Your resume is a communication tool that tells people why they should refer, recommend or hire you. It is not a cruel ritual meant to torment you, and neither should you torment your readers.

In the countless resumes that I have reviewed over the years, and in those I have rewritten for clients, there are a few major flaws that stand out so often they merit their own post. These common resume mistakes aren’t limited to the folks who are unsuccessful in their careers. In fact, they are so ubiquitous among those who “should know better” that it prompts me to ask: why do smart people write dumb resumes?

Keep your city clean!

Beyond poor writing and lazy proofreading, here are three of the most common culprits in bad resume land:

The “Sherman Tank” Resume

Otherwise known as “let me put all of my accomplishments down on a page so I don’t miss anything someone might want.” An alternate description of this type of resume could be ClutterFest. The Sherman Tank or ClutterFest writer thinks he or she is sharing a diverse celebration of achievements, while the reader feels like it’s an exercise in sorting prized antiques in someone else’s dusty attic.

The Sherman Tank resume – durable and bulletproof but too bulky to zip around curves – doesn’t put a candidate in the best light. In fact, it doesn’t cast any light in any direction at all, so no depth or differentiation can be seen, only too many words on a page (and often in too tiny a font). 

Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. How much work would you want to put into deciphering if a candidate was a good fit for your open role (especially if it seems that he or she hasn’t bothered to do it either)? How hard would you squint to read past the first few words?

In my most extreme example to date, I turned a client’s five page resume into two pages.

Truth be told, she was an awesome candidate for her target job. She just couldn’t figure out how to edit her own experience or what to emphasize, so a reader couldn’t “get there” to see it. She had never given thought to what an employer might be looking for, focused only on the trees in her own forest. In addition, because of her inability to edit her own experience, she had included some very detracting information alongside the helpful points, which further diluted the effectiveness of her message.

The “Barely There” Resume

The opposite of the Sherman Tank is the Barely There resume. When I have worked with clients who have this type of resume, I spend a lot of time asking the same question: “And what else did you do?” They have great experience, but somehow they can’t seem to get it down on the page. They leave out key details, such as skill sets they possess – and can demonstrate – that are important for their target job.

Like the Sherman Tank writers, who are focused on their own experience, the Barely There writers have not put themselves in the position of an employer and asked what they can offer that would be valuable for the target position. In one recent case with a client, for example, we pulled out four different skill sets that she would need for a job transition and were not on her resume, without stretching beyond her legitimate experience.

In that case, the client hadn’t presented herself as a well-rounded generalist with a specialization, which was required for her target positions, because her current firm had pushed her in a single direction without valuing all she could offer. Although this push and the associated stress were the major reasons the candidate was seeking a change, she had internalized the pigeonholing by her current firm and was unable to see beyond it when it came planning (and drafting) her great escape.

The “Showed Up and Did My Job” Resume

A corollary to the Barely There is the resume that simply lists what a person did at a job, with no thought to prioritization or differentiation from other candidates in similar roles. Unlike the Barely There, which lacks enough detail, the Showed Up and Did My Job resume might be an appropriate length, and even look “right” at first glance, but ultimately the narrative is not compelling enough to prompt the next step: a job interview.

In many cases, my clients who have a Showed Up and Did My Job resume list tasks that were simply “part of the job” but indicate nothing that showcases particular sets of skills. As we talk through their major projects and accomplishments on the job, or how they pushed the envelope in the position, they realize that the resume is missing critical points because they had not put enough thought into the value they actually bring, as opposed to the tasks that a job entails. Often these clients are looking for a new job because the current one feels like they are on autopilot. But having a Showed Up and Did My Job resume is like putting your centerpiece job-search marketing document on autopilot navigation as well, with a few missed stop signs and on-ramps along the way.

If you are reading this post closely, you see a theme emerging:

Smart people write dumb resumes because they too heavily rely on their intelligence and natural instincts in the writing process (which serve them so well in other contexts), hoping that the reader will fill in the gaps when needed.

Then they waste weeks and months wondering why the phone doesn’t ring, putting their energies into thinking about their own situations and insecurities instead of the greater perspective of how to best present themselves to achieve their goals.

Instead, the smart resume writer steps back to reframe his or her experience so that the reader (recruiter, potential interviewer, friend of a friend, etc.) is enticed and excited about the potential fit between the individual as a candidate and the new role.

