Resumes and Cover Letters
Job seekers often complain that their resumes disappear into the "Great
Circular File in the Sky" never to be acknowledged, not even by a form
letter. "After all," they say, "it's only common courtesy for companies to
let you know they've received your resume, even if they decide you're not a
viable candidate for their opening."
While they certainly have a valid point, job seekers may not know the
realities of a recruiting system, which often values expediency over good
manners. Here are some facts to ponder:
According to Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute?, the
average company hires one person for every 1470 resumes it receives. Given
this statistic, it's pretty easy to understand why most people don't find
positions through want ads. While your chances are certainly better than
winning the state lottery, and people do get jobs by responding to ads, the
numbers are not in your favor.
Suppose the average Wall Street Journal ad attracts 200-400 resumes, sorting
through these is a prodigious task. Then there is scheduling a number of
first-round interviews, going through several eliminations, and finally,
making the offer. People whose resumes were set aside at the outset rarely
get a second thought.
Like most corporate departments, Human Resources has had to reduce its staff
in the ongoing wave of corporate cutbacks. Limited personnel and time
constraints often dictate concentrating on the "A" priorities. Rejected
resumes usually fall into the "C" category.
As for the Post Office Boxes, there are several reasons for a company to use
The firm doesn't want to the contacted by aggressive, ill-qualified job
It prefers that its own employees don't know of its plans to fill a
position currently occupied by an unsuspecting, about-to-be-fired
It may be an employment agency hoping to increase its pool of
applicants. Sometimes the ad doesn't even represent a real position.
Instead it lists a tantalizing combination of requirements guaranteed to
solicit talented job seekers.
While answering ads should take a back seat to networking in your job search
priorities, it can play an important role in the overall process. The key to
using a resume successfully is targeting both it and its cover letter.
To give yourself an advantage in the screening process, concentrate on the
ads which do list a company's name. It's much easier to tailor your
correspondence (No, a tailored letter with a generic resume won't get the job)
if you know to whom it's going. Here are some tips for encouraging a
recruiter to put you in the interview pile.
If you know the company but not the person who will review your resume,
call the organization's main number and find out the name of the top
Human Resources manager. Address your cover letter to him. Few people
take the time to do this. It shows impressive initiative.
While you're talking with the receptionist, see if you can also
ascertain the name of the manager of the department where you would be
working. Send a resume to her too. Probably very few resumes cross her
desk. If she likes yours, it will automatically go into the interview
If you can't find a name, use "Good Morning" as a greeting. It's upbeat
and it sounds a lot better than "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear
Generally, cover letters have three main topics:
Instead of using the typical opening line, "This letter and the attached
resume is in response to your Wall Street Journal ad," try something a
little more original. Go to the library and read the firm's annual
report. Look for a professional journal article about the company. Then
compose an opening paragraph that specifically mentions one of the
employer's attributes, policies, or programs you particularly admire.
You will not only impress the reader with your initiative, you will also
give him some genuine pleasure in acknowledging that he works for an
To write an eye-catching second paragraph summarizing your relevant
skills and background, take your cues from the ad. Look carefully at the
job description and the requirements for the position. Then construct
three to five sentences that show how your experience specifically
matches what the employer is seeking. A good ad wears its heart on its
sleeve; it outlines exactly what it wants in an applicant. Pay close
attention with what the screener hopes to see and you'll capture his
attention and make the interview pile.
Please don't close your letter with "I look forward to hearing from you,"
as the other 400 people responding to the ad probably will. Instead
seize the responsibility of making the second contact yourself. Say you
will call in a week to schedule an appointment, make sure they received
your resume, or whatever, and then do it. Following up shows initiative,
follow through, and genuine interest, three traits potential employers
love. Besides, if you won't be getting an interview, it's better to find
out quickly and move on to more promising possibilities.
Sometimes, if you're persistent, you can identify a company through its P.O. box. Call the post office representing the zip code in the address. If the firm's box rental application states that it deals with the public, the name of the firm is public information which the post office will reveal, and you will earn a star for resourcefulness. If not, you will have to be content to use "Good Morning" for a greeting and more generic information in your letter.
Responding to all ads with your one, perfect resume is a sure way to
commit job search suicide, even with a tailored cover letter. A
potential employer wants to know specifically what you can do for him.
If you craft your resume for each opening as carefully as you've
constructed your cover letter, the screener will note the difference and
give you the opportunity to talk to him in person. Begin by stating a
specific objective. Example: "MIS Manager for Alpha Corporation." Then
make sure the rest of your resume speaks to this position.
If you use a qualifications summary, make it relevant to your job
objective. Phrases like "Results oriented," "Hands-on," and "People
person" have become clichés, unlike the following example.
OBJECTIVE: Vice President of International Operations for XYZ Corp.
Note how each of the above elements builds a case for finding out
more about this applicant. Naturally, the summary should echo what
the employer seeks and be supported by specific accomplishments in
the experience section.
Prioritize everything you put in your resume, putting the most important
facts on the top two-thirds of the first page. Remember, you're hitting
the high points here, not telling a life story.
In fact, a listing of job titles and duties can make pretty boring
reading. On the other hand, accomplishments that outline your unique
contribution put real sizzle in your resume. Suppose you are a corporate
Comptroller who has had years of experience in designing, installing and
updating accounting systems. If you were sending a resume to a start-up
firm, you would want to use some phrases like:
Researched, initiated and managed a computerized system designed to track R&D, manufacturing, distribution, and sales costs by product line item. Instead of: Duties included supervising the ledger, accounts receivable and payable functions, cost control procedures, etc
Quantify when you can. Mentioning that you increased territory sales by
50% in one year or managed an organization with $50 million in annual
sales tends to capture the reader's attention.
Name-dropping can also be useful. If you've worked with highly respected
clients, give their names. If your responsibility covered an eight-state
area, mention it.
When you are listing your job title, company and dates of employment, think about what would be most impressive to the reader, and put it first, or in bold type or italics. (Dates rarely deserve this honor.)
Use an outline format, rather than paragraphs. Information grouped in
more than 3-4 line clumps looks onerous, especially if you're reading 400
Include continuing education along with your degree(s) in the Education
section. Savvy employers will appreciate your efforts to keep current
with state of the art developments.
A Fresh Approach to Follow Up
As previously mentioned, if you've said you will call to schedule an
appointment, do it. But this is only possible where you've been able to
identify whom to call.
For those companies who prefer to remain anonymous, there is a way to
ascertain if they have received your resume but it requires some chutzpah.
Actually, the precedent has already been set with wedding invitations which
quite often include a reply card and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Why not apply this to resumes? Enclose a self-addressed, stamped post card
that says something like:
"You are, undoubtedly, inundated with resumes responding to your ad.
However, I would really appreciate your taking a moment to check the
appropriate reply on this card and dropping it in the mail."
- We have received your resume and will be calling you for an
- We have received your resume. While it is not the best match for our
current opening, we will keep it on file for future positions.
- Your background is not a good fit for our company."
Many HR departments do not send letters acknowledging resumes but they will
probably return your post card because you've made it so easy for them. Some
may think you're a little forward, but most will probably enjoy, and even
admire, your resourcefulness.