The Dos and Don’ts of Cover Letters in 2020

When graduates begin applying for those much-anticipated first jobs out of college, much emphasis centers on the resume. This is often seen as the holy grail for recruiters, and certainly dominates the online community’s efforts to help graduates land that all-important interview with their dream company. But it’s important to remember how big a role cover letters could play in making you stand out as an applicant. These additional, yet not always required, documents help you speak about yourself in a compelling, original way.

However, just like with resumes, we see a lot of common do’s and don’ts in the cover letter templates that are found online. So let’s look at the three best and three worst cover letter trends for 2020.


The Do’s of Cover Letters in 2020

  1. Match the tone and verbiage of your resume. Your resume will likely be the first time that a job poster, as a company and the employer, will engage with you. While cover letters are a chance to be more personal, you’ll want to avoid slipping into an informal tone. Additionally, your cover letter should only reference the experience or skills you listed on your resume.This includes matching skills and professional experience. You can reflect on your resume and use it to guide your cover letter’s approach. What makes you most excited about the opportunity to work for this company? Which of the skills or experience on your resume matches up to those expectations? Highlight these as much as you can.


  1. Tailor made is always the way to go. One of the biggest mistakes that applicants make in writing cover letters is to use the same one for every job in a specific industry. We understand that no one wants to write 30 unique cover letters, so you may consider looking for areas in the letter that could be left the same, like describing your background, and others that are more open to revision, such as why you want to work for the company.


You can see in this template example that employers and hiring managers are able to spot those telltale signs of a copy-and-pasted cover letter. Instead, they suggest using the time it takes to write a new cover letter as a chance to revisit the job posting. Consider if anything has changed since drafting your resume, either professionally or personally.


  1. Focus on the cultural fit. Statistics in hiring have shown a rise in the importance of ensuring an employee or potential hire is contributing to the greater good of the workforce. You don’t need to dedicate entire parts of your letter to defining their culture and comparing yourself to those spaces. Instead, you can find subtle places to slip it in throughout the text.

For instance, this template shows how light touches in the introduction or experience sections can include some of the keywords the company uses to define their own culture. If you’re unsure of what it’s like to work there, check out their social channels, or try reaching out to someone with experience there.


The Don’ts of Cover Letters in 2020

  1. Try not to tell the same story twice. Cover letters play an interesting role in the application process. While your resume works as a formal introduction to your education, work history, and professional skills, the cover letter is a chance to inject personality and color into your application. That’s why recruiters say they find it disappointing when applicants end up restating their resume.


“The employer already has your resume,” said Amanda Augastine, a career advice expert for TopResume. “Focus on making your career narrative and relevant qualifications crystal clear.”

Again, return to the job listing and the company website. How do you picture yourself fitting in, and what about your experiences might match the narrative of the employer? Anything to give it that personal touch will play a big role here.


  1. Soft skills are great, just not when they’re boring. While hard skills like JavaScript proficiency or bookkeeping illustrate whether you can do the job, the soft skills are what help the hiring manager understand how you would handle those responsibilities. They’re not something you can learn in a webinar or from a blogger’s feed. You learned them yourself! Soft skills may not be as immediately attention-grabbing, but these are rooted in who you are and what your life experience has been.


Cover letters also have limited space, and filling up the letter with basic statements like being “dependable, honest, and a team player,” will not provide much personality, as one hopes any applicant would share those basic qualities. Do any of your soft skills have a story behind them? Building narrative throughout the cover letter adds a sense of completeness and authority.

Perhaps you’re dependable because your father taught you while you were double checking paperwork at his car dealership on a humid summer evening. Maybe your team player attitude was developed while interning at a lab last summer? Anything that elevates those soft skills above buzz words is ideal. Here are some perfect examples for you to consider in this soft skills cover letter template.


  1. Don’t forget to close out strong.

The ending of your cover letter isn’t a boilerplate farewell; this is your last chance to go after the interview. Sure, it’s unlikely to come down to the final few words, especially if you’ve already dazzled them in the early sections and resume. But just like you would when leaving a physical interview, there’s a need to write as if you’re looking the recruiter directly in the eye and topping it off with a firm handshake and confident exit.

It doesn’t need to be a big, emotional statement; all you need is to reiterate your interest and then talk next steps. Rather than telling the company you’ll await their call, describe exactly when you’ll be available next week. Say that you “look forward to speaking in person.” It may sound like a silly trick, but this kind of hard-headed gusto can be impressive. Check out these examples of amazing and confident closing lines to cover letters.

Cover letters are the perfect addition to a resume. While resumes are pointed, precise, and left brain-leaning, your cover letter allows a chance for the personality and creativity of your right brain to take center stage. While this list is a good start, there is no shortage of excellent cover letter templates and examples that can help get you out your head and write something completely new about yourself. Happy job hunting!


21 Resume and Cover Letter Keyword Trends

Crafting a resume and cover letter can tricky. To narrow down a list of candidates, many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to sort and process resumes. ATS software often utilizes automated keyword scanner bots as a first pass on all applications, meaning that getting the attention of hiring managers requires knowing what those specific keywords are and how to use them. In fact, 70 percent of applications are disqualified by ATS software without being reviewed by an actual human recruiter.

