To borrow from the world of boxing, your resume and cover letter are like a one-two punch. Each one alone has power, but together they deliver a winning combo that can help get you the match – for the job you want.
Above all, it’s the match that you are after. The match to the job interview and the job. You need to help the employer see all the ways – obvious and less obvious – that make you a great fit for the job.
And you do that by crafting both your resume and cover letter in a way that shows how much of your experience, even some of your older experience, is evidence of skills and natural talents that fit well with their needs. In effect, you are telling a story. But it’s a wonderful story. It’s a story about you.
So where to start?
Let’s Start With Your Resume Story
I have other articles on this site (see links below) that offer you tips about how to write a great resume (and how not to). But the most important thing you can do right this minute is to look at your current resume and see what story it’s telling. Try to pretend you don’t know you and are seeing the resume of this person for the first time. What do you see?
Start from the earliest job and follow your resume up to the present. Is there a story that makes sense? Does it show progress? Are there some things in common throughout the years that help show who you are in a job (and more importantly to the job you want now), or are they each written as if sitting on an island of their own?
Ideally, you want a resume that is written as if, from the very beginning, you were working your way right up to this job you are applying for now. You were made for this job. A perfect match. And yes…I hear you saying “What are you talking about? How could I know what I was going to do 10 or 20 years later?” Of course you couldn’t.
My Own Resume Story
Let me use myself as an example. I have what I like to call a “non-linear career history.” OK. Some people would call it job-hopping, and in most of my early years especially it was. But as I looked back over my experiences each time I was applying for a job, I saw that there were things I could pull together to help make the story a better fit for the job.
After I graduated college, I worked for a bank as a credit analyst / trainee, and then for a major record company as a marketing finance analyst. But I didn’t want to be an analyst any more. I wanted to be a project manager. (OK. I really wanted to be an actress and writer. But I had bills to pay.)
So I thought about everything that I did for the bank and for the record company – and I made sure to highlight times when I led a project or found solutions or improved methods that we were using. Or simply any time that I showed initiative and took the lead.
Even coordinating or organizing something counted, since it painted a different picture than just one of me analyzing numbers. It showed my people skills and my ability to follow through. All transferable project manager skills. And so, I wove those parts of the story into the picture – and underplayed the analysis part. It’s all me. It’s just how I tell the story.
Where the Cover Letter Comes Into the Picture
So now that my resume was a little closer to what a project manager job description called for, I used the cover letter to help seal the deal. I used bullets to highlight my strongest project management or project-management-like experiences. I found a way to save the record company $100,000 by revamping the way they did sales forecasts.
I took on a research project for the loan-workout area of the bank. I even pulled from jobs I’d had while putting myself through college, including one where I helped reorganize the ticket sales for a show in my hometown that starred a well-known comedian.
While none of these were exactly what a project manager does, my resume and cover letter now helped make the case for me that I did have project manager skills. And once they helped me get to the interview I was hoping for, it was my job to make the story ring true. And I did.
OK. I’m not saying this works every time. But it does work. And while I had to start as a junior project manager, that was all I was looking for: a chance to prove myself!
Some final thoughts
Think about whatever you can do to have your resume and cover letter story work together – and show the new employer just how well you can match the job you really want.
It’s not up to the employer to figure it out. It’s up to you to help him see it!
What story do your resume and cover letter tell?
What story do you want them to tell?
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