Career Q+A: resumes and cover letters

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock


Resumes: profiles, objectives or what?

Q: I understand what a job objective is on a resume, but also have read that they are somewhat outdated and something called a Profile has taken its place. What is the difference and could you supply an example?

A: We get too tangled up with the names we give this critical opening paragraph and we risk getting trapped into templated interchangeable resumes.  Is it a profile? Maybe that’s part of it.  Should it be an objective? The hirer is not in the least interested in your objective  the only objective he is interested in satisfying is his own.   So have an objective by all means  but that is for you to know not for your resume to state. So I can’t give you useful examples, as the objective or profile concept seem to me to be counterproductive.

But that opening paragraph is critically important.  It has to say in just a few lines what you offer to an employer and why they should care. It has to make them say  “that is just what I am looking for.” They should quickly be able to see that you have had successes in their field, that you have done good work on specific brands or projects and that your experience and skills and focus and passion set you apart from the pack.  That is the job of that first paragraph.  If you want to call it something (in your mind, not on the page) you could think of it as the Executive Summary for your resume.  The rest of the chronology should add flesh and corroborate. Who cares what it is called! Just make them drool.


Cover letters – what to include.

Q: I have read so many different articles on what a cover letter should be, can you provide a checklist of what a cover letter should cover and some suggestions on the order in which they are covered? I’m very confused.

A: The job of the cover letter is to get someone to want to read your resume.  First it has to say why you are writing, for example: I am most interested in talking to you about your Project Manager position.  And then quickly add why the reader should care – about you above all others.  It very likely will contain all or most of the paragraph you use to start your resume  this is the carefully crafted distillation of your value story that tells of your unique talents/experience. Don’t worry about repeating the same idea in the resume  many people on the hiring team will never see your cover letter. I hate to define templates  but here are the three basic elements:

1. Why should they read this because you are the perfect person to fill their Project Manager position

2. What you want them to do (feel)   see at once that you are the one – consider your application  schedule a meeting  whatever it is you want.  Get this up near the top in the cover letter so the reader knows what he should be thinking about.

3. Why you above all others?  What is the thumbnail of your skills/experience that sets you apart?

And most important: keep it short.