Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Alternative to a Resume: a cover letter with credibility and heart

A client asked me to review his resume. Here is its summary.
  • Energetic executive and project manager.
  • Goal-oriented, multidisciplinary professional with superior communication ability.
  • MBA with experience in international commerce.
Reading that reminded me of how unhelpful resumes are. What he wrote was, like most resume verbiage, unlikely to make his application rise to the top of the stack. And on reflection, even the "ahead-of-the-pack" resume strategies I tout are often insufficiently powerful.

So I suggested my client go home and draft a radically different kind of "resume" -- a one-page narrative that tells the true story of his career, including his failures, successes, detours, dreams, doubts, plus interests and skills that have nothing to do with career. Rather than a resume, it's more like a cover letter with credibility and heart.

Of course, many employers will be turned off, but I'm wondering whether it will result in the right employer being turned on. Such a narrative will reveal the person's true self, which means that if the boss likes that person, the candidate is more likely to be successful and happy on the job than if hired based on the usual obfuscatory resume. Besides, very few employers with a good job opening would be turned on by the standard cliche-filled resume unless it includes words like "Harvard" and "record-breaking" and shows a meteoric rise through the ranks culminating in being perfectly ready for the subject job opening.

Have you tried something like that? Or, if you're an employer, would you consider this Cover Letter with Credibility and Heart a plus or minus if submitted instead of or in addition to a resume?


Anonymous said...

I used the "cover letter with heart" strategy successfully once (haven't had the occasion to try it again). I think the keys are to keep it relevant to the job (even as you add heart to it), and to make it as concise as possible, which isn't as easy as it looks. It takes much longer to write a good short letter than a long rambling one.

Maureen Nelson said...

As an employed job seeker who's trying to change jobs, I've used this technique a few times (via email) and I nearly always get a positive email response inviting a phone call. We have the call, but then they want a real resume and I never have the time to revise my resume to target the job because I'm working so many hours at my current job and it drops. Or they refer me to someone else in the company and we play endless telephone tag till it drops. If I were an unemployed jobseeker with enough time on my hands to follow through, I'd probably get better results. The technique itself works really well.

Job seekers need to make sure they're doing more than "just clocking in" throughout their careers, though, so they have something to talk about in the letter. For execs, that's probably the case or they wouldn't get to be execs. People who use this approach need some kind of a hook. Marty, your perennial advice to develop a niche is useful here.

I've also been a hiring manager. Would I consider a letter like this instead of a resume. Yes, with a huge BUT... But it better be brief and relevant and with a bulleted list somewhere in there. I absolutely do not want to read someone's life story -- with their failures and detours and all that crap. I don't have the bandwidth for it. And I don't even work at a place where we get thousands of resumes for one opening -- we get a dozen or so. Even with 20 resumes, my attitude is: "Don't waste my time" and "Make sure the letter is about us, not about YOU."

They can talk about themselves only if they immediately tie it to how it helps them add value if we'd hire them.

BTW, the exec resumes I assist my clients with are full of results andpersonality -- no pablum, fluff, filler, crap. Their cover letters are where even more personality comes out.

I think the "cover letter with heart" is a good idea, though. Even if only as an exercise to get job seekers to think about their true value -- the value they bring as a total person.

Excellent post!

Brandon said...

Hi Marty - I was talking to my wife about this tonight. I was thinking of using "Made to Stick" criteria for my cover letter: simple, concrete, credible, unexpected, emotional, story...to write my cover letter. I agree that you need a technique that will stand out amongst the sameness.

I put myself in the shoes of a hiring manager / hr employee and I can just imagine they see a lot of similar cover letters. I believe it depends on the job, but I think if you use your technique you at least stand out amongst the crowd.

Thanks for sharing such amazing advice.


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