A job can be more to us than how we make money. Our jobs can define how we see ourselves and how others see us. If you’re like many others who have recently experienced job loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be questioning your identity or feeling anxious about what the future holds. It is natural to feel this sense of loss of control over the direction of your future.
With many industries such as retail, hospitality and travel impacted more than others, you may also be considering a career transition to a more stable industry or a different career function and are wondering how to achieve this and stand out in the crowd. How can you develop a resume and cover letter that gain the attention of hiring managers? Here are some tips to get started.
tip 1: write a forward-looking and relevant resume and cover letter
As you write your resume and cover letter, envision yourself in the specific role you are trying to land. Your resume is not meant to be a description of everything you have ever accomplished. While it should show a chronological history, be careful to focus on the information that is directly relevant to the job you are targeting. Rather than listing all your skills and experience, consider including only information relevant to your target role.
In your cover letter, reference information about yourself that specifically demonstrates how you meet the requirements of the job. If your previous role required you to do retail merchandising, but this is not a required skill of your target job, it doesn’t necessarily need to be highlighted. If your target requires you to be customer-facing, then highlight these experiences and skills.
tip 2: put yourself in the hiring stakeholder’s shoes
When hiring stakeholders review applications, their job is to analyze and interpret your resume and cover letter and come to a decision about whether you meet the requirements of a job. You can make it easy for them to decipher by analyzing the job posting yourself to determine the key requirements and making it clear that you meet these. In your cover letter, show a direct connection between the requirements and your experience. In the resume, include examples of your work that demonstrate the claims you make about yourself in the cover letter. This approach will make you feel more in control of your destiny.
If one of the key requirements of a job is building relationships, include a sentence in your cover letter such as, ‘I have a proven track record of establishing trust and credibility with internal stakeholders and customers.’ Be sure to list relationship-building as one of your key competencies in your resume in the summary section and include an accomplishment in the professional experience section that describes a time when you built a relationship with a new customer.
tip 3: build your case
Build your resume like you are building a case in a court of law – by providing compelling evidence that leaves no room for doubt about your qualifications. The summary section of the resume should make claims about your functional areas of expertise, skills and traits, and how they can benefit an employer. The rest of the resume should be the evidence that supports the claims you make about yourself in the summary section. A hiring stakeholder may read your cover letter before your resume, so you want to ensure the cover letter also makes the case.
You can make your case stronger by using action statements. Start your sentences and accomplishments in the resume and cover letter with verbs. Purposefully choose strong action verbs when describing your experience. If you are applying for a senior leadership role, use verbs that are indicative of the level at which you operate, such as ‘managed,’ ‘led,’ ‘oversaw’ or ‘directed’ instead of verbs like ‘provided,’ ‘administered’ or ‘participated.’ And do not forget to pepper your resume with verbs that are used in the job posting.
tip 4: tailor your resume by weaving in keywords
In most cases, your resume will be scanned by an applicant tracking system (ATS), which is the technology used by employers to manage the hiring process. It is critical to include keywords from the job posting in your resume because the ATS will tap into keywords to complete an initial screen of your resume before it even reaches a human being. Without the right keywords, your resume can be overlooked without anyone ever reading it.
It is especially important to use keywords in headlines and the summary section and scatter keywords naturally (without being overused) throughout all your content. If scheduling is a key requirement, for example, include ‘scheduling’ as a key competency in your summary section. Weave the word into your professional experience section by including it as part of your job responsibilities and then write an accomplishment that describes how you managed a weekly schedule for 40 team members.
You should also ensure that your resume title exactly matches the title of the role to which you are applying. The ATS will score you high on this important match and the reader of your resume will form a perception of you based on the title. If the title of your most recent job was Customer Service Representative and the title of the job you are applying to is Customer Engagement Manager, then make the title on your resume ‘Customer Engagement Manager.’
tip 5: highlight transferable skills, accomplishments and education
Let’s drill down into how to describe your transferable experience as compelling evidence. The more specific you are, the stronger your case will be. Here are examples of transferable skills:
- Soft skills: troubleshooting, negotiation, prioritization, collaboration and decision making
- Hard skills (areas you have been trained or certified in, methodologies, domain expertise, hardware, software or skills you have practiced for years): Microsoft Word and Excel, Salesforce CRM, Lean Six Sigma, Spin Selling methodology, customer service and financial accounting
In the professional experience section of your resume and in your cover letter, write accomplishments that highlight your transferable skills in addition to describing your responsibilities. Describe the specific actions you took and the results of your actions. Did a customer or your company benefit? Did a process or direct report benefit? Here are some examples of accomplishments:
- Managed 50 active orders routinely, facilitated transportation of goods and coordinated with vendors (ACTIONS), guaranteeing on-time delivery and customer satisfaction (RESULTS).
- Set up and opened a new store in Calgary, including hiring and training new staff, merchandising, marketing, real-estate negotiation and establishment of vendor relations (ACTIONS), meeting the 8-week setup timeline and ensuring company was on track for meeting growth targets (RESULTS).
You can also highlight transferable education and professional development in your resume and cover letter. Don’t just include formal degrees, diplomas and certifications. You can include a book you read, a seminar or conference you attended, an online course you took or training a previous employer provided if it’s relevant to your target job.
One section you might overlook when updating your resume and cover letter is your community or volunteer involvement, which can be powerful evidence of your qualifications. You may want to apply for a team lead job, but you have never led people in previous career roles. However, you might have coached a team to a winning championship or led a team of volunteers in a fundraising project. Write an accomplishment in this section of your resume or share an anecdote in your cover letter that demonstrates evidence of your coaching and leadership abilities.
tip 6: describe the scope of your work
The scope in your resume or cover letter describes the scale of your work. You can reference the scale of your work as global, regional or local. Other ways to include scope are to describe the size of budget you owned, the number of people you led, issues you resolved or customers you supported. Wherever you can, add as much scope as possible into the resume and cover letter content by quantifying your accomplishments. Here are a few examples:
- Led retail operations team with $20M P&L responsibility for 35 shipping centers across Canada with 240 employees and network of 1.7K+ locations, including terminals, drop boxes, agents and partners.
- Generated $30K in new monthly recurring revenue by signing on an average of 3 dedicated national accounts monthly.
tip 7: differentiate yourself
Employers are not just hiring for skills; they are hiring a person. You will differentiate yourself from the competition if you are able to capture the essence of who you are and how you work. Paint a picture by telling a SMART (Situation, Metrics, Action, Results, Tie In) story about yourself in your resume or cover letter to capture the colors and shades of how you operate. Better yet, upload a video of yourself in action to your LinkedIn profile and reference it in your job application. Showing hiring stakeholders the evidence is even more powerful than telling them.
jump start your career transition
A job search is full of uncertainty even in the best of times, and the global pandemic has created an even more challenging economic environment for job seekers. You can minimize this uncertainty and increase your return on investment of time spent on your job search by building your case through a strong resume and cover letter. This approach will make you feel more in control of your destiny and can help you turn a corner and discover your next job.