When you hand your cover letter and resume over to a professional resume editor, you can expect focused, specific, and actionable advice. And if you're lucky enough to land a truly exceptional editor, he or she will have in-depth knowledge of your specific field. But no job seeker has access to professional editing services, and if you fall into this category, don't hesitate to use the next best resource at your disposal: the advice of your family and friends.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you interpret feedback from readers who may lack HR training, but who want the best for you and will do anything to help you succeed.
"This is great. Really, really great."
Translation: "Your resume and cover letter look the way a resume and cover letter are supposed to look. They're fine. I don't see any glaring mistakes or ugly sentences. But I don't see anything interesting either. You seem exactly like every other ambitious, hard-working go-getter in the applicant pool."
If you're trying to fit right in, you've done it. But now, you should put some effort into standing out. Try saying things that no other candidate will say.
"Is this impressive?"
Translation: "It says here that you 'launched several new products in 2013.' What does this mean? How many products did you launch? And is this a minimum requirement of your job, or is it unusual and brilliant for someone in your role to be launching product ideas of her own?"
Try attaching numbers to the new products and provide the reader with an industry average that can be compared with your own personal track record.
"I don't understand what you're trying to say here."
Translation: "Fix or rewrite this sentence immediately."
All resumes and cover letters should be written with brevity, clarity, and relevance. But the most important of these is clarity. Confusing your reader is the fastest way to bore and alienate him. If your sentence is hard to read, or there are several ways to interpret your meaning, drop everything else and get this problem resolved.
"This sounds kind of blah."
Non-professional editors don't always know how to articulate a complex feeling in clear terms. If a piece of writing fills them with joy, or sorrow, or cold chills, or sense of yearning, or a very subtle form of irritation, they don't always know exactly how to share this.
So when they express a broad feeling in loose terms, read between the lines. And take the feeling seriously. "This feels blah" may not seem very helpful at first. But if your reader feels this way, your potential employers will too. Get to the heart of the matter and ask your reader to point out the sentences that are giving him the most trouble.
"I would hire you!"
Translation: "You've hit the bulls-eye."
A cover letter is a written message with one purpose and one goal: landing you a job. The most brilliant sentences in the world won't amount to much if they don't result in interview invitations.
So if you can elicit the response from readers that you'd like to elicit from hiring managers, then you've done well. If your readers respond this way to your cover letter and resume, ask them what specific elements of your application sparked this response.