What's in (and what's out) in job searching?

The cover letter is out: What’s hot (and what’s not) in job searching

Peter Harris|

I was talking to a Vice President of Human Resources last week, and she asked me what I thought of cover letters. “Because I don’t read them,” she explained.

It turns out that with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) often taking the first pass at screening resumes, the cover letter is often never actually read. (That’s a grammatically-interesting sentence, I know.)

If a resume contains the right keywords, it gets past the software filters and can be read by a human. If the recruiter sees the skills and experience that they are looking for, then the resume can be shortlisted for a phone call – otherwise it’s passed over. In either case, the decision was made without referring to a cover letter.

It’s that conversation that got me thinking about some of the things we have all been taught about job searching that just aren’t true anymore. Of course trends vary by industry, and believe it or not traditional roles still exist for which people submit printed resumes by mail.

But for the rest of us, here’s a look at what’s in and what’s out in job searching for 2014.

    What’s out: Cover letters

    People often used to perfect one professional resume that accurately summarized their skills and experience and submitted it to every job that they targeted, using their cover letter to explain how their credentials could relate to the specific role.

    However in the ATS era, where cover letters are often not read, this equals sending in a generic application with no job or employer-specific customization. Those quickly get tossed.

    What’s in: Tailored resumes

    That’s why it is important to customize your resume specifically for every job that you apply for. You should still send in a cover letter, it’s a nice touch, and you don’t want to appear to be cutting corners in your application. However, you can’t count on in it to bridge the gap between your resume and the job description. You need a tailored resume that can sell your candidacy on its own.

    What’s out: Objective statements

    Many resumes begin with an opening paragraph about what the job seeker is looking for in their next role. Employers spend very little time on their initial scan of resumes, and a paragraph about your objectives contains none of the things that they are looking for. So this is a waste of valuable real-estate that can actually harm your chances.

    What’s in: Skills summaries

    Instead use the space at the very top of your resume to summarize your key skills that are most relevant for the job that you are targeting. That way the first thing that an employer reads about you is what you can do for them.

    What’s out: Lists of duties and responsibilities

    Traditionally, people would describe their work experience on their resumes by listing what their ‘duties included’ or what they were ‘responsible for.’ However, these don’t make for very interesting reading for an employer. Employers generally know what tasks or duties are associated with most roles, especially jobs that they are hiring for.

    See The most overused words in Canadian resumes

    What’s in: Accomplishments and achievements

    Instead, list what you specifically accomplished at your former jobs. Employers what to see how you stood out in your role. Your past achievements serve as indicators of what you can do in the future. List the targets you beat, awards or recognitions you received, the processes you improved – all the things that set you apart.

    What’s out: Staying off the grid on social media

    While you may want to keep your private and professional lives separate, having such high privacy settings that no one can find you online (or being offline altogether) can hurt your chances during a job search. 93% of employers say that they screen candidates on social media before hiring them, and if they can’t find any mention of you online, it’s a red flag. It could indicate that you have something to hide – or that you’re simply not very technologically savvy and not using the latest communication tools.

    What’s in: Engaging social profiles that confirm what employers want to see

    While not limited to these, the most common websites for recruiters to screen candidates on are LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. What you post and how you behave on these sites can create a first impression of the sort of person you might be.

    Employers look at your profiles to see if they can find out more about your qualifications, to see if you are creative, and to see if you’ll be a good fit with their team. They’ll also be watching for red flags such as poor grammar and spelling, anti-social behaviour, or anger issues.

    See also: Using social media as a powerful job search tool

    What’s out: References available on request

    As we mentioned in our recent article on the most overused words in Canadian resumes, it is not necessary to promise to provide references in your resume. Employers assume that you will provide your professional references at the proper time. The sentence at the bottom of a resume replaces an earlier and even more outdated practice of including references right in the same document as the resume itself.

What else is out? Hand-written notes and one page resumes . Snail mailing hand-written thank-you notes is outdated. You should always send a thank-note after a job interview, but this is 2014. We all use email now. I’ve actually heard one hiring manager refer to the hand-written follow-up note she received as ‘creepy.’

One-page resumes aren’t out, just the idea that a resume has to be only one page. The first page has to be good and relevant to the employer or else you’ll get tossed. But if they like what they see on page one, they’ll keep reading to find out more. Plus with the Applicant Tracking Systems mentioned in the first paragraph often doing the initial first screen of your resume, you’ll want to include as many relevant key words as possible to even get read by an employer in the first place.

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Peter Harris
- Peter Harris on Twitter

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Category: Job Search Strategies, Resumes and Cover Letters,