On Tuesday 19 April 2016, the La Trobe Law School welcomed Kris Young to present a workshop on taking your cover letters and resumes to the next level.
We have summarised her top 5 tips to turn an average resume and cover letter into a great one:
1. Understand the purpose of a resume and cover letter
These documents tell your unique story on paper by providing an overview of who you are and what your relevant experience is. You need to show the reader and/or recruiter that you want their role in their company. Consequently, each resume and cover letter needs to be tailored to each company/firm– a generic resume won’t work. Kris advises that a recruiter will know when you’ve done a cut and paste job – don’t do it, no matter how much time you think you are saving
2. Poor applications
Poor applications are riddled with incorrect grammar, spelling and punctuation. It is important to proof read before you submit, better still get someone else to proof read for you. Kris warns that recruiters examine your resume and cover letters critically because they utilise them as writing samples. What this means is that if you can’t get it right in your resume or cover letter, you can’t be trusted to write to a client. Don’t begin a cover letter with “To whom it may concern” – it is unprofessional and only takes a small amount of research or a phone call to a company/firm to find out who to address your application to. Avoid resumes or cover letters that are too short – they evidence a lack of effort. Kris suggests to start your applications early because by applying earlier you give yourself an advantage over the other candidates who supply their application only hours before the deadline.
3. Great applications
A great application demonstrates an in depth understanding of the company/firm and clearly articulates why you want to work for that particular company/firm. By tailoring your application to what a particular company or firm needs, you put yourself in a pool of candidates who they want to choose from because your interests and skills set align with their wants and needs. Great applications further reference contacts you have made in the company/firm (for example, by attending careers fairs and engaging with the staff) and note how your own interests align with projects that the company/firm are completing. Finally, great applications show your personality in a nuanced way and tailor your relevant strengths and skill sets to a particular firm/company.
4. Turning average into great
Kris suggests that each line of your resume should be “relevant resume real estate”. What this means is that every single line needs to have a purpose. Your application needs to be kept relevant. For students, it is definitely important to include your part time jobs (even if they are not within the legal industry), but you need to articulate what these jobs taught you and what you brought to the company by working there. It is unnecessary and outdated to put a photo or a birth date on your resume – don’t do it. Kris suggests that you do add your hobbies, because they can be used as an icebreaker if you get to the interview stage – but keep them short and put them at the end of your resume. Think about your references before you put them on your resume, if you can keep them until post interview or list ‘references upon request’ if the job allows you to do so.
5. What to do next?
Seek out samples of resumes and cover letters and get drafting! Drafting a great resume and cover letter is a skill which takes time and it is developed by doing. Once you’ve written out a first draft of both documents take it to the careers centre for a one on one consult.