Preparing your Resume and Cover Letter – Making the Cut

Welcome back to our series on search. In my last few posts, I discussed the challenges professionals face around making a decision to leave a current nonprofit employer and the reading and evaluation of the job description. Now that it seems you might be ready to make a move, let’s talk about preparing your resume and cover letter.

Unless you have a direct connection with an organization (or an individual connected to that organization), your resume and cover letter are your tickets to the next level in an organization’s hiring process. Giving Tree is managing five searches right now (search is not the only thing we do! Check out our services page on the website…), and the truth is that we may receive up to 100 resumes for a single position posting. Oftentimes, we only invite 25% (or fewer) of those applicants for a phone interview. So – how do you get past the initial resume screening? Here area few tips:

Update your resume: Sound obvious? I hope so. But you would be surprised at how many people tell us that their resume is out of date during the interview process. Include all recent promotions, responsibilities and update your numbers, especially if you are a fundraiser. If it has been years since you’ve updated your resume’s format, now is the time. Times New Roman is not exactly the font of choice anymore. Take a look online for updated templates and formats and choose a style that represents you (nothing too flashy). If you are interviewing for a marketing position, you can give the organization a sense of your skill set by impressing them with your resume design!

Include a “profile” section at the top of your resume: This short paragraph or set of bullet points lists your career highlights, career goals, and summarizes your areas of expertise, strengths and skill sets. The profile section is you “at a glance.” I like the opportunity to quickly skim this section before I read the entire resume – it may offer the green light I need to keep reading – and – it offers you great practice at being concise about your experiences and aspirations.

Customize your resume and cover letter: Again – sounds obvious, right? But sometimes it is painfully clear that a candidate has sent me the same cover letter they’ve sent to every other organization. Make it clear that you are interested in this job. Spend time

on their website so that you can speak intelligently about the organization’s mission and explain why it moves you. Are there experiences in your past that make you uniquely qualified for this position? If so, use the cover letter to say so – this is your chance to stand out from the crowd. Also – pay attention to the language in the job description and try to match it within your resume and cover letter. I’m not suggesting that you fabricate experiences you don’t have, but rather that you note the words and phrases the employers uses and then use similar language so that they easily understand and relate to your areas of expertise.

Death to typos: I can’t tell you how many resumes and cover letters I have deleted because of poor editing and inattention to detail. I figure, “If they can’t take the time to edit their own resume, why would I trust my donor communications to them?” Be sure you not only read the resume over and over again, but that you share it (and the cover letter) with multiple trusted friends – preferably ones who are good editors. I have dismissed some (otherwise) great candidates because of poor proofreading.

Make it both qualitative AND quantitative: Yes – employers want to know all about what you have done, how long you have done it, and love examples of creativity. That said, they also want to understand exactly what you can do for them from the dollars and cents perspective. So if you are applying for a fundraising position, be sure to include information about the size of your campaign and your personal portfolio. You may also want to add data about the number of donors you solicit and your relationship with the board of directors. If you are applying for a finance position, be clear about the size of of the budget you have managed and any savings you have achieved for past organizations.

Create, update and maintain your LinkedIn profile: Employers will likely check the social media platforms of candidates they are considering. LinkedIn is used by millions of people worldwide, and recruiters rely on the site to find and vet job candidates. You can’t afford not to be in there and in there with a professional look. So be sure to have an updated and professional LinkedIn profile that includes your education, a professional-looking picture, examples of your work output, and a headline that stands out.
I hope these tips are helpful as you begin to update your resume and prepare your cover letters. Take a look at today’s freebie for a sample profile section. Stay tuned in two weeks for more on search from the candidate’s perspective – we’ll talk about navigating the interview process.