Q: Do I really need a cover letter?
A: Yes! Sorry, I know that is not the answer most people want to hear! A cover letter is a professional piece of your job search arsenal and it should accompany your resume when at all possible. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that about half of hiring managers do not care about the cover letter, but the other half actually read it! Hence, we are not writing cover letters to convert non-cover letter readers but, instead, to ensure we are maximizing our time in front of cover letter readers who seek more of the narrative behind our candidacy. Use the cover letter to tell more of your story and to showcase your written communication skills. If you have defined your target well for your job search, you should not find yourself needing to customize the cover letter’s main content for each role, as it should generally already be “speaking” the right language. I often use the analogy of a cover letter being like a suit jacket; some think the slacks, shoes, shirt, and tie are great as is, but others prefer the formality of the suit jacket being added to the ensemble. Hopefully, that encourages you to write a cover letter, knowing that half of your audience will indeed read it!
Q: I have heard that you should have a one-page resume. How can I do that when I have 6 jobs during my 24 years of experience?
A: Quite simply, that advice is outdated and incorrect. No one, unless you are entry-level, should have a one-page resume. Unfortunately, this “old” rule is still floating around and making candidates completely underrepresent themselves on paper. Now, having said that, it is true that the top third of page one is your prime real estate—hence, the inclusion of a qualifications summary leading your resume—but once interest has been established, your candidacy will be reviewed throughout the remainder of your resume. In addition, with the prominence of applicant tracking systems, you will dilute your keyword relevance if you arbitrarily cut your resume length to meet a nonexistent rule. Most professionals should have the content to fill two pages on a resume and some senior-level leaders can warrant three and sometimes even four pages!
Q: Should I tell a hiring manager that I had my resume done professionally? Will that hurt my chances?
A: Such a great question! I have heard only positive things when my clients have been asked that question and have answered honestly. Clients typically report that the hiring manager was impressed that they invested in their career and took the time to represent themselves optimally so that the employer could really “see” what they offered. Keep in mind, at least in my practice, human resources professionals are my most frequent client, likely as they see the value in engaging a professional to craft the optimal presentation of their brand to maximize offers and earning potential.
Q: Should I list volunteer experience from my church if it shows leadership abilities?
A: Honestly, these days I usually do while maybe 10 years ago or so we would be a little more selective in presenting nonwork experiences that shed light on religious views or other such personal information. Now, given anyone can likely find out everything about you online, I do tend to present most volunteer roles and organizations unless I feel they are going to provoke a potentially negative response. Hence, feel free to show this experience in the context of the leadership strengths it helped you acquire. Now, if that same experience was with a political party and had nothing to do with your profession, I would likely not include it for fear of it being received negatively.
Combined with last week’s column, I hope you will find some of your questions answered and will identify some additional ways you can reevaluate your branding strategy and reinvigorate your job search. Keep sending your wonderful resume, career, and job search questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.