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Listener Question: Amanda asks about Building Resumés and Cover Letters

Published 9/30/2016

In today's episode, we talk about the do's and don't's of resumés and cover letters thanks to a question from listener Amanda.

Today's episode is sponsored by Zendesk! With Zendesk, you can get feedback from your customers without making them leave your application, leading to faster resolution times and happier users! Check it out at Zendesk.com/developertea today!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I answer a question from listener Amanda about resumes and cover letters. Amanda wrote in to Developer Teaat Gmail and she asked, I recently started listening to Developer Tea and I have a question. I've been taking some online web development courses and would ultimately like to get an internship in front-end web development. I was wondering if you had any tips about how to format a front-end web development resume or cover letter or a list of do's and don'ts when you're actually writing these things. I'm near to this industry so anything would help. Thank you. Thank you so much for sending in this question first of all Amanda. When I get real questions from listeners like Amanda, it's super helpful because there are other people just like Amanda listening to this show right now or who will one day listen to this show in the future and they have a problem exactly like Amanda's. They are trying to get an internship and they're not really sure how they should format the resume or their cover letter and there's a lot of information out there. Thank you so much for asking the question. I've prepared some thoughts on the subject of a resume and a cover letter. Let's start by discussing the life cycle of a resume and a cover letter first. From your position Amanda, once you have written your cover letter and prepared your resume, you're most likely going to send it to a handful of potential employers or possibly a job placement agency of some sort. But eventually your resume and your cover letter will make it into the hands of your potential future employer, some worker at that firm. That letter often comes into the inbox of someone who holds a job that is similar to the one that you would eventually get past your internship in a small company or it will go to an HR department in a larger company. Once it makes it to this desk, the person is going to give your resume a quick glance in their browser most likely because it probably came to them by email. Before they even read the rest of the resume or the cover letter, they're most likely going to Google your name. They're probably going to try to find you online and see if they can supplement the knowledge that you are providing them in the resume and in the cover letter. They're going to try to supplement that knowledge online. So quite simply, they're going to open a new tab to Google your name to get an idea of where you are coming from. Where do you live? What is your background? What are your experiences? They may click a few links before they actually find you, but they will cross check the information in your profile to the information they find online. So a very simple quick tip. This is not an official tip that I've written down, but a quick tip for every developer is to spin some time every once in a while, open an incognito tab in Google and Google your own name. This is one of the first things that your employer is very likely to see about you. This is the first page of Google. If they can't find you in your front-end web developer, then that speaks of your experience level. So if you are applying for a front-end web development job, I highly recommend that you have some kind of online presence. We've talked about having a personal brand as a developer. I highly recommend especially for front-end Developer That you have some kind of online presence, whether that is a code pin profile or your own name.com. I have JonathanCutrell.com for example, somewhere that you exist online. That could even be a medium blog where you share a few opinions about front-end web development or share a few stories about front-end web development. So the person is going to find you online in some way or another, whether they end up on your Facebook page or your professional website is really up to you. So take some time to craft that online presence. But aside from the point, because we're talking about resumes and we're talking about cover letters today. So if you did write a cover letter, they will probably read quickly to see if there is substance to the cover letter and also to see if you've presented yourself in a relatively professional way. We'll talk more about a device for your cover letter later on in today's episode. Next, the person is likely to read over the primary bullet points in your resume and ultimately end up back in the browser where they will try to find work that you've done as well as some kind of online representation of your personality. Like I said before, they may end up on your Facebook page or your Twitter or they could end up on your professional website. It is possible and likely that if they are doing their homework, they're going to end up on all of the above. Because if they are doing their job, they're going to find out everything that they can about you online. So some of the bullet points on your resume may end up being skipped or some of them may be focused on more heavily depending on what that company specializes in. We're going to come back after taking a quick sponsor break today and we'll discuss how to make your cover letter and your resume stand out and ultimately we're going to discuss the purpose of the resume and the cover letter. If you're just sending them just because you were told to do so in some kind of college hiring program, for example, that's not a good enough reason. So we'll talk more about why why you should send a resume, why you should send a cover letter, what the job of those two things are. Whether you're like Amanda and your brand new to development and you're looking for an internship or if you have years of experience, you know that it's impossible to write the flawless app. No matter how much testing you do, no matter how much planning you do, how much design upfront you do, it's impossible to write a flawless application. Flawless apps are ultimately like flawless people. They exist in theory, right? But I've never actually seen one in reality. And if you don't have a great customer service pipeline in place for when your users experience those bugs, you can very easily lose a user's attention altogether. Now most of the time people use some kind of email address to send support request to or just a form or a link out to a website if you're in a native app. But if you use Zendesk, Zendesk has native APIs to bring a customer support into your application. Users can view help content and they can submit tickets to your support system without ever actually leaving the app. And the tickets go directly into Zendesk and they can include information on the user's application and their device information, the history with your app and plenty more. And best of all, it's included with Zendesk at no charge. You can use the out of the box iOS UI or you can build your own UI and work with their SDK API providers. Go and check it out zendesk.com slash Developer Tea. That's zendesk.com slash Developer Tea and get your customers the help they need when they experience the bugs that you write. Thank you again to zendesk for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So I want you to think about this Amanda and anyone else in this position and even those of you who are beyond this position because you're probably statistically going to go through the hiring process again. So you're going to write a cover letter. You're probably going to write your you're going to update your resume in some way and send it on to someone else. I want you to think about this. What is the purpose of a cover letter and what is the purpose of your resume if you want to pause the podcast and write down what you think it the purpose of the cover letter or the purpose of the resume is then go ahead and do that. If you end up writing down something like to show my skills or to introduce myself to the company then you're only partially right because yes a resume and a cover letter those things are important to show your skills. They're also important to introduce your personality to the company. Imagine you are meeting your