. No one is mailing you anything, but they will likely want to know where you’re located. Your heading should include your name at the top, then underneath simply say Vancouver, BC. Use this same line to add clickable links (more on that later) to your LinkedIn profile or website.
2. Look at the specific job you’re applying for – that’s right, no generic resumes allowed – and pick out your relevant work experience or education and focus there. Delete old jobs that have nothing to do with your current career objectives, the early jobs you had in the 80s, or those one-off jobs that aren’t relevant. Just because you’ve worked at six different companies over the course of your career, you don’t need to list them all – only those that are relevant.
When you do choose to include a past job on your resume, keep it concise. You don’t need to list out every task you ever did – just the highlights that are applicable.
3. Consider removing sections like volunteer experience (unless it’s super-relevant) or personal interests. Even the line, “References available upon request” can go. Lastly, keep your font size small, (8 point is totally fine!) other than your heading. These little things add up, and deleting them can do wonders for shortening your resume. One page is all your need. The same goes for your cover letter – it’s not a novel, just a few short paragraphs.
• Don’t Forget Formatting
Different computers display documents differently. You don’t want to create a stunning, well-spaced resume with perfect bullet points only for the hiring manager to open it and see a jumbled mess.
Another no-no is relying on your spell check to translate to theirs. Christie has seen this countless times. “If you’re including a company with a unique name or mentioning a person’s name with unusual spelling, you might have dismissed it with your spell check, but the hiring manager will probably open it and see all those little squiggly red lines pop up. This makes your resume hard to read and looks unprofessional,” she says.
Instead, get your application package in perfect condition and save it as a PDF. Then you can send it to anyone with any software version or any computer and it will look perfect every time.
Make It Pop
While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with black font on a white page, there’s nothing particularly eye-catching about it either, especially when the hiring manager is sifting through dozens of applications that all look the same.
Elle Woods famously created a pink scented resume in Legally Blonde. While you’re not living in a Hollywood movie, you can still go above and beyond to make your application stand out. Christie created a series of Application Templates where you can easily copy and paste your resume and cover letter content onto a background image or design that will make your words leap off the page. Subtle colours and sleek design elements are professional but show some personality.
Using a Style Nine to Five Application Template, or your own graphic design, will make any hiring manager sit up and take notice of your effort, creativity, and the thought you put into creating a stellar application.
It’s Not All About You
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes when you’re creating your application package. They’re likely very busy, especially if they’re fielding hundreds of applications for highly sought-after positions at a major brand. While your application is all about tooting your own horn, you can do a couple of things to help them appreciate a convenient submission.
First off, your cover letter and resume are not twins. They are complements to one another. That means making each one unique – don’t rattle off your resume details in your cover letter, and don’t bog down your resume with personal objectives or career goals if you can write about that in your cover letter instead.
Lastly, find ways you can simplify the hiring manager’s job. You can assume that the hiring manager is using social media like Instagram and LinkedIn to do a further digging on any potential candidates, so why not eliminate a step from their process? “Make it easy for them!” Christie says. “Hyperlink your LinkedIn or Instagram on your resume so all they have to do is click on it. The same goes if you have a website or online portfolio. Hiring managers might not put the effort in to search for you online, but they’re way more likely to check out your assets if you make it super easy for them with clickable links.”
There you have it: actionable tips that you can use to revise a current job application or apply to any future resume or cover letter package. While your experience and education are ultra-important, the way you present your application package counts for a lot too. Giving the hiring manager what they want to see greatly improves your chances of landing at the top of their pile.
If you’re stuck on creating a fantastic resume, Christie offers a comprehensive, personalized Resume Refresh service. She’ll assess your current resume and whip it into top shape, giving you an indispensable career tool to kick off your application package.
Feature Image: Adobe Stock
By: Jeanine Gordon – Jeanine is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for creating stellar content for global brands and small businesses alike – specializing in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle.