As an executive search recruiter, I have seen hundreds of cover letters and executive resumes over the course of my career. Creating a well-crafted cover letter and resume is crucial; these documents are your first impression and are indicative of how you would present yourself to clients. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when writing your cover letters (and yes, recruiters do require cover letters!) and resumes…
The Cover Letter
The best cover letters pique the recruiter’s curiosity by providing a glimpse into the candidate’s interest and relevant experience without reading like a detail-laden biography. When crafting your cover letter, follow this simple outline:
Part 1: Express Interest
Prove you’ve done your research when stating your interest. Provide specific reasons why you are attracted to the opportunity (Is it the robust donor base you will interact with? The chance to manage a large team? The opportunity to work beside respected leaders in the field?) and the organization (Is their cause of personal interest to you? Do you feel invigorated by their current campaign goals?).
Part 2: Share Relevant Experience
In no more than two paragraphs, share 2-3 examples of relevant experience. Clearly state how these experiences will prepare you for success in this new role.
Part 3: Express Interest
End your cover letter by expressing your interest in moving forward in the process, but never assume you will. A closing line such as “I hope to hear from you soon to further discuss my qualifications and interest” will always perform better than “I will be in touch soon to further discuss my qualifications and interest.”
Ultimately, a successful cover letter makes the recruiter want to read more – including the resume!
Successful resumes are tailored to the position at hand. They capture your most relevant experiences and talents without providing an unnecessarily long and detailed list of every position you have ever held. With this in mind, consider these guidelines:
Your resume should clearly present your career path and growth. As such, it is better to organize your experience chronologically than by type of experience (for instance, development experience vs. communications experience). In addition, if there are periods of unemployment on your resume, be prepared to speak to these gaps in an interview.
Large blocks of text on a resume are uninviting, and recruiters tend to skip over them. So, be concise. Use bullets to succinctly communicate your accomplishments, and remember, you will have the opportunity to expand on this information during an interview.
Favor Substance over Style
Of course, strong communication skills are a must in resume-writing, but do not favor buzz words and well-crafted sentences over clear metrics detailing your accomplishments. If you have management experience, provide information about how many people you oversaw and for how long. If you are applying for a development position, share the size of your portfolio and a few metrics on gifts you have closed and of what size. These concrete numbers are the best way to communicate your unique skills and accomplishments.
Double (and triple) Check
It should go without saying – typos, formatting issues, and misspellings suggest carelessness and a lack of interest in the position. Take the time to carefully review your resume (and cover letter) to avoid small mistakes that can ruin your chances of moving forward in the hiring process.
Of course, what makes for a strong cover letter and resume has changed over time, and it can even come down to the personal preferences of the recruiter or hiring manager. I’m curious to know – What’s the best advice you have ever received on writing a cover letter and resume? If you have held a hiring role, what has made applications stand out and what has made you immediately toss them aside? Write to me with your thoughts and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your contributions could be featured in an upcoming blog post.