potential employer for the very first time with hopes joining their team. If you're meeting them face to face for the very first time what would you focus on when meeting that potential future employer. The purpose of the resume and the cover letter is to move you past the first stage move you past that first meeting keep you from being dismissed and not thought of again and move you on to the second stage of employment discussion. It's that simple. Once you have moved on to the second stage the cover letter specifically most likely won't be looked at again and the resume may be referenced in a secondary meeting but overall once you get a call back these two items have done most of their job and once you can start to understand that your resume and your cover letter are not intended to show the full picture a biography of you but instead they are intended as communication pieces. They're intended to help your employer solve the problem of the need of your position. In other words you should be showing your employer how you fit at their company with these documents. So what does that mean? Well I'm going to give you some actionable tips some actionable tips to make your resume and your cover letter stand out and move past that first stage of the hiring process. So tip number one do your homework. Now don't mean do your homework to get a good GPA. I mean do your homework about the company you are applying to understand their history understand the key players on their team the size of their team the types of projects that they work on understand their tone in their voice understand the things that they like their culture their current project technologies and if possible their future direction. As a second part of this don't just fill in the blanks if you use the same cover letter for example to apply to more than one employer it's pretty easy to identify the few points of a cover letter that has been modified to target only one company. In other words it's easy to tell if you have just kind of changed out the names in order to essentially spam your potential employers. People are generally good at recognizing these kinds of things take the time to rewrite each of your cover letters or don't write a cover letter at all. The worst thing you can do is fake it. Now as a secondary note on cover letters go ahead and put the body of your cover letter in an email. There are multiple reasons for this the first one is it's much more likely to be read if it is directly in the email another great reason is because it's much easier to search for you if you put all of that text into an email you can actually search your inbox if you use something like Gmail you can search for a keyword or key phrase in your inbox and everything that you can do to stay visible to your future employer those are the things you want to focus on you want to focus on staying visible to your employer so go ahead and put the body of that cover letter in the email you can also include it as a PDF if you want to but ultimately make sure you put your cover letter the information into an email it's much less important that you format it like a formal cover letter and much more important that it actually gets read by the target audience you also get the added minor benefit of it loading significantly faster than a PDF would because it's just text so that's tip number one do your homework understand what companies you are applying to this is good for you by the way it's not just good for your for your higher ability it's also good for you to do this kind of homework on the company that you're ultimately going to invest your time with if you want to go and build a relationship with a company then you need to actually do your homework actually do that relationship building from your side treat this potential employer with respect and give them the time of day to go and learn a little bit about what they do and what they care about tip number two keep it short punchy and interesting keep it short punchy and interesting you know we talk about brevity on the show because the show is intended to be as short as possible sometimes like today we go a little bit over our normal normal length of an episode but keeping things short and punchy they're much more likely to be read thoroughly they're much more likely to be remembered an interesting resume becomes less and less interesting the longer it is think about that for a second you can have a very interesting resume but because it is so long it becomes less interesting because it has to take up more of my time and under qualified person doesn't end up looking more qualified by simply increasing the length of their resume maybe at a first glance that would be true but once I start digging I can realize whether or not you're actually qualified your resume should be able to fit on two pages to normal sized pages open up Google Docs and you can write out two pages and understand what that sizing is but at a normal font size say something around 14 points you should be able to fit your entire resume on two pages don't include filler information that is irrelevant to what the employer needs to know about you you should include some of the specific technologies you are currently working with and practicing and also technologies that you're interested in these are things that your employer absolutely needs to know even though this is a very common thing to do it's kind of cliche at this point to have a list of languages on your resume it speaks volumes about your experience the things that you've built in the past and the overlap of your current specific skill set with the employers tool set on the flip side from the technical discussion it's also important that you include non technical details about yourself these things act as anchors with your employer especially if you end up having something personally in common with your employer so include some of your interests perhaps a hobby or two of yours don't let this take up very much space at all on your resume but include some very simple things perhaps milestones that you have reached in your in your hobby careers as well of course if you have a formal background in education or even if it is somewhat informal if you've taken courses go ahead and include some of those things on there but once again don't allow those to take up too much space don't go through every list of award and accolade don't go through every single class that you took when you were in college these are things that your employer ultimately is not going to care much about until they ask you about them so remember keep it short punchy and interesting and finally and perhaps most importantly focus on future possibilities instead of past history think about that for second focus focus on future possibilities instead of past history more specifically focus less on yourself and more on the company that you are applying to and how you fit at that company talk about the work you are interested in doing for that company and the value that you are interested in adding developers who are focused on what they have done in the past appear to be writing on their previous momentum while developers who are focused on what they are going to do tomorrow are writing on the value that they can create every day focus on building a case for why you believe you will make a great team member in every facet of your application if you can convince those who are reading your resume and cover letter that you belong at this company they will see you as an opportunity rather than as someone that is simply racing for the position this psychological shift is incredibly important both for you and for the employer so focus on future possibilities instead of past history talk about how great the future will be and how you want to be a part of it this gives your future employer hope and excitement and you will move from that position of someone who is racing for a position to the position of someone who is an opportunity thank you so much for your question Amanda and thank you so much for listening to Developer Teathank you to today's awesome sponsor Zendesk if you want to check out Zendesk go and check it out at zendesk.com slash Developer Teathank you so much for listening if you're enjoying this podcast make sure you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use we do three episodes of this podcast a week if you don't want to miss out on them subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use thank you so much for listening and until next time enjoy your tea