Here a visual for you: You walk into a bookstore and notice the table of new releases right in the front. It’s full of shiny new titles, ranging from children’s picture books with brightly colored illustrations, to dark and mysterious science fiction, candy-colored chick lit, and the latest political biography. You’re looking for a book that speaks to you, something you can read on your subway ride home perhaps, or on your porch in the early evening after work, or on the weekends in your downtime. Which selection do you NOT pick?
If you answered the children’s picture book with the brightly colored illustrations, then you’re following me.
While the graphics might be fun and pleasing, common sense tells you that the children’s picture book simply wasn’t written with you as the audience in mind, and you likely won’t get the same value out of it that you would, say, your favorite genre of a more age-appropriate nature. The same theory applies to how you approach writing, presenting and marketing your resume and cover letter.
One of the quickest ways to ensure that your resume won’t propel you to the interview stage is to write it for the wrong audience. When I worked in recruiting, most of my candidates were in the creative industry – graphic and web designers, copywriters, art directors, creative directors. They’re used to working in a capacity where someone called a Creative Director was regarded as the decision maker. And as such, when they were looking for a job, they crafted a resume that was designed to impress the Creative Director.
The problem here? It had to get past human resources or the recruiter first, and that person very rarely was an expert in the creative industry. So while all the industry jargon, minimalism, and flashy design may have been impressive to the Creative Director who values that type of thing, HR didn’t understand it enough to be able to sell that person to the hiring manager.
As much as we don’t like it, human resources or the third party recruiter is often the gatekeeper in the hiring process, and you have to write your materials with that person in mind. In most cases, they’re a generalist – they’re trained to look for the specific qualifications that are written in the job description, and then make informed recommendations to the hiring manager to interview the people who seem to best fit the needs of the role. They’re not there to evaluate your presentation skills, your ability to create a “funky” resume, or be impressed by your unconventional marketing efforts. They’re there to qualify you for the first round of review.
Three tips to keep in mind when writing your resume or cover letter to help you get past the gatekeeper:
Appeal to the Generalist More than the Specialist
Certain keywords, knowledge and technologies are going to be important to highlight, but keep it concise and to the point. Make your unique value apparent by communicating your skills, strengths and expertise in a way that says you can not only do the job, but thrive in the role. And don’t try to over-impress with excessive industry jargon. Always remember – you are appealing to the generalist, not the specialist. That’s not a slight against HR, it’s simply their job.
Avoid Flashy Design or Industry-Specific Memes
Many people think that having a colorful and image-laden resume will help them stand out from a pile of monochrome text. It will, but not necessarily in a good way. Don’t present your resume in a diagonal layout, use excessive colors, or lace it with unnecessary imagery. This stuff only takes up space, and even worse, detracts from your overall message and content. They just want to know the facts.
Resist the Urge to Be Cheeky or Creative in Your Cover Letter
I’ve seen plenty of Copywriters play up the creative writing angle in their cover letters and resumes as an attempt to be funny, edgy, and stand out. This almost always backfires, because again, HR is not impressed – they just want to know the facts. Don’t tell your life story behind why you’re changing industries, but do provide some context around why the company’s work and mission really appeals to you professionally and personally. And seriously, leave the swear words at home.
Your chance to flaunt your industry know-how and impress the decision maker, department head, or direct manager will come during the interview. That’s when you’ll have the chance to meet the team you might be working, colleagues you’re likely to collaborate with, and managers you might be reporting to. The first step is to get yourself in the door by positioning yourself simply, concisely and confidently as someone who brings the right talents, knowledge and capabilities to the role.