Before you can land a job, you’ve got to get an interview. And to do that, you (almost) always will have to demonstrate your value and experience along with a hint of your personality in your cover letter and resume.
A hiring manager will be looking to quickly identify whether your skills and experience have effectively prepared you for the role for which you're applying. The faster you can establish that you are a serious candidate (on paper), the more time the hiring manager will spend on your application.
Use your cover letter to show that you understand
An original, persuasive cover letter reflects your level understanding of what the employer wants and a clear explanation of how you are uniquely able to fill those needs.
While there are clear parameters around a cover letter’s structure, you should write a new cover letter for each organization for which you are applying. And remember: never submit a generic or formulaic cover letter!
Transferable skills only, please
That means that if you are applying for a nonprofit event-planning position, you emphasize any transferable skills you’ve built that are useful in event planning.
For example, if you worked at the front desk of a swanky hotel—on the surface, you may think that since that's an entirely different type of job, you should leave it off your resume (or include it without any of the duty-oriented details).
But with a close look, you’ll see that both jobs likely require:
- Self-disciplined approaches to customer service
- Precision and organization
- Interpersonal communication
- Ability to adhere to policies, and to convey policies with utmost diplomacy
In your cover letter you would highlight past event planning work, as well as some of the transferable skills you’ve gained from your experience at the hotel (and other work), your connection to the organization's issue-area, and your interest in and passion for event planning.
On your resume, you’d list only the transferable skills from each job you’ve performed (paid or voluntary), their context, and your major related accomplishments.
For example, if your hotel clerk position also required your to arrange flower displays for the hotel lobby, you shouldn’t include flower arranging under your hotel job on your resume for this particular position (unless the event-planning position description specified flower arrangement duties).
The “Can you tell what job I’m applying for, just by looking at my resume?” test
When your resume is drafted for a specific job opening, hand it to a friend (without the related job description) and ask them, “Can you tell what job I’m applying for?”
After a relatively quick review of your resume, your friend should be able to tell you what the new job entails. This is because the job description should be reflected throughout your resume:
- In the language you use (adopt the language used in the position description), and
- In the tasks and accomplishments you choose to feature
Remember: neither your cover letter nor your resume is your autobiography. When a hiring manager is reading your application, they simply want to know the answer to these three questions:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Will you fit in?
As the Associate Director of Editorial and Career Content at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.