Don’t Let Your Resume Write You Off
First impressions matter.

Happy Graduation Season! I thought school was the worst thing in the world during my last year, but then I graduated and being unemployed quickly became the worst thing in the world. I got a great tan that summer because I specialized in drinking beer and laying down on my balcony. But it was boring, I was boring, and my resume and cover letter were boring too.

And not just boring, but really bad as well; I went back and read the resume I was using that summer and found a spelling error (Sepemtber).

I had also used title case under my “Highlights of Qualifications” section: Very Strong Microsoft Office Skills, Proven Attention To Details, etc.

What an interesting stylistic choice that was! Obviously I’m beaming with pride and basking in the blatant hypocrisy that is the rage Gchatting I do when we receive a resume with errors.

“Proven attention to details” I wrote, when in reality I had proven that I paid very little attention to details. My crappy resume was matched with a wordy, uninspired form-style cover letter that didn’t acknowledge the position I was applying to in any way other than to say “I’m applying to be a dronebotunicorn at Company xyz.”

That cover letter made it obvious to potential employers that I was applying for every job under the sun. Sales Manager at Battery World? I can put new batteries in the remote control, let’s apply! COO of Sobeys? I like groceries! Why the hell wouldn’t I apply! Dog Trainer at Petsmart? I had a hamster as a child, s/he was very well behaved, must apply immediately!

Sidenote: If you’re the kind of person who is graduating with your dream job or the pathway to your dream job locked and loaded, then I stand here in awe of you. All the Prosecco belongs to you. That wasn’t the situation I put myself in, and judging by some of the applications that have passed through here, I’m not alone.

What you learned about resumes and cover letters in school, and what your friend’s resume that landed his or her dream job says might not work for you today. Likewise, what Kick Point believes to be an award winning cover letter would probably get you tossed from the consideration pile of many other jobs. So, please enjoy a few tips with many grains of salt.

1) Be Patient.

If you weren’t prepared and don’t already have a post-grad job lined up, please understand that this is a process, and often a very lengthy process. It’s frustrating because you’re coming off the high of this accomplishment, regardless of whether you had a 4.0 or a 2.0, and you want employers to recognize how brilliant you are. It’s a tough pill to swallow when no one seems to care that you finished school and are ready to change the world with your big ideas and outside the box thinking.*

* please do not write “outside the box” in any part of your job application. Ever.

2) Do Work.

Bills pile up! Rent is rent, and you should probably pay it once a month. After I sorted out my base tan that summer, I walked across the street to Starbucks and got a job as a barista. I was pretty bummed when I stomped over for my first 5:30am shift, because I wanted my business degree to give me instant gratification and a $100,000/year salary.

Instead I got the instant gratification of shot after shot of espresso. #YOLO

You only live once.

Having a job (even if you think you should have a different kind of job) is important because you get paid to go there and do things, you get out of the house and talk to human people (instead of the little people on the TV), and all of the things seem to start happening the second you start doing something.

3) Research Everything.

Learn all you can about the industry you are thinking of entering before applying, otherwise you will waste your time writing cover letters and resumes tailored to a market you might not even like. Read company blogs, read personal blogs, look at average salaries and compensation structures. Google everything, look for news stories about companies you have an interest in — what if a company you thought was great was also known for trafficking people and drugs!

Google everything, look for news stories about companies you have an interest in - what if a company you thought was great was also known for trafficking people and drugs!

It’s best to be informed. You can learn a lot of the ins and outs for specific industries by joining relevant organizations. In Edmonton, if you’re looking to get into marketing and advertising, the Advertising Club of Edmonton can be a great way to get introduced. ACE puts on some events that are tailored to students and recent grads, and they collect volunteers like some people collect model trains.

Not everyone in every company is going to respond to you, but sending an email to someone who has the kind of position you think you’d like to have is a smart idea. Asking questions and talking to someone about what you think their job entails, and then hearing what it’s actually like can help you pinpoint a section of an industry that makes sense for you. People are busy, but hey, people also love talking about themselves, so tap all the resources you can.

4) Understand Tone.

A job posting that contains this:

“HOLY CRAP! A PERSON LIKE THIS EXISTS?”

warrants a different response than a posting with this:

Interact with regulatory agencies and manage programs to obtain permits, certifications and approvals for projects and programs. Registration as a Professional Engineer in the State of Arizona is preferred.

I thought it was really weird when we got emails addressed “Dear Sir or Madam” and “To Whom It May Concern” because I didn’t feel that was in keeping with the way our positions were presented. I get it though, because I can think of two classes in school where it was drilled into us that the standard template was your best bet.

Play professionalism on a case-by-case basis. If a posting reads casual to you, then it seems fair that a casual “Hi there” for your salutation would be better received than a “Dear Human Resources Overlord” would. If you’re applying for a job at a bank, or a multinational oil conglomerate maybe it’s best to stick with the formal method. Also, I’m not sure if there will ever be a situation when the right choice is swearing in your application, so please don’t do that.

5) Appearances Matter.

