I have lost track of how many positions I have hired, how many interviews I have had, and how many CV’s and cover letters I have reviewed.
If we just focus on employees alone, I would guess that it is at least 75 employee positions. That means at least 225 employee interviews, and 2250 CV’s and cover letters I’ve reviewed.
If we move on to consultants, the numbers go up. I would venture to say about 150 positions placed, meaning 450 interviews , and at least 1050 CV’s.
Add students, interns, and thesis workers in the numbers of about 50 placed, that means an additional 100 interviews, and likely 1000 CV’s.
So it’s safe to say, I have seen several thousand CV’s and at least a few thousand cover letters.
And I definitely have opinions about them.
First of all, if you are applying for an employee position, there are a few things that are downright insulting to me:
Don’t send me a cover letter and CV telling me how much you want to work at Volvo if I’m not at Volvo. I don’t know how many times I have received a CV and cover letter that was obviously customized for someone else!
Almost as bad as 1), don’t tell me you want to be a software developer if I am hiring a systems engineer. Take the time to submit the right application to the right position. I get that I might be hiring both at the same time, but some recruiting systems are a real pain to shift people around. If you do your work properly, it makes it easier for me to do mine (and get you working)
Run spell check. Please. I get and respect that a lot of people aren’t applying in their native language. But spell check has existed all the way back to MS-DOS word processors (if you don’t know what this is, suffice to say for a long time), so please use it. I’m a lot more tolerant of wrong words or mixing up their/there/they’re than I am pure slpopinses (that is sloppiness)!
Don’t send me a cover letter that says nothing more than "Please hire me.” If you want me to meet you (which is the first step to hiring you), give me a reason to. Make me curious. Tell me how you will fill the position and do it well.
Then, besides getting a few basics right, make me want to meet you.
How do you do that, you ask? Mainly a great cover letter!
A great cover letter will address some of the following things:
Tell me why you applied to my position and my company. That “why” matters to me. It’s ok to be honest too, I have interviewed people that are honest and say that they want a first job to learn or that they have been out of work and are looking for any job they are qualified for to get back in the workforce or they simply want to move to my country and work in a similar job to what they have had in the past. I would rather you be honest than not bother and sometimes practical motivations create incredible employees. I like honesty. I think it’s important in the employee-employer relationship and I want to know what motivates you.
Be open with the skills you have and don’t that are listed in my advertisement. I can figure it out as well, but if you acknowledge what you lack and have a plan or proposal for how you would work with it, I’m impressed. The reality is that we almost always write our advertisements as wish lists. Most of the time, we don’t expect to get the senior developer with 10+ years of experience, fluent in three languages, and adept in 10 tools. Go ahead and apply if you see that you have knowledge, experience, or initiative to address the gaps and share your plan with me. That puts you above other candidates with similar gaps who don’t bother to address it.
Know yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Share them with me in the cover letter. Help me get to know you and see how you could fit into my company and team. If you aren’t a good fit, frankly it’s better that I don’t hire you. Focus first on your strengths and passions, especially how they match my job description. When it comes to weaknesses, I split them into two categories. The first group are weaknesses that I let go of. These weaknesses are the opposite of my strength. If I work too hard to fix them, I lose my strength. I need to know when these weaknesses are problematic and not go that far, but I’m probably much better off finding someone who has a strength to complement my weakness than I am trying to work in it day in and day out. An example for me is I am not a detail-oriented person. I have learned to do it some as it was necessary to be effective, but I just don’t have the interest and focus to do detail-oriented work day in and day out. I do try to adjust to not be sloppy, but I usually will ask someone to look through something that is important to check details. I call this managing around a weakness. This is the real advantage of teams, because we can usually pair with someone whose strength is our weakness. The other type of weakness though, is a weakness we need to work with because that weakness overall greatly lessens our overall effectiveness. For me, I need to work on my patience. While my desire to drive things forward is a strength, it can easily turn into a weakness if I push people too hard or too fast. I need to be aware, both of myself and how much I am pushing, but also of the people around me. Everyone has different thresholds and I need to be emotionally intelligent enough to recognize my impact on others and temper my behavior accordingly. I call this managing a weakness. If I am not actively on top of it and working with it, it can be a problem. Also, while I am much better than I was at 26, I still need to be aware today. If all of this is completely unknown to you, Belbin Team Roles are a great way to learn and communicate about strengths and weaknesses. While they are integral parts of many programs I run, it is possible to book an individual session to explore your own strengths and weaknesses. If you want to explore if Belbin Team Roles could help you, book a free 30 min consultation here to discuss!