As I consistently say to clients, your resume is not an obituary, it’s a marketing document. I make this point with the full knowledge that these words may take some time to resonate:

Smart people can write smart resumes by thinking of them in terms of what the resume vehicle is meant to do – transport them from Point A to Point B – rather than getting caught up in their own discomfort with self-marketing or treating the resume as a retrospective or roadmap of their careers to date.

In short, writing is only the final iteration of creating an effective resume. Find your target, take aim, gather your arrows (of experience) and then write.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse as “Why Do Smart People Write Dumb Resumes?” Photo credit: Adobe Images.

We all read the articles – some of us more than others – about how recruiters take 30 seconds or less to review a resume, making a snap decision about whether or not to delve in further and actually recommend someone for a job. One came across my email just this morning, “A top recruiter on what anyone can see after 30 seconds with your resume,” by Ambra Benjamin.

Ms. Benjamin echoed what others have written, with her own take on the matter and a very readable article, giving advice like including keywords but not “stuffing” your resume with them, showing a career progression and minding the gaps. Armed with her and other key advice, it should be easy to know how to put a simple two pages together, right?

So why is it that so many of us sit at our desks, writing away, deleting, rewriting and generally getting stuck on where to start, where to end and what to put in the middle? A friend recently suggested that the only way he could revise his resume on his own was to start with a blank piece of paper and try to imagine each role in his head, without worry about names, dates and details. While this might work for some, a blank page is an even greater source of anxiety and writer’s block for the majority of us, even those who call ourselves writers.

Getting a resume professionally written is another option, of course, although if you don’t choose a high end writer who really takes the time to get to know you and has an understanding of your field, combined with a feel for resume writing and knowledge of the career marketplace, your resume can come out stale, miss the mark or, worse yet, sound like every other candidate on the block. (Full disclosure: I do offer high-end, personalized services and can work with you to improve your clarity in thinking and writing, prepare you for interviews and generally ease this frustrating process.)

For those who are stuck and cannot entice the resume muses to give up their secrets, here is a five-point plan to help cure the craziness:

shutterstock_340110563 resume ball

1) Identify and focus on your target market. Who is your audience? What do they want to know about you? We tend to internalize and think about our resumes as an exercise in self-reflection. They are, but not to the point of self-indulgence. The very practical, immediate purpose of such self-reflection is to create a marketing document that communicates a narrative of our professional lives to others. To do that, take the attention off yourself and put it on your reader.

2) Take a current version of your resume, and cross off everything that doesn’t matter. Many of the resumes I read, especially ones from high-achieving candidates, are overloaded with information. If you follow my posts, you know that I have written about this. Emphasize the experience and skills that will make you the top candidate for the job you are looking for, which are also generally the ones that are the most important, complex parts of your job.

3) List your accomplishments. What did you accomplish in each role that went beyond showing up and doing what “anyone else in that same job could do”? Weave your accomplishments into the discussion of each job. Get specific, while still giving an overall picture of the role. Also, don’t forget that numbers are your friend. If you can quantify something, and it makes sense to do so, then include that information and be ready to talk about it in an interview.

4) Use a modern format. If you haven’t updated your resume for ten years, do your research to understand what modern resumes in your industry look like. If you are in a creative role, you can stand out with a creative format. If you are in a more conservative industry, stand out with substance, not form. In either case, don’t just dust off the old version and add new information. It’s like sporting an old suit that’s gone out of style.

Even if you are in the top 1% of candidates, don’t be fooled into thinking that you “don’t need a great resume” because “your experience speaks for itself.”

Stop and consider: who are you competing against for the same role?  

5) Check LinkedIn and other online sources about yourself. As Ms. Benjamin noted, recruiters scour the web to make sure your presentation about yourself is accurate and consistent across your resume and other sources. If your online materials are detracting – obnoxious, needy, overly political and the like – this information will become part of the portfolio for your candidacy. Match your resume to LinkedIn and other sources, so you tell a consistent story, and take the same care to present yourself online as you do in your offline written documents. Also, take a fresh look at what you have already posted on LinkedIn. Sometimes, there is inspiration from a lingering, helpful “prior version” of yourself that can recharge your resume writing.

Using the five-step plan, you will be much closer to starting and finishing a resume that jumps off the page and says HIRE ME.

