Developing Your Resume and Preparing for the Interview: Part 2 of a 4 Part Series

Posted In: First Jobs
Posted On: 5/16/2013

Part Two: Your Three Key Messages and Your Cover Letter  Okay, you’ve followed my advice for Developing Your Resume and now your document is in great shape. Your resume is under two pages, chronologically highlights your experience and accomplishments, and substantiates them with real, concrete examples. Excellent work…but you’re not done yet. Your resume is just one part of a tool kit that you use to create a clear, compelling narrative about the value you’ll bring to a future employer. It’s your job to make sure that all of the parts work in unison. What you need is an overarching theme—a simple story that quickly communicates your key values and is consistent in all of your communications: the resume, cover letter, and interview. What I suggest is that you select three key messages that describe you. These are some of my favorites when I review a resume.

  • You are a Pied Piper. Showing initiative is the first thing a company looks for in a new hire. Evidence that you’re a leader that people have followed and will follow is key value to business. Even if you are interviewing for an entry-level position, let them know you have the ability to move beyond that role by motivating others.
    • In college, include experiences where you lead a project or a team. For example, in your strategic management class, you headed up a team that won the class prize for most innovative approach. Even if you didn’t win, exemplify your leadership by identifying the challenge of the project and the fact that you had to herd cats to get the job done.
    • In a job, outline any example where you were in charge, either selected by the company or through your own initiative.
  • You get shit done. “Results-oriented” is the PC way to say that you get things accomplished when you’re given a task. Make sure you have examples that QUANTIFY your accomplishments. Higher up people always like numbers.
    • You had two months to raise $5000 for a charity you love. You did it on time and collected $7500.
    • You were assigned the task of analyzing poor business performance on the Doritos brand. You identified the root cause of the problem, developed an action plan, and in three months the business was on track to regain double-digit growth.
  • You work your ass off. You have a strong work ethic. Give examples of projects with tight deadlines or times you’ve worked someone else’s shift on a regular basis. DON’T confuse this with not having a work/life balance or being a martyr. Most employers are not looking for workaholics. They are looking for people who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
    • A co-worker left the company on very short notice and you volunteered to take on his responsibilities until a replacement was found.  For one month you were working twelve hour days and a couple of weekends to get it all done.  But it resulted in your boss seeing you could take on more challenges.  Those extra efforts resulted in a promotion!
  • You play well with others. You’re a team player. You don’t always have to be the leader. You can be part of a team that produces great results. In cases where you were the leader, be HUMBLE about your role. The more you move up an organization, the more you will realize that you can’t do it by yourself.
    • While working on a demanding deadline, you kept a team motivated with innovative rewards and recognition. When the deliverable exceeded expectations—and no one quit during the process—you organized a trip to an amusement park to recognize the exceptional contributions of the team.

These key messages should be inherent in your resume bullet points. These are also the key messages that you will reinforce in your cover letter and when you have the actual interview. So, what about that cover letter? In a perfect world, you would never send out a cover letter to someone you don’t know. But alas, most of us don’t live in that world. So here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you write a cover letter:

  • Make every effort to have the name and title of a specific person to whom you are writing. “To Whom It May Concern” letters generally don’t make it out of the inbox. If you can’t get that information on the company’s website, you can always call the company and the person in customer service who handles external calls can often give you the name and title for the right person in the department you are looking to contact;
  • Reference a specific job opening when you can. For example, you saw a Marketing Assistant job on Monster and you are submitting your resume for that position;
  • Explain briefly why you are qualified for that specific position. Relevant job experience is the best way to demonstrate that you are qualified. If you don’t have that experience, outline your key skills that show you are capable of doing the job: strong analytical skills, strategic thinker, results-oriented, etc.
  • Make sure that you actually write about yourself—something that will get their attention. What makes you awesome? Why are you really interested in working on a team at this company? If you were offered such an opportunity, what would you do better than any other applicant with similar experience? You're enthusiastic to add value to their business, make sure they know it.
  • Indicate that you will follow-up with an email and a call. I am amazed by how many people will send a blind resume and never follow-up.

One final piece of advice: sending the same generic cover letter to every potential employer comes across just as lazy or disinterested as it sounds, and no one is looking to hire those qualities. Remember, your cover letter is one of your key opportunities to control the narrative and craft a story about why a potential employer should be interested in you. Make the most of it! In my next post, we’ll get down to brass tacks on preparing for your interview and I’ll share a handy guide to get you totally ready!

Read the rest of the series:

  1. Developing Your Resume
  2. Your Three Key Messages and Your Cover Letter
  3. Preparing for the Interview
  4. Interview Questions to Expect