I debated whether I wanted to write a resume and cover letter suggestion post because the topic is widely covered, but my recent experience proves that job seekers still need advice on how to successfully land an interview.
Identity is hiring an assistant social media strategist, and I’ve received several cover letters and resumes in the past week or so. I’m disheartened to say that only a select few stood out because job seekers are still making the same mistakes. Some are common mistakes that could easily be avoided by having two or three people review materials before sending them over to a prospective employer. It’s been awhile since I had to review resumes, so along with some of the common mistakes, I’m also seeing some new additions to resumes that do absolutely nothing to help the job seeker secure an interview.
Taken directly from my current experience, here are seven cover letter/resume mistakes and how to avoid making them:
1. Making grammatical errors. I know it’s tough out there in job-hunting land. And I know everyone makes mistakes. But it’s absolutely essential to make sure your cover letters and resumes are flawless when you submit them for an available position – particularly for a communications related job where excellent writing skills are required. Like I mentioned above, make sure at least two or three people (it helps if they are strong writers) review your cover letter and resume before you submit them. It can also help to print them out and read them aloud versus trying to review/edit on a screen. Please understand how crucial this is. I’ve heard from several people that they’ll put cover letters and resumes directly in the trash if there are any grammatical errors.
2. Leading with education. A prospective employer doesn’t want to see where you graduated from at the top of your resume. Your work experience is most important, and you should always lead with that before education. You’ll hear varying opinions on this one, but I’ll argue that education should be the last section on your resume. Experience, professional development, skills and honors/awards sections should come before education. Yes, it’s important to see that you graduated with a degree related to the job you’re applying for, but professionals know that you truly develop and refine skills once you’re working in the industry. The classroom can only take you so far.
3. Making your cover letter and resume too long. Please don’t make your cover letter an entire page single spaced. I got a few of these, and I zoned out at about the third paragraph. Also, don’t summarize your entire resume in your cover letter. That’s not the point. Use your cover letter to highlight some things about you and your experience that prove why you’re a qualified candidate for the position. It also helps if you add some context in your cover letter to explain why you’re applying for the job (I learned about the position through X, or I’m very interested in working with a company such as yours because of X).
As for resumes, it’s not necessary to have a two or three-paged resume, especially if you haven’t been in the industry for a very long time. The position at Identity is for someone with one-to-two years of experience, and I’ve received several resumes that are way too long – mainly because they include jobs that don’t directly relate to the position. It’s great to show work experience, but if you are going on a second page to list a job where you didn’t develop skills you can apply to the position you’re applying for, leave that job off your resume.
4. Coming across as boastful or arrogant. It’s one thing to express confidence in your abilities, and you can successfully do this by using the right tone and selecting the right words in your cover letter. But it’s very easy to cross the line from confidence to arrogance, and you must avoid this.
Those in the social media space know that a frequently agreed upon rule is to not proclaim yourself as a social media expert/guru/ninja, or anything else along those lines. Even some of the people who I think could totally get away with calling themselves social media experts don’t do it! So when I read the cover letter of someone with less experience than me telling me that he/she is a social media expert, I immediately think that person is not a right fit.
Going back to the first mistake, have a few people read your cover letter to make sure you aren’t giving off a boastful vibe.
5. Not tailoring your resume to the job description. People from various backgrounds and with varying levels of skills have applied for my team’s open position. That’s great, but what’s not good is when people don’t show on their resume how their experience directly relates to the position. Even if your experience doesn’t exactly match what the job description is asking for, find ways to call out how what you’ve done in the past directly relates to the job qualifications. Don’t make a prospective employer have to Google stalk you in order to find out more about your experience. That should be clear as day on your resume. I had to do this for one applicant, and luckily I did because I found exactly what I was looking for online that should have been highlighted in the resume. Some employers won’t take that extra step, so don’t leave any opportunities for the employer to question your experience.
6. Including irrelevant information. Please don’t put your high school involvement on your resume. The only time I can see this being relevant is if you did something amazing in high school that is very directly tied to the job description. Otherwise, leave it off.
The latest trend I’m seeing on resumes is adding Klout scores. The Klout team has made several adjustments lately to make its scoring model more accurate and transparent, but that doesn’t mean it’s the Holy Grail of influence. It’s one factor out of several. And I don’t think it belongs on a resume – even for social media related positions. Your Klout score doesn’t tell me squat about your experience of using social media for business and marketing purposes. Klout is a highly debated topic, but my suggestion is to leave it off your resume and to find more substantial ways to highlight your influence through your work experience.
7. Having no relevant experience. I know, this seems like a given. Don’t apply for a job if you don’t have any related experience, right? Well, people aren’t getting this message. I received a handful of resumes from people who had absolutely no related experience. Our job description clearly spells out the type of experience we’re looking for, and we state that we need someone with at least one-to-two years of experience. So if you’re looking to break into the social media marketing field, you’re going to have to find an internship or a very entry level position.
I started on a discussion on Google+ about how people with not the right experience have applied for this position, and I received some valid points back about why people may think they are qualified enough to apply. However, zero experience is not an exception.
I truly care about helping PR/social media job seekers find great jobs, which is why I joined the Help a PR Pro Out (HAPPO) movement and am now the Michigan champ. I am not a jerk who wants to call people out for doing it wrong. I am simply trying to educate through experience so more job seekers stop making the same mistakes over and over again on cover letters and resumes. If you know of someone who could use this advice, please consider passing this post along to him/her.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh, or do you agree? Do you have additional advice for job seekers that I didn’t mention?