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Career Chats Episode 2: Cover Letters and Resumes

By Academy Xi

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If you missed the Career Chats masterclass with our award-winning career coach Elizabeth Houghton, here are the highlights. Elizabeth will give you practical tips on preparing your cover letter and resume, helping you land the role of your dreams.

I’m Elizabeth and I’m the career coach here at Academy Xi. It’s my mission to support our students and help them transition into new careers, ensuring they land the role they’re after once they’ve finished their studies. In today’s session we’re looking at cover letters and resumes. I’m going to help you to really sell your story in your job applications. 

We have five items on the agenda. Firstly, we’re going to talk about why you need a cover letter and how it impacts your chances of securing an interview. I’ll take you through a six-part framework to help you craft a stand-out cover letter. I’ll explain how you can highlight your skills in your resume, as well as how to write achievement-based job summaries to make your career experiences really shine. Finally, we’re going to go through some common mistakes to avoid with cover letters and resumes.

Why do you need a cover letter and how does it impact your chances of securing an interview? 

If you follow discussions on LinkedIn, you’ll know there’s a big debate about cover letters and whether or not they’re needed these days. I’ve done a bit of research and found some numbers to really drive home the positive impact a cover letter can have on your applications:

  • 83% of hiring managers say cover letters are important for their hiring decision.
  • A further 83% of hiring managers claim that they would interview a candidate with a great cover letter, even if their resume wasn’t up to scratch. 
  • 74% of recruitment decision makers prefer to receive job applications which include a cover letter. 
  • Even if submitting a cover letter is optional, 77% of recruiters will give preference to candidates who include a cover letter. 
  • Finally, 72% of recruiters still expect cover letters, even if the job ad states they are optional.

As these numbers show, the people making hiring decisions like seeing cover letters and give weight to them as they go through applications. 

In a cover letter, you can explain your motivation for joining a company, describe your career objectives and what it is you’re trying to achieve. This is especially important if you’re going through a career transition. 

If you were a veterinarian last week and now you’re applying for a UX UI Design role, the person reviewing the application might wonder why. Your cover letter gives you a chance to start answering those questions. Similarly, if you’ve taken time out of your career, you can use your cover letter to provide some context. 

It’s a great opportunity to highlight your professional achievements. If you’ve got stuff in your career that you’re really proud of, you can put those front and centre in your cover letter. 

It’s also a great way to demonstrate your written communication skills. With everyone using technology, there’s been a drop in people’s ability to write. If you can formulate a very strong cover letter, it shows an employer that you have a crucial skill. 

When you apply for a role, the job advert will provide a position description. With your cover letter and your resume, you can use that position description as a marking criteria. Those are the points to discuss, which will allow you to link all of your skills, your experience and your unique value directly to what they’re asking for from candidates. 

To underline the point – cover letters aren’t optional, regardless of what you might hear. They add concrete value to your application that you don’t want to miss out on.  

How do you craft a stand-out cover letter?

I’ve put together a six-part framework, which should be really easy for you to follow. For each part I’ll give you a sample.

Part 1 – The first paragraph needs a really impactful opening. 

Dear {name},

Re: {job title and company}

My name is {name} and I am a Product Manager professional with recent experience in Visual Branding and Design. This is my formal application for the role of {insert role} at {company name}.

Upon seeing this vacancy as advertised on {insert job platform}, I viewed it as an exciting opportunity to expand on my Human-Centred Design and UX UI Design skills and support your organisation to {what they are aiming to do}.

Part 2 – The second paragraph should cover your experience.

Throughout my {xx} year professional career I have a demonstrated history of working in teams to deliver customer-focused designs that improve business outcomes and the overall customer journey. I have deepened my qualifications by successfully completing a UX UI Design bootcamp, working on real client projects, and recently enrolled in an introduction to Product Management to further enhance my skill-set.

Part 3 – The third paragraph is when you should list your skills, which should all be relevant to the position description.

As mentioned above, I have {xx} years experience in this industry that has developed my interpersonal and communication skills to a high standard. I enjoy communicating with a range of internal and external stakeholders in order to deliver high quality results for the organisation. I spend many hours of my current work week researching, collating and presenting data to enhance product designs. 

Part 4 – The fourth paragraph will include your achievements, which also should be applicable to the role you’re applying for.

In July 2022, I was honoured to receive a UX Leader of the Year award from the Symplicit Women in Digital Awards. This can be attributed to my dedication to understanding customer journeys and designing products that delight and surprise customers.

Part 5 – The fifth paragraph will offer an explanation for why you’re applying to work with that organisation. Explain why their values align with yours. 