As a final point (and echoing #1 above), remember that while your resume is all about you, more importantly, it is also about what you can do for the employer in your target role. As children, we are loved for being cute, funny, special or just who we are. As job candidates, we are there to solve problems. What problems do you solve and how can you convince your readers – the recruiter, hiring manager, etc. – that they should choose you?

Anne Marie Segal is a career coach and resume writer. You can find her website at segalcoaching.com. This article originally appeared on LinkedInPulse.

At the heart of the matter, there are only three basic career challenges:

  • Finding a new job
  • Leaving an old job
  • Performing in a current job

How to get somewhere, how to leave somewhere and how to be somewhere. That’s it.

shutterstock_291297941 (cropped chess pieces)

We go through our daily lives focused on one or more variants of these problems:

Bringing Our “A Game”

Playing to Our Strengths

Interviewing for a New Role

Surviving a Toxic Workplace

Managing Up

Cultivating a Leadership Presence

Setting Boundaries

Changing Fields

Getting Organized

Surviving a Layoff

Gunning for a Promotion

The truth is that each one of us needs to focus on each of these three basic career challenges on a regular basis, whether it is one or more of the variants I mention above or others. We often get focused on the specific “problem at hand, ” and often in a negative way – hating our boss, hating our hours, hating the product we sell, hating our commute, etc.

If you are consistently focused on the micro-issues, you can lose sight of these macro-challenges in your career: how to get somewhere, how to leavesomewhere and how to be somewhere.

As we all know, no job is permanent in today’s world. Even if you love your job or feel that you need (a relative term) to stay with a specific employer for the foreseeable future, your role is constantly changing and your current situation may not be forever. Being in a role, i.e., drilling down to understand what your company or organization is seeking to accomplish and how you can play a greater role in its continued growth and success, is a skill that is infinitely transferable and, in fact, the most important career skill one can have.

Many of us, however, are locked into the particular career problem de jour without keeping our eyes locked on these medium, long-term and ultimate goals. Others only muse about they would like to do or be next, without taking the time to consider logically each individual step to get them there or asking themselves how they can perform better in their current roles. If you fall into either of these camps, you will suffer from disengagement from your career, because you have relinquished the power to drive it. You may have your hands on the wheel, but your can’t ascertain your speed or direction.

Rather than thinking of each of these three basic career challenges (where you are going, what you are leaving behind and how to live in your current role) as individual hurdles, envision your career as a continuum. Each challenge provides the context for the others, and each stage of the process sheds light on the other stages.

1) Finding a new job

What is your target? Do you have clear focus on what you are seeking and why (specifically, what differentiates a new role from those you have previously held)?

If you can’t see what’s on your horizon, what can you do to gain focus? Exercises that help you clarify your own values and value proposition are very helpful in this regard, as is working with a career coach or mentor. (But remember that mentors, and some coaches, have their own biases and blind spots.)

Along with your increased focus, what can you do to present yourself as a compelling candidate? Your résumé is a core document, but don’t forget about cover letters, deal sheets, bios, websites and LinkedIn, to the extent that any of these can help you advance your goals. Beyond the documents, networking and interviewing skills are key, and they both build on the same principles of presenting ourselves well and being able to translate our message to our target audience. These “personal branding” muscles – to use a current buzzword – are ones we should be exercising every day, so they are strong when needed. Lastly, remember that the best momentum comes from what you are already doing – the current aspects of your professional life, written broadly – and that means all of your career accomplishments, talents and transferable skills, not only the obvious ones.

2) Leaving an old job

If you are familiar with change management, you may already recognize that all change involves loss, even changes from which we stand much to gain. Practicing the art of letting go and visualizing yourself in a changed space before you want or need to leave a job will help prepare you for taking that leap. If the choice to leave is yours, these actions can also help give you the motivation to make the change. The worst place to be in a career (relationship, etc.) is unhappy with where you are and unmotivated to do anything about it, which becomes a cycle that is hard to break. Staying attuned to the art of moving on and aware that you have the power to re-create your own circumstances are decisive factors in your career success.

