This post is phase two of creating a great cover letter. It utilizes an actual vacancy announcement to take you step-by-step through the process of analyzing the announcement to determine if your background is a good fit for the position in which you are interested. Please visit often for new posts as we take you through our (five) step process.
Hello everyone. Welcome to Installment II of my recommendations for moving seamlessly through your career search process. The post just previous to this one encouraged you to paint a mental picture of your perfect job. I recommended that exercise because once you can envision yourself having attained success, you are much more prepared, and motivated, to live out the blessing. You will subsequently want to take the necessary steps to fill in the missing parts to get to the reality of that end result because it is now possible. You may be fresh out of technical training, college/university, grad school, or post graduate school. You may be newly-unemployed, underemployed, or still employed and just need to make a change. No matter your circumstance, you need to market yourself…and do it effectively to get your desired results. In order to do that, you need to craft a well-written, expressive, visually-appealing, and truthful resume or curriculum vitae…the two major written marketing tools that career searchers use to showcase their professional and educational backgrounds, community involvement, research, published articles, professional memberships, certifications, etc., as well as hobbies/interests. This document will be the vehicle that puts your unique knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics in front of potential employers. This is why you must put time and thought into it and take care to ensure its integrity and quality.
Although many people use the terms, resume and curriculum vitae, interchangeably, each possesses its own distinguishing characteristics. In order to decide which document format will serve your career search best, you need to know their respective uniqueness. For starters, the curriculum vitae, aka CV or vita, is the format that educators, graduate students, professors, researchers, student interns/externs, etc. use most often. The goal of the curriculum vitae is to establish you as an accomplished subject matter expert in your field of expertise through the detailed descriptive presentation of directly-related work experience; articles written and published; research conducted; conference presentations; white papers; scholarly awards; dissertations, etc. The curriculum vitae is more likely than a resume to contain your photo, date and place of birth; as well as other identifying characteristics, whereas a resume will not. It is typically very detailed and painstakingly tailored to the academic, or a closely-related, profession. As a result, it is often considerably longer than a typical resume. Naturally, you will list your name, mailing address, and contact information, including your email address at the top of your CV. Unlike the typical resume, a CV also includes a head shot photo. Your carefully-crafted objective should immediately follow your contact information. Some conventional career search wisdom recommends that you tailor your objective to the position for which you are applying; however, I think that if you put some thought into the process, you can develop an effective objective that can be used repeatedly, and with little to no, revision…regardless of the position to which you are applying. The next section might contain your date of birth, and/or marital status. Your current career stage determines what comes next on your CV. If you are relatively young in your career (i.e., five (5) years or less, you should list your educational credentials first). When you are newer in your career, you need to use your formal training and research projects to show that you have relevant experience. If you have more than five (5) years experience in your career field, you should generally list your professional experience first. There is something special about the five (5) year mark in your career. It seems that at that point, you have have successfully completed orientation. You have paid your “entry-level dues.” Regardless of which you list first, education or experience, you list them in reverse chronological order. When listing your education, you should include the college(s)/university(s) you earned degrees from; the level of degree (Associate, Bachelor, Master, PhD, etc.); the program concentration (Business, English, Math, Pre-Med, Psychology, Science, Technology, etc.); as well as the year that you attained the degree. When listing your professional experience, I suggest finding a summary that is a happy medium between concise and descriptive. Although, the length of the CV is not as much as a concern as with the traditional resume, you still don’t want to CV to be exhaustive. My recommendation is that you choose the top five most-impactful accomplishments from each position that you have held and develop and concise summary statement of each that someone who is familiar with you career field would immediately recognize the value of. Once you complete these two sections you will be ready to move on to listing your additional training, independent research, publications, speaking engagements, etc. You should also develop a list of at least five (5) relevant professional references who have first-hand knowledge of the quality of your work and your work habits. Most employers require at least three (3) so a couple extra will be nice to have. Include the name, Job title, their current employer or the name of their business if they are an entrepreneur, how you and the person are professionally connected, how long you have known each other, their contact information including telephone number and email address. Even if you do not submit this document during your initial application, I suggest that the format be compatible with your curriculum vitae’s format. Small steps such as this will begin to build your brand and ultimately distinguish you from other candidates. In addition, when a potential employer asks for your references, they will see that you believe in being prepared when you provide the requested information so quickly.
