During my time at Coalmarch Productions, I reviewed 350+ job applications, interviewed 35+ candidates, and hired 5 people at the Raleigh digital marketing agency. Sadly, I saw applicants make the same resume and cover letter mistakes, over and over again.
You don’t have to make the same mistakes! While I don’t have all the answers, please follow these 14 resume and cover letter tips if I’m the one reviewing your resume. Disclaimer: My advice is based on my experience hiring people at a small marketing agency, versus a big company with a full-scale HR department. YMMV.
Big Picture: Think About Your Personal Marketing Message
1. Show you care. It’s like online dating—a barely-personalized, cut-and-paste cover letter shows you don’t care. And we want people who want us, right? I know it’s time-consuming for you, but I can choose to interview the marketing applicant who obviously spent a couple of hours writing a bullet-by-bullet comparison of her experience vs. our job requirements. Why would I interview the person who obviously spent just 10 minutes on their Coalmarch application?
2. Follow directions. In the job posting, I asked people to share their favorite Coalmarch-built website. I really didn’t care which site you choose, but I want to see that you read the instructions. If you didn’t mention a favorite Coalmarch site, I’ll wonder about your attention to detail on the job, when you’re not reading every single thing so closely.
3. Stop using an Objective in your resume. An Objective is all about you. Use a Summary or Profile instead, which is all about what you can do for me (“me” as the hiring manager looking for someone to help my company). If you’re applying for a marketing position, this is your chance to prove you understand putting yourself in the target market’s shoes.
4. Quantify, quantify, quantify. You can quantify almost anything in your resume. If you were a server at a restaurant, don’t say, “Served customers.” That’s obvious. Convert that to, “Consistently up-sold customers while averaging 28% tips.” Numbers can be indirect, too—“managed social media marketing accounts for $2 million retail company” is better than saying “updated Twitter and Facebook accounts” for the same job.
Navigating the Marketing Hiring Process: Getting That Extra Edge
5. The early bird gets the worm. A week before the deadlines, I’d already scheduled a bunch of first-round interviews. Remember, my goal is to hire the right person ASAP. This meant the later marketing applicants had to really stand out to get an interview. Halfway through the application process, I know whether anyone else is above or below average.
6. It’s really competitive, except that good candidates stand out. Among the 350+ applicants across the five jobs, probably 20-25 stood out as people I immediately knew would be good. They got interviews, to see if my hunch was right. (Answer: Not always, but usually.)
7. I didn’t take points off for single typos in resumes, but a pattern of mis-spellings and grammar problems is enough to reject. A big part of working at Coalmarch included sending clear, concise updates to the marketing agency’s clients—I don’t have time to spell-check your updates.
8. Show you understand the nuances. For instance, an accounts candidate mentioned liking how one of Coalmarch’s websites used Ajax for a certain transition. That wasn’t a job requirement for the client service position, but I loved that casual reference—it showed she knew something about the technology behind our websites, which is a definite plus.
Address Your Problems Up Front: Don’t Make Me Guess
9. If you’re a “high potential, low experience” candidate, you’ve got a tough job. You’re competing against people with experience, people who can prove they’ve done what I’m hiring for. You can stand out by highlighting how you’ve taken initiative, by how you’ve gotten things done. A solid resume with quantified marketing experience is better than someone who had the “right” jobs but who fails to show they can get results.
10. If you’re relocating, you’ve got an even tougher job. You’re competing against tons of local candidates who can start my job without dealing with all-consuming stress of moving. If you want to take a chance, use your cover letter to address your moving plans in a compelling way—don’t assume you’ll get an interview to explain your intentions.
11. Jumping ship from your current job after just a few months isn’t automatically a bad thing… but you have to explain why. I understand people take jobs that turn out to be a bad fit. But you need a good explanation. And address that in the cover letter, because I’m going to wonder. Same goes for the marketing guy with an unexplained 2.5 year gap in his resume—what happened? If you don’t explain, it makes me wonder if you were in prison.
Little Things: You Don’t Always Know What’s Important to the Hiring Manager
12. Don’t address your cover email to “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” One of the Coalmarch job postings noted that the position reports to the Director of Client Services (my title at the time). My name wasn’t hard to find—at the time, the agency had nine full-time people, and they were all listed on the website. And if it’s not clear from the job posting, Figure It Out—show that you’re resourceful. I hate generic salutations almost as much as interviewees who ask when we were founded (but more on that next week!). I’d accept two cover letter typos over a “To Whom it May Concern” any day.
13. Don’t fight the ATS. I did my first hire the hard way, via email and spreadsheets. I did my second two hires using TheResumator.com, a lightweight web-based Applicant Tracking System (ATS). I know you don’t like forcing yourself into the ATS’ textboxes, but I’d otherwise be spending an extra 5-10 hours/week on hiring-related admin alone. Plus, the ATS makes it easier for me to send rejections, rather than leave people wondering where they stand.
14. Don’t sound generic—I’m looking for people who ultimately just seem to “get” it. They were the ones who got the 4-star and 5-star ratings in our TheResumator.com account, or an “A” rating in my Google Spreadsheet before I started using the ATS. At Coalmarch, the ideal combination was a mixture of tech-savvy initiative, a client-oriented marketing mindset, and hard-to-define quirkiness.
Your Favorite Advice
From your experience hiring or applying for jobs, what’s your favorite resume advice?