In addition, even before you are on the crux of leaving a role, think about who and what will be left behind. How can you put yourself in a good place each day, as if it were your last day in the role? One example of such preparation is to cultivate key relationships that you would like to maintain after you leave. Another is to resolve or mitigate any disputes that should not be left to linger, if possible. The world gets metaphorically smaller each day, and former work colleagues can easily become future ones, sometimes for the better. In addition, if your new role will be within the same organization (e.g., a promotion), you will get more help, input and support from former colleagues by creating meaningful relationships before the change and maintaining them after your move. Even if certain colleagues seem to have no visible impact on your new position, you can never truly estimate or measure the value of having a solid base of supporters for your cause.

3) Performing in a current job

First, there’s the art of mindfulness and “being in the moment” to be truly productive, connected and alive.

Second, you really can take it with you. By that I mean that whatever progress you make in a current role, you are not only advancing the goals of your company or organization, you are also growing yourself. Unfortunately, as a career coach, I see firsthand how this is something we can easily miss. As I work on résumé writing with clients, for example, I often find they have not “connected the dots” on how their contributions and experience make them compelling candidates to their target audiences. I approach the résumé writing process not only an exercise in putting the right words on the page, but also in formulating the client’s strongest message (i.e., values and value proposition) in the first place.

Last week, for example, I worked with a client who had a junior-sounding “compliance analyst” role on her résumé. As we spoke further, it became clear that (at her relatively small company) she had not only drafted documents, trained staff and the like, she had also essentially co-lead the creation and formalization of the company’s compliance program. While her current role was not where she wanted to stay, it gave her a realm of tools to bridge and bootstrap to her next move. In addition, as she continued to stay fully engaged in the role, she then brought the company through a series of risk-reward analyses and improvements designed to laser-focus their risk-mitigation efforts on the changes that really mattered to their viability and bottom line. I gave her the language to discuss her experience in a larger context, and with that context she is able to more fully leverage her value proposition.

This client’s lessons, successes and wounds – garnered from the process of discerning, persuading and negotiating game-changing measures across business teams and other functions – will serve her well in any future career. As you reflect on your own career, you may find the same hidden gems are planted as you remain engaged and present, for your employer’s growth and your own.

Copyright 2016 Anne Marie Segal.

Originally published as “The Three Macro-Challenges of Your Career” on LinkedIn Pulse.

shutterstock_160082594 (dominos)Let’s be very clear, resumes are exceedingly important, but they are not everything. No one’s career chances have ever been made by a resume. You need much more than a great resume to succeed, and your entire value proposition as a candidate or employee is not locked in the document waiting to be read.

On the other hand, while a resume cannot make your career, it can certainly break it. Resumes fail every day. They make a candidate look too scattered, too junior, too specialized or too much of any other trait that is undesirable in general or a particular case and not enough of what an employer actually does want. In the hundreds of resumes I read last year alone, I can say that the greatest point of failure is that the resume writer did not step back and consider what he or she was trying to communicate.

When I say the “resume writer”above, I don’t mean a professional resume writer, who through experience and detachment generally possesses the big-picture perspective. (That’s a large part of why you might hire one.) I mean Joe, Sally, Larry, Latisha, Ricardo, Li-Shin and every other job candidate out there who is writing a resume on his or her own. If Latisha doesn’t put on her “resume writer’s hat” and Larry doesn’t put himself in the shoes of the reader, neither of them will be very effective at communicating through the resume medium.

Why is this task of writing a compelling resume so important? Without exaggeration, millions of employees worldwide are held in the shackles of their current employment, unhappy, unmotivated and unable to move internally or into new jobs, because they have not mastered the skill of communicating their value through their resumes. Millions of others are unemployed or underemployed for the same reason.

You have one or two pages to make your case. Without fail.

THE FOUR THINGS RESUMES NEED TO DO

  1. CONVINCE
  2. THE RIGHT AUDIENCE
  3. YOU ARE COMPELLING
  4. TO INTERVIEW

In certain limited circumstances, as a job candidate you are already a known quantity as a professional, and the resume serves more of a “confirmation” function. Most of the time, however, the resume itself needs to build your case.

In certain limited circumstances, as a job candidate you are already a known quantity as a professional, and the resume serves more of a “confirmation” function. Most of the time, however, the resume itself needs to build your case. As far as we have moved as a society into business-driven social media (LinkedIn profiles, etc.), in most professional fields the resume is still the common currency and core document. We are a long way from the phrase “send me your resume” being replaced with “send me your Twitter feed.”

Resumes fail because they don’t convince the right audience that you are a compelling candidate to interview.

