Skipping a Cover Letter & 10 Other Key Résumé-Writing Tips

Male businessman working at home on a computer.
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First impressions are everything when meeting new people, whether personal or professional. And in the world of business, that translates to needing a really good résumé to stand out from the crowd and get the dream job you’ve been wanting.

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Experts say one of the primary things to know is how to use the right keywords. In our technologically savvy world, many recruiters and HR departments utilize AI to screen potential candidates and those systems tend to scan résumés, choosing ones that have the best keywords (generally gathered from the job description itself) and discarding the others that are not up to par.

“When writing a CV, it’s very important to keep in mind that many companies use ATS [applicant tracking systems] to read through them. In this case, it’s necessary to add specific keywords (found in the job description) throughout your résumé,” said Erika Ianovale, an expert who recently spoke with Newsweek. 

Ianovale is a brand partnership strategist with English Language Jobs, a popular TikTok account that has 1.3 million views on one video alone instructing viewers on words to avoid when writing résumés. Their recommendations include replacing “team player” with “collaborative”; “hard-worker” with “accomplished”; “creative” with “pioneering”; and “results-driven” with “efficient.”

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Once you have all the right words, there are some best practices for writing your résumé. Here are the top tips to follow, according to experts:

  1. Create a new résumé for every new job application. A standard template won’t do anything to make you stand out. Instead, tailor each résumé for the job you’re applying for by pointing out the skill set, education and past experience that’s most relevant, as well as writing the summary and goals specific for each role.
  2. Focus on the top of the résumé. This is the most important section according to Forbes, or as they say, “the most valuable real estate.” The article adds, “Create a memorable executive summary that piques your reader’s interest, engages their attention, and has them excited to read on. Use 4-5 bullet points focused on an overarching theme of exactly what you bring to the job.”
  3. Don’t list every single job you’ve ever had. Doing so risks making your résumé too long and losing the interest of the screener once it gets to their desk. “It’s not necessary to add all of the professional experience and educational background, just the most relevant ones,” says Newsweek, noting that going back to 10 years of employment history is sufficient. 
  4. Wrap it up. You’ll want to avoid going on and on about your experience and background. “Imagine a busy person reading through loads of applications; make yours concise and to the point,” Emma Feasey, creator of a service called Work It Out, told Newsweek. Forbes puts it into even greater perspective: “You have only seconds to capture the recruiter or hiring manager’s attention, 15-20 seconds — that is all. If your résumé does not convey your value quickly, potential employers will skip to the next candidate.”
  5. Choose specific fonts and be selective with extra formatting. Scott Dobroski, careers expert at Indeed, recommends Calibri, Georgia, Open Sans and Cambria fonts, in size 10 or 12 (and 14 and 16 for headers). He also suggests always being sparing and consistent with formatting options like bold and italics.
  6. Add specific examples of your achievements. Dobroski says that recruiters love data and metrics. So instead of just vaguely noting how great you did on a certain sales task, for example, support that assessment with percentages of people reached, tangible numbers for those who converted to a sale, etc.
  7. Do explain your gaps in employment. Unlike the “before times” (aka before the pandemic) in which you might have been overlooked for having time periods in which you weren’t employed, recruiters are more willing to “give a pass” now, says Money.com. Especially if the gap was pandemic-related and you can talk about how you were able to keep up your skill set through certifications, training and virtual seminars while on the work pause.
  8. “Age-proof” your résumé. Older job seekers still, unfortunately, have a more difficult time landing a job than younger counterparts, according to AARP, whether based on years left to work before retirement or the bigger salary that comes with more experience. But there are ways to “age-proof” your application by focusing on your skills and not your years. To do so, talk about your most recent experience and try not to go back more than 10 years in your job history (unless a job farther in your past has very relevant experience, and in that case nix years altogether). Also never use a headshot or link to a social media or LinkedIn page unless it’s asked for by a recruiter after they’ve reviewed your application.
  9. Cover letters aren’t necessarily a must-do. Fishbowl by Glassdoor recently conducted a poll of 13,000 working professionals regarding cover letters and 58% respondents surprisingly said that cover letters are “redundant.” As well, just 10% of the professionals deemed them as necessary. In fact, per Glassdoor, some recruiters said they even “hate” cover letters. If you are going to write one, per CNBC, be sure to keep it brief, customized for the job you’re applying for and show your enthusiasm for the position in addition to summarizing your qualifications. 
  10. Always, always proofread. You wouldn’t believe how many mistakes could be avoided by proofreading your résumé before submitting your job application. Typos and grammar mistakes just give a recruiter a reason to toss your résumé away while they still have a huge pile of applicants they have to get through.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined GOBankingRates.com in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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