6 Tips for Building a Stronger Data/Technical Job Application

Some of you may know me as the Salesforce Admin-ing, spreadsheet loving, systems thinking author behind this blog.

But that’s not all I’ve done. In my youth, I’ve spent time as a detective, mermaid and ballerina. And just a few years ago, I also moonlighted as a resume writer.

I eventually stopped that last one because of time. But helping tech professionals with their resumes, most in niche sectors I had never heard of, definitely taught me a few things!

And it’s work I still love doing. I’m helping a few peeps as we speak.

Here are my tips for generally crafting a stronger data/technology centered job application.

1. Spend the time condensing your resume to a single page

There are two schools of thought on this subject. Some think the two page resume is okay. Others (yours truly) think they are best avoided.

So here’s my case. Unless you have decades of experience relevant to the roles you’re applying for, keep it to one page. The length is more manageable for recruiters/hiring managers, and it really forces you to craft a targeted resume (whether you like it or not).

This is similar to blogging or building documentation! It’s easy to dump thousands of words in a doc. The challenge is going back to trim and rewrite, so that the information is concise and powerful.

p.s. It really helps to know how to format in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. I’ve turned 1.5 page resumes to single pages, just by knowing how to use spacing, tables, and line heights.

p.p.s! If you’re having that issue where the resume is all on one page BUT there’s a second blank page in the doc, simply save the current page as a PDF.

2. Highlight all your tech work experience (it’s relevant)

Maybe you’re trying to break into Salesforce, or data, or operations! But you may not have that exact experience. And that’s okay.

Touch on any/all tasks involving data or process. The formula I like to use for this is:

Define = include the name of the system & the kind of tech it is (if lesser known)
Describe = highlight the kind of data you’re dealing/dealt with
Quantify = include numbers: like # of records entered, maintained, # users, etc..

For example…Let’s say I’m a fundraising professional trying to get a database admin job. But I only have experience working with a homegrown donor database that no one’s ever heard of.

Here are some ways I might highlight that experience (depending on what’s true):

Entered & maintained 5K records in proprietary donor CRM

Provided admin support for proprietary donor CRM, for a team of 10 fundraising professionals.

Created pipeline reports using donor data from proprietary CRM

I’ve defined the kind of tool I’ve used (proprietary CRM), I’ve described the kind of data (donor), and I’ve attached quantities that give perspective on my level of experience.

You can do this with spreadsheets, email marketing platforms (use send stats!), CMS platforms, and pretty much almost any other tech system.

3. Also note your tech learning

Are you in the middle of a SQL course? Have you become a Salesforce Ranger on Trailhead, without any work experience? Did you complete an Excel training recently?

Great. Add all of those things to the resume, too.

This is a great way to communicate that you’re serious about developing in these areas. Just make sure that whatever you add is true to your intent (a.k.a don’t start a SQL course just to add it to your skills section!)

p.s. For my Salesforce friends, I’d list any Trailhead experience as “Completed [number] learning modules on Salesforce Trailhead, including [reports], [security], and [other-topic]“.

4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box with your structure

It feels like resumes have been around since the dawn of time. And for YEARS, we’ve been taught there’s a certain way to do them.

I’m someone who can get behind tradition. But remember that your resume is a reflection of YOUR experience and expertise. You’re allowed to break some conventions to bend it to your will.

Using a personal example… I recently had to submit a resume for a unique opportunity. But sticking to the normal resume convention (job + title + 3-5 descriptive bullets of tasks) made my experience look lackluster, since I’ve been at my current org for a while.

So I added a Key Accomplishments section, where I highlighted 3 projects. That section of my resume takes up half the page, but it’s a truer picture of what I bring as a professional. (And yes, that approach seemed to work.)

p.s. I’m someone who typically modifies their resume for each individual job. But those slight changes are usually about matching more words & responsibilities to the job description.

p.p.s. When it comes to photos & lots of color, consider me traditional. Generally, avoid both. Too many colors can be distracting & make printing difficult. And photos are just strange! No one should need to know what you look like to evaluate whether you get an initial screen.

5. Spend time on your cover letter

Here’s the thing with cover letters. No one wants to write them. And in some circles, they genuinely don’t matter.

However, a cover letter can make a difference when you’re applying for:

• A higher level job
• Jobs at smaller orgs/companiies, where bad hires are a bigger risk
• Jobs at nonprofits that are smaller OR where mission fit is critical

And this reality is kind of unfortunate, because cover letters can be helpful to people trying to get their foot in the door. But they can also be unfair to job seekers for whom English isn’t their first language, who generally struggle with writing, or who may not know how to write in a way that tells their professional story…but who are otherwise qualified.

So as long as this is the reality, here’s what I’ve got:

1. Find a basic structure to replicate in your letters. The only way to get better at cover letters is by writing them. But working with a defined structure makes the practice SO much easier.

To get started, you can find a template online. But if I had to recommend a structure, I’d say: start with your intro (touching on your current & prior work experience), switch gears to your interest in the job & org, and finish with the skills you bring to the table.

2. But don’t use the same cover letter for every job. When it comes to the CL, your best shot always is to write a letter clearly relevant to the description. Even if you’re applying for the same kinds of roles, there may be differences in the experience the employer wants (or how they weigh certain aspects of the job).

3. Get a writer to help you. Whether it’s a friend, relative, or your college alumni office, get someone who can help you sell yourself in the best way possible. (You can also consider using paid consultants or career coaches. But do take care in evaluating that person!)

4. Finally – consider the places where you’re applying

Are you trying to break into a new career by applying to giant companies/orgs? Or are you applying to smaller shops too?

This can make a difference. For larger companies that presumably get hundreds more resumes, if yours doesn’t carry the right experience, you’re less likely to hear back. It’s a numbers game.

So if your application isn’t covering much ground with more established/renown organizations, try to diversify your employer pool. This is a tactic I’ve seen work firsthand.

Good luck with your search!

If you need it, I’ve got a few tips here on how to find remote work thanks to the pandemic. But best of luck, and let me know if you have questions in the comments.

Okay. Back to being a mermaid now.

Credit: Giphy. And the magical human who made this.

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