Presenting yourself on paper: resumes and cover letters

Before you can land a job, you’ve got to get an interview. To do that, you usually have to demonstrate your worth in a cover letter and resume.

A hiring manager will want to immediately see that your skills and experiences have been perfect preparation for the position you’re applying for. The faster you can establish that you are a serious candidate on paper, the more time the hiring manager will spend on your application.

Cover Letters: Show some understanding

An original, persuasive cover letter reflects your understanding of what the employer wants and how you are uniquely able to fill those needs.

While there are clear parameters around a cover letter’s structure, you should write a new cover letter specifically for the organization and position that you’re applying for. Never submit a generic or formulaic cover letter.

Transferable skills only, please

That means that if you are applying for a nonprofit event-planning position, you emphasize any transferable skills you’ve built that are useful in event planning.

For example, let’s say you worked at the front desk of a swanky hotel—on the surface that’s an entirely different job from planning events.

But look closer and you’ll see that both jobs require:

  • self-disciplined approaches to customer service
  • precision and organization
  • interpersonal communication
  • ability to adhere to policies, and to convey policies with utmost diplomacy

In your cover letter you would highlight past event planning work, as well as some of the transferable skills you’ve gained from your past hotel and other work; your connection to the social or environmental issues that the nonprofit addresses; and your rationale for working on events as a career or passion.

On your resume you’d list only the transferable skills from each job you’ve performed (paid or voluntary), their context, and your major related accomplishments.

Let’s say your hotel clerk position also entailed arranging flowers for the lobby. Unless the event-planning position description specified flower arrangement duties, you shouldn’t include flower arranging in your application for the new job.

The “Can you tell what job I’m applying for, just by looking at my resume” test

When your resume is drafted for a specific job opening, hand it to a friend and ask them, “Can you tell what job I’m applying for?”

After a relatively quick review of your resume, your friend should be able to tell you what the new job entails. This is because the job description should be reflected throughout your resume:

  • in the language you use (adopt the language used in the position description), and
  • in the tasks you choose to describe (share your experiences doing similar tasks required by the new job).

Remember: neither your cover letter nor your resume is your autobiography. When a hiring manager is reading your application, they simply want to know the answer to these three questions:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you do the job?
  • Will you fit in?

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