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You CAN Have the Perfect Resume and Cover Letter! (Or CAN’T you?) Everything you need for the perfect resume and cover letter—plus a lesson on CAN vs. CAN’T in American English.
You found a job that you’re dying to get. When’s the last time you took a look at your resume? Maybe you don’t even have one yet. And what about a cover letter? The strength of these two materials will determine whether or not you get an interview.
In this video, I’m going to interview two employers who have done a lot of hiring and we’ll figure out the best possible way for you to present yourself with a resume to a perspective employer. For my non-native English students out there, we’ll also have an English lesson at the end of this video on the word ‘can’t’, and how it’s sometimes pronounced like ‘can’, and how that’s confusing. This actually happens in one of the interviews and we’ll study that as an example.
Let’s talk resumes. You might be surprised to hear that the content of your resume comes second to readability. That’s right. The format is actually more important than what you say, because a good format: someone will read that. A bad format: someone might not even read that, so it doesn’t matter what it says.
Cindy was the executive director of a non-profit in New York City. That nonprofit got a huge grant that required greatly expanding her workforce, and across her career, she has evaluated literally thousands of resumes. Let’s see what she says about formatting.
Generally speaking, I would say, what I look for in a resume or a CV is that it’s super easy to read, and very clear, and not cluttered.
>> So, formatting.
Matters a ton because if I can’t even read it then, it’s hard to figure out what I’m looking for.
I also asked a local small business owner, Steve about this.
Steve, I know you did some hiring recently. What about resumes, stood out for you, when you decided to put someone in the interview pile, what was it about the resume?
Probably the biggest thing then I look at is for uniformity within that resume.
So, for both of these people their first response has nothing to do with content. They want a format that allows them to easily skim to make a quick determination about whether or not they are interested in someone. If they can’t do that quickly, they won’t bother with the resume. It automatically goes to the ‘no’ pile. We want to make sure yours is in the ‘yes’ pile.
Both Cindy and Steve went on to mention, there’s no need for color on the resume, and don’t put your picture on it, unless that’s required.
The kind of resume you’ll write depends on where you are in your career, and there are lots of examples to find online. Take a look at the work experience on this resume. It’s consistent. The position is in bold with the location and dates below in italics. It’s the same for both positions, and there are bullet points beneath. Someone can take a look at this and quickly get the content.
So what about the content? Listen to what Cindy has to say about this.
When you’re applying for specific roles, it is helpful to tweak your resume and use similar language and bullets from the job description on your resume. As long as it’s accurate and true, but if the job description says that you have edited videos, you know, that you’ve got specific type of software editing, or whatever the verbs are they are using to describe what they’re looking for, if you’ve done those things, it is worth tweaking your resume so that it mirrors the job description as much as you can.
That’s a great point. Bring in the verbs specifically.
Yes, like, because there are some cultural things there. Because an organization might use the word ‘drive’ for example and it connects to the organization’s culture, and you see that through their job description, you can incorporate that into your resume and your cover letter to use similar language to show that you, one, are perceptive, but also that you are… Would connect with that culture well.
What a great idea. Have the job description in front of you and tweak your resume for that exact job. Look for the action words, the verbs. Is this something you can truthfully put into your resume? Do it.
And I was surprised to hear this:
Places that are big companies for entry-level or maybe even mid-level jobs where they’re hiring a lot of one job, or a lot of similar jobs, a lot of those companies use a HR software and will scan resumes, and I look for keywords. And so that is why the matching the resume to the job description. I have not personally actually used any of those kind of softwares, I just know that they’re used at some of the bigger places. And so that matching is also really important.
That’s amazing. So the first look at your resume isn’t even from a human.
In some cases it might not even be a human that does the first evaluation of your resume, so the words you chose to put in are so important.
Steve has some additional advice.
When I’m looking at the actual resume, I’m going to go down through and see what responsibilities you had. And has that responsibility increased over the years? Have you… Have you advanced in your career through that process?
Responsibilities and growth are big points that employers look at, so really think about what you’ve done at your jobs. If at all possible, find the job description of the jobs you’ve held in the past and currently hold. That will give you a great starting point for listing the roles and responsibilities you had at the job if you’re not sure how to describe them.
What about the order of your sections? Should education come before or after your work experience? Let’s hear what Cindy has to say.
What about moving specific things to the top that is, that would be more relevant to that specific job, that kind of thing, like…
I mean yes, I think that’s… I think that’s useful, people look at resumes very, very, quickly. I think the most important piece is that it’s easy to read and easy to find. I think the further you are in professional career, typically, you move education to the bottom, unless you are applying for roles where it requires phd, perhaps, maybe put that on the top. I do think it’s worth like making sure that the things that you have in your resume are relevant to what the job is looking, but ultimately, you just want it clean.
Again, clean. Easy to read – the most important thing about your resume.
So you’re starting to write your resume. What should you keep in mind?
So Cindy, what advice would you give to somebody who’s just starting writing their first resume?
So I would, I actually think it’s useful to get a template, because it’s helpful to figure out how you even want to get started. So templates are helpful. The second is to just write out all the jobs you’ve had and what your key responsibilities. If you have your job descriptions, those are really helpful to help pull bullets from a job description that you can pull onto a resume. And then is to review all of your bullets for actionability. So they are all you know starting with an action word, and they are including as much as possible something specific and measurable. So for example, fundraised 1 million dollars in, you know, fiscal year, or year, or whatever that is, like wherever you can add very clear metric. And that they are actionable and if they are not… If it’s not a meaningful bullet, then take it out.
