Whether you’re re-entering the workforce or brand new to it, job applications are daunting all the same. There’s no clear-cut guide on what employers expect, often leaving us fumbling to figure things out. While it’s impossible to please every hiring manager who looks at your resume, here are some commonly accepted best practices of application basics.
1 – What are the key points I should include in my resume and cover letter?
The bulk of your resume should consist of prior work experience – discuss the places you worked and your relevant responsibilities. Include brief sections dedicated to your academic history and any hard skills, like software and systems you’re fluent in. Recent accomplishments can find a place in these areas as well, such as academic awards or professional certifications, but this is not a mandatory section. Finer details that are resume must-haves are your name, LinkedIn account and email address.
The content of your cover letter should be tailored to each individual job you’re applying to, so focus on the requirements listed in the job description. Include the aforementioned fine details from your resume on your cover letter, too. The letter itself should consist of an opening paragraph describing your relationship with the company and why you’d be a good fit, a middle paragraph explaining in-depth why you’re perfect for the role, and a concluding paragraph summarizing why you’re a great fit with the company.
2 – How long should my resume and cover letter be?
Cover letters and resumes should be as concise as possible – never exceed a page. Nine times out of ten, the hiring manager won’t give the second page a glance. Your resume can take up the full page if need be, and your cover letter should be confined to 3-4 short paragraphs. As hiring managers generally only skim resumes and cover letters when they sort through them for the first time, you want to make sure yours are brief and straight to the point, with all the highlights front and centre.
3 – How far back should my work experience go on my resume?
The general rule is that your work experience can go back a maximum of ten years, although putting more recent experience is preferred. However, it’s no problem if your more relevant jobs happened a little further back – relevancy is more important than recency.
4 – Can I give the same resume and cover letter to multiple jobs?
Never use the same cover letter to apply to multiple jobs. Each cover letter should be individually tailored to each new job you’re applying for, based on the individual job postings. To save time, you can use phrasing from old cover letters or keep a template and make minor edits, but all of your cover letters should vary in some way.
On the other hand, it’s acceptable to give the same resume to multiple jobs. If you have a lot of work experience and skills, it is definitely helpful to tailor your resume to the job posting as well, but it’s not a necessity if your skill set applies to several job postings.
5 – I don’t have any relevant experience. What should I put on my application?
Everyone has relevant experience in the form of transferable skills, so highlight those throughout your resume and cover letter – for instance, if you’re applying to work in a team environment, discuss your past experience on an academic or sports team.
Overall, keep your resume and cover letter brief and straightforward. Make sure they both revolve around the most relevant experiences to the job you’re applying to. Don’t stress about perfection, but use these ideal practices to push you a step forward with an application package that stands above the rest of the pack.
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Emily Morrison is a media professional with passions for writing, film and popular culture.
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