While keyword scanning is not a new development, there are yearly trends in these keywords and practices that you should understand. So, with a new year upon us, let’s look at the resume and cover letter keyword trends for 2021.


How To Determine 2021 Resume and Cover Letter Keywords

Every company uses ATS software a little differently. While there are many resources that provide master lists of keywords, these provide little help without context surrounding the job to which you are applying. That’s why experts are urging job seekers in 2021 to read the job description carefully and deduce what types of keywords a company might want.

This process is fairly straightforward. In fact, many job listings will actually include the keywords they’ll be looking for in certain areas of the posting. According to Indeed, these keywords are most commonly listed within the following sections:


  • Education requirements,
  • Duties and responsibilities
  • Preferred qualifications


The keyword choices in your resume should echo the ones you see in the description. Because the ATS software isn’t human, your goal should be for identical phrasings. For example, if you see a job listing that lists “Bookkeeping software” as a requirement and you indicate you have experience in “Payroll software” or something more specific like “QuickBooks,” the software may not read that as a keyword match.

The same applies for industry keywords, which many experts are also including for their 2021 resume and cover letter trends. As we can see from this list of the most popular current resume keywords, recruiters are programming their ATS software to look for both broad and specific requirements. If we think about the keywords used in a sales position, for example, there are ultra-specific terms like:


  • Channel Management
  • Lead Management
  • Post-Sales Support
  • RFP / RFI / Bid Preparation
  • Strategic Alliance Development


Look for these types of industry-related keywords in the job description. If you see anything that relates directly to this market, type of work, or company, it’s a good idea to optimize your resume or cover letter to reflect them.


Best Practices for Using Resume and Cover Letter Keywords

Once you’ve identified the best keywords for a specific job posting, it’s time to optimize your resume and cover letter. Because the ATS software is automated, there are a couple important rules of thumb to follow throughout your documents.


  • Aim for identical spelling and grammar as you see in the job posting. Typos and grammatical errors are still the #1 mistake seen on resumes in 2020. This includes abbreviations and numbers; if a job listing abbreviates Customer Relationship Management software to “CRM,” make sure you’re using that shorthand; if the listing spells out “three years experience” make sure to spell out the number.
  • Keywords should be evenly distributed throughout the document, not all dumped into a single section. In fact, according to, keywords that only get used once may be flagged by the software. If you have a keyword used in your skill section, back that up by repeating it under your education or previous experience sections.
  • Use these keywords naturally. Stuffing keywords into a resume might “hack” the ATS software, but once it’s reviewed by a recruiter, it could read as unnatural or even untruthful. Think about which keywords best reflect your actual skillset and then build sections around those.
  • Always include a keyword-optimized cover letter. Though the job listing might not ask for one, this is a chance to speak about yourself in a much more colloquial fashion.


Lastly, do not lie in resumes and cover letters just for the sake of keywords. This practice might be enough to get past the software, but seasoned recruiters and human resources professionals will quickly see through those falsehoods. Not only could this disqualify you from a specific job posting, it could also damage your industry reputation, especially if you’re applying to similar positions in the same city or business community.

Regardless of the position or industry, remember that persistence is key. These keyword trends shouldn’t keep you from remembering what makes you unique. Whether you’re looking for a change in career path or just starting out after college, the process of optimizing your resumes will feel as natural as interviewing after some practice. Happy 2021 job hunting, everyone!


Resumes: Best and Worst Components

In the same way that the job market ebbs and flows, the same occurs with the components of a resume. How do you know you’ve put your best food forward? How do you know you’ve included the most important and compelling information to make a company choose your resume out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of similar applicants.

Luckily, there are some definite do’s and don’ts to follow to give your resume an advantage. Let’s look at a few of the good and not-so-great resume examples, and identify some of the most important features of each one.


The Best Resume Features 2020  

There are dozens of resume templates available online to download or use as a reference. Many of these are extremely helpful, but in the end, much of the layout and design will ultimately be your choice. In general, there are three big features that can make your resume stand out from the rest, or at least ensure that yours doesn’t fall to the bottom of the pile.


  1. Choose the Right Format

Whether you’re starting from scratch, or simply revising and updating your resume, a good place to start is by considering how you want to communicate your experience to employers. One big decision is deciding between a chronological resume and a functional resume.


  • A chronological resume takes readers through your work history in reverse chronological order. Beginning with your most recent position first, the resume often goes back ten years, with each entry including your job title, the dates you worked there, and the responsibilities you held.
  • A functional resume, on the other hand, focuses instead on industry or job-specific skills. Rather than listing jobs and responsibilities, and then summarizing the skills you used for those positions, functional resumes begin with a long and in-depth description of your talents, skills, and interests.


So, which one is right for you? A chronological resume is most effective if you have a long or impressive work history. If you have perhaps a series of entry level positions or internships, a functional resume can highlight what makes you qualified.


  1. Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: Why Not Both?

Resumes are designed to communicate your value. Employers should be able to read your resume and get a feel for your strengths, characteristics, and qualities that make you unique. That’s why communicating your identity in the workplace is about balancing your hard skills and soft skills to illustrate an accurate self-portrait.