Judging someone based solely on their resume is like judging a book by its cover, but so what? That’s the way this process works and you just have to deal with it.

Deal with it by having a resume that looks like you care about it. The headings and positioning that Word templates offer aren’t always the answer. Come on, you know what that mess is like, you tab once somewhere by accident and you may as well burn the whole computer to the ground!

Don’t use a stupid font. Don’t use a bunch of different fonts. Don’t change your font size to “squeeze something in” or “fill up some white space.” Avoid random bolding and italicizing. And please save the emoticons for text conversations with your friends and your Grandma.

–    Things
+like
-This
* MATTER.

Employers care about details, so show that you do too by avoiding eyesores like that. Just be careful, and print a copy to do an extra round of proofreading and eyeballing.

Employers care about details, so show that you do too by avoiding eyesores like that. Just be careful, and print a copy to do an extra round of proofreading and eyeballing.

Do you need to have an objective section where you start a sentence with: “To obtain…”? Not in my opinion, because if you didn’t get your objective across in the email you attached your resume to, I don’t see why anyone would even bother to open your resume. However, if you get the impression from a job posting that the person you are sending the email to might be printing off a pile of resumes and then passing just those along (without your email) to someone else, then it’s likely best to keep that section in.

Quality trumps quantity for your resume. Just because you’ve had 17 different jobs in your life, doesn’t mean they are all worthy of a box seat on your resume. Choose relevant positions based not only on industry, but also based on how the things you accomplished or learned in those positions relate to the job you are applying to now.

6) Follow Instructions.

This one is really, really tricky! Hiring teams ask for specific things not only because they are interested in what’s requested, but because it’s nice to know whether or not a person can read and follow instructions. Lots of people can’t do this and it’s a forty foot long red flag.

If someone asks for a PDF and you send a Word document, you’re doing it wrong.

If you are asked to have a specific subject line in your email, or name your file a certain way and you neglect to do that, you should not even be considered.

Ask someone to read over your entire application and mark off the things that were requested in the posting, and then triple check everything before you hit send. Having a person who knows you fairly well do this will help make sure that you aren’t applying for a job that could be a mismatch for your character.

7) Stay True.

Don’t misrepresent yourself. There’s no point. The moment you start babbling in an interview your interviewer will see that you’re a jerkface liar. Be honest! If you are truly right for a job then the real you will be right for the job, you know?

This whole task is daunting and the frustration can become overwhelming to the point where you’re probably going to apply for something that you aren’t certain you actually want to do. When that happens, you might have to fight the inclination to pull keywords from a posting and work them into your application so it seems like you have skills and experience that you sure as hell do not have.

Like that time I had SEO as a skill on my resume before Dana hired me as a freelancer to help her with SEO. Shocking absolutely no one, I knew nothing about SEO at that point. Still don’t, actually.

JUST KIDDING.

8) (Continue to) Be Patient.

We were taught in school to follow up after sending an application, but this needs a time and place disclaimer. We made sure to note the closing date and the time frame in which we would be contacting potential employees for interviews on our most recent job posting. Yet we had emails, phone calls, LinkedIn messages, and Facebook messages before the closing date from people inquiring about the status of their applications.

Wait to send a followup email until after the “we will be contacting those selected for an interview at this time” period has passed (if that information was provided). Do not choose your own adventure and solicit a potential employer in a way not requested in the job posting.

No matter how many resume and cover letter tips you read here or anywhere else, landing your dream job is going to be hard, but it will be worth it.

And hey, you’re going to make mistakes. People make mistakes! Great people make mistakes. Mikhaila, who has a #1 Employee mug, spelled Sarah’s name wrong in her cover letter. And Chris – he didn’t have a line separating the paragraphs in his cover letter, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t exactly a natural disaster, but was esthetically annoying enough that in another case we tagged someone as a NO for doing just that. We’re picky as hell, but the sum of Mikhaila and Chris’ awesomeness trumped those tiny errors. They wrote their cover letters with such conviction and personality, we had to meet with them.

Always remember to sense the tone and get a feel for a company and its industry, but in general I’m an advocate for taking risks and trying something different with cover letters.

One of my favorite application emails we’ve received to date came addressed to Penny and Pandora (our office dogs) and was signed by the applicant’s dog. It started like this:

I understand the humans in your office are looking for another human to help with that boring stuff they do when they’re not feeding or playing with us.

I also enjoyed this Haiku we got in response to our request for a story about a late night, a lost year, or a long walk:

A Late Night
4 a.m.! Not 1?
Time flies here but feels so slow
Magic party room.

There have also been some standout horror stories to contrast the incredible emails we get.

The guy who wrote, “I have three sisters, so I know how to handle women.”

The cover letter with 23 ellipses…

Or the one with the subject line “100% Sure You Need A Web Designer” – even though last time I checked, we don’t do web design.

In closing, one last tip: if you apply for a position with Kick Point and call yourself detail-oriented in your resume or cover letter, but spell our company name wrong, you’re a liar.

Your application will be tagged with “kickpoint you to the curb.”

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