Applying for a job is a multi-step process, and a lot of stressful questions inevitably come up along the way. What should you include or not include in your resume? How do you handle the salary question? What’s the right way to follow up?
At FindSpark’s “Resumes and Cover Letters: Advice from Real Recruiters” panel, Andrew Cerda, Recruiter at Foursquare, Rod Berg, Creative Recruiter at Momentum Worldwide / McCann Worldgroup, Katie Radford, Head of Fun at DoSomething.org, Annie Malarkey, Community Outreach Manager at Wix.com, and Adrienne O’Rourke, HR Recruitment Specialist at EmblemHealth, (formerly of NBCUniversal and Disney/ABC), answered our most frequently asked questions and more.
From submitting your resume to sending a post-interview thank you, read on for more insider tips that will set you up for job search success!
How to Build Your Resume Section by Section
Experience: Bullet points are the ideal way to describe your experience in an at-a-glance format, but you need to do more than just break down your job description. Be sure to arrange your bullet points in a logical order, whether it’s by importance, quality, relevance, or the percentage of time spent. The first bullet point should be carefully selected to make a strong impact.
“We can read ten resumes with the same responsibilities, so if you don’t put down your accomplishments, you’re not doing anything to stand out,” Andrew Cerda informed us. The panel made it clear that the strongest resumes include both responsibilities and results. Digging out percentages can be difficult, but do your best to find as many meaningful statistics as you can—these demonstrate that you’ve had proven, measurable success.
Education: Education is one of the simplest parts of the resume to write, so the biggest question is where it should go. If you are still in school or have less than two years of work experience, then keep education at the top of your resume. If you have 2+ years, move it to right below your experience.
Activities: You may be hesitant to branch out of the professional box, but companies hire people, not just skill sets, so give the recruiter something that makes them want to meet you. “I find activities very interesting, so something a little bit quirky might catch my attention,” Katie Radford said. The activities section is the appropriate place on your resume to let a little bit of your personality shine through. You never know – you just might spark a personal connection with your interviewer.
Awards and Publications: If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em! This is a great place to showcase the recognition you’ve gotten for your work, especially if you’re in a creative industry. Your awards can also be another way you can highlight your personality—Andrew Cerda confessed that he’s never taking his Eagle Scout award off of his resume!
Skills: Listing skills (Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc.) on your resume can prevent you from getting automatically screened out by an applicant tracking system (see below for more information on the ATS.) While listing skills may not seem relevant for every job, be sure to include them whenever a job description has specific skill requirements.
The Key to Cover Letters
When applying to multiple jobs at one time, it can be tempting to write a general cover letter and submit it to multiple companies. However, our panel warned that not being specific about the company or the position is a giveaway that you are using a template, and it can get you tossed out of the applicant pool. “If it is a template, it reads like a template, and we know it’s a template,” Andrew Cerda said.
The purpose of a cover letter is to express your enthusiasm for the position and describe in greater detail why you are the right person for the job. A generic cover letter will not accomplish either of these objectives and so if you use one, you are not doing yourself any favors. If you are serious about the position, take the application seriously, and take the time to write a personalized cover letter.
Tips for Application Submission and Follow Up
Applicant Tracking System: The applicant tracking system (ATS) is what recruiters use to keep track of applications. When you apply to a job posting online you are most likely going through an ATS. What most applicants don’t know is that formatting and graphics can become distorted when the ATS processes them. The best way to prevent this is to use Microsoft Word, which is the most consistently compatible format across different applicant tracking systems. If you have a lot of complicated items to show, Rod Berg advises sending a PDF with more samples of your work to a recruiter via email once they follow up with you.
The Salary Question: Whether you are asked by a recruiter or have to enter a figure in the online application, salary expectations can come up earlier in the process than many of us feel comfortable with. Whenever possible, provide a range (i.e. “mid to high 40s”) rather than a hard figure. The main purpose of discussing salary early on is to determine if your expectations fall within the company’s budget, so a range should be sufficient until the end of the process.
Thank You Notes: While we don’t recommend mailing in your application (many companies now require you to apply through the ATS), a hand-written thank you note (after sending an email thank you) is a gesture that can make you stand out. “I have handwritten thank you notes all over my cube,” Adrienne O’Rourke confessed. “They make me happy!”
Following Up: A follow-up email, either after submitting an application or an interview, is a great opportunity to provide additional information. “Include your LinkedIn profile or your website to remind them that you are more than what’s on your resume,” Annie Malarkey advised.
One thing that the entire panel agreed on? Give the recruiter an appropriate amount of time to get back to you. Wait about a week before checking in to avoid being pesky. Recruiters are busy, just like you!