Cover Letters, Résumés, and Interviews

Cover Letters, Résumés, and Interviews

Cover letter feature

Think your résumé, cover letter, and interview technique are perfect, but still can't land that perfect job? You're doing something wrong…

By Andrew Fixell

I graduated from Case Western Reserve University on May 19, 2008. On May 20th, I arrived home to continue my quest for the ultimate job. Since January, I had applied to several positions (unfortunately, many job openings were to begin immediately and I could not even pursue certain positions due to my obligations at school). Sent with a killer cover letter and an exceptional resume, I was free to apply to any job I wished after May 20th, 2008. All in all, I was given 8 interviews and offered 5 positions, 3 freelance writing gigs and 2 internships.

However, this journey was not as easy as I had hoped for. Through this harrowing and humbling experience, I dealt with bouts of sheer ecstasy and mind-numbing depression. I got down on myself for any failed attempts at finding work and took it personally for even the slightest suggestion that I might need to lower my standards a bit because I won’t land my dream job straight out of college. But soon, I came to understand that this is the nature of the beast. Sometimes, you have to swallow your pride, and take an offer that may not appear as glamorous.

So out of this misery came a lot of great experience. I would now like to share some of those valuable lessons with you, including my tips for the ideal cover letter, the perfect resume, how to nail that interview, and a mantra to keep with you at all time

Readers, I present, “The Andrew Fixell Guide To A Happier Tomorrow.”

The Cover Letter From Heaven

More often than not, the cover letter is your only way of revealing to a potential employer who you are. Although your resume may not be outstanding, employers understand that a 22 year-old kid can’t possibly have the same experience as a 28 year-old adult. The cover letter is your chance to reveal your personality and why you deserve the chance at having an interview.

Here is how to do it:

  1. Upon initial introduction, simply state where you went to school and what position you are applying for.
  2. The employers do not have time to read a manifesto so land the most important parts of your resume in one small paragraph.
  3. If you are applying for a job in an office, and you are a bit of a tech geek, define how computer savvy you are.
  4. Never start a sentence, “What I may lack….” No business wants to hear about your shortcomings. Emphasize what you are good at and how this benefits the position you are applying for.
  5. Finally, leave them smiling. Add in a final line expressing a softer side to yourself. Perhaps you are a pro at Trivial Pursuit or an historian of all things related to the cinematic masterpiece, “Men In Black.” If a company finds that annoying, you probably don’t want to work there anyway because everyone needs a little humor in their lives and you don’t want to work in a non-welcoming environment. Keep in mind that if you are applying for a job at NBC you don’t want to claim to be an historian of another network’s show. Also, obviously remember not to choose an activity that is controversial or being a particular presidential candidate supporter.

Tip 5 may be regarded as silly and unnecessary, but half of the employers that offered me positions have responded by letting me know how clever they thought my personal fact was.

The Resume From Heaven

Upon getting out of school, we are often subject to offering a less than stellar resume. Let’s face it, summer camp counselor at Buckley Day School will not grant you that killer position at Goldman Sachs.

So what can you do if you don’t have much to offer on paper?

