4 Ways to Optimize Your Resume and Cover Letter

Your resume and cover letter are intended to work together. They’re like a pair of shoes: Although they’re the same color and style, one goes on your right foot and one goes on your left. And if you pair a sneaker with a work boot, maybe you’ll get where you need to go, or maybe you won’t.

pair of red shoes in grass lawnObviously you want to get where you’re going — in this case, to a new job. With that in mind, here are four strategies to present employers with the complete, working package.

Use a Similar Look and Feel

Consistency between your resume and cover letter demonstrates your attention to detail and thoroughness. Plus, giving reviewers a coordinated package helps you convey the sense of a uniform message. That’s subtle, but it can have an impact. From the font to the layout to headers, you want to present complementary documents that were obviously thoughtfully crafted by the same author.

It doesn’t matter whether you attach them as Word documents or PDFs or paste plain-text versions into the body of an email or online application. Be sure to use asterisks, bullet points, dashes and keywords consistently and capitalize the same words. If you’re printing out copies for an interview, use the same paper and color scheme.

Customize Your Documents

Yes, it takes more work, but your resume and cover letter have to be customized in order to be effective. Use your cover to link your abilities to the company’s needs, then weave that same theme into your resume’s headline, profile and opening summary to create a powerful one-two punch.

Offer Complementary Information

Make sure the dates, job titles, education, technical skills and work experience in your documents match, and use the same name and contact information. The cover letter should enhance your resume by providing an in-depth overview of relevant experience and skills, while your resume should offer a more detailed look at your work history and education. When laid side-by-side, they should paint a complete picture of what you can offer.

Cross-reference Your Documents

Your cover letter exists to persuade employers to read your resume, so tie them together as much as possible. Refer to your resume in the body of your cover letter and note that it’s attached. In your resume, footnote experience and skills that also appear in your cover letter, then explain that details of a footnoted project or technical skill is included in the cover letter. Or, use bold-face type or italics to highlight cross-referenced experience and keywords. Also, consider cross-linking between the documents, especially if you create PDFs.

Speaking of linking, remember to include links to your social media profile and online portfolio. That way, you’re giving reviewers the chance to see the complete picture.

10 Responses to “4 Ways to Optimize Your Resume and Cover Letter”

  1. Unless I am overly enthused about a company, I have stopped customizing anything. The response rate is too low to put that much unpaid time into it.

    Example – sent 15 resume and cover letters with portfolios customized out in the last few weeks
    Responses were – 4 automated messages, 2 real person replies both saying you aren’t a fit (one only had one framework I hadn’t used, one didn’t want telecommute)

    If they learn to respond more often for jobs I have more than enough experience for, maybe I would consider their plight. Now, I have to look out for myself. Job hunting for 9 hours a day reading job after job checking 5 job boards obsessively and they can’t even respond? Bad juju and I’m reacting by giving less effort so that I have little emotional investment. 🙂

  2. Leslie Stevens-Huffman

    Customization can be time consuming but it doesn’t have to be. If you create an inventory of task, responsibility and experience bullets, technical skills and so forth, you can simply copy and paste the appropriate bullets and change the order of your information before you submit. Customizing your headline and selecting the right bullet points for your qualifications summary can convey a customized message without taking all day. Plus, there’s a good chance that one of your slightly modified resumes will fit another opportunity once you’ve built up an inventory.


    Good luck.

  3. Usually just a whole pile of Automated responses from third party HR companies – although just try to accidentally send them the wrong file that is unopenable eg a $file.docx and the person will usually follow up with you saying they could not open your document? If you are lucky you will get an automated response back – sorry a lot of fine applicants and you don’t even make the shortlist BUT we would love to keep your application on file so we can match you with any other jobs that show up…

    So when they do show up and these fine HR companies are all desperately ringing my number then I take my time to select the one that has been professional and has bothered to chat to me about positions – Karma

    The worst offenders seem to be the really big HR companies who seem to think they should brag about how impressive their turnover was in the past year in the job ad they are running – I usually give them a big X – Karma again…

    I also figure now that I am heading towards being the IT Manager for large companies and I require some staff then I know precisely who the ones are that are professional and who to avoid – Karma again…

  4. Donna Stanton

    Why do we have to customize a resume? Either we did A, B, C at a past job or we did not. A resume is just a listing of where we worked and the responsibilities we had. Same with customizing/selling ourselves with a cover letter. Use the letter to explain that we have skills A, B, and D – but not C – explain that knowledge of D will make C skill very easy. Just having set skills and a high performance level at one job does not mean a guaranteed success in another job – note the recent mess created at JC Penney’s stores when an high skilled Apple store CEO took over.

    • Yes – I won’t be writing individual resumes – what a nightmare to maintain even if you have each one based on a generic job set?

      Listing everything I think I am good at means that the employer can see that they are getting much more than just the list of skills that they think are after right now. Serendipity might also kick in in that they might also be after some of your unlisted skills to cover another position in the organization – or a completely new job.

  5. Merrie

    A recruiter recently told me she doesn’t read the cover letters when they are pasted into a form online. She said the letters show up in a string of words, so I e-mailed her my cover letter and an additional copy of my resume. Incidentally, very few recruiters bother to call or acknowledge receipt of a job application. The auto-responders help to let me know the application was received, but a human contact is best.