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Confessions of a former recruiter, part 2

Cover letters, functional resumés and job hopping

By Brian Kreissl

Last week, I discussed three areas relating to recruitment where applicants’ perceptions don’t necessarily mesh with reality or the preferences of recruiters and hiring managers. Well, here are three more.

Cover letters ignored

While I generally wouldn’t suggest applicants send out a resumé without a cover letter, depending on the size of the organization and the technological means used to deliver the application, the truth is cover letters aren’t nearly as important as they once were.

Back when I was recruiting in a busy, fast-paced in-house recruitment department, I conducted an informal poll of my colleagues. Everyone I spoke with said they rarely read applicants’ cover letters.

Personally, I only really read cover letters if I was considering calling the candidate — especially if the person could be considered a “borderline” candidate.

Nevertheless, I have definitely considered candidates without a cover letter, and I totally understand why many people don’t include one. To me, the problem is caused by applicant tracking software.

While these systems often make life much easier for recruiters, from a candidate’s perspective they can actually make the process of applying for a job much more time-consuming.

For example, most of these systems require candidates to set up a password. If they have already applied to that company and forgot their password, they need to retrieve it.

Then they have to go about pasting their resumé into the system. While some tools will upload a resumé from a Word file, they almost never keep the formatting. Therefore, the applicant has to spend time fixing the formatting so the resumé doesn’t look ridiculous.

Then they often have to answer questions about their education, experience and specific skills — information typically on the resumé anyway. This can be quite time-consuming, especially where applicants have to search from a drop-down menu to find their university or college or a specific competency they’re looking for.

With all of this work, it can take a couple of hours to apply for a job. And with so many people looking for work these days, jobseekers often have to apply for a lot of jobs just to get one phone call for an interview.

Although I’ve mentioned the dangers of applying for everything and anything, the truth is job hunting is a numbers game to a certain extent. If someone is actively seeking employment, they may not have time to type out a cover letter every time they apply for a job — especially since pure mathematics would dictate they’re unlikely to get a call anyway.

To a large extent, applicants feel like they’re already doing a lot of work just to apply for a job they likely won’t even get a call back on. So I don’t necessarily hold it against someone if she hasn’t included a cover letter along with her resumé and online profile.

Functional resumés disliked

There are two main types of resumés — chronological and functional. While a chronological resumé lists an applicant’s jobs and related accomplishments in reverse chronological order, a functional resumé is one that highlights specific skills or competencies without necessarily saying which experiences or accomplishments match with which position.

Functional resumés are useful for career changers and those with little actual paid employment experience — or anyone who wants to downplay their work history. Nevertheless, recruiters generally dislike functional resumés.

Recruiters and hiring managers want to see how someone’s career is progressing. They also want to determine what candidates did in each position and for each employer.

Therefore, my advice to a candidate is to use a functional format only if they’re having absolutely no luck with a traditional chronological resumé. Some recruiters will even ask candidates to submit a chronological resumé after they’ve sent in a functional resumé.

Job hopping still matters

There seems to be an opinion in certain circles that job hopping isn’t a concern these days. In the vast majority of cases, I’d have to say those people are wrong.

While there is some evidence to suggest job hoppers can boost their income and climb the corporate ladder faster than people who stay with one company for the long-term, many companies won’t hire such individuals for permanent positions. Eventually, job hopping can end up hurting a candidate.

That’s because recruitment, onboarding and training are expensive. Companies don’t want to spend a great deal of time and money bringing someone onboard only to have him quit three months later. Therefore, other than for contract jobs — or positions that clearly aren’t a fit — I recommend sticking with a job for at least a year before moving on.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.   

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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