Something came up in the comments of this thread that I’d like to talk about further: the idea that you should your cover letter and resume for every job opportunity.
I see this advice posted fairly frequently, and I always wonder what those people are smoking. Then I hear from job seekers who say they are spending a couple of hours crafting a response to each job posting (aside from the online application itself, which can’t be helped). I’m always shocked when I hear that. It just seems nuts to me. If I spent a couple of hours on each cover letter/resume bundle, I’d be depressed and crabby…and that depressed crabbiness would probably show in the finished product, in my interviews, and in my interactions with my family and friends. That’s bad.
Here’s the part I don’t get: What are you all customizing exactly? Because the cover letter should be 4-5 (short) paragraphs at most, and since the first and last paragraphs are standard stuff like contact information. That leaves you a couple of (short) paragraphs to customize. You definitely should do that, but there are only so many things you can say, and after a few months of job hunting, you’ll have said all of them. This part should take 10-15 minutes, tops. If it’s taking longer, you’re probably just stressing yourself out, which isn’t going to improve the end product one bit.
As for customizing the resume….well, here I’m completely stumped. If you have equal experience in two or more fields (like, say, you’ve worked a couple of years in retail and a couple of years in HR), you can have two different resumes for each of those fields, so that you can look for jobs in both. I can see why that would make sense. But to change the resume itself for each opening seems unnecessary to me. Your experience is your experience, so how can you change it that much? That’s what the cover letter is for—to draw out how your experience applies to this particular position. That’s the entire purpose of a cover letter. Doing so on the resume as well means you are sending them a version of yourself that’s based on your guess as to what they’re looking for. You’d have to be a pretty good guesser to make that worthwhile.
Your resume should be focused on presenting your experience in the best possible light, not in a light you think they might want to see. Even if you happen to guess right (which is unlikely), it’s creepy to receive a resume that looks like a copy-and-paste of the job description. I always wonder about the authenticity of the ones that look like such a direct match that they can’t possibly be real.
Unless you’re applying to one of those long-shot, way-out-of-your-field opportunities, I suggest sticking to a (short) customized cover letter and the version of your resume that best reflects your achievements in the field that applies to the position. The time you save can be better spent networking, and the energy you save can be spent keeping your spirits up so that you can continue to plug away at finding a job. It’s hard enough not to get sucked into the abyss of depression and self-flagellation when you’re job hunting without torturing yourself by investing a couple of unnecessary hours in each opening. Better investing that time will lead to more opportunities, and that’s a better return on your investment.
If you’re one of the candidates who does this, enlighten me. What are you customizing? How long does it take you to apply for a job (aside from those heinous online applications)? Do you feel it’s worth the investment?
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