You’ve worked hard at your job and now you are ready to tackle something more challenging and rewarding. If you are looking to advance (Professional to Manager, Manager to Director, Director to Vice President, and so on) in your career, you will want to employ slightly different strategies in your resume and cover letter than you would otherwise. This article details several recommendations that will help you take your next step up the career ladder.
1) Use a Title That Matches Your Goal
A title on your resume is a common way to set up the expectations of the reader. If they read “Financial Executive” as your title, they know they aren’t reading the resume of an engineer. However, many people think their resume title should match their most recent job title. It can, but it doesn’t have to. You can use a general title such as “Senior-Level Financial Executive” to cover a career spent as a Controller, Vice President of Finance, and CFO.
A general title works well when you are using the resume for networking purposes or to post your resume online. However, because some Applicant Tracking Software compare the title of your resume to the job title to determine how well your resume aligns with the job description, you might want to edit your title to match.
When you are looking to take the next step in your career, it is ok to list the title of your resume as the position you are targeting instead of the one you previously held.
2) Highlight Achievements That Match Their Requirements
If you are looking to take the next step in your career advancement, you will likely be called upon to handle greater scope and responsibility. However, even if you haven’t held the title, you still may have done the job (or many elements of it). Read over the job description carefully and pick out requirements that you best meet. Use those requirements to build the career highlights section of your resume and cover letter.
Since different companies use different titles and organizational structure, having previously held the title that you are applying to is not the most important thing for applicants. A hiring manager is most interested in candidates that meet their job requirements. If you can demonstrate that you meet most (if not all) of their requirements, you are more likely to get past the Applicant Tracking Software and earn yourself an interview.
When dissecting the job ad to identify requirements, try to imagine what a hiring manager would prioritize from that description. If you are not applying to a technical position, but the ad says the job requires knowledge of Microsoft Office, you want to include that as a keyword on your resume, but don’t emphasize it. Instead, focus on the big picture. For example, regardless of profession, most management roles will want you to administer budgets, control costs, manage teams, and hire/train new employees.
If you have not directly managed budgets, you cannot claim to have done so. However, you can highlight instances where you helped achieve a budget through controlled spending or expedited delivery. The important skill to highlight is fiscal responsibility and an understanding of how to align resources to meet business needs. Consider the following examples:
Collaborated with department heads each month to assess their supply needs and formulate a purchasing plan for the head procurement officer; controlled costs by reviewing orders in detail with each manager to prioritize requirements and ensure zero waste.
Contributed to companywide adoption of new processes and best practices aimed at controlling costs while ensuring all projects are delivered on-time; provided training collateral and materials for more than 240 full-time employees.
Even if you haven’t had direct reports in the past, you can highlight a project or a committee where you led a team in an accomplishment. Also, you can focus on instances where you helped onboard or mentor junior team members. The important skill to demonstrate is leadership and the ability to help individuals grow and improve.
Organized and executed a Toys-for-Tots fundraiser each holiday season for five years, leading the seven-member donations committee in securing gifts from company employees and allocating baskets/packages to the organization; raised upwards of $3K each year in monetary and toy donations.
Assisted human resources with recruiting activities by providing them with solid job descriptions for more than 100 roles and screening resumes to ensure applicants meet the needs of the open position; contributed to new-hire orientations and set up new users in the company database.
NOTE: Remember that you cannot claim to have had a responsibility on your resume that you did not have. Even though you want to draw connections between the work you’ve done to the work you will be asked to do, you must be honest in your presentation of your accomplishments.
3) Tell Your Story in Your Cover Letter
Most people will be fine with writing a simple introduction, including a few bulleted career highlights, and ending with a standard conclusion. However, if you are looking to make a change in your career or advance to the next level, it is advisable to tell the reader a little more about yourself.
The most strategic way to open a cover letter for someone looking to take the next step in their career is to not use a generic job title, but to express your interest specifically in the job you are pursuing. In other words, instead of writing “As a proven Sales Director, I” try something like:
Good day. I am writing to you today to express my interest in your open position of Director of Sales. I believe my skills and accomplishments in generating six-figure revenue, acquiring and retaining customers at the highest rate in my company, and training new employees in proven sales and closing techniques make me an ideal candidate for this position.
Once you have established your interest in the position and briefly summarized your qualifications, you have a couple of options for the rest of the letter. You can continue from that point to highlight some accomplishments from your resume and use a traditional closing to ask for an interview. Alternatively, you can explain why you are interested and/or ready to take the next step in your career (if you feel it is necessary). If you elect the second strategy, try something like:
Serving as an informal leader on my sales team, I continuously endeavor to support my colleagues in meeting their sales objectives while delivering on my own and promoting the team’s success. I also offer a track record of excellence in working with industry-leading, Fortune 500, and international clients, expertly assessing their needs to align them with the product set best suited for their business. For these reasons, I believe I am ready to move into a director-level role, assuming greater scope and responsibility.
REMEMBER: When you wrap up your cover letter, make sure you include a “call to action” or request for an interview.
4) Final Thoughts
When you are looking to take the next step in your career, it can serve you well to pursue advanced education, certifications, or training courses. Therefore, as you pursue your next role, look at certifications or courses that you could highlight on your resume that can help you land it.