IT Employment

Clarifying one difference between the cover letter and the resume

A TechRepublic member wrote to me asking for examples of one of my previous points about cover letters -- not repeating resume information verbatim.

A TechRepublic member emailed me last week after I posted a piece on cover letters, asking if I would elaborate on one of my points: how a cover letter should not just repeat what's in your resume.

Put yourself in the place of a recruiter. You wouldn't want to read the same information in two different documents in trying to gauge the viability of a job candidate. You don't want the recruiters to have to make the connection between your skill and what the job calls for. Not that they're too dumb to do that on their own but because they're time is limited.

The best way to avoid repeating the information verbatim is to think of the cover letter as an introduction to the resume. Your cover letter should read like a book jacket cover. It should give the reader a taste of what's to come and encourage that person to open your resume and read it as well. It should highlight the aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position.

As I said, a cover letter is the place to tie in your skills with the job at hand. You can list your skills in the resume but the cover letter should take the extra step of showing the recruiter precisely how those skills will apply to the open position.

So let's say you're applying for an IT management position. Your resume includes the following as part of your technical experience (and happens to be what most closely matches what is asked for in the job description):

  • Built a network operations team
  • Designed a high level, all encompassing disaster recovery/business resumption plan

Your cover letter will expound on these accomplishments:

"In my last job, I was tasked with building a network operations team that was responsible for the internal infrastructure along with implementing new technologies within the organization. This process required that I hire and train people in all aspects of IT and build a cohesive team, which is something you stressed in your job description.

I am also familiar with designing and rolling out disaster recovery plans. My team designed our company's plan and assured that maximum data loss not exceed one day."

Hope this helps in understanding why you shouldn't repeat information verbatim from your resume in your cover letter!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

18 comments
ppg
ppg

Would you really use "I was tasked with" in a cover letter?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

paraphrase the job advert. How about? Being independantly weathly through judicious use of my time machine, I do have ten years experience in VS2010 and I'm happy to work for ten bucks an hour. Sigh.... Donlt suppose there's any chance of an article. "Employers sort out your vacancy descriptions" is there? An address the problem instead of a symptom type approach. A change is as good as a rest and this topic really needs a rest.

JamesRL
JamesRL

The cover letter, which gets read in some places and ignored in others, should be the 30 second pitch. "you should hire me because this is what I have done for others and can do for you.", and it should be targeted at what you perceive as the employers needs through a careful study of their job description/ad/job listing. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't fine tune your resume for the same purpose, but the cover letter should be very focussed on what they need. Its a sales piece. But resist the temptation to go too long, it should be a pitch for them to read the resume and give you and interview, not a laundry list of every thing you've ever done. James

ChuckV10
ChuckV10

The cover letter is also a good place to tie in metrics or other statistics that might help the recruiter notice you...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Sounds stilted and formulaic, always preferred natural english myself. Not completely natural of course, ditch the colloquialisms and profanity. :p

info
info

...because employers often feel they don't HAVE to go out of their way to clarify themselves for prospective employees. The only other thing I can add is to have someone (hopefully someone who is well-versed in resume/cover letter creation, general writing, or at least knows the language) proof-read your package. It's amazing how other people can point out how droll a read your cover letter is, after you put an hour or more into writing it. ;) As for knowing who they want, I was once on contract at a local hospital. I was working in the HR office when I noticed they were sorting resumes for an IT position. The job description called for MCP certification. I pointed out to the HR people that they had thrown out quite a few resumes listing MCSE certification. "Well, that's not what we asked for. We wanted MCP." When I told them that MCSE = Multiple MCPs, I was met with a blank stare...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

reveals it to be incoherrent bollocks perpetrated by a clueless idiot? Perhaps, "I can help you write your job descriptions better would be a good approach". :p Focused on what they need, given they don't know that, or don't bother communicating it, it's a lottery, or a who chose the best font competition.

gechurch
gechurch

It sounds like most people here have a good understanding of what a cover letter should include. I agree with the commenter that uses natural language. I extend that to try to portray a sense of excitement about the job, as though this is *the* job I've been waiting for (or, another way of saying it, as though I am the perfect person for this job). I believe (based off nothing - I've never been a recruiter) this helps set me apart from the field. Who wouldn't want someone that really wants to do this job, and who gets excited about it. Someone excited is more likely to work hard, is more likely to learn everything they can about the job and to improve. I believe portraying this excitement is more important than anything technical you write. Of course, if you claim to be excited your resume had better show that this is an area you are interested in.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Talent will out. Good sense will prevail. Politicians are honest, ok not that foolish.... :D

taylorstan
taylorstan

I second what you are saying. Which brings me to my point that HR is not a employment department. HR is ment to manage the employees that work(ed) at the company. The department should be creating work place policies and UPDATING these policies to comply with changing labor laws. They should also be training the employees about these policies and how they apply in the workplace. Helping the supervisors/managers with interviews should be a secondary part of their jobs. If anything, they should be doing the background checking on potental candidates that the sups/mgrs are wanting to interview.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Perhaps you don't want to work for them. In my organization HR doesn't write job descriptions. They write a questionaire about the role for hiring managers to fill in, but in the end, the hiring manager writes the description and the HR person may review it. If the job description is vague, then you can bet the company is unorganized.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

or simple register with a job board and throw an advert on there. Bit of time on HR's part. They don't take it any further than collecting data. Recruiter firms also do it to farm cvs. One mob used to send me emails saying they had some jobs, and so if I would send my cv, contact details for my references, and a list of all positions I've applied for, they'd get back to me.... Another one, just happened to have a sister company, that just happened to sell geek gadgets, that just happened to take me registering with them as an OK to spam the f**k out of me with offers for various pieces of kit a geek should not be able to do without. Remember we are talking about HR and pimps here... The only time you get to call BS, is if they are saying they are superbly trained high quality professional people and operation with a rigid system of inviolable ethics...

gechurch
gechurch

You serious? I find it hard to believe this is a common practice. Creating a job description, advertising the position, weeding through the candidates, interviewing - this all sound like a lot of time and money to spend to compare salaries. There are far easier ways (Tech Republic puts out a document each year detailing salaries for different jobs). I call bulls**t on this one.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I can count the number of vcancies where the need was clear and unambigous and held to without taking my mittens off..

MadCityJ
MadCityJ

There are plenty of companies who regularly post positions just to chum the waters and see what is out there, without having any real position available. HR departments also love using this tactic to see how their salaries compare, and then use that to either begin layoffs (and quiet replacements at lower salaries), or hand out perks to prevent the desirable staff from jumping ship for better-paying pastures.

butle49056
butle49056

JamesRL is spot on!. A lot of companies do not know what they need or either they cannot communicate it. They are just in chaos and think they need some savior to come in and straighten them out. They think they need some "Guru". They are simply putting out fires day to day and not really getting any organizing or strategic planning done.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

But how do they get the people they 'want' and how do you sell yourself as that. Neither of us would have to search hard to find a plethora of awful job descriptions, we would to find articles on addressing the problem though..... Do a cover letter, send a thank you note, look the interviewer in the eyes, write your resume like this, stick to two pages etc etc etc. Not one word about how you aim yourself at an impossible buzzord bingo opportunity with +/- 25k salary range equirng a willing to juniour or the guy who invented this stuff though. Not a sniff, as though the only problem was a candidate's inability to read minds.