Most people get it backward.
A frequent piece of “common wisdom” in job hunting is to tweak your resume for each job you apply to. If you’ve tried to follow that advice, you’ve probably experienced what a PITA that is. If you have a decent resume, changing the content means screwing around with the formatting, often creating “widows” at the end of lines or sections that bleed over onto the next page or get cut in the middle of a sentence.
Having tried to put it all in the resume, you usually omit a cover letter, or use a “canned” version that is some variation on the theme of “enclosed please find my resume, etc.” (snore). This makes your letter irrelevant and places the full burden to carry your message on your resume. Once your intended recipient starts reviewing your resume, your motives are all too evident. They see how you’ve tried to twist yourself into a pretzel to make your resume conform to their requirements, which never fully works. This is a great example of a lose-lose situation.
A much better approach is to create a resume that conveys who you are and what you offer to your target market, not just Job A at Company B. (see my recent column on resumes: Are You Ready for the September Surge?). Then to pair that resume with a targeted cover letter that allows you to match your experience with the list of qualifications in the job posting. That means you provide concrete examples with quantifiers (#, $, %) that show–not just tell–the reader how well your background aligns with what they are looking for.
This is particularly important when you realize that the first reader of your application will almost never be the Hiring Manager, but a (relatively junior) member of Human Resources or an external Recruiter. These individuals have been given the list of requirements, and tasked with finding candidates that match as close to 100% as possible. Without a targeted cover letter, they are forced to hunt through your resume and find examples that prove you are a good fit. If that process becomes onerous, guess what happens? They move on to the next applicant.
So do yourself and your potential employer a favor: create a compelling self-marketing document in your resume and use the cover letter to demonstrate what a good match you are, exactly what the Hiring Manager has stipulated they’re looking for! That will increase your odds of making it through the first gate and getting moved on to a screening call or initial interview. When that interview is scheduled, you’ll already be prepared for the meeting with clear examples of what you’ve done in each of the areas they have listed as key for success in the role advertised.
Keep in mind that targeted cover letters and resumes are two of the “necessary but not sufficient” aspects of a job search. Most critical is networking, the main source of potential job leads and connections. Find out more about networking in my next post.
Day Merrill, M.A., is the founding Partner and Career/Executive Coach for 2BDetermined. She is a 30-year career services professional with expertise coaching individuals and teams on a range of career and work-related topics as well as consulting to organizations in Canada and the U.S. on their workforce development needs. Day holds a B.A. from Connecticut College, a Master of Arts from Wesleyan University and has completed Coach U’s coach certification training.