Getting The Job

By Kristen Castillo

June 3, 2013 6 min read

You want the job and think you're qualified for it, but will your resume and cover letter even get you noticed? It's a competitive job market these days, which means your resume and cover letter need to be pristine.

"The biggest mistake that a job seeker can make with their resume is the assumption that they can write a resume," says Marc DeBoer, President of A Better Interview, which helps people rewrite their resumes.

DeBoer says common mistakes, like an unnecessarily long resume or being unable to highlight professional accomplishments, can hurt an applicant's chance of landing their dream job.

*Getting Resume Help

Job seekers should get as much professional guidance as possible in creating their resumes and cover letters.

Diana Trendt, director of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Career Center says many students, new graduates and young alumni don't get resume help from their college career office and end up using a generic resume template found online.

"Candidates tend to pick the most non-user friendly resume template to begin drafting together their personal resume," she says. "Plus it happens to be the one resume template that everybody else uses, so they have no unique style or personal look or image to their document."

*Clean Up Your Online Image

In this digital age, almost everyone has an online profile including emails, social media accounts and personal websites.

"It is important for job seekers to make sure that their online reputation is squeaky clean," says DeBoer.

Some information from these sources can be bad for your job search. Remove questionable posts, images, videos and comments from your online activities. Use a "work appropriate" Facebook profile picture, since profile pictures are searchable and not private.

"Your LinkedIn and Twitter profile pictures also should be professional," says Leslye Schumacher, a Talent Analyst/Management Consultant with TalentQ Consulting, LLC. "I suggest making your LinkedIn profile public and fill it out completely. Think of it as your public resume."

Trendt reminds job seekers, "When you are conducting your career search, you are selling a product and that product, or brand, is you!"

*Resume and Cover Letter Do's:

Do be professional. Delete your old, immature email address with a handle like "partygirl25," and create an email address you would be willing to give a potential employer.

Do be consistent. Make sure your resume, cover letter and supporting tools, like LinkedIn, all share the same info and titles. If you are Bob Jones, accountant, on your resume, then you should be that on LinkedIn as well, not Bob Jones, accountant and photographer.

Do use keywords. Many companies use keyword searches. You don't want to get excluded because you didn't use the keywords listed in the job posting.

Do explain gaps in your resume. If you've been out of the workplace for any length of time, briefly explain what you were doing, such as volunteering or being a stay-at-home parent.

Do keep your resume easy to read. "Use at least a size 11 font and make sure there is white space on the page, especially between each of your previous job listings," says Schumacher.

Do send your resume in multiple formats. If applying by email, send your resume as both a PDF and a document, since many companies use keyword-scanning software, which can't always read PDFs.

*Resume and Cover Letter Don'ts:

Don't call yourself an expert. Even if you have a lot of experience, referring to yourself as an expert could backfire. You might seem arrogant.

Don't forget to check your spelling and grammar. Even a simple typo could ruin your chances of getting an interview or the job.

Don't get personal. You don't need to include personal information like your age, political opinions or marital status. It's also not a good idea to include your hobbies. After all, does the hiring manager really need to know you like gardening? The one exception is if including the information might help you get the job. "Prospective employers, plain and simple, do not need to know about your personal information because they will be basing their hiring decision on which candidate has the skill set they are seeking," says Trendt.

Don't write "references available upon request." DeBoer says mentioning references is old fashioned. He explains that while job applicants don't need to include references on a cover letter, they should always have references available if needed.

Don't be generic. Make sure your cover letter is specific to the company and the job for which you're applying.

Don't lie. Lying about salaries is common, but it can backfire. "Any reputable company will conduct a thorough background check on you prior to hiring you, and if there is a mismatch in salary, they will rescind the offer," says DeBoer.

Don't use gimmicks. Printing your resume on colored paper or using unprofessional fonts are a turn off for hiring managers.

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