The resume is just as important in the non-educational and non-research career field job search process; however, as I mentioned earlier, the length of a resume is more of a consideration than it is with a curriculum vitae. The goal of the resume is to provide a concise summary of your professional and educational backgrounds. It is typically no more than two (2) pages long, unless you have achieved more than twenty years experience in your career field, and does not contain your photo or any other personal information such as date of birth, nationality, family/marital status, etc. This is why, as you build your resume, consider that you have about ten (10) seconds to catch the hiring decision-maker’s attention with either a relevant, unique characteristic or skill set that you possess; or the exact characteristics and skill set that they need on their team. It is imperative, therefore, that you actively describe your experience. By this, I mean use action verbs, such as developed, effected, initiated, identified, recommended, resolved…you get the picture. Don’t just state your assigned duties, but list your respective accomplishments on each job; describe a challenge that you faced and how you met the challenge. Even if you were not fully successful at conquering the challenge, you can show that you are dedicated; that you are passionate; that you are resourceful; that you have self confidence and integrity; and that you are a problem-solver and an out-of-the box thinker. These are all qualities that most potential employers are looking for in new team members. This is why, first and foremost, you should make certain that the contents of your resume are a truthful representation of your professional and educational accomplishments. The last thing you want is to have a potential employer question your integrity. If that happens, you will be fighting an uphill battle throughout the selection process, and will likely have a slim chance of being selected as their candidate of choice.
In order to stand out from the crowd, you must address the knowledge, skills and abilities that the vacancy announcement indicates are needed to successfully perform the duties assigned to your position of interest. I suggest that you carefully study the vacancy announcement, pick out the four (4) or five (5) most-important duty statements, and make certain that your resume shows work experience that allowed you to develop those qualifications. Because the duties are typically listed in order of importance to the employer, from most to least important, it is usually not difficult to accomplish this task. For example, if a vacancy announcement requires someone with strong budgeting skills, you should concisely emphasize how you saved your current or former employer “X” number of dollars thanks to your budgeting skills. If a vacancy announcement asks for effective communications skills, you should highlight the employee newsletter that you use to keep staff informed on work-related topics of interest; or that you interact daily with executive management team members to inform them of any issues of concern regarding organizational performance, competitors’ activities, developing strategy, etc. If you are interested in a sales career you should emphasize how you exceeded target sales each year as a sales associate or manager. If you are interested in a skilled trades career, emphasize how you have used your training and experience to perfect your skill and list some noteworthy projects that you have worked on. If the position of interest asks for strong computer literacy, you should describe the electronic filing system that you developed and/or the Access database that you built to track inventory, customers, or to track projects. Also describe spreadsheets that you use to do your work and the graphs and pie charts that you use to present business statistics at each monthly management meeting. If you are a student and are newly entering the job market, use relevant coursework to describe experience that you have gain during your college career. Use internships, part-time jobs, course projects, and volunteer opportunities to make your case. These are just a few examples of how you can describe your relevant work, professional exposure, and/or educational experience to show that you have what it takes to do the job. Just as with the vitae, be mindful of the strongest part of your background. If you have more education and training related to your field of interest, you might want to list your education and training first on your resume. If you have more hands-on experience than education in your chosen career field, then list your professional experience on your resume first. As with the curriculum vitae, you should also develop a list of professional references that includes the same information as suggested earlier in this article and formatted compatibly with your resume’s format for professional brand consistency.
Ask a couple of people who you know to have strong reading comprehension and writing abilities, to proof your “vitae” and your reference list. I urge you to not skip this step because a fresh set of eyes can catch needed changes that you may miss because you have looked at the document so much. Make any necessary changes and begin writing your cover letter, which will be the focus of my next post. If you need more help in creating a great curriculum vitae or resume, visit Purdue University’s on-line writing lab at Job Search Writing. This is a resource-rich site that provides examples of job search documents.
Now celebrate because you are two-thirds of the way to being ready to begin applying for that new career opportunity. Congratulations!
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