Be clear, be specific. Rather than saying ‘responsible for fundraising’, say ‘Raised over $1,000,000 a year’.
What if you have no work experience, or none in the field you want to move into?
What would you say, the job requires a resume, so what do you, what do you do with that?
You want to put your, all of your work experience on there, anyway. Majority of it. And you want to try to figure out what are the transferrable skills from those jobs to what you’re trying to move to. So again, I would look at the job description of the role that you’re looking for and figure out what are the things on there that you’ve done in some way, that connect in some way, and do your best to put those bullets underneath the jobs that you’ve held. So if you’ve done a customer service job and you want to move into any job. Right? Customer service is really important. So being able to do it, if it’s a job that requires that you are detail-oriented, I’m sure, you know, but in a totally different capacity, like that’s something that you could know. So it’s figuring out what those transferable skills are, and then use your cover letter to explain why you are moving from wanting to get into a new profession or career that is different from what you were doing it before.
Be savvy about connecting experience you have with the job you want, even if you don’t have direct experience in that actual kind of job. Now, Cindy mentioned cover letters, another really important part to landing a job interview, and we’ll go over cover letters in the next video.
I asked both Cindy and Steve about ‘bad’ resumes. What not to do. We’ve talked about resume ‘do’s’, what about some resume ‘don’t’s’. Have you done any of these?
What are the worst resumes that you’ve seen and why?
I think just recently, one of the worst resumes I saw was no dates associated with their times, if they were at an organization. So they completely left those out. And was just surprised to even see that somebody wouldn’t put in how long they’ve been at an organization. And that one immediately went to the ‘no’ pile. I’ve seen ones that that aren’t consistent, they’ll have you know, their job position, or their description, their title would be above the company that they worked with and then the line down, it would be below it. So some simple things like proofreading. Consistent proofreading, easy to read.
And they’re usually things that have like somebody’s name in the biggest font possible, in various colors, or like something about it that is trying to stand out so much that it just doesn’t land very well.
Write your best resume. I think you know what to do now. Keep it clean, simple, and easy to read with consistent formatting. Use action words, verbs, and be really specific about what you’ve done at each job. Have the job description for the job you want in front of you and pull out some of those verbs to have in your resume. Have past job descriptions with you as well, but if they’re not available, take a minute away from the resume to write up what you did at each job you’ve held to use as a reference when you’re adding bullet points to jobs on your resume. Think about submitting it as a PDF rather than a word document to ensure the formatting will look just the way you want it to.
In the next video, we’ll go over another very important document, one you often have to submit when applying for a job, a cover letter. After that, we’ll move into the job interview do’s and don’t’s.
For my non-native students, we’re going to get your English lesson in just a minute. If you haven’t already, be sure to click the subscribe button and the bell for notifications. I make new videos on the English language and American culture every Tuesday and have over 600 videos on my channel to date, focusing on listening comprehension and accent reduction. While you’re waiting for next week’s video, a great next step would be to check out this “get started playlist.”
Now, here’s your English lesson.
Let’s take a look at something Cindy said in the interview. There will be no subtitles for this sentence.
Let’s focus on just the first half of that sentence. Cuz if I can’t even read it–
Can you tell what she’s saying there? Did you recognize the reduction of ‘cuz’? That’s thw word ‘because’ reducing. Cuz–
Cuz if I can’t even read it–
Really what I want you to notice is the word ‘can’t’. She didn’t actually say ‘can’t’. She said ‘can’, but she meant ‘can’t’, and as a native speaker, I heard it as ‘can’t’. But she did say ‘can’, and if you’re a non-native speaker, that could be really confusing.
Cuz if I can’t even read it–
With N’T contractions, we almost never say a True T, ttt, can’t. Don’t. Won’t. Doesn’t. We often make a Stop T, abruptly stopping the air, in this case, in the nose since the sound before is the nasal consonant N. Can’t, Don’t, nn, nn. But what i’ve noticed is that sometimes in N’T contractions, native speakers drop the T altogether when the next word begins with a vowel or diphthong. There’s not even a stop to signify the T. So ‘can’t even’ becomes ‘can even’. Can’t even. The N smoothly glides into the EE vowel with no break, no stop, no T sound.
So what’s the difference between ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ if the T is completely dropped? The vowel. In these cases, ‘can’ and ‘can’t’, they’re helping verbs. The main verb in Cindy’s sentence was ‘read’ – ‘cuz if I can’t even read it’. ‘Read’ is the main verb. So if ‘can’ was a helping verb here, it would’ve been reduced. The vowel changed to the schwa: can, can, can. I can’t even read it. Can’t, can’t. But it sounded stressed in her sentence, can, that is longer, clearer, with the up-down shape and the full vowel. Can, can. Because of that, we know what she means is can’t. We know it’s ‘can’t’ but without the T. ‘cuz if I can’t even read it.’ Can’t–
It’s terrible, I know, and I’m sorry. I apologize for this way of speaking! But this is what happens in American English. Let’s look at a few more examples:
I can’t always get another one. ‘Can’t always’ will sound like this: can always. I can always get another one. But if I want to say: I can get another one, then I would say: I can always get another one. Can, can. So can’t becomes can and can becomes knn.
I can’t always get another one.
I can always get another one.
One more sentence.
I can’t ask her that. I can’t ask her– I can’t ask her– Or, I can ask her that. I can, can, can. I can ask her that.
I hope this tip can help you sometime when you’re feeling confused about what a person means.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.