Leadership and career

Resumes and Cover Letters

By January 25, 2016 No Comments

Job seekers often complain that their resumes disappear into the “Great Circular File in the Sky,” never to be acknowledged, not even by a form letter. “After all,” they say, “it’s only common courtesy for companies to let you know they’ve received your resume, even if they decide you’re not a viable candidate for their opening.”

While they certainly have a valid point, job seekers may not know the realities of a recruiting system, which often values expediency over good manners. Here are some facts to ponder:

According to Richard Bolles, author of “What Color is Your Parachute?,” the average company hires one person for every 1,470 resumes it receives. Given this statistic, it’s pretty easy to understand why most people don’t find positions through want ads. While your chances are certainly better than winning the state lottery, and people do get jobs by responding to ads, the numbers are not in your favor.

Suppose the average Wall Street Journal ad attracts 200 to 400 resumes; sorting through these is a prodigious task. Then there’s scheduling a number of first-round interviews, going through several eliminations and, finally, making the offer. People whose resumes were set aside at the outset rarely get a second thought.

Like most corporate departments, Human Resources has had to reduce its staff in the ongoing wave of corporate cutbacks. Limited personnel and time constraints often dictate concentrating on the “A” priorities. Rejected resumes usually fall into the “C” category.

As for the Post Office boxes, there are several reasons for a company to use one.

♦  The firm doesn’t want to the contacted by aggressive, ill-qualified job seekers.
♦  It prefers that its own employees don’t know of its plans to fill a position currently occupied by an unsuspecting, about-to-be-fired executive.
♦  It may be an employment agency hoping to increase its pool of applicants. Sometimes the ad doesn’t even represent a real position. Instead it lists a tantalizing combination of requirements guaranteed to solicit talented job seekers.

While answering ads should take a back seat to networking in your job-search priorities, it can play an important role in the overall process. The key to using a resume successfully is targeting both it and the cover letter.

Cover Letter

To give yourself an advantage in the screening process, concentrate on the ads that do list a company’s name. It’s much easier to tailor your correspondence (No, a tailored letter with a generic resume won’t get the job) if you know to whom it’s going. Here are some tips for encouraging a recruiter to put you in the interview pile.

♦  If you know the company but not the person who will review your resume, call the organization’s main number and find out the name of the top Human Resources manager. Address your cover letter to him. Few people take the time to do this. It shows impressive initiative.

♦  While you’re talking with the receptionist, see if you can also ascertain the name of the manager of the department where you would be working. Send a resume to her too. Probably very few resumes cross her desk. If she likes yours, it will automatically go into the interview pile.

♦  If you can’t find a name, use “Good Morning” as a greeting. It’s upbeat and it sounds a lot better than “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Recruiter.”

♦  Generally, cover letters have three main topics:

— Why I’m interested in you.
— Why you should be interested in me.
— Let’s get together to discuss our mutual needs.

♦  Instead of using the typical opening line, “This letter and the attached resume is in response to your Wall Street Journal ad,” try something a little more original. Look up and read the firm’s annual report. Look for an article in a professional journal about the company. Then compose an opening paragraph that specifically mentions one of the employer’s attributes, policies or programs you particularly admire. You will not only impress the reader with your initiative, you will also give him some genuine pleasure in acknowledging that he works for an admirable organization.

♦  To write an eye-catching second paragraph summarizing your relevant skills and background, take your cues from the ad. Look carefully at the job description and the requirements for the position. Then construct three to five sentences that show how your experience specifically matches what the employer is seeking. A good ad wears its heart on its sleeve; it outlines exactly what it wants in an applicant. Pay close attention to what the screener hopes to see and you’ll capture his attention and make the interview pile.

♦  Please don’t close your letter with “I look forward to hearing from you,” as the other 400 people responding to the ad probably will. Instead seize the responsibility of making the second contact yourself. Say you will call in a week to schedule an appointment, make sure they received your resume, or whatever, and then do it. Following up shows initiative, follow through and genuine interest — three traits potential employers love. Besides, if you won’t be getting an interview, it’s better to find out quickly and move on to more promising possibilities.

