Do I really need a cover letter? Plus more common resume questions

Dear Sam: I spent more than 2 years pursuing my MBA degree but was not able to complete it. How can I present an incomplete degree on my resume. I have around 4 years of work experience to compensate for my degree. - Seth

Dear Seth: You can present an incomplete degree by stating, "Pursued Master of Business Administration (2012-2014)." If you are still planning on completing your graduate degree, state the following, "Master of Business Administration (Anticipated 2015)." Of course, use the appropriate degree and dates.

Dear Sam: I think I have a pretty good resume, but I have no idea where to start when writing a cover letter. Is it necessary to submit a cover letter when applying for a job? I'd prefer to just submit my resume so I don't have to write a cover letter for every job I am interested in. I'm finding I don't apply for some positions as I can't get over the stumbling block of writing the cover letter to accompany my resume. Help! - Tony

Dear Tony: A cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to a prospective employer, expand on and personalize your resume, and highlight how your skills and experiences will fulfill the employer's needs. A cover letter should be a key part of every application, regardless of whether it is requested.

You should not have to create a new cover letter for each job you are interested in. If you have defined your career target when creating your resume -- meaning you know what you want to do, who you are marketing your candidacy to, and what language will attract his or her interest -- then your cover letter will be developed using that information as your guide. When you have taken time to really understand what will trigger your target audience, and have incorporated that content into your application materials, your resume and cover letter will not need to be modified each time you apply for a position. Keep in mind a cover letter not only expresses your interest in the company and/or position, but also gives the employer the opportunity to observe your attentiveness to detail, spelling, grammar, and quality of your written communication. Best to you.

Dear Sam: Is it ever a good thing to state on your resume and/or application that you have retired from your primary career? I have left a long healthcare career, want to transfer skills to a part-time position, and am having trouble with how to deal with this. - Linda

Dear Linda: Probably not is the short answer. Typically you'd try to minimize the appearance of your age on your resume, so you wouldn't likely present all of your experience. When presenting, say, 15 or so years, you won't appear (on paper) at retirement age, so stating something to this effect would unnecessarily age your candidacy.

Dear Sam: I just relocated and I am trying to get back into a career where I can keep the brain cells active! I understand, in this economy, that I will have to take what I can get just to work and earn a paycheck. However, I hope to find employment in an area where I can still help teens/young adults, even if it is to ease them into the American culture here and to understand their culture shock.

I've had friends here try to help me to create a resume that explains "everything" as potential employers may not understand what I have accomplished in Malaysia. In Malaysia, I had always been headhunted for my positions and never had to face a job search. I think my international experience is hurting me and I'm confused by all of the advice I'm receiving about formatting, styles, page requirements, and the "do's and don'ts." Can you clarify? - Julie

Dear Julie: I don't think I have ever seen a 10-page resume submitted by someone who isn't in academia or medicine. It's not your overseas experience that is hurting your search; it's a combination of your lack of positioning, no focus, the extreme length (your resume should be 2 or 3 pages max based on your background), and your recent unrelated experience.

You'd likely use a combination resume format to mask your most recent jobs and position yourself for opportunities in the areas in which you are interested. You can't bury related skills on page 8 of your resume, nor can you open with unrelated grocery/big-box experience and expect readers to figure out what you can do for them based on this experience. (Did you know you have, at most, 7 seconds during the screening process? Think about how much of your resume is seen in 7 seconds -- only your unrelated recent experiences!) The combination format I'm suggesting would look like the following:

Heading Qualifications Summary Select Highlights (featuring all of your related experience presented in an engaging, succinct manner) Professional Experience (presenting positions in reverse chronological order; you can even omit short-term jobs if they are unrelated and don't present too large a gap) Education Any other sections that are pertinent

By following this hierarchy of sections, you will be able to focus the reader's attention on what you have done that is related, while minimizing unrelated recent experiences. There are samples of this format on my blog at www.ladybug-design.com/blog. Best wishes for a speedy search.

Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at dearsam@ladybug-design.com. For more about Sam's resume writing services, visit ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).

 

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