Delivering Your Cover Letter and Resume

When conducting a job search, be prepared to submit your resume in a variety of formats and through different methods. While electronic submissions in one form or another are the most common, you may find a need to mail or have on hand a hard copy of your resume as well. Each method requires specific considerations.

E-Mailed Résumés

Unless specifically stated otherwise, always paste your résumé into the body of an e-mail when using this option for sending. Many companies will not open attachments for fear of viruses and malware, but also because they may not be able to open the attachment depending on the software used to create it. If a posting states that attachments are okay, follow those directions. If no specific directions are provided, send a PDF, as this is a generally safe format. In Word, use the “save as” function and choose PDF from the drop-down menu.

Online Résumé Databases

Uploading your resume to online databases or online application sites often involves walking through a process where you enter your information step-by-step. When copy/pasting your résumé into these systems, use an ASCII version of your resume that has already been created and proofread. This will make the process much easier on you and will ensure that your information is already in an acceptable format. You should still review the post after copying, but it will likely contain few, if any issues to correct, if it has been created and proofed ahead of time.

A Few Words about Keywords

Keywords should not be confused with your action verbs. Keywords are nouns or short phrases that describe your experience, education, and other important information. Become familiar with your industry's "buzzwords" and incorporate them into your résumé, working them into the text. The scanning software scans the entire résumé, so keywords will be picked up no matter where they are placed; however, “front loading” them to the extent that you are able, and that is accurate, can at times be helpful. In other words, as much as possible, include keywords in the most recent positions and experience, rather than in older work experience. If the most relevant information is from an older position, use the format to include that information near the beginning of your resume. Also use synonyms wherever possible to avoid repetition and to increase your chances of getting more "hits" in the system. You need to use a keyword only once for the computer to recognize it.

An online search for keywords by industry will yield results. Organizations such as Career Thought Leaders provides several links to free articles related to keywords and other job search and resume writing topics. The home page is http://www.careerthoughtleaders.com/. Also use your industry's literature and professional organizations to get a feel for keywords specific to your field. Job listings are another good source for finding keywords; look for nouns and adjectives. Also review your skills list.

Remember to be truthful. Even though you want to garner as many hits as possible, do not add a bunch of keywords to your résumé that are not appropriate for your situation, even if those words are on every keyword list you review for your industry.

Hard Copy Resumes

Yes, you still need a hard copy resume, and it can be used for networking, job fairs, sending to recruiters, when interviewing, and you may even find you have to mail a copy. Therefore, when sending your hard copy résumé, treat it with care. You have worked hard putting your résumé and cover letter together. So why would you want to fold it up, stuff it into a small envelope, and send it out, hoping it will look as good when it arrives as it did when coming off the printer? Use quality paper and mail it in a full-size envelope so it can go flat, particularly if you know the résumé will be scanned. There are many good résumé papers out there. Choose a paper weight of some substance, but do not go as far as card stock or cardboard. If possible, choose a paper that has matching envelopes, and use the same paper for your cover letter. Some stationery comes with matching folders as well to help keep damage to a minimum. This is probably as far as you want to go. You do not need to bullet-proof your résumé or send it in a fancy folder; further, if your résumé is going to be scanned, you do not want to make the person on the other end have to remove your résumé from some elaborate binder.

There was a time when people sent résumés out on neon paper or some other attention-grabbing stationery in the hopes that this would help get their résumé noticed. This practice likely will get your résumé noticed—and tossed. Garish paper will only make you look less professional. There are few cases where a piece of attractive stationery will help, but as a general rule, conservative is better. Even some of the fancier, marble-effect paper borders on garish. Typically, a nice white or off-white paper will suffice. For those seeking more conservative positions, choose a bright white or light gray paper. Others may want to lean toward ivory. If your paper has a watermark, hold it up to the light to figure out which side is "correct." (You will be able to read the correct side.) This is the side you want to print on, so if the reader were to hold up your resume, he or she could read both the watermark and the information in the resume.

Avoid sending your résumé in a fancy package, using a gimmick, or attaching your résumé to a box of chocolates and addressing it to the CEO. Antics like these will more often than not make you look foolish. Those in creative fields may get away with a nontraditional résumé or delivery, such as a brochure or clever marketing package, or a link to an interactive Web site, but these are few and far between.

Print your résumé and letters using a quality printer. To see how it will look upon arrival, mail a copy of your résumé to yourself before sending it to employers. This will give you an idea of what your résumé looks like after it has gone through the mail, and you can then make any necessary adjustments.

Avoid stapling and use a paper clip instead, if even that. If page numbers are used in the header, there is no need to use paper clips. This keeps your pages looking nicer, and again, if the résumé is going to be scanned, which is likely, this makes it much easier for the recipient.