Cover Letters and Resumes: Send Your Message

You should think of your cover letters and resumes as companion marketing documents:  they travel together hand in hand, delivering your clear and focused messages.  What one is good at, the other really can’t do very well, and vice versa.  The cover letter introduces you and opens your storyline or narrative, and the resume states the relevant facts of your past and present.  So you need them both, and as the planner and boss of them, you’ll get the best results when you calibrate the way they’ll work together.

One of the biggest mistakes that job seekers make is to overburden their documents with too much information.  If you have ever been in a conversation with someone who drones on and on to the point where you lose the point, you know what I mean.  Whether it’s in the cover letter or the resume, TMI can be fatal: it reveals that you don’t understand what’s important to your target employer.

The droner and the unfocused job seeker have one thing in common—they are paying more attention to their own needs than to the needs of the person to whom the information is offered.  Most people who write resumes and cover letters begin to feel pretty insecure as soon as they begin to write; starting the writing process is a need (theirs) to change jobs, a need (theirs) to impress a prospective employer, a need (theirs) to appear more worthy than the competition.  That neediness emerges in the documents as TMI.

The solution to this problem not better editing, as in “help me get this down to two pages.”  The solution is to think about the prospective employer, not about you.  If you are the hiring manager (see earlier post on who’s who), what do you want to know?  Here are some examples.

  1. I want to know that you’ve done some homework.  You read about my company, and you read for understanding, putting yourself in the job you want, and thinking about how you can help me.  Your cover letter can speak to what you understand about my needs, while your resume will highlight your understanding of how your backgrounds fits.
  2. I want to know that you understand collaboration, that you are supervisable, that you do not sacrifice people and process for results, and that you understand my world as a boss.  Will you make me look good or are you a high maintenance attention seeker?  Your cover letter will identify who valued your accomplishments and your resume will not claim credit for group results.
  3. I want to know that you love work and working, and that your energy is available for my benefit.  Your cover letter will discuss how you see yourself relative to work, the industry, and the community of interest.  Your resume will show that you have one or two fairly focused—and current—volunteer roles and hobbies.  Both will be energetic and active.
  4. I want to see words I understand, that reflect the language of the profession and industry we are in.  Your cover letter will use those, and your resume will echo them.  You will use the terms correctly in both documents.

The job of your document team is real simple—to get you an interview with someone who can get you into the running for an opportunity that you want.  To do that, they have to be focused on the company and the hiring manager, and in so doing, they illustrate that you are worth a further look.

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