Resumes and Cover Letters

What Not to Do When You’re Job Hunting

Countless eager job seekers are going to extremes to stand apart from the crowd. But, their efforts, though well-intentioned, can miss the mark. Last year, one video resume from an aspiring job seeker  became a YouTube sensation when it was posted without his consent after he sent it to several Wall Street recruiters. The resume and the buzz it generated subjected its creator to internet ridicule – and didn’t exactly help his job prospects. But in some cases, a video resume has been just the ticket. Another job seeker, featured by Career Journal, actually landed four job offers from his video resume.

Video resumes aren’t the only new trend being used by job seekers to stand apart from the crowd. Recruiting bloggers often post horror stories of job seekers trying too hard to set themselves apart from the pack – from dressing up in costume to sending lavish gifts to hounding recruiters with frequent calls and e-mails. So how can job seekers figure out if these efforts will help or hurt their job search?

The Brand Dame, a professional recruiter, recently posted a list of things not to do in a job hunt – from the perspective of the person picking through resumes. Though it sounds a little harsh, her insights should be taken seriously by job seekers. Recruiters, she says,  “…are looking for reasons to eliminate you.” It’s your job to sell yourself as the right candidate for the job, not eliminate yourself by making a dumb move. And in a competitive job market, it can be hard to find the right balance between not trying and trying too hard. Here are a few top ways you can ensure your resumes gets put in the “no” pile. (Hint: Avoid these at all costs.)

  • Try too hard. Give your job search serious effort, but don’t become a nuisance to the recruiters and hiring managers you are applying with. A unique way to stand out from the crowd isn’t necessarily a wrong move, but whether it’s a right one or not will depend largely on the type of job and industry you’re trying to get into. An off-the-cuff video resume probably won’t appeal to conservative companies or industries, but it might work for creative fields.

  • Oversell yourself. Some people can make themselves sound pretty impressive on paper. Others just make themselves sound self-absorbed and self-important. Present your skills and your abilities for what they are, and keep it at that.

  • Bribe. Recruiters don’t take kindly to being bribed for an interview. Some have legal obligations with the companies they work for to not accept any gifts or outside compensation for their efforts. Don’t go overboard on gestures you send recruiters. Keep your efforts professional, simple and to-the-point.

  • Lie. Don’t say you graduated from Yale, with honors, if it’s not true. It’s the job of recruiters to verify your resume for facts, and these days, a simple Google search or call to a university can quickly uncover the truth and lies behind applicants’ resumes. A recent story on Career Journal highlighted how one woman’s high-powered career fell apart after it was discovered she fudged the truth on her resume when she lied about her credentials.

  • Hassle/harass. Yes, believe it or not, recruiters have been hassled, even harassed or stalked by overly eager job seekers. While a thoughtful gesture can set you apart from the pack, showing up at a recruiter’s front door with a singing telegram and a $100 flower arrangement probably isn’t going to land you a job. Unless you’re applying to be a birthday party clown.

Do you have any stories of job hunting tips gone awry? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Cover Letter Tips: Keep Your Cool

Be professional

Above all, show your maturity and professionalism by avoiding these common cover letter vices:

  • Negativity
  • Profanity, slang or inappropriate sayings
  • Overselling, aggressiveness and gimmicky language
  • Using a passive voice and downplaying strengths
  • Making demeaning comments about old employers, co-workers or clients
  • Using the same letter for all job positions

You can stand out by staying positive, brief and relevant. Remember that the employer doesn’t owe you the job; you have to earn the right to be considered for it. By making your letter simple, straightforward and well written, you’ll have a good shot at landing an interview.

The cover letter is simply a tool to market you and your job skills. Presenting a cover letter that gives an accurate picture of your abilities will allow the potential employer to discover your strengths and determine if you’re a good fit for their opening.

Cover Letter Tips: Make It Short and Sweet

Keep it simple
The ideal length for most cover letters is two or three short paragraphs on one page. Most likely, if your cover letter is too long, it won’t get read. Your goal is to explain why you want the position in as few words as possible. This means that your wording should be easy to read and understand. By staying away from long, rambling paragraphs, you’ll keep the reader’s attention. Impress the recruiter with your qualifications, not your fancy writing.

To avoid seeming flashy, use a simple font in black or charocal. If you’re e-mailing your resume or posting it online use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvitica.

Pay special attention to punctuation and grammar as well. A recent survey revealed poor grammar as the top reason why employers ignore applicants’ cover letters. Keep in mind, your cover letter is a written introduction of yourself. What first impressions will you send to potential employers?

Cover Letter Tips: Target Your Message

Know who you’re writing to
Have you ever noticed how quickly hearing your name gets your attention? The same is true for employers who see their names on cover letters. The greeting is the first thing a reader will notice, so make sure it is written to the right person. Take the time to find the name of the employer, and spell it correctly when you address the letter. If you’ve met or talked with the hiring manager previously, make note of that in the introduction. Using “to whom it may concern” or “dear sir/madam” is too formal and impersonal.

Cover Letter Tips: Stick to the Basics

Remember that your cover letter should include three basic parts: an introduction paragraph, a qualifications paragraph and a closing. The introduction paragraph should tell the employer why the position interests you. What is it about the company that you like? Research the company to find its mission, basic goals and achievements. Explain how you fit into this culture, but keep it short!

The second paragraph should be a brief description of why you qualify for the job. Specify skills you have that are listed in the job description for the position. Don’t paraphrase your resume. Instead, focus on telling how your experience and career goals are relevant to the position.

In your closing, restate your interest in the position and your intent to follow up. Include your availability for an interview and give a date that you’ll call if you don’t hear from the employer. Taking the initiative to follow up will show that the position is important to you. Also, make sure your contact information is correct and easy to find.