“Despite the rise of social media and online job applications, the cover letter and resume combination is still the cornerstone of a successful job search. Because of that, one of the questions we hear most often from job seekers is “What should I put on my resume?” In fact, we hear it so often that we decided to look at our data to help job seekers create the perfect cover letter and resume.
To determine which resume strategies were the most effective, we looked at our resume database, where hiring managers can rate candidates on a scale of 1 to 5 Stars. We analyzed our database of over 3,000,000 resumes to see why some got the highest rating – and a chance at landing the candidate a new job – and why some got the lowest rating, and ended up in the virtual trash.
By looking at keywords, length, and sections, we were able to create a profile of the perfect cover letter and resume: what you should include, what you shouldn’t include, and plenty of tips to help your resume and cover letter stand out from the crowd.
The Perfect Cover Letter
First, let’s answer a question that we hear all the time: Should you use a cover letter?
Yes! Cover letters increase a resume’s chance of receiving a Five Star rating by 29%.
Our findings also give clues as to what you should include in a cover letter:
Your Mother Was Right… Politeness Matters
A cover letter is the first chance you have to impress an employer – or to turn them off permanently. Wondering how to impress? We found that the phrase “Thank you for your consideration” was included in 10% more Five Star resumes than One Star, which means that your mother was right: politeness is important. Definitely thank the reader for taking the time to read your cover letter.
Display Confidence That You’ll Get The Job Done
Also, be aware that an employer has posted the job you’re applying for because they have a problem. Whether a long-time employee recently retired, or the company is growing quickly because of strong sales, the employer has a need that must be filled. We found that it’s important to present yourself as a solution to that problem, and not as work in progress focused only on your own career trajectory. Words like “learning”, “develop”, and “myself” have a strong correlation with One Star resumes, meaning that employers want a team player who is ready to start contributing to the business on Day One.
The Perfect Resume
Keep it Relevant
When you sit down to write your resume, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is what to sections to include. We found that resumes containing the following sections are 1.7 times more likely to receive a Five Star rating:
Which makes sense – employers want to know everything about you that may be relevant to your ability to perform the job they’ve posted.
What Not to Include on Your Resume
Sections that employers find irrelevant are Languages (somewhat surprisingly) and Personal Interests and Accomplishments (not surprisingly):
Languages Spoken: Mention any additional languages spoken if the job calls for bilingual candidates, but otherwise save space and leave it out.
Personal Interests and Accomplishments: Leave out your hobbies and keep the fact that you won a spelling bee in 5th grade to yourself – employers don’t care.
Including these sections can make it 24% less likely for a resume to receive a Five Star rating.
Use Power Keywords
When we looked at how certain keywords affect the Star Rating of resumes, we found that words that implied management skills (not necessarily as a manager: time management is an example of a management skill everyone needs to have), a proactive stance towards working (“responsible”, “support”, and “client” speak to that) and problem solving skills (“data”, “analysis”, and “operation”) were the most highly rated.
Additionally, using these Power Keywords in your resume can increase your chance of a Five Star rating by up to 70%:
Remember, though, that keyword stuffing will more than likely lead to your resume being discarded. Make sure you only include words that are relevant to your skills.
Keywords to Absolutely, In All Cases, Avoid
You’ll also want to avoid keywords which may give employers the impression that you’re inexperienced, require a great deal of training, or are put off by hard work. These negative keywords have a strong correlation with One Star reviews, with up to a 79% greater likelihood of receiving the lowest rating:
Find the Goldilocks Length
Resumes between 600 and 700 words in length were rated much higher than resumes that were less that 500 words long, and anything over 700 words began to trend towards lower Star Ratings. Keep your resume in the 600-700 word Goldilocks length (not too long, not too short).
Our data also shows that your Summary should be between 90 and 100 words in length, and that your Objective should be approximately 30 words long. Following these length guidelines results in a 30% boost in the chances of receiving a Five Star rating.”