Photo: jamesteohart (Shutterstock)
It’s easy, and frankly common, to sink hundreds of hours into a job hunt. The longer your job hunt takes, the more desperate it can start to feel and the more hours you may feel like you have to commit. That’s where templates come in: We don’t want people to be able to tell you’re using a templated, but using templates behind the scenes will save you precious time and energy and enable you to apply to more jobs more quickly.
Think of your resume and cover letter not as manifestations of who you are as a human, but as marketing materials for yourself as an employee. Like a visually boring movie poster, your resume won’t ever be able to capture every little thing about the plot (you), but instead should just highlight the most compelling things (about your work experience) and leave them interested in learning more.
Here’s how to “template-tize” your resume, cover letters, thank you notes, and networking messages without actually sounding like a template.
Create a templated “master resume”
For some reason it’s painfully difficult to find a resume template online that isn’t full of graphics, photos, and in-depth color schemes. Your resume doesn’t need to be flashy or sexy (visually boring movie poster, remember?), it just needs to highlight the most relevant things about you. Canva has plenty of over-engineered templates, but with a little tweaking this “corporate” template or this “minimalist” template could do the trick. In my opinion, your resume should only contain these things in this order:
Your name and critical details (email, phone number, LinkedIn, general location)Your professional experiencesSpecific hard skills and proficiencies (like Zendesk, Greenhouse, Python, or Calendly)Awards and recognitions, if relevantEducation and degrees
In every job you’ve had, you probably did 100 different things within that one job—whether that’s driving different kinds of projects, collaborating with stakeholders, working with customers, organizing information, or putting out random fires, I’m 99% sure you accomplished a lot. While you shouldn’t waste time cataloguing every little thing you did (“responded to emails,” “attended meetings”), spend some time coming up with the top 5-10 things you accomplished in each job. These should be accomplishments, not just your responsibilities. Some examples to get your wheels turning:
> Owned creation of Product X, which accounted for 20% of total company revenue, driving market research and experience design efforts.
> Directed and produced a photoshoot that launched the new Company Y identity, partnering with internal and external stakeholders to ensure seamless operation.
> Achieved 100% attendance rate for Program Z, a 50% increase from the previous year.
> Led event teams up to 25 people, quickly addressing unexpected challenges while protecting guest experience.
Once you’re done, add all those bullets to your resume and then do the same thing for the job before that, and the job before that, and so on. The idea is to keep one long master resume that tracks of all the amazing things you’ve done in every job. When you find a job you’re ready to apply to, compare the job description to your master resume, and start removing the bullets that aren’t directly relevant.
When you’re done, you’ll now have a resume that feels customized and highlights only your most relevant experience, without you needing to do any extra typing or too much extra thinking. Save it as a new file (something like YOURNAME_Resume_COMPANYNAME) and fire it off.
Prepare your own cover letter template
There is zero chance a recruiter or hiring manager is going to spend as much time reading your cover letter as you have spent writing it, so keep it short, sweet, and easily copy-pasted (or skip it altogether). Your cover letter template will be sort of like your resume template in that we want to write a lot of it in advance.
Identify your top four to six soft skills you feel confident in and have a lot of proof of experience with. I specify soft skills because I’m almost never reading a cover letter to learn more about your hard skills—that’s already listed on your resume, and/or I’ll be testing you on those during the interview process. Your cover letter should highlight the not-so-easily-measurable skills you bring to the table, and go a little more in-depth into how you’ve used them in the past.
To continue on a bullet from the previous section, if the job description specifically calls out cross-collaboration, I might prepare to embellish on that second bullet (“Directed and produced a photoshoot which launched the new Company Y identity, partnering with internal and external stakeholders to ensure seamless operation.”) and say something like:
While at Company Y, I owned the full planning and execution of a branded photoshoot meant to highlight Company Y’s new modern look and collaborated across the company and our vendors to deliver. I researched local photographers, prepared vision decks to illustrate our desired outcome, and partnered with the Company Y executive team to achieve buy-in. Thanks to regular alignment meetings and a variety of documents and plans to keep the photoshoot in motion, we were able to achieve our goals within our planned budget and timeline.
I admit this one will take a good amount of time up front, but once you have something like this written out for your strongest soft skills, you’ll be able to copy and paste together all your future cover letters. You can also do this preparation slowly over time—every time you write a new cover letter, grab and save some of those sentences about your soft skills that you’re naturally writing about already. Eventually you’ll have (another) long master cover letter repository that you can use to cobble together customized cover letters without wasting hours reinventing them every time.
Use this (personalized) thank you note template
A thank you note should always be short and sweet, and as personalized as you can manage.
Hi [INTERVIEWER NAME]!
I just wanted to send you a note to share how much I appreciated your time [DAY OF INTERVIEW]. [SENTENCE ABOUT ONE THING YOU BOTH TALKED ABOUT AND WHY YOU FOUND IT VALUABLE]. [SENTENCE ABOUT WHY THIS COMPANY SEEMS LIKE A GREAT PLACE TO WORK/AN EXCITING OPPORTUNITY].
Thanks again, and [SOMETHING PERSONAL THAT YOU TALKED ABOUT]/have a great rest of your week/have a great weekend!
All the best/Warmly/Cheers/With appreciation/With care,
If you really can’t remember anything specific or unique you talked about, you can remove the second sentence, but I would recommend jotting down notes or writing the thank you note immediately after the interview so you can make sure to personalize it well. Don’t send the note right away, though—they haven’t had time to forget you yet. Send it or schedule it to send the following morning.
Write a genuine networking message
Networking can be a powerful tool in your job search, but actually finding and reaching out to the people you want to network with can pose a challenge. Like thank you notes, my advice on networking requests is to keep things extremely personal and relatively brief. The worst networking requests I’ve ever received were clearly copy-paste jobs that didn’t even take a moment to validate my name, my company, or my background—I don’t feel excited about networking with someone if they can’t be bothered to take one second to look at my profile.
My core tenants of networking are: Take a genuine interest in the person you’re reaching out to (as opposed to an interest purely in securing a job referral), ask for specific outcomes (not just vague requests like “I would love to talk to you”), and write like a human.
Hi [NAME]! I hope you’re having a great day/morning/week. I’m [YOUR NAME]! I wanted to reach out because I saw you [EXPERIENCE OR THING FROM THEIR LINKEDIN] and I’m [SOMETHING IN COMMON WITH THEM OR PERSONAL CONNECTION TO/INTEREST IN THEIR EXPERIENCE/EXPERIENCE]. If you have the time, I would love to have a 30-minute informational interview with you to learn more about your career and any advice you might have for someone like me. Thank you!