How to Play Up Your Skills on Paper

by Jessica Uhlenkamp

Notebook and Laptop
Your resume and cover letter are often your only shot at potential employment.

If the employer does not like these simple pieces of paper, then you won’t get past the front door. Making sure that your resume and cover letter stand out is the best way to get an interview—but how can you ensure that your materials get to the top of the pile? The best way is to make your skills and experience sound interesting and relevant to the position. It does take some time and effort to do this, but it is not as difficult as you might think.

Cover Letter: Fitting Your Skills to the Challenges of the Job

Potential employers want to connect with you on paper before they get to know you in person.

They can do that if you share your personal story in a meaningful way. The best place to do this is in your cover letter. Your cover letter is your “introduction” to the employer.

What do you want them to know about you right away? Your cover letter should answer this question in a way that also fits the kind of person that the potential employer is looking for to fill their position. Pick a few skills that are absolutely vital to your desired position, and share instances or examples where you displayed those skills.

Consider an example: Imagine that you are applying for an in-bound call center position that speaks with customers of a local newspaper. First, think about why a customer would call a newspaper. They might want to stop or start their subscription, subscribe to the paper for the first time, or issue a complaint about their service or their paper. What is the most difficult part of those conversations? It will likely be dealing with customer complaints. That means that your cover letter should tell the employer about how well you deal with conflict and share a brief story about how you have handled conflict with customers in the past.

There are three basic steps to this analysis:

  1. Determine the duties of an employee in a similar position.
  2. Anticipate what the most difficult or challenging aspect of the position may be.
  3. Tailor your cover letter to tell a story about a time that you dealt with this challenging aspect and succeeded.

You should explain that you expect this particular skill to be valuable in that positon or to the employer generally. Potential employers will not only be engaged by your personal story, but they will also be impressed that you recognize some of the most difficult aspects of your desired position. Keep in mind, however, that your cover letter should usually not exceed more than a page, so being concise is important.

Resume: Making Your Skills Pop

Your resume is arguably an even more important place to play up your skills. Not all companies will read your cover letter, but you can bet that they will take a quick look at your resume.

The “quick” part is important—your resume should be easy to read at a glance.

That means that it should be laid out well, and it should be tailored to the position you want to obtain. Unless you are applying to various positions in the same field, you should adjust your resume to whomever will be reading it. Again, determining your most valuable skills for the specific position is going to be extremely helpful to focus your resume.

Below are some suggestions to bring your skills to life in your resume.

  • Give statistics where available. For example: “managed a team of 5 employees who generated roughly $10,000 in sales revenue each month,” or “answered roughly 100 customer calls per day, many dealing with customer complaints.” Employers love numbers, even if they are estimates or generalizations. Numbers show how your role was important to the company and adds real value to what you did for your past employer.
  • Always use action words like led, managed, developed, created, or provided, and keep your descriptions short and to the point. You don’t even need to write a full sentence on what you have done in your prior positions. Consider how your potential employer is going to read your resume—fast. Make your descriptions fit with that type of reading.
  • Get creative with your skills. Sit down and write out all of the skills you had to use in your previous position. Did it require problem solving? Critical thinking? How about listening? Consider how you can build these unique skills into either a designated skills section or into your work experience. Potential employers will love the creativity and they may realize that you have listed skills that they didn’t even know they wanted! Just stay away from overused skill terms like “team player,” or “people person” if at all possible.

Your resume and cover letter should be a unique representation of you. Making them stand out means pouring a little bit more of your brand into the words and phrases that you use. Tailored creativity is the best way to land an interview!

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