According to ZipRecruiter, a strong resume or cover letter is made up of strong component parts: how it describes past experience, how long it runs, what it includes, and what it leaves out. The key takeaways are to keep it short, keep it relevant, create sections like “objective,” “summary,” “work history,” and “training,” and, as ZipRecruiter’s Chief Marketing Officer Allan Jones explained it, “present yourself as someone who is ready to step right in and help a company’s bottom line.”
Apparently, even the way that a verb is conjugated can make a considerable difference in self-presentation. “We found that words that made the jobseeker seem like an inexperienced work-in-progress, like ‘first,’ ‘need,’ ‘hard,’ or ‘develop,’ had a very negative effect on resume ratings,” wrote Jones over email. While “develop” was on the list of words that make it 79% less likely a resume or cover letter will get a five-star rating, “development” was included in a list of words that make it 70% more likely a resume or cover letter will get a five-star rating.
“What most surprised us,” wrote Jones, “was not that keywords had an effect on perceived resume quality, but how strong the correlation between keywords and resume quality was.” To calculate this, ZipRecruiter pulled resumes from its database and analyzed correlations between “hundreds of millions of keywords, length, and content of resumes and cover letters and their star ratings,” explained Jones.
What may surprise someone working on a resume or cover letter is to learn what was found to be associated with a 24% lower likelihood of getting a five-star rating. Languages, personal interest, accomplishments, and hobbies were all listed as sections to avoid.
Tips to strengthen a resume or cover letter included “say ‘thank you,’” and “display confidence that you will get the job done.” These are perhaps not surprising findings, but the last point is particularly relevant to those who may be new to the workforce or to a particular profession and do, in fact, consider themselves a “work-in-progress.” In that case, Jones advises, “Even if you are relatively inexperienced, showing that you are confident and can help right now is key.