Hard skills are the technical experiences that show the employer you have the knowledge and ability to hit the ground running immediately. Examples of hard skills include:


  • Coding language proficiency
  • Social media management
  • Language skills
  • Certifications in cybersecurity
  • Specific graphic design skills and program-mastery


Soft skills show what working with you will feel like. Think of these as your “people skills,” or your personality. Often, these are the same skills you’d bring to any job in any industry. If hard skills are the left side of your brain, soft skills fall on the creative, right side. Examples include:


  • Problem solving
  • Communication styles
  • Leadership qualities
  • Empathy and interpersonal skills
  • Collaboration


Just remember to balance these! Employers want to see both sides of the coin. Here is an example of a hard skills-dominant resume template, and another that focuses more on soft skills.


  1. Use Keywords

It’s sad, but true: if you don’t have the right keywords in your resume, it’s likely to go unnoticed. To cut down on the time spent reading every single application, employers generally utilize applicant tracking systems. In fact, 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies have these technologies in place. While it might feel daunting or impersonal, having a good grip on what keywords are ranking and which to use in your resume simply ensures you will pass the first round of tests and make it in front of a hiring manager.


Check out this great example of resume keyword usage gone right.


The Worst Resume Mistakes 2020 

There are some common mistakes that can potentially decrease your chances of being seen for a job that could have been your perfect fit. According to a survey by TopResume, 70 percent of hiring managers say there are certain “deal-breakers” that would potentially cause them to stop reading mid-resume and return it to the pile without finishing.


  1. Poor Organization

There’s a reason we started out with the organization element of resumes! Your resume should be laid out in a pleasing and easy-to-read format. Avoid flashy fonts and colors and be sure to use a consistent font throughout. That being said, there’s no reason to settle simply for the bare minimum of design.

Another issue to consider is length. You’ve no doubt heard the one-page rule for a resume, but even when abiding by this length, it’s possible to pack in too much information. An analysis by TalentWorks found that the most successful resumes were around 475-600 words long. Make sure you say what you need to and cut out anything superfluous.


  1. Spelling and Grammatical Errors

Nothing is more cringeworthy than seeing a professional resume submitted with mistakes in spelling or grammar. Even if the job you’re applying for is completely unrelated to writing, typos communicate a lack of focus, clarity, and hard work. It also could cause you to misrepresent or miscommunicate your abilities altogether.

Some common errors include:


  • Misspelled words
  • Missing words from sentences or paragraphs
  • Writing in passive voice
  • Issues with tenses (i.e. talking about previous jobs in present voice)
  • Vague language


Check out this woeful resume submitted with dozens of typos.


  1. General Lack of Passion 

Perhaps the biggest flaw of a poor resume is the lack of personality and passion that comes with generic templates. You want to stand out and make sure that everyone recognizes your unique qualities. But, in general, you want to infuse your resume with everything that makes you, you. Be sure to speak from the heart, as well as the head, unlike these poor folks.

Your resume could be a simple summary of your experience and skills, but to an employer facing a stack of applications, you want it to be so much more than that. Only 10 percent of resumes result in a single interview. There is no room for error or poor choices when drafting yours. That’s why it’s always a good idea to ask a friend or peer to read over it. Getting that extra set of eyes on the document could be the difference between the call that never comes, and the job you know is right for you.




Out on the Farm

Join us for a fun trip out to the farm with Emily Stewart! Emily, creator of Dirt Darlin’, joins the podcast to tell us how the time on her family’s farm in Bargersville, Indiana, gave her the skills and values she needed to build a multi-faceted company. Dirt Darlin’ includes a homegrown market, boutique, and photography.

Hey there, I’m Emily Stewart! The Dirt Darlin’ brand has many faces but all boils down to our tag line “Grow Where You Are Planted.” The brand has grown over the years encompassing my photography business, to “The Pantry” that sells our yummy homegrown goodies, to the small town boutique to shop the styles of our local artist and stylist. I’m just a farm girl who can’t sit still and believes in my community! When I’m not photographing your wedding or crafting new recipes for salsa and jam, I love chilling with my corgies Rhett and Stella, hunting and riding razors with my boyfriend Brandon, Jeeping with my family, and jamming out to ANY music or podcasts.

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Cyber Security in a Digital World

What is a chief security officer? How can you ensure compliance within your company? Jennifer Raiford, global chief information, security, and compliance officer, is here to answer all these cyber security questions and more.

Jennifer Raiford has been protecting enterprises for over 25 years. Today Raiford specializes in building Chief Security and Privacy Offices for Global companies as well as Client Information Security and Privacy Offices for Global Security Firms through Process Architecture and Operational Excellence. She has a 100 percent success rate in passing audits, getting companies certified, and maintaining certifications. Currently, Raiford provides Chief Security, Privacy, Governance, Compliance, Risk Advisory, Consulting, Process Engineering, and Cyber writing Services. Through these experiences, Raiford developed a Cybersecurity Leadership framework and methodology that allows her to customize and tailor services to each client.

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