By Sandra A. MacKay
While the estimated time recruiters spend reviewing a resume is arguable, you can be sure today, it's not much.
In fact, for an experienced recruiter, it's more likely to be less than 15 seconds. To be fair, recruiters are swamped with resumes; estimates exceed 400 resumes for a single opening.
So the question before you is: How do you distinguish yourself from the other 399 individuals who have submitted their excellent credentials to the company recruiter for the same job you're after?
One important way is your cover letter. A strong, powerful cover letter can actually make things easier for a recruiter to view your credentials against the specific requirements for the job. Moreover, what is called the T-format letter (also often referred to the Q letter) literally takes the reader's eyes from his/her requirements to your experience relevant to that specific requirement.
To create a T-format letter, review the job description, and make a list of the key requirements. This shouldn't be an exhaustive list -- identify the top three or four things the job requires. Against each one of those requirements, identify your specific experience relevant to the requirement. And, present them on the page in a way that makes them stand out.
YOUR NEEDS MY EXPERIENCE
5+ years experience in 2 years, senior sales rep; 3 years, sales rep, HP.
high tech product sales 3 years, sales associate, Verizon Wireless.
Strong interpersonal 2 years account team leader; $15b Fortune 500
skills account, supervising team of 3; co-ordinated
efforts of technical and administrative
teams with sales team and client.
RESULT - a 21% increase in sales each year.
Begin your cover letter with a strong opening paragraph (more on that in another article). Next, create two columns in the letter, as in the example above ("Your Needs," "My Experience"). Use the list of the company's top requirements you created and your experience relative to each one. Remember to be brief, but accurate. It may be necessary to reduce the company's requirements and your experience to a few words that will fit into this layout.
Your objective is to capture the recruiters' eyes. What could be easier than a short list of their needs and how your specific experience matches each one?
These letters get attention largely because they don't require eye time. With lots of white space, they are very much like reading newspaper headlines; the eyes quickly grasp what is being presented and make fast assessments. Presumably that attention moves your resume to the 'Contact" pile while others are not.
Most recruiters actually like this type of cover letter simply because it is so to the point.
Remember a strong, positive closing paragraph or two emphasizing what you know about yourself and your ability to contribute. Remember also a cover letter should not exceed a single page in length. Sometimes that's the toughest part!
Sandra A. Mackay is an independent recruiter and outplacement counselor in Massachusetts. When not recruiting for a company in "staffing up" mode, Sandy provides job development services for one of the nation's largest outplacement firms to its individual clients.