Help me navigate the modern job search
March 7, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm actively looking for a job for the first time in awhile, and whenever I sit down to write a cover letter and update my resume it's like my job application skills stopped developing in 1985 (nevermind that I wasn't old enough to apply for jobs then). I know that customs and expectations for resumes and cover letters have changed, not least because so much is done via email rather than hard copy, but I don't know how to adapt the stale job-seeking skills I learned from people who learned them 25 years ago to the modern job search.

I'm plenty comfortable with the online job search, and I've got an active LinkedIn profile, but when it comes to writing cover letters and resumes I fall back on being overly stiff and formal and relying on a lot of outdated formatting. Which I suppose is fine for some jobs, but doesn't seem to fit well with the sorts of modern, non-corporate companies and nonprofits I want to work for.

Do you have any good resources or advice for me?
posted by rhiannonstone to Work & Money (10 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I've liked lifehacker's advice on this and other job hunting issues. Their page is a little wonky to navigate; look at the right-hand column.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:48 AM on March 7, 2013

With cover letters, make sure you focus on what you can do for them. A common mistake I see is something like: This job would be a good opportunity for me grow professionally yadda yadda. Employers care about themselves first, so write about how you would help their business, not about how they would help you.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 11:59 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're in the right direction by realizing that job searching has changed and that you need to be wary of outdated advice.

I have learned a ton from Ask a Manager about job searching, resumes, etc. Her advice is very reasonable and spot-on.

I finally bit the bullet and hired someone to help with my resume and CL (Jason at Resume to Interviews). I wish I had done this months ago. My resume now is modern and professional looking, and it accurately reflects my accomplishments. And while I still revise/customize my cover letter for each job, I have a good basic document to start with. I haven't secured a job yet, but I have gotten a hell of a lot more interviews since I redid my resume and CL.

Cover letters are generally a lot less formal now, especially for the types of jobs you're applying for, so you're on the right track there. Also if the application just directs you to an email address, the CL is the body of the email, which makes it a little less formal in general.
posted by radioamy at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just read a great e-book on this very topic, Let's All Find Awesome Jobs by Kevin Fanning. It's a 40 page book that costs 99 cents on Amazon. The author is a former HR professional with very specific advice and scripts on how to write a resume and cover letter and how to navigate the interview process.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:11 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

What's worked for me is keeping the email cover letter very short. Like 1 paragraph short. I use the cover letter to sell them on opening the attached resume. So I hit hard on 2 or 3 things that highlight why they absolutely, positively, must interview me.
posted by COD at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

May I advise focusing on networking above all? Every company or job that you are applying too see if you know someone that works there or that is doing such a function and tell them you are interested in learning a bit more about what they works!
posted by The1andonly at 12:50 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since so many resumes are scanned anymore, I use a pretty perfunctory cover letter. I used to go to the moon and back but now I just do this:

Dear So and so,

I am applying for X position as posted on LinkedIn. I have experience in Job Requirement 1, Job requirement 2 and Job requirement 3.

At Company ABC, I used Job Requirement 1 to do this and that.

At Company XYZ I used Job Requirement 2 for lots of blah.

At Company 123, I used Job Requirement 3 to save the world.

I believe my skills and experience dovetail nicely for this position and I'd appreciate an opportunity to meet with you to discuss how I might fit into your organization.



Get some boilerplate you're happy with, and then just tweak it for each job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:55 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm still pretty much of a luddite, but some things that have changed in more recent times, and what I do about them are:

* People's attention spans are practically nil. Keep everything short and give it plenty of white space.

* People are always telling me that these days you can go to 2, 3, or more pages for resume. I keep it to no more than 2 pages, and try for 1 if I can address what they're looking for more quickly. Yeah, I have all this great experience, but believe me, no one's reading 4 pages of bullets. All they want to do is scan for if you can do the three things they need.

* Key words. Use all the industry buzzwords in their ad or however you found out about the job.

I also like Penelope Trunk's blog a lot.

Good luck!
posted by loveyallaround at 1:23 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something I find very useful - ask for and look at the actual real-world resumes and cover letters being used by people you know who are in a comparable field, especially if they were recently out of work and aren't any more. Most people are happy to help a job-seeking friend, and giving a resume is about as easy a way to help as there is.

Ideally you'd want to look at several (4-7), because the style and formatting and content varies considerably from person to person. Some people create very old school resumes, some people are much more informal, some people rely more on online presentation, etc. It's just helpful to get an idea of what actual resumes are out there being used, it gives you templates and ideas, etc.
posted by anonymisc at 2:05 PM on March 7, 2013

A lot of this is very specific to the industry you're applying for, so make sure that you aren't using resume advice for MBA's if you're applying for an IT job.
posted by empath at 7:56 PM on March 7, 2013

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