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Cover Letters for a Killer Resume

Part II of III

How your accomplishments with a good cover letter create a "killer" resume.

There are two things, we believe, that will get your resume read:

The person scanning the resumes will find it easier to make a decision in your favor if you do some of his or her work for them by constructing a very short cover letter that, in effect, tells them, yes, you do have the qualifications they're looking for in their ad or listing. For example, if they ask for "five years experience as a manager", "in-depth knowledge of retail sales", "a graduate degree in marketing", or "a successful track record in b-to-b auto parts sales", and you use the same or similar words in your cover letter, you are more likely to be chosen.

Although this seems obvious, we've seen countless cover letters that rhapsodize about the applicant's special experiences, not what's specifically asked for by the employer -- in the hope that their special knowledge or expertise will seduce the person evaluating the resumes into choosing them for the interview. A good cover letter can contain as few as three short paragraphs, one of which must feed back exactly what's asked for.

It's axiomatic that the resume must back up the cover letter. So if you say you have "five years experience as a manager", it better show up that way in your resume. If your qualifications come close to what's being asked for, you might say something like "four-and-a-half years as manager, two years as assistant manager."

Now, since we're discussing resumes, let's get to the critical element, the element that turns a merely good resume into a "killer" resume. We're talking about the difference between a candidate and a candidate whom employers really want to talk to. Most of the resumes we see are competently written. They contain all the facts and a pretty good format. But in almost every single instance, they all make the same mistake:

They contain job descriptions, not accomplishments.

This single sentence explains what separates a ho-hum resume from a "killer" resume.

As one person put it, sarcastically: "Resumes that contain job descriptions read like obituaries. They only tell what you've done."

The more accomplishments you can pack into your resume, the stronger and more compelling it becomes. Employers want to interview people who can make good things happen for their companies.

Examples of these types of accomplishments are:

"Saved over $100,000 by implementing a new safety program"… "Created a 50% increase in revenues by re-designing the main component" … "Reduced expenses by one-third through careful administration of the benefits package"… "Lowered turnover from 35% to 4% in my first year".

Accomplishments contain quantifiable results. They're the complementary part of a job description. They begin with an action verb such as implemented, created, designed, created. They always include measurements of success (dollars, time, qualifying adjectives, percentages, and other numerical values).

Some people complain at first that accomplishments can be hard to quantify, especially for non-sales or non-managerial positions. It is not easy to look at your own experience and extract your accomplishments, and much digging is often required. But it has to be done and the surprising thing is almost everyone can do it and come up with genuine accomplishments, often astonishing themselves. It's worth doing if you want to create a "killer" resume.

As for the format of your resume, the best rule is to be easy-to-read. There's much discussion about chronological versus functional; and we vote for a chronological resume every time. The reason for preferring the chronological format over the function; lies in the fact that 99% of the time, the reader will assume you have something to hide in a functional résumé because he or she can't untangle when you did something or who you worked for when you did it.

To make it simple, here's an easy format to remember that works every time:

Name and Address of Employer … Date of Employment
Your title
First bullet of accomplishment
Second bullet of accomplishment
Third bullet of Accomplishment, etc.
Last bullet of accomplishment

Try to list your accomplishments in descending order of priority - i.e., in descending order of the impact for your employer. One school of thought suggests that you reserve one "zinger" accomplishment for the final bullet under each employer. Then, after you've done this for each employer, list all relevant education and courses taken. If they're likewise relevant, list memberships in industry-related organizations.

In the third article in this series, we'll show actual resumes that list achievements and got good jobs.

Lawrence M. Light
Founder, eJobCoach Unlimited
Copyright © 2001 Lawrence M. Light. All rights reserved.