Most job seekers will agree that the current employment market is highly competitive not only because of the high number of qualified candidates applying for the same jobs but also because the rules for attaining a job seem to have changed. The days of pounding the pavement with résumé in hand are long gone. The traditional "Help Wanted" ads in the daily newspaper are virtually things of the past. Mailing a résumé and cover letter to the Human Resources department of a company has become passé. A young person would be left dazed and confused if encouraged to pursue any of these methods to find suitable employment. Modern job seekers will do 90% of their employment search online.
An effective job search strategy begins with a strong résumé which highlights a candidate's knowledge, skills, and abilities while providing summaries of the candidate's achievements and accomplishments. Employers are interested in knowing more than what a job seeker did on a day-to-day basis. They want to know that the candidate was successful, that he or she made an impact on the bottom-line and contributed to reaching organizational goals. Equally important as the résumé is a strong cover letter. It's true that many recruiters and hiring managers do not always read the cover letter, but a savvy job seeker will recognize that presenting a cover letter is part of the process. A good cover letter should offer the employer a sense of what specific attributes a candidate brings to the table with regard to the position for which he or she is applying. The cover letter is a good place to be a bit more personal, letting the employer know why the job seeker wants to work for the company.
There are two other written documents that can play a critical role in a job seeker's ultimate success. The first is the email that is sent with the résumé and cover letter as attachments. Too often, job seekers miss this opportunity to further market themselves. Some may simply copy and paste the cover letter into the email. This is not advisable as most cover letters are too long for email correspondence. That being said, a savvy job seeker must do more than simply reference the job posting and direct the reader to the attached documents. Without getting to verbose, one might take the opportunity to create interest in the attached documents by highlighting one very strong skill that supports the job seeker's candidacy or let the reader know how excited the candidate is to work for "xyz company" because of its stellar reputation or quality products and services. Since this email is very likely the first impression anyone at the company is going to get of a candidate, it is of utmost importance that the email is perfectly and professionally written.
The final written document that completes the candidate's package is the "Thank You" note that should be sent immediately following an interview. Some candidates will prefer to send a well-written email, which may be perfectly acceptable. However, there is something to be said about the formality of a nice, handwritten note on tasteful stationery. An email is easily forgotten, no matter how eloquent the communication. A "Thank You" card is a personal, yet professional, touch that most job seekers will simply overlook, making the impression it leaves even stronger. The note should be handwritten in the very best penmanship possible. The candidate should thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with the job seeker. Mentioning one or two "standout" skills or something unique from the interview reminds the interviewer of the time he or she spent with the candidate. What's more, the "Thank You" card is often left on the employer's desk or tacked to a bulletin board where it is seen throughout the day, each time reminding the prospective employer of the thoughtful person who sent it.
While all four written documents are very important, what is most important is that the résumé truly market a candidate's strengths. The résumé must be free of errors and it must be easy for the prospective employer to read and follow. Although the résumé will most likely be emailed, a savvy job seeker will show up at the interview with multiple copies of the résumé printed neatly on quality résumé paper. It's true; this is indeed the electronic/digital age. Nonetheless, certain things never go out of style.