If you’ve been in the job search for very long you probably realize that with so many people looking for a job, expectations by the hiring community have skyrocketed.

Times have changed and the do-it-yourself cover letter and résumé is not likely to fit the bill for most job-seekers.

Today’s cover letters and résumés are no longer simply a great presentation of your skills, knowledge and abilities. Did you get a real professional who really knows how to write a professional résumé help you? Terrific.

Is your cover letter and résumé reader-based?

If not – your chances of getting an interview just plummeted.


Who are the readers and how do you use this process to get an interview?

Here is a list of the readers and what you need to know:

The Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Most jobseekers and career coaches know that the ATS will “read” your materials. The system needs keyword-rich information that is context appropriate. The new applicant tracking systems coming out in 2014 will be GPS enabled and have contextual capabilities.

Not many people talk about the additional rounds that ATSs use to filter applicants and we teach those in the Forward Motion Differentiation Workshop.*

HR Round One: The infamous 8 to 10-second review.
Most jobseekers believe that if they can get through the ATS then someone will read their résumé. Truly that doesn’t happen. When I was working on the Forward Motion process that we now use, I handed cover letters and résumés to numerous HR professionals and watched their eyes to see where they looked first, second, and so forth.

Ten seconds

REVELATION: Hiring professionals do not read top to bottom or left to right.

In the first pass, in 8 seconds or less HR professionals want to find one thing:
Are you qualified for the position. That’s it. That information has to be easy to find and process—in eight seconds or less—period.

HR Assistants: The paperwork screening and/or phone call.
When an applicant gets through the ATS and passes the 8-second review, they may receive a phone call from an HR assistant. The purpose is simple: they want to be sure you qualify for the position.

In other words, your materials passed 5 ATS filters and the 8-second test. When the HR Assistant looks at your materials, they should find the information that indicates you qualify for the position. If not, you may receive a 10 to 15-minute call to verify that information. This call is not an interview.

It is likely that you will be checked out online and your LinkedIn profile should confirm the content in your cover letter and résumé. If you don’t have a LinkedIn Profile with substance, then you may be eliminated at this juncture.

Many recruiters will not consider someone who doesn’t have any recommendations for past work on their LinkedIn Profile.

HR Round Two: The 20-second to 2-minute review.
At this point, your cover letter and résumé has to give the hiring professional a solid reason to pick up the phone. Four questions they are looking for include:

  1. Is there evidence that you will enjoy this position? (E.g. this position falls into your chosen career path, that it is a logical next step.)
  2. Do you have the core competencies and attributes that will make you a good fit for the position as well as the company?
  3. What makes you unique? This is the place and time for your Unique Value Statement (UVS). It should be on your cover letter and résumé! What is unique about you? What makes you stand out from the rest of the candidates?
  4. If you are still in the running, then the final question comes up: Is your work history on your résumé something s/he can send to a hiring manager who can assess your ability to do the job?

    This is where the details of your former jobs, the results statements and ability to meld into an environment or work culture should clearly be evident.

The response to these four questions should be easily found—at a glance.

Question Mark On Green Target

NOTE: The next step in the process is an interview with the Human Resource professional or recruiter. This topic will be discussed in a later blog.

The “quick-read” by the Hiring Manager.
Hiring managers have three primary concerns:

  1. Can you do the job?
  2. How long will it take (how much hand-holding will you need) to get up to speed?
  3. Will your interactions with the team be positive and encourage productivity or will they create unnecessary discord?

Your résumé should give insights into these questions in the details section of your work history.

The final approver.
It will never cease to amaze me that the final approver may spend more time with your résumé than anyone else in the process. But after all, this is the person who approves the budget allocation for the position.

S/he wants to know if you have been thoroughly vetted. Is your “pedigree” in place? Do you have a history of successful work integration? Will you represent the company well and contribute to the overall mission with a sense of urgency and ownership?

Back to HR for the negotiation process.

Matrix I'm Happy You're Satisfied Mutual Common Interests

Your cover letter and résumé set the foundation for your final contract. Your document becomes the foundation for the legal contract that will bind you with your future employer.

Some people believe that to use the word “résumé” (with accents) is dated. My personal opinion is that it isn’t about being dated. Instead I see the résumé as a formal document. It’s like the “formal event ” that commands a tuxedo or formal evening dress.

It is the opportunity to make a statement that the position is important to you and you have carefully considered every detail as a demonstration of who you are at your core.

That said, with every detail in place, you are well positioned to negotiate the best possible contract to receive the compensation you deserve.

As you can tell, I believe that your cover letter and résumé play a major role in your search and the hiring process. We cover these in great detail in the Forward Motion Differentiation Workshop.

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6 thoughts on “How to Create a Reader-Based Cover Letter and Résumé

  1. […] this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Forward Motion […]

    1. Thank You YouTern! Together we can make a difference.

  2. Excellent and timely advice, Marcia. And I will never present an application without a “tuxedo” again!

    1. Lisa!
      Thanks, as always, for reading and contributing. All the very best to you for 2015!

  3. Thank you David,
    It depends on one’s vantage point. My clients have not had a problem getting through the ATS and they are applying for jobs that are a good fit and one they can look forward to doing. We are getting through about 90% of the time. So the ATS has not been a problem at all. We focus on the readers that come after the initial ATS filters – HR, Hiring Managers, etc.

  4. At issue, though, is that ATS filters are still remarkably bad.


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