Don’t Let Your Resume Become Junk Mail

By William G. Fitzpatrick   

How much time do you spend reading “junk mail”? If you are like most of the population, you give the piece a cursory glance before it goes into the trash can. Every once in awhile however, you see something that catches your attention and you spend some time reviewing the material. Most people pass up any items that have extensive copy written on several pieces of paper.

Corporate recruiters and personnel managers are no different than you. Time is critical in industry these days with reduced work forces and just as much (if not more) work to do. If you want to get a potential employer to read your resume and not dump it into the trash can, then you have to understand the need for brevity.

To begin with consider the problem of numbers. A personnel office can generally expect to receive at least 100 responses to a well placed, well designed employment advertisement. The number could even go to 200 or more. Realistically, it is impossible to call 100 or more people for an interview, so resumes are screened in detail to select the top 10 or 12. How long does it take to READ a resume that is one to two pages long? Several minutes at least. When you multiply that 100 times, you begin to get the point. The resumes are not really READ, they are briefly scanned, some are selected for closer scrutiny and the rest are discarded or filed.

Your chances of being selected for the in depth review and ultimately for interview can be greatly increased if you keep your resume focused. Instead of trying to outline your entire work history, you focus in on those experiences that relate to the position you are trying to land. Dont waste the readers time (and interest) with extraneous information, but use the technique I like to refer to as “economy of thought”. In this technique, every single data bit of information presented should have some direct relevance to the job you are going after. The technique follows the old rule of “nice to know” or “need to know”. If the information falls under the heading of “nice to know” it should be deleted from your resume.

“Economy” also applies to cover letters. For some reason job seekers like to write extensive cover letters relating all sorts of personal information, rehashing work experiences and discussing personal preferences. An extensive four paragraph cover letter seldom is read, because of the time limitations the recruiter faces. The letter falls into the category of “junk mail” and is passed over very quickly.

The best way to create an effective cover letter is not to rehash any information already listed on the resume. You may choose to highlight a specific skill that was mentioned in the advertisement, but even that should be brief.

Rather than “cover letter”, I prefer to use the term “letter of transmittal”, because that implies the letter is merely used to forward the resume. The resume should stand on its own. The only significant facts mentioned in the letter should include the source of the lead such as mass mailing, ad response, referral, and the approximate time you can be available for interviews.

The best way to achieve “economy of thought” is to be your own critic. Review your resume and letters in detail and ask yourself some difficult questions concerning the relevance of every sentence or statement. Use a red marking pen viciously to eliminate “nice to know” information, and then insure that every single word focuses on the accomplishments that relate to your capabilities. This technique will not guarantee you interviews, but it will greatly improve your chances.

Remember, anyone can find a job, but meaningful employment requires careful planning, imagination and an aggressive marketing plan.