career works.

Your cover letter, resume and references are your ticket [well, that in addition to education, experience and qualifications] to being seriously considered for a job opportunity. The adage ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’, is never more true than when an employer sees your application for the first time. The following are some tips to making a good first impression; tips that could set you apart and land you an interview.

Carefully review the call for applications. Ensure that you understand fully the qualifications necessary to be considered, the deadline to submit your interest, whether you can expect notification that you have been selected, or not, for an interview, and any special instructions, ie. how to submit your application; in person, by email, etc.

Find out to whom your application is to be directed. Do not simply address your cover letter ‘to whom it may concern’, ‘sir or madam’ or ‘hiring manager’. Unless, of course, you are directed to make your resume package to the attention of ‘the hiring committee’ or ‘hiring manager’. Take the time to address it directly and correctly. If you don’t, your interest does not appear genuine, nor do you leave the impression that you are attentive to detail.

Never, ever, ever, list a family member as a professional reference. If you have never worked for anyone outside of a family business, indicate this in your cover letter and offer up other persons with whom you have a professional or working relationship instead, ie. a teacher, a supplier you have dealt with many times professionally, a committee chair of an organization that you have volunteered for, etc. Your references should be able to provide an external, objective opinion of you. Family relationships are complex and far from impartial.

Check your spelling and grammar. And then, check it again. Take special care in spelling the name(s) of who you are addressing your cover letter to and make sure you spell the company name right! If you can’t get that right, your application will win a one way ticket through the shredding machine. This is a red flag to an employer. What would happen if you made that mistake in corresponding with an important client?

If you have had a long and varied career, limit the number of past employers you list on your resume to the most recent and relevant. A work history that lists ten employers in the last five years doesn’t show that you are a multi-faceted, versatile or loyal worker, it indicates instability and transience. If there are good reasons for your quick and varied working past, describe this carefully in your cover letter, but, still, don’t list them all unless you are confident that the information best represents you.

Never begin your resume with your personal interests and hobbies. An employer is seeking someone to work for them, not to go on a date. Start with your education, then work history, professional memberships/certifications and professional references. Somewhere before or after your references you can list your interests, hobbies and volunteer pursuits, but only if you feel that these are relevant to enhancing your position with a prospective employer.

Ensure that your resume is accurate, concise, easy to follow and free of superfluous information. It should contain relevant information in order from most recent events and back from there.  It should be no longer than 3 to 4 pages in length.  Don’t smokescreen by embellishing your resume with images, multiple colours or multiple fonts.  Don’t falsify accreditations.  You would be surprised how easy it is to validate this information.  You want a clear and easy to read summary of your accomplishments.  The longer and more difficult to read your resume is, the least likely it is that an employer will read it through to the end.

Don’t indicate that references are available upon request. Build these into your resume and keep them relevant and up to date. Not listing references gives the appearance that you need to drum somebody up and need time to do so. And, for goodness sake, make sure that you ask the people you list as references for permission to use them. A reference should have the opportunity to choose whether they will provide a reference for you or not. And, you want someone who won’t sound unawares or surprised to a prospective employer when they are contacted.

Most agencies indicate that ‘those not selected for an interview will not be contacted’. In employer-speak this translates to ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. Actually, what it means is ‘don’t call us’. The hiring process is as difficult for an employer as the job search process is for you. A single opening can result in dozens, hundreds and even thousands of applicants. Which is why the statement is made that you won’t be contacted unless selected for an interview.  Badgering an employer with updates on their hiring process does not appear to an employer as tenacity, it appears as aggression or desperation, and not in a positive way. Further, it indicates that you don’t follow instruction well.

Manage your expectations. You don’t know the qualifications of your fellow competitors. Don’t presume that it’s impossible for anyone else to be more qualified than you are. If you are not invited to interview, it doesn’t mean that you are not a valuable candidate. It just means that there were more suitable candidates than you. Don’t let rejection extinguish your hope. Respect the decision of the hiring agency and move forward with your career pursuits. Don’t contact the hiring agency with accusations of unfairness. This will do nothing to enhance your position, nor will the agency soon forget this behavior should future opportunities arise. Accept the decision with grace and move on.

Good luck!

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