Remember, while you might really want to get in the door and get an interview, it wastes both of our time if you aren’t the right fit. Over inflating or false representation to get an interview is even worse, because then I don’t trust you. If you are honest and I don’t think you are qualified, I could consider you for a less-qualified position down the road (or part of another team where your strength/weakness pair is a better fit). If we lost trust, it’s much harder to build that up again.
Now that you have given me some insight to you, why you want this job at my company, and made me want to meet you, now you have to show me you are capable of doing the job.
Your CV is how I determine if you are capable for the job or not.
When I say capable, I don’t mean that you have done it before. In fact, I like to hire people who haven’t done my job before, but have the necessary education, skills, and experiences to grow into my job. For example, a test engineer is a great candidate for a system engineer. They have worked requirements from the other side, often have a similar engineering degree, and are ready to move into different work. They are also often intrinsically motivated because they are growing and learning. This is why it is important to apply for jobs where you don’t meet all the criteria, but have a base that enables you to do it. If you are motivated by learning (and have proven it in the past), it is pattern that is likely to repeat.
Be realistic as well though. Think about your life situation and how much challenge you want. Maybe learning a lot and being over your head was great fun at 25, but now you have two kids under 5 who don’t sleep a whole lot and you’re in survival mode. That’s ok too. We have periods of life where our job is a means to provide a salary, adult companionship, and tasks we can accomplish, and there are times when our job can be a major focus and a huge challenge. Know where you are and what you want from a job. I have great respect and success in hiring people who are aware of their current life situation and limitations and are frank about that. Again, honesty and transparency is such a great thing.
A great CV should…
Include all relevant experiences and tools, and if you include them, you should be able to use them in the job. For example, I took several classes in my undergrad that used MATLAB (back then, it ran on UNIX or MS-DOS). I have exposure to MATLAB, but I don’t really want to go back and learn it and use it in the job. Therefore, I leave it off of my CV.
Mirror relevant keywords from the job announcement. Many companies are using AI and keyword searches to process CV’s. They may receive hundreds of CV’s for a single position. Take the time to review key words in the announcement and emphasize those you meet in the CV. You waste both of our time by playing keyword bingo and not having relevant experience behind the words.
Have strong CV details on experience that is relevant to the job description, especially as you accumulate experience and have years to share. Try to put yourself in my head and think “How does my experience help me do her job that she is hiring for?”. If you think that experience is relevant and contributes, elaborate and share specifics. If it is breadth and not directly relevant, shorten it to key responsibilities, tasks, and achievements.
Show activities for all time since school. That doesn’t mean that you needed to be working the whole time. Gaps that aren’t defined make me suspicious why you haven’t been open about them. There are tons of gap reasons (parental leave, traveling the world, caring for elderly parents, medical issues, etc.) and I would argue they are all valid if you own them, learned from them, and grew from them. If I work in a multi-cultural team, hiring someone who took a gap year to explore the world is likely a beneficial thing. You also don’t need to share all the details, simply saying “personal leave” or “medical leave” is enough, but be aware I’ll likely want to explore it in the interview to help determine your fit to the position. Think about what you want to say up front so you can answer this if asked.
It is worth spending time to have both a base template CV and cover letter that contain all the important relevant information about you, then use it to customize and address the specific job announcement. This will both save you time and avoid missing something important.
If you need help exploring your career path, strengths and weaknesses, or just want another set of eyes on your CV and/or cover letter, reach out for a 30-min complimentary session to see if I can help you.