By Elaine Dong
Make a good impression fast
Your résumé may be five pages long but sometimes the first and only thing a Human Resource (HR) manager reads is the overview statement. These are the words that sum up the value you will bring to their organisation.
In the overview statement, you have to capture your top strengths and achievements as well as your overall career objectives.
This, for example, is generic and weak:
“I am a team player and always strive to achieve organisational goals. I have good organisational skills and am willing to work hard.”
While this is a strong overview statement:
“Having managed a team of 20 in my previous position, I am well positioned to lead the sales team to achieve greater heights. It is my intention to grow together with the company, for I admire your philosophy of always putting people first and nurturing talent. I believe I will be a great addition to that pool of talent.”
Even if you’ve not had much work experience, it is still possible to put together a killer statement:
“As a student council leader at university, I thoroughly enjoyed the community projects we took on. It was a great opportunity to contribute my skills and I am eager to be a part of your company. I believe my growth will greatly contribute to yours.”
Weed out the unnecessary
Don’t put down every part-time job you’ve ever had. If you’re after a chambering position, putting in your work as a florist’s assistant will just be jarring. You could, however, include your stint as an intern with a business paper where you gained experience interviewing corporate figures. So while it might be tempting to list down every job you’ve had since you were 10, don’t. Sit down, assess and decide which experiences best contribute to the position you’re applying for.
Phrases like “team player”, “organisational skills”, “people person” and so on belong in the last decade. They are vague and unfeeling. It’s time to get specific.
Here are examples of overused and outdated phrases, and what to do or say instead.
- Team player
Scrap that and talk about the last group project you did, how well you worked with other team members, and the positive results you got.
- Excellent communication skills
This phrase means nothing if you don’t promptly reply to queries by the HR manager, or your résumé and cover letter are riddled with errors and typos. When someone contacts you to talk about the job, be amicable and enthusiastic.
- Hard worker
Give examples of extra responsibilities you took in in your previous job. Show your initiative when you applied for internships to further your skills and experience.
Highlight your experience as a team leader at your part-time barista job. Show them your ability to take on responsibility and excelling at it.
Solve Your Future Employer’s Problem
This is the clincher that may well get you the job. Just like crafting a great overview statement, you need to have researched the job so well that they have no choice but to hire you. When you see the job ad, learn to read between the lines and see what the employer is looking for. Say you’re applying for an advertising executive position. Think about what your future boss is looking for. Someone creative, yes; someone hardworking, definitely; someone who will blend in well with the existing team, of course; and someone who will take campaigns to the next level.
Once you’ve analysed the needs of the jobs, set about writing your résumé in a way that addresses all those needs, giving solid examples.
For the purpose of this particular advertising executive application, state this in your opening gambit:
“When you hire me, you’re not only getting someone who is eager to work with the current creative team, but also someone who will strive hard to address the needs of our clients, making campaign pitches so on point that the client has no choice but to sign us on.”
With this one paragraph, you’ve done an excellent overview statement, given them something specific to chew on, made a great impression, and told them how you will solve their problem!
State Your Qualifications
State Your Experience
State relevant experience with the most recent one first, followed by previous employment.
Make sure you include an e-mail address, a valid phone number, and the most current mailing address.
Put Relevant Referees
Don’t put your secondary school form teacher, though she may speak highly of you. The referees have to be able to give recent input into your abilities. If you’ve just graduated from university, put your professor as a referee. If this is not your first job, state previous employers or managers.
KEY POINTS ON COVER LETTERS
Research the company thoroughly via its website and/or give its HR personnel a call.
Use correct formatting (see sample cover letter).
a) Address the letter personally, whether it is Tuan, Sir, Encik or Mr for men and Puan, Madam, Cik, or Ms (don’t assume Mrs!) for women. Stay consistent. If your letter is in English, going with Mr or Ms is usually the safest bet. In Bahasa Malaysia, Tuan or Puan should be fine. Double check the spelling of the name, position, address, date, etc.
b) The first paragraph states the position you are applying for and how you heard of the opening.
c) Your second paragraph highlights your qualifications.
d) The third paragraph is an interesting snippet about yourself, extra-curricular activities and qualities.
e) Finally, your fourth paragraph rounds up the letter, ending with information on your availability, words of appreciation, complete with a ‘Yours sincerely’ and signature.
Get to the point – avoid big words and convoluted sentences.
Stay within one page.
Don’t focus on duties and responsibilities. Instead, expand on your achievements and successes.
Check spelling and grammar. Have a friend or relative read and comment on it.
Computer-type your letter and print a neat, crisp copy, unless the employer specifically asks for a handwritten sample.
Follow-up with a phone call to make sure they’ve received it.
Absolutely do not send photocopies of the same cover letter to different employers.
QUALIFICATIONS AND SKILLS
Next comes perhaps the most popular piece of documentation in a job search – the résumé. Again, this piece of paper will be scanned in less than a minute, so you’d want their eyes to scan over words that resonate with the image of a good candidate. The résumé is not meant to get you the job but to get you the interview, to get your foot in the door. Also, remember that your résumé is meant to be a concise summary of your achievements, not your life story. (refer to the sample résumé).
KEY POINTS IN A RÉSUMÉ
Again, research the company and position, and customise your résumé accordingly.
Format your résumé so that it best tells your story and is easy to read. Some popular formats are:
a) Functional: Suitable for fresh graduates with no prior job experience as it highlights functionalities the individual has served (see sample).
b) Chronological: For those with extensive work experience, this makes sense to use.
c) Targeted: At some point, you may want to apply for one specific position, in which case a targeted résumé helps shed more light on your specific skills pertaining to that position.
Use clear and concise language.
Make use of action verbs like pioneered, innovated, initiated, managed, organised, analysed, implemented, planned, performed, assisted, etc.
Use numeric qualifiers to objectively and accurately indicate degrees of success, such as ‘planned and launched 12 student events, increased student store sales by 25 per cent’, etc.
Include personal information such as your full name, age, current address and contact numbers. Details such as gender, height, weight, etc. are going out of style. Use your judgment on how much information you need to share.
Include your education, qualifications and any work experience you may have.
Don’t forget, extra-curricular activities and interests give a window into your personality and passions.
Mention special skills such as foreign languages, computer environments, etc.
If photos are required, look alive!
Provide contact information of your references.
Stay within one to two A4 pages.
Use white or lightly coloured paper, legible font and printing.
Check spelling and grammar, and have someone proofread a printout.
Prepare well for the interview. You’ve got your foot in the door, so it’s time now to show the rest who you are. Allow the interviewer to see for him or herself why your cover letter and résumé stood out from the rest. Have a great time not only showcasing and selling your skills and potential, but also learning about the job and the company. Remember, each interview is a learning experience, regardless of the outcome.