  1. You need to make sure that your format is the best one out there. I have gone through 8 resume formats before I found the one that worked. Ask people who have positions that you want to have what their resume looks like and make sure that you don’t send any out unless it looks perfect. YOU WILL LOSE OUT ON THAT JOB IF YOUR RESUME IS THE SLIGHTEST BIT SLOPPY.
  2. Whatever information you do have on your resume needs to be pimped out to look like you are the best at what little you may have done. Be specific in your descriptions of your job titles. Use “action words.”
  3. NEVER lie on your resume. Sure, it’s okay to embellish the truth but if you say that you can fill out a 1050 form on your resume, you better damn well know how to do it if you get that job. Your employer will place you in the doghouse from day 1 if you fib on your resume, if not fire you altogether.
  4. If you are a computer wiz and you know a lot of programs, you are in luck. Companies nowadays do not have time to teach you Adobe Photoshop in less than 2 weeks. If you come into that job with the ability to turn even the ugliest duckling into the most beautiful swan with just a few clicks of a mouse, you are doing the company and yourself a great service. I have been offered jobs and given interviews because I spent time while un-employed learning programs like Photoshop and Final Cut (I want to one day be a television/film producer). Knowing a plethora of difficult programs is sometimes more important than having that extra internship where you learned to copy T.P.S reports and file documents that will be shredded in a week.
  5. Finally, like the cover letter, if you lack the credentials beyond what some other person may have, leave a portion of your resume to an activities section. I’m at the point in my life where I had to actually cut jobs off from my resume since I have been working relevant jobs for several years. Needless to say, however, I still want an employer to know that there is more to my life than what jobs I’ve held and where I have gone to school. Tell your employer what things that you enjoy doing outside of work. Also, like the end of your cover letter, leave them smiling with a quick little fact about yourself.

The Interview

For many people, the interview can be the most daunting task in the quest to finding the perfect job. Essentially, you are being judged on your credentials and character. This is the final chance you have to prove to a potential employer that who you are as a person defines who you are as a worker.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. The interview is a gauge of your character and how you interact with people. If your credentials weren’t good enough, you wouldn’t be offered an interview. They think you’re qualified on paper, so now they want to know what it would be like to work with you.
  2. Dress to impress. Even if you are applying to be an intern, how you dress makes a statement as to where you want to one day be. If the boss wears a suit, you wear one too. Even if the environment where you work is business casual, you still should come in dressed as best as you can to prove to the potential employer how serious you are about the job.
  3. A firm handshake goes a long way. Three different brokers who work at an un-specified brokerage firm (I worked at the firm) informed me that one of the reasons that they did not hire someone because their handshake was lackluster.
  4. Eye contact is key. Act as though what your interviewer is saying is the most important thing you have ever heard. Employers want to know that you are paying attention to every little detail that is being said.
  5. Be prepared to ask questions about the job. If you have nothing to say to them after they provide a description, it might come across as though you are not that serious about the position.
  6. Always come prepared. Bring at least 3 resumes to your interview as there might be multiple people interviewing you. You also should have a resume set aside for you so that you can have it in front of you when asked about certain credentials you may have. It’s a means of comforting yourself with kind of a cue card in case you freeze up. Interviewers don’t see that as someone who is not prepared. They see that as the exact opposite.

A Few Other Notes

  • Never take a job where you feel as though you are walking on eggshells with your potential boss. It will probably lead to your firing and/or a nervous breakdown somewhere in the first month of working.
  • If you are being interviewed by someone who is spending the majority of the interview talking about him/herself, you don’t want the job. The interview is supposed to be your time to shine and if the employer wants to rave about him/herself, so be it. It’s happened to me and I’ve learned to accept that it is the nature of the beast.
  • Karma is a bitch. If you are provided with the opportunity to work for someone wonderful who will be able to help you with your career in 4 months, you’re pretty lucky. But if during that time you are given the opportunity to work for someone awful who could further your career in 2 months, you are in a pickle of rhubarb. What it comes down to is loyalty. If you end up fleeing somewhere you love to work for “greener” pastures, you may end up hating your life and will come to realize that loyalty means something even this early in your career.
  • Keep up to date with all things going on in the world. It’s extremely refreshing for an employer to make a reference to some obscure fact and for the person whom they are interviewing to relay conversation about that subject.
  • Finally, swallow your pride. Ask friends, family, even acquaintances if they can help you out. You would be shocked as to the number of people who ended up getting help from random people such as the rabbi they haven’t seen since their Bar Mitzvah. Never burn bridges. You don’t know who may be able to help you down the road.

I hope that this piece will help guide you all in your quest in finding the perfect job. Because remember, the perfect job will never find you…unless, of course, your resume is on