#1 – Know Your Audience

When I work with résumé clients, the first point we tackle is knowing the audience., which is #2 above. To know who is your audience, you need to first know what roles you are targeting. In the attorney field, for example, a litigator resume written to target a law firm won’t convey the key points if the candidate wants to move into an in-house role, public policy, human resources or education. The audience in each case is different, and what is needed to convince your audience that you are a good candidate is decidedly specific to each type of role. If you are writing a resume on your own and in doubt about what your audience is looking for, the first step is to find out as much about the actual “work” of the target position. Job descriptions, informational interviews and other investigatory measures will help you clarify what is expected in each role.

#2 – Convince

Second, once you know your audience, your job is to convince the audience you are a good hire. Too often, candidates try to do this by putting more on the page. They don’t know what to emphasize, because they haven’t taken the time to get to know themselves or their audience, and they expect the reader to sort it out. The resume in that case does not present a logical step-by-step narrative that walks the reader through the candidate’s strengths, talents, experience and value-add. The reader, of course, is busy and has much better things to do, like read the resume of someone who has figured out how to write one properly (or get on with the business of actually working).

How do you convince employers to hire you through your resume? Show them you can solve their problems and capitalize on their opportunities.

You can’t close the deal with readers/interviewers/recruiters/hiring managers/networking contacts if you can’t convince them you are a compelling candidate. And you won’t be a compelling candidate in most cases if you don’t know your own value proposition.

The most compelling way to close the deal is to know the problems, issues, opportunities, strengths, risks, threats, etc. of a particular employer (or class of employers) and present yourself as someone who can solve the problems and capitalize on the opportunities. Here are some concrete examples to make this clear. Imagine you had a class of jobs in front of you, and you needed to figure out what problems needed to be solved in each case: (1) the receptionist of a busy pediatrician’s office, (2) the safety manager at a manufacturing company, or (3) the execution trader for a hedge fund trading international equities. What are the so-called “pain points” of each? Does the doctor’s office need someone client-focused and organized? (Clearly.) Do they need to have experience in a similar setting? (Depends on what else they bring to the table and the employer’s biases, history of hires and successes/failures on that front.) What else does each role require and request of a candidate?

I have worked with many candidates who have not even considered what an employer’s needs are. So many, in fact, that I am no longer surprised by this omission of the key reason that companies hire in the first place – to fill a need.

Let’s think about #2 above for a moment – safety management. Say you want to move into (or move up in) this type of role, which is admittedly a very specific field. Here’s a sample job description (click here) from Lauren, an EPC contractor. If you were serious about this area as one or more possible targets for you, and this employer in particular, I would suggest you read related job descriptions to flesh out how “this type of job works.” While the present blog post is not about how to read a job description (stay tuned, one may follow), let me highlight a few key points that would help your resume communicate that you a compelling candidate for this job or one like it. Start not with the writing, but with the thinking, namely:

(1) What does this employer do? At a very basic level, what is EPC (engineering, procurement and construction), what is the heavy industrial sector, and how does this translate into their day-to-day operations? 

(2) Who are their clients?

(3) What markets do they operate in?

(4) Who are their competitors?

(5) Since they are in a highly-regulated field that affects everything that they do, who are their regulators, what regulations are they subject to, etc.? (Note: see the references to OSHA, for example, in the job description. If you do not know what OSHA is and have not mentioned it on your resume, you will be a very hard sell. Find a cheap training online, at the very least, to get you started, or do the research on your own. In other words, if you don’t have what you need, find a way to get it.)

(6) Note that all of the above points are about the employer. Only after you have considered the macro-view – what are they trying to accomplish and how does that play out? – then ask yourself the question, how does your targeted role serve to lead, manage and/or support the bigger picture? How can you help solve the employers’ problems, issues, opportunities, strengths, risks, threats, etc. How can you make them money, save them money, raise their reputation in the marketplace, keep them out of trouble or otherwise add value to the company?

#3 – Be Compelling

You will notice immediately that this is a completely different approach to resume writing than creating a “laundry list” of what you have done in the past. If you are perceptive, you will also notice that “it’s about them, not about you.” Compelling candidates won’t just want to fill jobs because they need a paycheck. Compelling candidates are compelling because they move beyond what’s in it for them and are focused on what they can do for the employer. (Which is how and why we all get paid, after all.)