Through friends and family who have worked within your company, I have heard that the customer focus and workplace culture is very positive and fulfilling. I want to be a part of a company that values delivering high standards of service and enables staff to participate in such a rewarding industry. I love my work and pride myself on contributing to a positive and productive workplace culture. Therefore, I believe my career ambitions and what I can deliver are perfectly aligned with your company’s goals.

Part 6 – The sixth and final paragraph should contain a really strong, positive closure.  

I would enjoy having the opportunity to talk with you more about this position, and how I can use my skills to benefit your organisation. Thank you for taking the time to read my application and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

{your name}

Remember, you need to keep the paragraphs short and tight. All of this should fit into a one page Word document. 

When it comes to writing your resume, use the same font and formatting as you used for your cover letter. Try to be concise with your words, and always carefully proofread to weed out any spelling and grammatical errors (if you’re an Academy Xi Transform student, feel free to send your cover letter and resume to the Career Support team and we’ll gladly proofread it for you).

Try to restrict your resume to one or two pages. Ideally, keep it within one page, unless you have a lot of relevant career experience. If you have a ten word sentence that can be said in four, reduce it.   

It’s also important to avoid using technical jargon, even if it’s industry-specific. The hiring manager or recruiter may be a generalist who doesn’t understand the terminology. 

How to highlight your skills and experiences

When it comes to highlighting your key skills in your resume, you have a couple of options for how to present them. You could break them into categories, such as hard, soft and technical skills, or you could combine them and discuss them in sentences. 

However you choose to list them, it’s important that you focus on skills that are relevant to the application. These are called your ‘core’ skills. As an example, you might list:

Relationship Building & Stakeholder Management

Exceptional at building relationships with all stakeholders, ensuring effective communication and desirable project outcomes. 

If the job description asks for a particular core skill that you have, make sure that skill is moved to the top of your resume. Don’t make the person reviewing the application have to dig around to find out if you have that skill.

How to create achievement-based job summaries

A job summary is placed in the career history section of your resume. It gives an overview of your experience, capabilities and achievements. It will list your job title, the company name and the time period during which you worked for that organisation. Underneath that, you can provide your job summary. Remember – your job summary is not just a list of tasks you performed. It’s a chance to highlight your skills and achievements and to root them within a particular context. 

The general rule of thumb is to have five or six bullet points for your current role and four or five bullet points for your previous roles, only listing relevant responsibilities. If you’re making a career transition, you might need to look at your past roles through a slightly different lens and make that experience applicable to a new industry. 

If you can, demonstrate your capabilities and achievements through the use of tangible evidence, such as statistics, figures, timeframes, budgets etc. This is a powerful way to increase the impact of your application with the hiring manager or recruiter.

When it comes to structuring your job summary points, follow these three steps to build impactful sentences;

Step 1: Start with an action word, such as implemented, improved, accelerated, processed or delivered. 

Step 2: Describe what you actually did.

Step 3: Include tangible evidence of success, or describe a desirable outcome. This may read as follows: 

Led responsive design creation for the landing page which yielded a 50%  increase in lead generation and improved conversion rates.

Tangible evidence is not essential for every single job summary point, and can be difficult to come up with for everything you’ve done, but at least two bullets should cover this. It gives perspective on your level of responsibilities and offers solid proof of how you’ve used your skills. 

Common mistakes to avoid

Here are a few mistakes people often make with cover letters and resumes which are easily avoided. 

  • Not tailoring cover letters and resumes. It may seem time-consuming, but once you’ve read a few job descriptions and adjusted your cover letter and resume to suit the specifications, you’ll be able to do it quite quickly. 
  • Regurgitating your resume or the job description in cover letters. This is your chance to answer any objections that you predict a hiring manager might have, or to add flavour and colour to your application, so resist the urge to repeat things. 
  • Too wordy or sharing too many details. Remember, keep it succinct and to the point.
  • Incorrect contact details. It sounds basic, but always double check that phone number and email address – it’s often the simple stuff that catches people out!

That’s a wrap for today’s session. I hope it’s been useful and given you some practical advice. We’re doing these career chats every couple of months, so be sure to tune in for the next session. We’ll update you on that very soon. 

It’s been a pleasure going through cover letters and resumes with you. I wish you all the best with your job applications – hopefully you land that dream role soon!

If you’re keen to transition into a new career and need to add shine to your resume, Academy Xi offers flexible online courses covering the digital skills that employers are searching for. 

If you want to discuss your transferable skills and explore course options, speak to a course advisor today