Jess gets help from Friend and Freelancer Margaret Lily Andres
So, now that I’ve finished ranting about living your dream, let’s talk about convincing other people to take that chance on you.
When it comes to writing resumes and cover letters, I generally have nothing nice to say. I can write a bio for a friend in a matter of minutes, but I stink at selling myself. And that is exactly what you have to do when you are job hunting. That employer is going to review your information while asking themselves, “Why should I hire this person?” It is important that you give them that answer as soon as you can (thus the cover letter). And how you give it will likely depend on the industry you’re in.
Having recently been in the field of clerical law enforcement, my advice to you, when looking for a government-type job, is to keep things simple and professional. Yes, that may translate to boring for you, but my experience is that both sworn and non-sworn in the public sector prefer bullet points to prose.
However, if you’re looking for a job in the private sector, my dear friend Margaret Lily Andres has a thing or two to say about it. Margaret is a freelance motion picture editor (check out the embedded Vimeo videos in this post for some of her work), based in Portland, who was kind enough to take a moment out of her hectic schedule to help me reestablish myself in the private sector. Working freelance, she has to be very much on her toes and present not only an excellent resume, but a cover letter that will show her sparkling personality as well as her interest in the business.
During the course of her intervening and trying to save me from making myself un-hirable, Margaret managed to help me get my cover letter down to bare bones while keeping it relevant and interesting. The first thing she pointed out to me was my over-explanation of why I’m interested in making a career change. When you’re writing this type of letter you want to give them reasons to hire you – this does not mean that you have to explain yourself or justify where you’ve been. In fact, as Margaret pointed out to me, giving too much information could lead your possible future employer to think that you are going to be high-maintenance and no one wants to hire someone who is going to create problems for their work team.
“Describe what you did and what makes you desirable, instead of giving too much information.”
As someone who spends a lot of time writing, it was hard to see for myself that I had done exactly that. So even though I’m now writing something to submit to companies in the private sector, I still need to keep it simple and straightforward – I just need to add a dash of my personality and wit, when appropriate.
“Writing a resume and cover letter totally suck, but you do get better at it. I am constantly re-writing and improving my cover letter and resume, changing up the style. I know my best cover letters are the ones that are personal. If I really like the company and what they do resonates with me, then I find it is easy to write about who I am and why I would be a really great person to consider for their company.
I think the biggest and greatest thing to have, when looking for a job, is confidence and support. I remind myself to be brave enough to go for it and then, if I totally sink, at least I know that I have someone supportive to hang out with afterwards.”
As far as your resume goes, make sure you tailor each resume to each company or agency/industry that you apply to. The biggest problem with my resume is that, to get it to fit on one page, I compacted the heck out of it. The end result looks a bit messy and isn't fun to read. So, with Margaret's assistance, I'm learning about the layout - after looking at my resume, she advised me to make one column for my dates of employment to make everything line up better. There are dozens of layout examples you can search for online, find one that works for you: your personality, and the job you're interested in.
Another tip from Margaret: List the relationships of your professional references (co-worker, supervisor, manager, etc.), but not your personal references (if they're listed as personal references, then it's already implied that they're your friends). All of this may seem like common sense, but keeping it in mind when you're writing it out (and, if you're like me, getting frustrated with it) isn't always easy. Things that you feel you should know better about may go by the wayside. Do yourself a favor. Have the confidence to write about how great you'll be at the job of your choosing, then ask someone from your support system to edit the heck out of it for you. Best of luck!