IT employers may receive many responses to their job ads, but finding professionals with the necessary skills remains difficult. In fact, in a recent Robert Half Technology survey, CIOs identified “finding skilled technology professionals” as their number-one challenge. This may be due to the fact that so many highly skilled IT job candidates fail to present themselves adequately in their cover letter and resume.
The Cover Letter: A Firm Handshake
The cover letter is a crucial but often overlooked part of setting yourself apart from the competition. As the job application process increasingly moves online, you might be tempted to think a formal cover letter is no longer necessary, but that’s not the case. In another survey by our company, 86 percent of senior executives said cover letters are valuable when evaluating job candidates.
If you skip the cover letter or treat it as an afterthought, you miss a great opportunity to stand out – and give hiring managers a reason to bypass your resume. So what makes a good IT cover letter? Here are some tips:
• Submit smart. When applying through online job boards, always choose the option to add your cover letter to your resume. When e-mailing application materials to a hiring manager, paste your cover letter within the body of your message.
• Name names. Address your letter to the specific hiring manager rather than using a generalized introduction. If you don’t know the person’s name, call the company and ask.
• Keep it brief. Hiring managers don’t have time to wade through your life story. Limit your cover letter to one well-spaced page if printed, or a few short paragraphs if submitted in the body of an e-mail.
• Target the opening. Research the company and demonstrate how your specific skills, knowledge and work history fit the job and could benefit the organization.
• Explain any gaps. If you have any lengthy employment gaps, note how you filled the time. Mention professional development courses or self-training that show additional efforts to keep your skills current.
•Stick to the facts. Never stretch the truth to make a strong impression. Provide concrete examples of how your work contributed to your previous employers’ bottom line.
• Look ahead. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest in the position by identifying next steps such as, “I’ll follow up with you next week to discuss meeting in person,” at the end of your letter, and then make sure you do.
• Read and reread. Just as you would scrutinize your resume, take time to review your cover letter for typos and grammatical errors. Have a friend or mentor read it as an added precaution.
The Resume: A Clear, Compelling Story
Of course, a promising cover letter will be quickly forgotten if it’s not backed up by an equally well-crafted resume. Many of the cover-letter tips outlined above apply to resumes – especially the importance of targeting, clarity, brevity and, above all, honesty.
Here are a few additional pointers:
• Lead with an objective. At the top of your resume, include a short statement outlining the type of position you’re seeking, along with two or three credentials that qualify you for the role. Concentrate on the value you can bring to the company and what the firm will gain from hiring you, not the expectations you have of the position.
• Focus on business contributions. A strong IT resume isn’t just a list of facts and technical skills – it should paint a portrait of what you can do for an employer. For every position you’ve held, list several specific achievements and explain how each benefited the company.
• Use keywords. Your resume may be scanned into a database and searched for keywords relevant to the job you seek. Including keywords that match phrases from the job description in your application materials is also a good way to catch a hiring manager’s eye. For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires Java expertise, include the word Java in your resume and highlight projects you’ve worked on that entailed extensive use of this application. Don’t go overboard, however, or your resume may become difficult to read or sound too repetitive.
Among IT job candidates, the combination of a concise, targeted cover letter and resume is a surprisingly rare one-two punch. By taking the time to craft these application materials for each of the positions you apply for, you encourage hiring managers not only to take notice, but also to view your skills and experience in the best possible light.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.