it’s time to refresh those cover letters and résumés.
By Sadaf Ahsan - Special to the Globe and Mail* - July, 2021
More than a year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the labour force looks considerably different in Canada – and not only with so many still working from home.
According to Statistics Canada, employment fell by 68,000 in May, adding to a decline of 207,000 in April. The unemployment rate jumped to 8.2 per cent, with Canadians of colour, women and young people taking the brunt, while the number of discouraged job searchers remains high.
But while the economy has shifted and much of the Canadian work force looks different than it did just two years ago, those who are looking for work are doing so actively, with students fresh out of school on the hunt for summer jobs, and others gearing up to kick-start their careers or pivot to entirely new ones.
That means it’s time to refresh those cover letters and résumés, and revisit myths such as avoiding applications that are more than a page long, says Toronto-based career coach Allison Venditti, who recommends a two-page résumé at most if you have more than five to seven years of work experience. And some creativity no matter your field or years of experience.
“Recruiting is boring, do something different to stand out,” says Ms. Venditti. “I once had an applicant mail me a résumé that was a puzzle for a project manager role – I love puzzles. An event planner filled an envelope with sparkles and glitter. My desk was a disaster but that was 10 years ago and I still remember it, and we hired her.”
That said, do be diligent. She adds, it isn’t “okay to have a mistake or two. Résumé reading is very dull, so we get picky on what we read. But you also don’t need to have 100 per cent of the things before you apply. Please apply if you even have 65 per cent of the things. I have posted jobs that LinkedIn shows 400 people have applied to, but in reality, less than 10 per cent of them have over 70 per cent of the things I want.”
Here’s the way Kathryn Meisner, a Toronto-based career and salary negotiation coach, describes this: “There are a lot of myths, including that you have to have linear experience, and that your job titles have to be on a ladder of progression. Instead of a career ladder, think of it as a jungle gym. But that means that the onus is on you to communicate how you are qualified and how your experience fits.”
That’s why it’s crucial to read the job description carefully, to know the company you’re applying to work for (this can include scanning their social media, website, annual reports, blogs and so on) and what they’re looking for well, and to then customize your résumé and cover letter, highlighting the experience you have that is most relevant. That means being strategic and not just plopping every job, accolade and educational success into your application.
Another classic falsehood, says Ms. Meisner, is that education is the “be all and end all,” which she believes is shifting as time goes on, and is another reason to spend extra time communicating the ways in which you do qualify, and “pausing before you update your résumé to think about what you want to draw attention to and what you want to draw attention away from.”
That will, in turn, influence the format of your résumé, which might be a linear listing of work experience or, if you’ve had a non-linear career, bolding the employers over the roles if they have brand recognition, for example.
If you do that, focusing on keywords becomes less necessary, though avoiding a wall of text and keeping your information articulate, easily and quickly digestible is. This remains the case even when applicant tracking systems that scan résumés are being used. Although the system does check for specific keywords that you might feel obligated to use, according to Ms. Meisner, if you’re already customizing your application to fit the job, you don’t need to be hung up on certain keywords – you’ll find yourself factoring them in anyway. She adds, “If you enrich your application by focusing on relationships or networks, that can circumvent the necessity of having a certain amount of keywords on your résumé.”
As for the cover letter? Yes, it does get read, so you’ll want to keep that easily digestible, too, but don’t be afraid to incorporate bullet points to summarize key highlights or qualifications and to show a sense of humour. View it as a narrative through which the hiring manager can then assess your résumé. And update your LinkedIn, because employers do lurk.
But this isn’t just down to words you can type up. Again, a network is crucial, and if you know someone who might work at the same company or knows someone who does, connect with them over a coffee, pick their brain about the job and, after inquiring with them, name-drop them in your cover letter or e-mail, which will raise the chances of your application being read.
But the key piece of advice to remember when it comes to toiling away at job applications is this, from Ms. Meisner: “The purpose of the résumé is actually not to get you the job but to get you an interview. In the interview is where you can really highlight and build upon what you’ve put in your résumé.”
In other words, “You’re not competing against everyone who’s applied, you’re only competing against other people who have who are qualified,” and that’s a much smaller pool than you might think.
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About the Author
*Sadaf Ahsan - Sadaf is a freelance culture writer, web editor and middle child. She moonlights as a blog editor at Shameless Magazine. Her work has appeared in The Cut, Refinery29, Flare, and Chatelaine. She previously worked as an editor at The Discourse, a staff writer at NOW Magazine, and as an arts writer at the National Post for five years.
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