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Job Search Don’ts:
Regarding Resumes and Cover Letters

By Bonnie Johnson, Marketing Associate


There are many details you need to cover in your resume and cover letter, but there are several pitfalls you should avoid.  Want to make a great impression and land that dream job?  Don’t sink your chances before you even get started!  Follow these tips on what NOT to do on your resume and cover letter.


One big mistake is using the same materials for every application.  “Tailor your resume and cover letter to the job you are applying for,” shared Jackie Bass, Director of Human Resources, Christensen Farms. “Research the organization to have a good understanding of the job you are applying for so you are prepared for your first contact with your potential employer,” added Bass. 


Objective statements seem to be a thing of the past; they take up prime real estate at the top of your resume.  “Objective statements are typically canned and often not relevant to the actual job,” said Deb Franklin, VP HR, CLAAS.  “Sometimes there is such a disconnect, the HR Professional will discount the resume and move on,” added Franklin.  Save the space normally taken up by an objective statement and use it to enhance your accomplishments and add a marketing/branding statement.  “Start out with a BAM! statement about your signature strength, something exciting that makes the reader want to learn more about you,” added Franklin.


“If you don’t have much actual work experience, insert a skill table (without lines) including one to three word phrases that describe you, such as ‘customer centric’ or ‘problem solver’,” shared Franklin. 


“When just graduating from college, the degree seems most important to you, however the employer may want to know more about your competencies and potential.  Resist the temptation to list that degree first—start with a marketing statement, skill table, work experience and then degree,” added Franklin.


Don’t neglect customizing your resume with keywords. Make sure to build keywords from the employer’s job description into your resume.  Many employers utilize an online applicant tracking system (ATS) to manage the flow of applications.  The technology within the ATS system is designed to search your resume for particular keywords and phrases that match the job they are trying to fill.  If your resume doesn’t include these keywords, it may never make it into the hands of the hiring manager.  However, be sure not to go overboard!


Don’t include a photo.  It is distracting and recruiters don’t want or need to know what you look like.  Besides, they can find it easily enough on your LinkedIn or Facebook profile.  Make sure what they see on your social media profiles presents you in a positive light.


Keep references off your resume.  Employers will request references if needed and then you will have a hint they are interested in hiring you.  You also need to keep references in the loop when you are handing out their contact information, so it will save you time if you aren’t sending them with every application. 


The biggest mistake regarding cover letters?  Not including one at all!  Employers may see a missing cover letter as laziness and not even consider your application. Even if you are applying to numerous positions, you must take the time to include a cover letter specific to each one.  Like your resume, build some of those keywords into your cover letter as well.  


You don’t want a cookie-cutter cover letter.  There are numerous cover letter templates, but be wary of copying them word for word.  Don’t reiterate what is in your resume either; use the cover letter to enhance what is offered in the resume by presenting additional details and information.  Your cover letter is meant to complement your resume and entice the reader to find out more about you.


Keep cover letters short and to the point; they should be compelling, but not lengthy. “Explain why you are a good fit for the position—bullet points and white space are good,” shared Franklin.  


To pave your way for job search success, consider what NOT to do, then incorporate some of our suggestions to impress potential employers! 


This is a section of the “Job Search Don’ts” article originally published in the 2015 Ag & Food Employer Guide.  Read the entire article.