EX11 - Professional Documents

The Files that Matter

How your resume and cover letter are used has changed. The need to create and maintain them remains.

Updated September 03, 2020

Over the past 20 years, particular aspects of the job search have been rendered obsolete.

A portfolio was once something you physically carried with you to the interview, and now that idea seems so distant from reality. The business card also has become something you may or may not see at a gathering, but the pandemic may put the final nail in that coffin.

While some artifacts have faded, others endure in different forms.

Regardless of how online the world is, job applications still require a resume. Additionally, your ability to sell your story to a hiring manager in advance means that the craft of writing a cover letter remains essential.

The resume

Will there be a day when your LinkedIn profile becomes your resume? I would have told you yes a decade ago, but now I’m not so sure.

Unlike almost every other facet of the job search, the resume has not only survived but taken on new technological characteristics that can catch some applicants off guard.

The rise of Applicant Tracking Systems means your resume is likely to be scanned by artificial intelligence before ever being seen by a human. This action is how some people receive comically quick rejection notices like this one.

To avoid the quick hook, it’s essential to know more about how an ATS system works.

Because of high application volume, recruitment sites and employers are now using ATS systems to quickly filter the field. The software processes your resume and assigns it a ranking based on the keywords found.

If your resume significantly overlaps with the job posting, you’ll likely make it through a closer inspection by a human recruiter. If it doesn’t — a rejection email forthcoming.

This process eliminates many great candidates because they haven’t optimized their resume. Overoptimization can also lead to problems for candidates that copy-and-paste too many phrases from the job post into their resume. Paid services like JobScan have popped up in recent years to assist job seekers by using AI combat these keyword minefields.

Does this mean you should be customizing your resume for every position you’re applying to? I don’t believe you should have to, but a UX-focused job looks very different than a UI-focused job. If you apply for a wide range of design positions, perhaps you should prepare a couple of different versions of your resume ready. However, if there is a dream job on the table, then taking time to optimize for that specific role might be worth investing.

These systems have other flaws that can snag you beyond just keywords.


Inclusion of charts, photos, or logos can cause an ATS to choke on your resume. If the ATS can’t read your resume, it doesn’t assign a value to it. Does that produce an automatic rejection? Likely. To avoid this issue, the resume you submit for job applications should be text-only.

So do we return to the ugly, single column resumes that litter other professions? Probably — but only for submission to ATS systems. Many ATS platforms have trouble parsing multi-column layouts, but they still pay attention to things like type size to indicate importance.

Just because the first resume you submit will be bare, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a resume available that looks like a designer might have created it.

If your search is successful, you’ll likely meet with a human. That means you will need a professional-looking resume ready to deploy. This upscale resume is also the document you link to in your portfolio. Should a recruiter contact you requesting your resume, send them a resume that looks like it belongs to a designer.


Unlike your ATS-optimized resume, this one should be set in multiple-columns to make reading easier while also going through the trouble to make it align typographically with your portfolio. You should still avoid adding clutter like skill charts and personal photos to this version of the resume.

So the question isn’t whether you should have a resume available, but how many versions of your resume should you prepare?

The cover letter/pitch

When considering applying for any job, you should have a mental checklist that you run through to determine whether applying will be worth your time.

  • Do my skills match the position?
  • Are my values in alignment with the company?
  • Is there a clear connection to the organization or an individual working there?
  • Can I offer the company something they currently lack?

Each of these considerations can provide a foundation for you to build a compelling narrative around. Any position where two or more of those considerations are in alignment is a position worth applying to.

The goal is to create a pitch that positions you as an ideal candidate for the job. Having skills that match the role or values that match the company are two easy cases that help a potential employer envision you in the role.

How you deploy the pitch often relies on the medium available.

Anytime you have an opportunity to submit a cover letter — do it. Cover letters present significant upside for the following reasons:

Pack Separation The presence of a cover letter will immediately help separate you from those who just threw their resume on the pile. Just because something is optional doesn’t mean that it carries no weight.

Mind the Gaps A cover letter allows you a chance to address gaps that your resume might have. You can turn potential weaknesses into strengths by taking the time to address them in writing.

Low lift Cover letters are pretty easy to write. Most of it will translate from one position to the next as the cover letter is part you are applying to. The portion focused on you doesn’t change, so you’re really only writing half a cover letter each time.

Cover letter

Unfortunately, many cover letters fail before they begin because they often fail to address their target audience. The death knell for most is the tragic greeting ‘To whom it my concern’. Aside from the fact that it sounds more like the end of a relationship than the beginning of one, it doesn’t directly address anyone involved. When in doubt, your fallback should always be ‘Dear (team) hiring manager’ so long as you replace (team) with an actual phrase (UX, Product, etc.).

To be able to operate at the scale of a proper job search, you’ll need to write with a format in mind. I suggest a three-paragraph approach that allows you to address the potential employer, then your skills, before wrapping up with a summary.

The first paragraph will always be written from scratch as you explain why the company or team is important to you. The next two are mostly the same from one application to the next, with some minor revisions to the last paragraph.

Should you end up with a cover letter that has no home, hang onto it. You’ll always be able to use that first paragraph to break the ice with a potential employer that you meet when networking.

Resources for review

Article Source/Author
What Happens to Resume Tables and Columns in an ATS? JobScan
Should you include a cover letter? The Balance Careers


Most designers have some form of the documents discussed in this material. So this exercise will likely be more about optimization than creation for you.

In the steps that follow, you’ll be preparing for specific instances where you use these documents. Creating these documents will provide you with a firm foundation for your job search that should allow you to apply faster while generating more callbacks from hiring organizations.

For each of the steps below, use this job posting. It will provide a source of common skills and keywords to include.

Part one: Use Google Docs to create a one-column, ATS-friendly version of your resume. Your document should include a summary, work history, education, and skills section to allow the inclusion of keywords.

Part two: Using the information gathered for the ATS-friendly version of your resume, create a second version that would be ideal for sending to a human.

Part three: It’s time to construct the template your cover letters will follow. While the first paragraph will be written for the job posting included in this exercise, the second and third paragraphs should focus on what you can offer.


Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to the assets produced for this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.


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