Andy: So Emma, I’m pretty sure some of our readers are in jobs they don’t like, or are in careers they don’t want.
Emma: Oh, I know so. The open rate of our Should I Quit? newsletter proves it.
Andy: I will happily whisper in the ear of anyone who needs to hear it, “Yes, quit!” until the end of time, but I know the feeling of wanting to go and staying put. There are lots and lots of reasons I’ve stayed in a crummy job longer than I “should,” but my least favorite one is because I didn’t want to put together a resume and cover letter.
Emma: Of course you didn’t. No one does, and no one ever will.
Andy: Right? I was so tired from pouring every ounce of myself into my shit job, it was a wonder I had the energy to scroll a takeout menu, let alone sit with a Google doc listing my accomplishments and drafting letters to strangers.
Emma: It’s such a bunk system. Resumes and cover letters are really, really hard. They are two super-specific, totally unique genres of writing that we have to master in order to prove we are qualified at some completely different set of skills. It’s like having the first round of a trout-fishing contest be an essay test.
Andy: It’s horrifying how much of our futures live in those two PDFs.
Emma: If I contort my brain enough, I can think of it as a little bit hopeful, too. All it takes is two PDFs and I can ditch a stunted career path, or say good riddance to a bad boss. We’ve both doubled our salaries by leaving one job and getting a new one. Hallelujah!
Andy: We’ve been on both sides of the cover letter and resume — as applicants and on hiring teams. I hired the 400+ editorial team at Groupon during it’s hyper-growth phase. You were part of shooting zulily from 100 to 1,000 employees. Together, we built a 30+ person team from scratch at an internet startup…
Emma: …which was then acquired and we had to go get new jobs again!
Andy: Back to the cover letter files we trudged.
If I had access to a genie lamp, I would use one wish to destroy the system we’re in — all the cover letters and all the resumes — and replace it with something new and better. But I have no lamp and I have no genie. Instead, dear readers, Emma and I have insight and advice from our years on hiring teams. As we alluded to in our recent newsletter saying goodbye to our illustrator, Matt, we’ve created a step-by-step course to teach people how to demystify and master these two strange, important, intimidating documents.
Emma: There are worksheets! Examples! Videos! You can hear what we sound like, and see that I don’t have bangs anymore.
Andy: We also offer payment plans, and discounts for members of The Bent. There’s a turbo-deluxe package for anyone who wants to partner up with us for their entire job search — we’ll help you with every cover letter and every resume until you land the gig.
Emma: But we also like to teach what we know for free.
Andy: Yep. Today’s newsletter gives you a sneak peek into writing a better cover letter and resume. If you do these things — even a little bit — you’ll lap most of the people in the applicant pool.
Emma: Want even more? Get the scoop on our online course here. And spread the word! If you sign up in December, we’ll include a free enrollment for you to gift to someone. Maybe you can both buddy up and upgrade your jobs for 2021?
Andy: This is our last weekly newsletter of 2020. We’ll see you next year!
What’s the Point of a Resume?
Let’s start off by deflating this very daunting document a little bit. Even the best resume is not going to get you a job — just like a bad resume won’t send your dreams swirling down the toilet. You are going to get you the job. All your resume is doing is propelling you through the very tiniest of first steps in the interview process: qualifying you for an initial phone call with a recruiter or a hiring manager. That’s it.
A Compelling Resume the PARs Way
Your resume should fit on one page. It is not a permanent record of all your jobs and every task you did in them. It is a selection of bullets that demonstrate your excellence in those jobs. We recommend using the PAR strategy, which we did not invent and love a lot:
Problem: Identify a responsibility or issue at work
Action: Discuss how you addressed it
Results: Describe the outcome of that action
Every bullet should include each of these three elements. Literally color code your resume to check. This is the single most powerful way to transform your resume from a regurgitated job description into an argument of just how great you were at those jobs (and therefore how great you’ll be in this next one). It’s a new way of thinking, and it might not come easily or quickly, but once you get the hang of it, we bet you’ll never write a non-PARs resume bullet again.
Here’s an example of PARs in action for one bullet on a boat dock clerk’s resume:
Before: Greeted incoming watercraft and assisted with docking and securing vessels.
After: Innovated the disembarking protocol of incoming vessels, reducing passenger overboards from 10% to 1% over the course of the summer.
Or, without numbers: Innovated the disembarking protocol of incoming vessels, reducing passenger overboards dramatically over the course of the summer.
And here’s how a full stack of PARsifyed bullets for a Junior Email Marketing Copywriter. So cool!
— Write informative and engaging daily emails
— Develop compelling subject lines to increase open rates
— Write copy for daily web ads (with insane flexibility)
— Train email backup writers
— Update style guide to ensure uniform brand voice
— Concepted informative and engaging daily emails for 2M subscribers, decreasing unsubscribes by 4% YoY
— Increased open rates by 3% by crafting more compelling subject lines
— Wrote copy for daily web ads, meeting tight 25-minute turnaround times
— Devised and implemented back-up email writer training and updated style guide, resulting in 100% of sends met internal brand voice standards
A Cover Letter Formula That Works
Yes, you need to write a cover letter. It should be personalized, human, and fit on one page. There’s lots of ways to accomplish this. This the the formula we’ve both used for years to great effect:
Salutation: Keep it simple and make no assumptions!
Hi [name copied from the company website],
Paragraph 1: Convey enthusiasm for the job and articulate why you’ll be great at it.
I’m excited to apply for [job title]. I think [Reason 1] and [Reason 2] will make me a great fit on your team.
Body Paragraphs: Build on each of the reasons named in Paragraph 1 for 4–7 sentences to include these three things:
- Important quality: Restate one of your reasons from Paragraph 1
- So what: Explain why you believe it’s relevant to the role
- Proof: Show some evidence or examples of you demonstrating that thing
Closing Paragraph: A quick, excited thank you, then goodbye.
I’m excited to learn more from you and the team, and see if we’re a good fit.
Here’s an abbreviated example from a managerial applicant (color-coded, of course):
I’m excited to apply for your Manager of Brand Copy role. The blend of mentor-management and personality-driven writing you describe for this job hits on my two big professional passions, and I think we could be a great fit.
Heading up the Creative Brand department at Rachel’s Ginger Beer was a master class in people-first leadership. To be honest, it was a master class in lots of things: onboarding a new team to work on a new brand at a company aspiring for national recognition. I believe a team that trusts each other is the only way to create big things that last, and I had the immense pleasure of building a team of 20 designers, copywriters, and producers at all different stages in their careers, then coaching them to level up their craft and collaborate on a hugely successful global campaign launch. Managing that team was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I loved it.
I’m thrilled by this opportunity and would love the chance to talk more about it.