♦  Sometimes, if you’re persistent, you can identify a company through its P.O. box. Call the post office representing the ZIP code in the address. If the firm’s box rental application states that it deals with the public, the name of the firm is public information which the post office will reveal, and you will earn a star for resourcefulness. If not, you will have to be content to use “Good Morning” for a greeting and more generic information in your letter.


Responding to all ads with your one, perfect resume is a sure way to commit job search suicide, even with a tailored cover letter. A potential employer wants to know specifically what you can do for him. If you craft your resume for each opening as carefully as you’ve constructed your cover letter, the screener will note the difference and give you the opportunity to talk to him in person.

Make your qualifications summary relevant to your job objective. Phrases like “results-oriented,” “hands-on,” and “people person” have become clichés, unlike the following example.

Vice President of International Operations.

18 years of front-line and management experience in marketing and selling international products and services.
Transcultural individual with extensive understanding of global socioeconomics and aptitude for working with international partners and clients.
Skilled at bringing people together to pursue a common goal, whether internally or among partner institutions.
Willing to relocate abroad.

(Note how each of the above elements builds a case for finding out more about this applicant. Naturally, the summary should echo what the employer seeks and be supported by specific accomplishments in the experience section.)

♦  Prioritize everything you put in your resume, putting the most important facts on the top two-thirds of the first page. Remember, you’re hitting the high points here, not telling a life story.

♦  In fact, a listing of job titles and duties can make pretty boring reading. On the other hand, accomplishments that outline your unique contribution put real sizzle in your resume. Suppose you are a corporate Comptroller who has had years of experience in designing, installing and updating accounting systems. If you were sending a resume to a startup firm, you would want to use some phrases like:

“Researched, initiated and managed an automated system designed to track R&D, manufacturing, distribution and sales costs by product line item,” instead of “Duties included supervising the ledger, accounts receivable and payable functions, cost control procedures, etc.”

♦  Quantify when you can. Mentioning that you increased territory sales by 50 percent in one year or managed an organization with $50 million in annual sales tends to capture the reader’s attention.

♦  Name-dropping can also be useful. If you’ve worked with highly respected clients, give their names. If your responsibility covered an eight-state area, mention it.

♦  When you are listing your job title, company and dates of employment, think about what would be most impressive to the reader and put it first or in bold type or italics. (Dates rarely deserve this honor.)

♦  Use an outline format, rather than paragraphs. Information grouped in more than 3-4 line clumps looks onerous, especially if you’re reading 400 resumes.

♦  Include continuing education along with your degree(s) in the Education section. Savvy employers will appreciate your efforts to keep current with state of the art developments.

A Fresh Approach to Follow Up

As previously mentioned, if you’ve said you will call to schedule an appointment, do it. But this is only possible where you’ve been able to identify whom to call.

For those companies who prefer to remain anonymous, there is a way to ascertain if they have received your resume but it requires some chutzpah. Actually, the precedent has already been set with wedding invitations which quite often include a reply card and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Why not apply this to resumes? If you are able to reply by mail, enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard that says something like:

“You are undoubtedly inundated with resumes responding to your ad. However, I would really appreciate your taking a moment to check the appropriate reply on this card and drop it in the mail.

♦  We have received your resume and will be calling you for an appointment.
♦  We have received your resume. While it is not the best match for our current opening, we will keep it on file for future positions.
♦  Your background is not a good fit for our company.”

Many HR departments do not send letters acknowledging resumes, but they will probably return your postcard because you’ve made it so easy for them. Some may think you’re a little forward, but most will probably enjoy, and even admire, your resourcefulness.


Taunee Besson headshotTaunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.

“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com  and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions  of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.

Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.

In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997.  
In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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