If what I am proposing sounds like a lot of work, it is. Yet if you cannot find the energy to be fully engaged at the outset of a job, how will you possibly summon it up once you are in the job? The same attention to getting you hired will keep you employed and progressing along your career. If you don’t have it and cannot create it, you are in the wrong field, industry or life.

Referring back to points 1-7 above, you may ask how each of these are reflected in your resume, which is the decisive question. The art of writing the resume is to translate the employer’s needs (without simply repeating words) to show that you have the “right stuff” to meet their objectives for the role and the company generally. If you are applying to a set of roles that are similar (e.g., safety management roles across a range of companies or industries), the communication of what makes you compelling may be quite similar for each employer that you are trying to “sell” on your candidacy. Keywords play a role, certainly, and the essence of a compelling resume is that it allows the reader to picture you in the role.

The essence of a compelling resume: allow the reader to picture you in the role.

#4 – Focus on Getting the Interview

On the fourth and last point of failure, resume writers often forget that they are generally competing for an interview with their resume, not yet competing for the job. In other words, not every single point about why a company should hire you needs to be in the resume. In fact, it shouldn’t run on that long, lest you run the risk of coming across as a candidate who cannot succinctly and effectively communicate. Remember: the resume is the appetizer, not the meal. Your resume’s job is to convert the recipient of your resume into a reader and then into an interviewer.

Once you have the interview, go back to those 7 points above (and others), and make the same sale all over again. Convince your audience you are a compelling candidate to hire.

Anne Marie Segal is a resume writer and a career and leadership coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website here

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive resume, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

Bad cover letters are like drive-thru dating. Here’s why: hastily dashing off a cover letter is as likely to make a negative first impression as asking someone out on a date and then failing to put in the effort.

I would bet we can all agree that taking your date (especially a new one) through the drive-thru and munching on fries in the car – rather than an actual dinner that requires planning, some risk, thought and a small capital outlay – usually doesn’t bode well for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. The reason is obvious. A drive-thru date lacks the three C’s: creativity, curiosity and care.

A poorly written cover-letter lacks the three C’s:

creativity, curiosity (about the employer and its needs) and care.

Yet job candidates send what I would call “just plain bad” cover letters all the time to potential employers. That is, they send letters that clearly indicate they were in a rush, not wanting to take the time or spend the energy to understand the role or even make a good first impression.

Alternatively, they skip the cover letter altogether, which is like saying to that same date, “let’s take a drive past the fast food joints in town and not eat at all, because I couldn’t be bothered to plan or pay for dinner.” While some employers (and dates) don’t fuss over such details or want you bad enough to overlook this faux pas, there’s an etiquette to job submissions that should not be ignored unless you’re fortunate enough to fit into one of the exceptions above.

shutterstock_38753659 (drive thru)

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a referral source who dispenses with the need for cover letters or you are a highly sought-after candidate (read: they want you badly enough), cover letters are part of the job search etiquette and should not be ignored.

To put it very simply: if you don’t write a strong, well-worded and error free letter, you may cost yourself a $60K, $100K or even $250K+ job. Put into more specific monetary terms, if you are unemployed, each month you are out of work is  1/12th of that amount. Alternatively, if you are in a job you hate, that same lost month can make you more discouraged and less motivated about going to work, getting out of bed during the week or finding a way to improve your situation. Short answer: getting your cover letters nailed down, in style and substance, is essential to any job search.

How can I make my cover letter stand out?

I hear this question all the time from my clients: how can I write an amazing cover letter that will get their attention? Truth be told, when I first started writing résumés, I thought that if I got the hard part (the résumé) out of the way, the rest (the cover letter) would be easy. Yet it isn’t so. The mental block that accompanies cover letters is just as strong as the one for résumés. In addition, the potential for missteps is equally high, which is unfortunate for job candidates, since the cover letter is often the document that triggers a make-or-break first impression.

Here are some basic factors to consider as you are writing a cover letter:

First, your cover letter should be written to a person. It’s not a love letter (or an actual date), of course, but your cover letter should nonetheless engage your reader. While keywords are important for automated submissions, a simple rehash of your résumé with the name of the position listed above and a “please contact me” closing paragraph do not a great cover letter make.

You are writing to a person. Make sure he or she wants to read it.

