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Creating a Great Resume and Cover Letter

The Art of the Written Word

When I taught college freshman composition, I reminded my students that when it comes time to get a job, a well-written resume and cover letter are essential. In modern business, good communication is as vital as ever. Sadly, it's not as prevalent as one might think.

Make yourself stand apart from the stack of applicants. Get a better chance of securing an interview and ultimately scoring a job. With the right guidelines, your resumé writing can make you a winner.

The Resume
So much can be written about putting together a perfect resume. Let me just hit the highlights:

• Start with your career objective. Include a brief sentence explaining in broad terms what you want to be doing with your professional career.

• Showcase your skills. Unless you have worked in your chosen field for several years, you need to sell yourself based upon your skills, not your experience. Be sure to tailor the list to skills specifically outlined in the job description.

• Highlight past employment. List relevant jobs and internships you have held over the last 10 years. If you have worked a number of jobs, it may not be necessary to list them all. For instance, if you spent summers during high school working in the fast food industry, combine these into a single entry.

In short, keep in mind that a good resume should sell your best qualities and qualifications. Keep it professional, and leave out your interest in raising ferrets or your collection of The Lord of the Rings memorabilia. Resume writing is about getting a job, not making a new best friend.

The Cover Letter
Writing a resume cover letter is one of the most difficult parts of applying for any job. A good cover letter should introduce you and sell you. Let the reader know you are highly qualified for the position and that you would be a great choice for an interview. A few things to remember:

• Personalize the letter. Nothing will turn off a prospective employer faster than an obvious form letter. Use the contact's name where appropriate. If you're not sure if "Pat Jones" is a man or a woman, find out before you mistakenly write "Dear Mr. Jones."

• Emphasize how you could make a difference to the company. They know you want the job, the question is why does the company want you?

• Accentuate the positive. Now is not the time for false humility. Saying things like "although I don't have a lot of experience" or "I haven't been trained on that particular software" are only going to get you a rejection letter. Take some time to brag, but don't allow your tone to come across as arrogant.

• End the letter with a forward-thinking statement. Let the reader know that you look forward to hearing from them soon. Be sure to reiterate that you would be pleased to meet with them to further discuss your qualifications. (Your goal here is an interview, after all.)

If you had to write a letter for every application, you'd spend days every week doing nothing else. It's essential, therefore, to have a few good drafts of a letter ready. If you are applying for several different types of positions (such as web designer and web developer), have a resume cover letter prepared for each. Just remember to personalize the letter to the specific position for which you are applying.

The Thank You
For some, the idea of sending a thank you letter may seem dated. Nevertheless, good manners never go out of style. While some employers may not care, others will be impressed by a candidate who takes the time to send a letter thanking them for an interview. It never hurts to err on the side of proper etiquette.

• Address your interviewer. If it is difficult for you to remember names, ask for a business card. Or you may want to ask an administrative assistant how to spell your interviewer's name when you leave. Also, remember to send a letter to each person in the interview.

• Keep it personal. Make a point to recall something specific the interviewer mentioned. Did you get a piece of friendly advice? Did you learn something interesting about the company? Let your interviewer know that you were paying attention.

• Follow up on requests for additional information. If your interviewer asked for additional references or samples of your work, feel free to use the thank you letter to supply the necessary information.

In today's world of instant communication, many people wonder if it is acceptable to send a resume thank you letter via e-mail. The answer lies in the original communication. If you applied for the position through an online job posting service, an e-mail thank you would be appropriate. If you applied through the mail, send a hard copy thank you as a response.

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