You’ve graduated and it’s time to find the job of your dreams. Or perhaps you’re looking for new challenges and have come across a job description for which you are perfect. How can you write your cover letter and resume to stand out?
What can you do above and beyond your professional qualifications, education and experiences to position yourself above all the other applicants who feel that they, in fact, are the best person for the job?
Let’s begin with a visual exercise that will help you see this process from the perspective of the company you are trying to impress. Think of your resume/CV and cover letter as a physical manifestation of yourself. In essence it’s a first interview – the initial screen in the hiring process. It’s your first introduction to a hiring manager. Think about how you would dress and what you would say if it were a physical interview.
- How would you compose yourself?
- How do you greet a potential new boss?
- What research did you did prior to the meeting?
- What does it all look like?
Some descriptions that come to mind include professional, articulate, clear, confident but not overbearing, and prepared. Now approach your cover letter and resume the same way.
Developing a resume is not an easy task. Get help if you need it from your career placement office or hire a professional editor.
The most important and comprehensive advice I can give someone applying for a job is that one size does not fit all. In academia we are familiar with the CV, which has no page limit. This is great because it allows you an opportunity to list everything you have done, but it can be distracting because it allows you an opportunity to list everything you have done. Resumes in other fields tend to be one page in length, two if the candidate has had that much experience.
Regardless of the format, prioritize your cover letter and resume/CV to highlight the skills you have that match the skills desired. This is the single best thing you can do to position yourself to stand out from the stacks and stacks of applicants that the hiring manager has on her desk.
Remember, you’re applying for a job and in essence your position, regardless of what the title is, has to meet the professional needs and expectation of your supervisor. Start off on the right foot by listening to what she is saying and giving her exactly what she needs to assess your application.
Every job application begins with a list of skills that are required as well as desired. Address each point in kind on the first section of your resume. Be succinct; you can direct the attention of the hiring manager to specific details in the job summaries present in your experience. Some people put this in their cover letter; I prefer it at the top of the CV. If your profession requires a resume that has an inherent page limit put this in the cover letter.
Format your resume or CV in a way that is readable and comprehensive. Seems like a no brainer, right? If the job application requires you to copy and paste your resume then take a moment to make sure the margins are set appropriately so that it can be reviewed. There is nothing more frustrating to a hiring manager than a poorly written or organized resume. Take the time to review the application before you hit the submit button.
Applying for a job is a sales gig. You are selling yourself as a better product than all the other products that are out there who are also vying for the same position. Present yourself in a way that does highlights your skills and at the same time aligns perfectly with the needs of the hiring manager.
You will stand out.
About the Author: Francesca Catalano holds a doctorate in molecular biology from Loyola University Chicago and a law degree from DePaul College of Law. She is a Faculty Director and hiring manager for two programs in the school of STEM at American Public University System.
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