I’ve mentioned this to clients and in groups, and I am always surprised when I say, “Imagine you are the person receiving the letter.” I see a lightbulb go off. Yes, you are writing to a person. Someone who got out of bed in the morning just like you, wants to impress his or her boss with a good hire and may have the office next to you for the next ten years. Write to that person.

If you don’t have a particular person to whom you can address the letter, you can direct it to “Ladies and Gentlemen.” But remember, while it is not addressed to a specific individual, it will be read by a person at some point in the process. If you were an actor on stage you may not know who comprises your audience, but you would know (or assume) there is an audience. In too many cases to count, I have seen cover letters which appear to have been written under the premise that they will never actually be read.

Second, your cover letter should indicate that you have actually read the job description and want the job. Put down the pen or keyboard for a moment. Imagine that you are the potential interviewer, and you have two cover letters in front of you. In one, there is a generic rehashing of the person’s résumé or watered-down description of his or her skills. In the other, the candidate exudes confidence and demonstrates an understanding of and genuine interest in the needs of the employer. Which one makes you want to move to the next step with the candidate? For the avoidance of doubt, my vote is with cover letter #2. The first one is destined for the trash can, with as little aim and initiative as its writer had showed when sending it.

Third, your cover letter should explain why you are the right person to fill the job. How specifically can you add value to the organization and what examples can you give to show that you have made similar contributions in other roles? I am not suggesting that you need to show you are a round peg to fit into a round hole, but you do need to connect the dots for the interviewer, rather than expect him or her to do that for you. Again, comparing to the drive-thru example, if you couldn’t be bothered to make even a basic plan for your date, what can you possibly expect in return?

Fourth, delete any language that doesn’t communicate why you should be hired. Space is at a premium. Use it well.  

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
– Attributed to Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal and others

Fifth, if you need to explain a gap or other detracting element of your work history, give it a positive spin. Negativity is one of the biggest turn-offs in the job interview process, and starting a paragraph with “I am currently unemployed but….” or “although I have taken five years off from working….” can sound like you are someone who dwells on the downside. What can you offer to make yourself a compelling candidate while gently explaining what might otherwise be a red flag? Again, imagine you are the interview. What would make he or she excited about hiring you? How did you take that blow or setback and learn from it or create something positive with it?

Sixth, write well and proofread zealously. Even if writing won’t be a significant component of your job (and for most of us, it is), consider the cover letter an audition for how well you’ll write for the company. 

Lastly, read it again and make sure you cover the three C’s. Does your cover letter show creativity, differentiating it from all the other cover letters on the block? Does it demonstrate a curiosity about the company and the role, as well as what you could add to it? Finally, is it written with care, rather than a simple “drive-thru style” of how many cover letters you could bang out in a day?

If your job search has dragged on or been unnecessarily delayed, you may feel sometimes as if quantity – i.e., number of applications submitted – is what matters most. In the current job market, in which there can be thousands of applicants for each job, nothing could be further from the truth. Take the time to get it right.

Anne Marie Segal is a résumé writer and a career and leadership coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website here.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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As we all make our plans, goals and New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, one of mine is to write weekly blog posts (at least 50 altogether) in the New Year on the topics of leadership, careers and resume writing. Here are 30 subjects I plan to cover, and I will add the other 20 topics over the course of the year.

Since I write these posts to be responsive and helpful to clients and others, please let me know if you would like any of them to be a priority (i.e., addressed earlier in the year), because they are particularly relevant to your current situation. You can leave a comment below or email me at asegal@segalcoaching.com.

Leadership

Branding Yourself for Greater Leadership Roles in 2016

Finding and Establishing the Right Networks

Putting Your 30/60/90 Day Plan into Action

How to Get Traction with a Sponsor (Not a Mentor)

Positioning Yourself for Board Membership

Writing Emails that Show Leadership with Simple, Actionable Words

Controlling the Time Demon: Work Your Plan

Does Managing Up Actually Work? How to Do It Right

Non-Profit Board Leadership: The Advantages and Realities

Do True Leaders Always Know How to Execute Their Ideas?

Careers

What Does Your Career Need Most in 2016?

How to Prepare for a Panel Interview (with Multiple Interviewers)

Preparing for a Phone Interview – Be Ready for Anything

How to Gain Non-Profit Experience While Keeping Your Corporate Job

Why Skills-Based Volunteering Is Important for Your Career

Why Recruiters Won’t Talk to You

Breaking Out of a Career Silo

Do You (Sometimes) Sabotage Your Own Career?

