How you should write your resume and cover letter

Making sure you have ticked all of the boxes when applying for a role, and sprucing up a CV with a relevant cover letter before application.

  • Putting your resume into context: this can help the hiring manager get their head around you and your story and your experience, in a way that just looking at a resume may not give them. Some people say that Google is a suitable replacement for a cover letter; but this is not the case. A cover letter gives more context. One thing you can do that is telling a short story that is relevant to the role, or the industry. It’s important to mention how you can draw on your experience for the role that you’re applying for. A cover letter works very well. These are very effective and if you do put a resume in to context and you share a good story, that gives a hiring manager a sense of you, and your voice. You’re a person with an interesting background, so telling that story can give a good sense to the recruiter. 
  • Sharing relevant background or a story
  • Conveying your voice
  • Relaying respect for the organization: If you are aware of the outlet, you should use the cover letter to share that. This indicates that you’ve spent some time doing your homework, and it’s nice to show respect by showing you’ve done some research and that you understand how the org you’re applying for works. 
  • Prompting the hiring manager to want to talk to you: the big goal is you want the hiring manager to speak to you. Whether or not you are a perfect fit in terms of the job description, that might not be as relevant as conveying energy and showing that you have what it takes to switch gears, or use your background in another organization for your next job. You want your cover letter to say “you should pick up the phone and call me!”

What you shouldn’t do in it

  • Merely regurgitate your name: you don’t want to have two documents (the resume and the cover letter) that say the same thing. 
  • Brag, complain or exaggerate: This is really important. This is unlikely to get the person the response they hope they get. People often complain about their industry or their boss, or that they never get a response to a cover letter. Resist the urge to pad your resume, don’t exaggerate.
  • Sell yourself short: people may write their cover letter where they’re already talking people out of hiring them. Don’t tell people what you’re not good at; don’t sell yourself short. Make sure you’re applying a filter to what you’re saying in your letter and resume. 
  • Miss an opportunity: you have a connection with the organization, you shouldn’t be shy to use it. Don’t miss an opportunity. 

Practical tips – cover letter, resume and beyond

As Morpheus told Neo in the Matrix, many rules were made to be bent, many rules were meant to be broken. There’s many ways to look at this when constructing your CV and cover letter. 

  • Pick a style that suits you and do it well
  • Avoid being too vague (“wrote articles”), too generic (“I’m a hard worker”) or cliched (“I’m the ideal candidate”)
  • Cite accomplishments, not just responsibilities
  • Connect the dots between your experience and the job
  • Tailor it to the role and organization (don’t “spray and pray”)
  • Struggling to write about yourself? Try writing a draft in third person

How long should a good cover letter be?

It’s very flexible, but there are some golden rules. Don’t use too many graphics, don’t include too much blurb, just keep it nice and simple. Many hiring managers and recruiters will come up with “this is my pet peeve”. Every hiring manager has their little things they prefer and don’t like, and you can’t be a mind reader. You just have to put your best foot forward. Do something and do it well, you still might get their attention.

What about content in the cover letter?

Be specific – we recommend citing accomplishments and responsibilities. This goes for the cover letter and the CV. You can link the two nicely within your documentation when applying for a job. Talk about an accomplishment, how you grew an audience, an interesting campaign you’re proud of, for example. 

Make sure you’re connecting the dots between your experience and the job that you are applying for. This is really important. We can’t always tell how your background is relevant, especially for career changers. If you’re going for a job you’re not doing now, you want to make sure you’re expressing what it is you bring to the table for the job you are applying for, especially if it is not immediately obvious.

Make sure you are tailoring your response for the organisation. We often think about those candidates who send off generic CV’s and you hear stories where they’re not getting any responses to their applications. It’s often because you’re sending off the same application to multiple people! Try to make the application catered to the role you apply for. It’s going to make the difference when it comes to getting the hiring manager’s attention. You want to prompt the hiring manager to think, “this is a person I want to talk to.”

Writing in the third person

A little tactic is to write a first draft in the third person. Imagine you are writing a reference letter for yourself. Or just use your last performance review as a first draft of your cover letter in the third person. This really does work!

Polish every touchpoint!

  1. Cover letter
  2. Resume
  3. Email inquiry to hiring manager
  4. Email follow ups
  5. Screener/interviews
  6. Post-interview notes
  7. Deliverable
  8. All social profiles and websites
  9. Use filenames that include your name, never “resume” or “letter”