13 Truths about Résumés and Cover Letters

If you’ve hired people yourself, you’ll know these to be true!

1. As an employer, if you receive 200 cover letters with résumé for an open position, maybe 10 are error-free, if you’re lucky. The rest are discarded.

2. Of the 10 without errors, only around five will be clear, focused, and targeted. These five or so folks are contacted for interviews.

3. What’s the lesson from 1 and 2? Your error-free, clear, focused, and targeted cover letter and résumé place you ahead of most other candidates.

4. A long cover letter is often interpreted to mean, “The following résumé may not be too clear, so here are the important things from it I’d like you to know.” Is this an admission you want to make? Instead, develop a clear and focused résumé, so your cover letter need not be a novel. Less is more. Rather than re-state chunks of your résumé, your cover letter needs only to convey your enthusiasm, getting the reader to look at your résumé.

5. A summary at the top of a résumé is often interpreted to mean, “My résumé is kind of long and tedious. Here are the highlights, so you need not read the whole thing.” Properly written, your résumé is a summary.

6. Your résumé is not intended to list every task performed at every position. Employers know this. It is a top-line, highlights kind of document intended to quickly give each reader compelling evidence of your skills, and an honest sense of where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s not a job description. It’s not an autobiography. If it honestly gets your phone to ring, it has done its job well.

7. No one is hired simply to read cover letters and résumés. Everyone who reads these items has other work to do. If you’re lucky, your résumé will get 10 seconds of each reader’s eyeball time. Direct these eyeballs carefully. Use your 10 seconds wisely.

8. Many real people have gaps in their work history. Don’t hide yours.

9. Many talented, full-blown adults graduated from college before last Thursday. If you graduated in 1962, say it. Do you think the reader won’t do the math some other way or won’t figure it out when you meet? Don’t hide your history. Your story is your story. Write it proudly.

10. Write like you speak. For example, write “use,” not “utilize.” (If you really say “utilize,” cut it out.)

11. Many folks mistakenly think colored paper, lots of bullets, underlining, bold, italics, CAPITAL LETTERS, and silly combinations of THESE will get a reader’s attention. The truth is, when we accentuate everything – or too much – then we accentuate nothing. I’m often asked, “If I don’t use these tricks, what will get attention?” Your content – your properly positioned evidence of skills and experience – will get attention. Content sells.

12. Many candidates include a long list of software skills on a résumé and then send cover letter and résumé in a handwritten envelope. Learn to print on an envelope. It will make your software claims a lot more credible.

13. Clarity is excellence. If you remember only one item from this list, please remember this: as you write, think of the reader.

Scott Bennett is the author of

The Elements of Résumé Style:

Essential Rules and Eye-Opening Advice for Writing Résumés and Cover Letters That Work

The #1 best-selling résumé book on amazon.com, available now at bookstores everywhere from

American Management Association’s    AMACOM Books

Paperback • 5 ½” x 8 ¼” • 128 pages

0-8144-7280-X • US$9.95/CAN$12.95

Ask for it!

Copyright 1996-2014 and beyond by Scott Allen Bennett

One thought on “13 Truths about Résumés and Cover Letters

  1. Hi Scott, I read your book recently and think it provides great advice. I rewrote my resume and am following your advice about cover letters so I hope to receive many more requests for interviews. Thank you.

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