Informational Interviews: What Are They and How Do You Get Them?

How, and How Often, Should You Follow Up after an Interview?

Resume Writing

Why Your Industry-Jargon Resume Isn’t Impressing Anyone (Keywords Aside)

Should Your Resume Be Two Pages or Longer?

Should a Recent Graduate Have a One-Page Resume?

How Often Should You Update Your Resume?

Writing a Non-Profit Résumé for Transition from a Corporate Role

How to Read a Job Description

Should You Match Your Resume to Your Job Description?

Why Your Law Firm Resume May Not Get You an In-House Role

How to Write a Board of Directors Résumé

5 Things Your Resume Cannot Do for You

I look forward to discussing these and other topics with you in the New Year. Happy almost 2016!

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach and résumé writer to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website at www.segalcoaching.com.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

 

 

 

 

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I am often asked what I can offer to clients to improve their résumé, as a means to speed up and target their job search process. If you would like to know this as well, please READ ON!

This post is written with the skeptics in mind. God bless the skeptics. They keep the rest of us in check. So here it goes:

The value of working with a professional résumé writer is often not clear until after you have gone through the process and see the finished product. This short introduction serves as a preview and overview of the process.

You may have a sneaking suspicion that you are not in the driver’s seat – the idea of working on your résumé generates fear, or the document is a sore spot in your career advancement or job search.

You know that you are an amazing candidate if you could just get the right words on the page, but you aren’t sure how to do that or can’t seem to find (or prioritize) the time to get it right.

As I have said in the past, résumés are marketing documents. They are not a career retrospective of what you’ve done or an “obituary” of your work history, education and other professional information. Your résumé is a sales piece, and what you are selling is you. What can you bring to the role that puts you at the top of the pile?

Great résumés convey power. While a strong résumé won’t get you a job on its own, it will position you as a competitive candidate and, if there’s a potential match, serve as a compelling “appetizer” to get you to the main course – your next career move.

If you are uncomfortable selling yourself on paper, or if you need help putting into words what you know you can do, you have come to the right place.

What are the main benefits of working with Anne Marie Segal to write my résumé?

 1) You will possess a solid marketing document that positions you for the roles you are targeting.

Through our work together, we create a solid marketing document that highlights your achievements, strengths and unique offer. With the new résumé in hand, you will be positioned to obtain a role that is a true “fit” for you (given your short-term and long-term goals) and leverage your value during hiring negotiations.

We achieve this by balancing the two main elements that every résumé needs:

BREVITY and

DIFFERENTIATION

Today’s résumés need to be clearly and tightly written, with keywords and summaries that attract the attention of someone within six to ten seconds. There are many more candidates going for each open position than in years past, so you will need to stand out quick to make an impression.

At the same time, brevity alone does not make a great résumé. You also need to differentiate yourself from every other “results-driven” candidate or “good communicator” on the block. You are unique. In your résumé, we don’t market something parroted from a book or the Internet, we market you.

2) You will no longer lose out on potential opportunities because you are unsure of how to present yourself.

The worst thing you can do when looking for a job, or any career advancement that requires a similar interview process, is to stagnate out of fear, worry or similar emotions. Inertia will not get you a job. It is not your friend, even if it feels as comfortable as an old pair of jeans. I work with candidates all the time to get them moving forward, both in coaching and in résumé writing.

3) You will recognize your value and learn how to communicate it to potential employers.

From the “résumé interview process” – during which we reconstruct your work and education highlights, keywords and other résumé elements from the ground up – you will gain key insights into the value you bring to the marketplace.

Have you ever sat down and wrote out your unique “return on investment” (ROI)? What ROI would a potential employer receive from its investment in you? When I work with candidates, we address this question head on, so you can present yourself with confidence and clarity on the value you bring to each open role. People don’t get hired because they are liked (although it helps). They get hired to solve problems. What problems do you solve?

After working together, the transformation of your résumé will be obvious. (If it’s not, we should talk.) The value of this key document will become even more evident when you begin to send it around and hear your network, recruiters, interviewers and others say:

“Ah, I get what you’re looking for.”

“What a great résumé.”

“I can really see the value you bring.”

“I have a role that I’d really like to recommend you for.”

“When can you start?”

Anne Marie Segal is a résumé writer and a career and leadership coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website here. This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.