In June of 2008, I wrote an article on career planning and voiced concern that people were not investing enough thought, time and energy in their careers, given a rapidly changing environment. Little did I realize the extent to which dramatic changes were stirring in the work world! The advice then, to revise or write your career plan, is even more relevant today. However, it’s equally important, given the current employment climate, to invest in the steps that come after you have a career plan.
Today, much attention is paid to the multiplicity of communication channels available to job seekers, or those who are seeking a career transition. Certainly Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and other social networking sites can provide more avenues for networking and gathering information. While using these tools correctly may certainly aid a career transition or job search, they are not a substitute for creating quality content that represents your value in the job marketplace. Using the results of your career plan, the next step is distilling the key messages and content, representing your career aspiration. Two of the major “deliverables” of a thoughtful career plan are your resume and cover letters.
Each year I read hundreds, perhaps thousands of resumes and cover letters. It is fascinating how people chose to present themselves, and the results they anticipate based on this representation. Google “writing resumes” and over 12,500,000 entries appear, search “cover letter” and about 43,100,000 results are listed. There is certainly no lack of information available to guide resume and cover letter creation! Despite abundant resources, I repeatedly see the same missed opportunities.
Outstanding applicants represent their skills, attributes and content knowledge in a way that communicates their ability to do the job. These people become candidates and are invited for interviews. Below are the six areas where extraordinary job applicants consistently excel:
Research, research, research
Today, there is no excuse for not being prepared and preparation shows. Have you done your homework on the industry sector, organization, position that is open, challenges in this field, best practices outcomes? Fifteen or twenty years ago the interview was the venue to research an organization. Today, your cover letter and resume must reflect your understanding of the job, the key issues in the industry sector and current status of the organization. Your skills, attributes and content knowledge should be showcased through the lens of the organization’s opportunities and challenges.
Outcomes trump skills
Traditional resumes are skills heavy, lots of language about managing people, auditing accounts, or building exhibitions. The currency of the current work place is results. Did you improve customer retention, or build a winning team? Did you transform financial results or diversify revenue? Did you increase museum attendance or build new, sustainable audience interest? How were the results of your last job quantified?
Attributes may trump skills
People are hired for skills, and fired because of attributes. Attributes describe the inherent qualities and characteristics that drive our individual behavior in the workplace. When we discuss a candidate’s attributes we are often describing ethics, leadership, teamwork or specific actions driven by an individual’s personal values. In the nonprofit sector, employees are expected to have a passion for the mission and vision of the specific organization and that passion is most often revealed through attributes. Authentically, communicating attributes is challenging, and worthwhile. It requires reflection and a high degree of self-knowledge. Is your leadership style or passion for teamwork reflected in cover letters or your resume? Are you a hard-charger who sets high standards and expects to see results, fast! There are no right or wrong answers, different jobs, and different organizations require different behaviors. Have you clearly presented who you are?
Many career advisors suggest that functional skills are all you need to address in a resume. Chronology matters! There are many ways to present your employment history, and people want to know where you worked, in what role, and long you were employed by each organization.
In a digital world where resumes are transmitted online it is easy to lose the personal touch, and feel disconnected from the people on the other side of the screen. Good manners are even more important when communications are at arms length. Communicate appreciation for people taking the time to read your cover letter and resume. Be generous in acknowledging the people who have supported your career to date, co-workers, references, etc. You cannot overdo appreciation!
Less really is more. The cover letter and resumes should be simple and professional. This is not the time to experiment with all the fonts and colors available online. It is hard to beat Times Roman 12pt black type (on a white background) for legibility. No pictures, cute email addresses, complex formatting or exotic document program. Perhaps no one will be trying to open your resume on an Apple IIE, but in the nonprofit world, they may not have the latest generation of Word. Practice simplicity and functionality in all documents.
This is perhaps the most challenging employment environment any of us have ever experienced. When a nonprofit organization decides to use scarce time and resources to make a new hire, they want to get it right, the first time. Outstanding applicants represent their skills, attributes and content knowledge in a way that communicates their ability to leverage opportunities, and solve the challenges at hand. In an environment where most applicants will appear to have the right skills, communicating your ability to achieve results may be the defining difference. Communicating the personal qualities that shape how you work, will clearly elevate you above other applicants.
by Raylene Decatur