Although many potential employers do look to match an applicant’s skills, experience, and knowledge to the job they’re filling, they are really looking for one basic thing: Can–and will–this person do the job that they need done? With that in mind, your goal is not only to showcase your relevant skills, knowledge, and experience, but to also convey that you’re the “will do” person they need. As discussed in Part One of this two-part article, you can take steps during the pre-interview, interview, and post-interview stages of the job search process; the bottom line discussed in Part One: Go the extra mile–from the very start.
Part Two of this two-part article offers five additional strategies for conveying you’re the will-do person a potential employer needs, focusing specifically on your job search documents: Your resume, letter of application, and portfolio. As you’ll see, these three job search documents paint a picture of your qualifications, accomplishments, and experience, complement each other, and provide detailed, well-rounded information to support your candidacy for a position:
- Your resume provides data points about you.
- Your letter of application supports the data points by highlighting details of your successes.
- Your portfolio completes the picture by demonstrating the skills and experience mentioned in your resume and letter.
In short, these three job search documents paint a picture of you and communicate how you can–and will–do the job the hiring company needs done.
In Your Resume
You might think of your resume as being the job search document that provides data points about you–tidbits of information that highlight skills and experience you have that are relevant to the job you seek.
Strategy #1: Use that Objective or Summary to your advantage
You’ve seen them…maybe you’ve written them: The “ho-hum” generic Objective or Summary statement, as in, “I seek a mid-level technical writing position where I can learn new skills” or “Mid-level technical writer with experience in the hardware industry.” Such Objectives and Summaries may be easy to develop (and copy and paste and paste and paste), but they’re also hum-drum and don’t convey “I’m the will-do person you need!”
In your Objective or Summary, focus on skills, education, or experience the company seeks. How? First, be specific. Look at the job ad and cull details you can use. Are they looking for a hardware writer with experience developing troubleshooting procedures using FrameMaker and Illustrator? Then use those details, as in this Objective: “I seek the position of Hardware Writer, where I can apply my three years’ experience in developing troubleshooting procedures using FrameMaker and Illustrator.” In some cases, you may find that the job ad is vague, or you may suspect that the company doesn’t know what they really need. In these cases, use your judgement to determine which details about your experience will best match their needs or best meet the expectations for the industry, duties, and level of job you’re applying for.
Second, show you’re there to apply your experience, not just be there for on-the-job training. Yes, you should expect to learn new things on the job–and an employer should reasonably expect that you’ll need to learn on the job; however, in your job search documents, you should emphasize what experience, skills, and knowledge you have. So, rather than saying, “I seek a position where I can learn new skills…,” tell them what you will apply to their needs, as in this Summary: “Hardware Writer with three years of experience planning, writing, editing, and illustrating troubleshooting procedures; demonstrated proficiency in FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and Photo Shop.”
Strategy #2: Tailor details throughout
Although you may be tempted to summarize all of your experience, education, and projects, or perhaps summarize your most recent projects, don’t. Instead, choose details about your projects, skills, and education that support the job sought, and exclude details that aren’t relevant. Again here, study the job ad, use your best judgement, and choose details for your resume that are relevant to their needs.
But what if your “best” project or your projects in general don’t demonstrate skills or experience they’re looking for…should you still include such samples on your resume? It depends. You may not want to include a less-relevant project if:
- The employer clearly seeks specific skills or background (not supported by the project).
- The employer is filling a very specialized position (not supported by the project).
- The portion of the project that you did does not represent key skills or experience they’re seeking.
In these cases, mention projects that more closely support the position you’re applying for. However, you would definitely want to include your best project if:
- The position clearly requires more of a generalist than a specialist.
- The skills or experience required for the job is not clear from the ad.
- The portion of the project that you did does represent key skills or experience they’re seeking.
Tailor your resume (and other job search documents, discussed following) to the job you’re seeking. Remember, they’re not looking for the “best” tech writer out there or the tech writer with the most skills; they’re looking for the candidate who can best do the job that they need done.
In Your Letter of Application
A letter of application (or cover letter or application letter) complements your resume by expanding on a few key details from your resume. You might think of your letter of application as your “voice,” as it lets you “talk” to the employer and often provides the type of details you’d discuss in an in-person interview.
Strategy #3: Provide meaty details
In developing your resume, you’ve chosen details that are relevant to the job you seek. In your letter of application you’ll apply the same principle, but go a step further: Choose details that complement (not repeat) details mentioned in your resume. The letter of application offers an opportunity to highlight your successes beyond project titles and descriptions, so make the most of it!
Developing a Letter of Application offers a thorough look at choosing a letter type, determining content, and developing the letter; however, the key in developing the letter is to include details that build on your resume. For example, suppose your resume prominently mentions that you wrote, illustrated, and edited the FuzzyWidget Troubleshooting Manual; the letter of application could complement those tidbit with these types of details:
- You beat deadline [by how much]
- You completed the project under budget [by how much]
- You received raving customer feedback [such as...]
- You received [what kind of] awards for your work
- You created [ThusAndSo] solutions to overcome [ThusAndSo] problems
- You reduced customer service calls [by how much]
These are just some examples. Examine what supplemental details you can provide (based on projects mentioned in your resume), choose a few key points that support what the employer seeks, and then develop a few sentences about them in the letter.
Strategy #4: Bridge the details to their needs
Now, in your letter of application, go yet one more step and tie the details to their needs. That is, rather than just saying, “I finished the project $6,000 under budget,” tell them how you would apply the previous [experience, skill, or knowledge] to their needs: “I finished the job $6,000 under budget by [doing ThusAndSo]. As the Technical Publications Manager, I would apply the [ThusAndSo skills or experience] and would successfully accomplish the Management goals.” Take care to include details that focus on how you can meet their needs, backed up by specific details.
In Your Portfolio
With a resume and letter of application, a potential employer has a summary of your experience, skills, and knowledge, has “heard” your voice, and has details in hand that support your claims. Your portfolio, then, completes the picture by demonstrating what you claim in your resume and letter of application.
Strategy #5: Select appropriate samples
Just as you tailored details for your resume and letter of application, you’ll also need to select writing samples for your portfolio that most closely demonstrate that you have the skills and experience needed to do the job. If you’ve already developed your resume and letter of application, you probably have a good idea of how to tailor your portfolio. Again here, choose samples and projects that most closely demonstrate the types of things the employer needs done; apply the guidelines mentioned in Strategy #2.
What if you don’t have material for a portfolio, or what if you don’t have many or any samples that are similar to documents or projects you’d be working on? First, determine if that’s really the case. Although you may not have an entire project that demonstrates what they’re looking for, parts of your projects can still often be used. Do any of your projects demonstrate proficiency or skill in writing? Editing? Design? Illustration? Using a specific tool? Interviewing SMEs? Meeting deadlines? Managing multiple projects? Working in diverse teams? Working as a lone writer? The list could go on and on, and chances are that you do have one or more projects that, at least in part, demonstrate key skills or experience. If you really don’t have any relevant samples to include, consider developing an annotated portfolio using the samples you do have.
Your resume, letter of application, and portfolio paint a picture of you as a job candidate by providing relevant details, letting employers hear your voice, and demonstrating your skills and experience. The bottom line? Tailored details: Choose relevant details for the resume, highlight supplemental information in the letter, and demonstrate your claims in your portfolio. By providing details, information, and samples that are tailored to the job you seek, you pack more punch in the space you have, indicate that you’ve taken the time to do your homework, and grab their attention. Specific, relevant details say a lot and go a long way toward landing an interview and ultimately the job you seek.