I’m sure you’ve heard that cover letters are dead. Your best friend who’s been working at the same company for eight years tells you “No one reads them.” I’m sure you’ve also heard that scary fact that recruiters only read a resume for an average of six seconds.
As a former hiring manager, I can understand this—most of what crossed my desk was pretty awful or totally indistinguishable from the next.
More often than not, the cover letters sounded generic, like this:
“I am writing in reference to the job you posted. Here is what I want. Here is why I’m perfect. A few more I, I, I sentences. Here is my phone number, and attached is my resume. I hope to hear from you.”
And the resumes all read the same, too. Every candidate looked like the next, and it was hard to choose who to move to the “no pile” and who to move forward.
So, as a candidate, what are you supposed to do?
A few years back I started experimenting with job applications in an attempt to stand out. Finally, I found something that worked and I’ve been sharing this idea ever since. Although you may be nervous about the thought of doing something outside the norm, know this: If there’s one thing that hiring managers agree on, it’s that you need to take every opportunity to get their attention.
In Lynell Burmark’s They Snooze, You Lose: The Educator’s Guide to Successful Presentations, it’s stated that the human brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than words. Color increases willingness to read content by 80%, and when it gets paired with a visual, it gets 94% more views—these are some pretty eye-opening stats.
And they should lead you to one conclusion: If you want to get a person’s attention, create a colorful visual application. Yes, you probably see where I’m going with this—one easy way for you to stand out is to combine your traditional resume and cover letter into one awesome infographic.
There are tons of easy and (dare I say) fun and cost-free tools to help you create this type of document. My current favorites are Piktochart and Easel.ly. Each comes with a free version as well as paid plans that give access to more features and templates.
Ahead, the four steps to pulling this off correctly.
1. Identify Your Value Message
Write down the exact sentence that you want a recruiter to think after reading your infographic summary. What do you want to be remembered for? Don’t take this part lightly—it’s the basis for everything else. Now, using that sentence, craft a headline that describes your value using keywords from your industry. After applying some basic color and free icons on Piktochart, here’s what mine looks like:
2. Make Lists of Your Skills, Work Experience, Industry Awards, and Publications
Most people have a pretty hefty list, but when you take an honest look at what skills and experience that specifically support your value message, it becomes more manageable and clear to whoever is reading it what you’re all about. Next to each skill, write out how many years experience you have, your proficiency level on a scale of one to five, and any key subskills that you know are important buzzwords. (For example, I am a writer, and three subskills of that are course writing, fiction writing, and publishing.) Next, assign a proficiency percentage to your subskills. Using these skills and percentages, create an At-a-Glance section.
Here is what mine looks like:
For your work experience, write out each position that is relevant to your value message, the amount of time you held the position, and an engaging hook for one of your best accomplishments in that position.
For example, my traditional resume for a position looks like this:
My infographic for that job on the other hand looks like this:
3. Add your Education and Consider Extras that Support Your Value Message
For your education, all that is needed is your institution, degree, and (optional) your graduation date. Extras, such as certifications, publications, awards, volunteer opportunities, memberships, and military experience should be added only if they support your message. If it’s not clear how they fit, feel free to put in a small blurb about a particular item’s significance. Humor is optional (it works for my personality, so there’s always a funny in there).
For example, take a look at my education and publications sections:
4. Pair Your Accomplishments With Visuals
You’ve noticed how much I’ve made use of logos; I do it because it catches the eye and adds instant credibility. Subconsciously you make a quick decision when you see a familiar logo, and for good reason. Over 90% of the information that is sent to our brain is visual, which explains why 67% of consumers say the quality of a product image is “very important” in selecting and purchasing a product. Visuals are key, and your infographic summary is your product image, so don’t skimp.
Is this technique right for everyone? Definitely not. You must know your industry, the company, and the tolerance level for the non-traditional. My advice, and I practice this myself, is to have this super-cool document and all your traditional materials ready to go. Share this once you’ve determined it’s a good fit. Just one note, even if you feel like you found the perfect company to send this to, beware that it might not get through the ATS filters. So, if you’re unsure if that’s the case, err on the safe side and debut this once you’re 100% sure it’s going directly to a human’s email address.
One last note before you get started: Don’t overdo it. The point here is skimability. Make your value easy to see and answer the ever-present question in a recruiter’s head: What problem will this person potentially solve for me? Before you use it, have a friend review it for both clarity and design. Can she articulate the value you are trying to get across? Does it look visually appealing to her? Make sure both answers are yes.
So, what does it look like when it’s all together? Something like this:
How can this not stand out when compared to a boring old black-and-white job application?