Dear Matt: I’m hitting the job market for the first time in five years. Can you provide some updated résumé, cover letter and interviewing tips?
Matt says: Things have changed since you last searched for a job — but not a lot. So let’s get back to the basics.
How many pages should your résumé be? It’s not so much the length as the content. Remember, your résumé isn’t a career biography, it’s a marketing tool that quickly shows the employer you have the skills and experience they seek. I recommend no more than two pages, but if you have the experience and skills/accomplishments, three pages is fine.
Remember, applicant tracking systems (ATS) often scan résumés. The old theory that a résumé should be one page dates from the time when résumés were mailed or handed to people, such as at a job fair. Now people read them online through the ATS or online via their computer or mobile device, scanning the résumé to look for key elements.
The secret to standing out: Bold key items, skills and successes in your résumé. Remember, recruiters scan résumés first and read them second; they don’t read left to right, top to bottom like you might think. They scroll down with their eyes, looking for key elements that match their needs. Think about the way you read articles online — you often scan first to see if you’re interested in reading more. Bold the key items highlighted in the job description to make it easier for the scanning eye to see. Proofing tip: Read your résumé from the bottom of the last page back to the top. It’s a great way to spot mistakes.
Do you need to send a cover letter? Yes. It’s another chance to sell yourself. Tailor the cover letter for each job. Focus on how your skills match their needs and list two to three examples in a bullet point. Also, briefly highlight how working at the company matches your professional goals. Employers like that. Sell yourself at every step — even in the cover letter.
Do you really need to send a thank-you letter? I once got hired for a job and I later found out the reason why: I sent a handwritten thank-you note. The runner-up candidate did not. Yes, send a thank-you letter. Fight to get that job.
What’s more important, experience or fit? If you have an interview, they already know you have the right skills, based on your résumé and/or pre-interview phone screenings. Now they want to see if you are the best fit for the position and with the team. You still have to prove that your skills match the job requirements and that you can do the job, but at this stage, it’s about fit. That’s who gets hired.
The job search is a series of small steps and you must prove yourself along the way. Each of these steps is another opportunity to prove that you want the job — and are the fit they need.
Contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.