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Cover Letters, Resumes, and Landing That Awesome Job: Rodney Capron of Pongo

Expert Interview Series

Rodney Capron

Co-founder/President/CEO, Pongo

Rodney Capron has extensive sales, management, and technical expertise and over 20 years' experience as partner/founder of four businesses. We recently sat down with the CEO of Pongo, a leading online provider of comprehensive job search tools, to hear Rodney’s thoughts on how a high-quality resume and cover letter can improve your odds of getting hired.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to co-found Pongo?

After being in the web application development business since 1998 (as the owner of Synthenet Corporation), I originally joined with my partners at Pongo to create it as a technology company with resume and letter building software that was going to be licensed to other companies. That concept quickly shifted toward focusing on helping individual job seekers find their dream jobs. Since co-founding Pongo in 2002, we have helped millions of people to do just that. 

We were one of the first online resume builders in the market and have been a leading provider of job search tools throughout our 15 years in business. Since work is very much related to quality of life, finding the right job can transform a person's well-being. It's been an amazing experience to get out of bed every day knowing that we are helping people find their niche as well as their livelihood.

If cover letters are supposed to be customized to each recipient, how can a job seeker avoid spending hours and hours writing new cover letters to each prospective company that he or she is applying to?

You don't need to write a completely new cover letter for every single job you apply to. The cover letters you write can generally be similar and just have the main aspects changed to fit each job. What you should do is have an outline of your cover letter; and then each time you apply for a position, you can incorporate the keywords used in the company's job posting as well as address the job's qualifications. 

However, the cover letter should go beyond presenting the relevant skills and experience you offer and be used as an opportunity to provide a bit of a narrative on why you are a good fit. Using information that shows you have researched the company and the position, you can demonstrate that you have a real understanding of what it means to be a good fit for that company and the team you would be joining.

During an interview, what is a smart way to make yourself stand out from the other job candidates?

Preparation is key in an interview. It is very easy for interviewers to see whether or not you have prepared yourself; and to them, that says a lot about you, your work ethic, and how organized and detail-oriented you are. Preparation means knowing what questions will be asked as well as having researched the company and the position and bringing knowledge of what the job entails with you. Preparation is also understanding that the interview is a two-way street, so you should have your own questions to ask of the employer. 

It is very easy for interviewers to see whether or not you have prepared yourself; and to them, that says a lot about you, your work ethic, and how organized and detail-oriented you are.

Tell us one good question and one bad question to ask a hiring manager during an interview.

There are five "must-have" questions that you should pose to the hiring manager in an interview. Those questions are:

1. What created the need to fill this position?

2. What do you feel are the key skills required to succeed in this job?

3. What are the three biggest challenges I would face in the first six months?

4. What has to happen in the first six months to convince you that you've hired the right person?

5. How does this position relate to the achievement of the boss's (or department's, or company's) goals?

These questions are focused on the needs of the company and the position; therefore, they will show the interviewer that you are genuinely interested in the opportunity and what you can bring to the table. The answers to these questions will help you determine if the job and the company are right for you.

A bad question to ask is something like "Can you tell me about the company?" With all of the resources readily available today, the hiring manager will expect that you have done your research and are prepared to discuss why you are a good fit for the position and their organization.

What do hiring managers hate to see on an applicant's resume?

Number one is typos. Even one typo can hurt you, because the hiring manager may be concerned that if you would present a document with typos to a potential employer, then you might send imperfect business correspondence to customers as well. Also, because job openings attract numerous applicants and employers need to make the candidate pool smaller, a resume with any typos is likely to be among those that are cut from the pile.  

Hiring managers also don't want to see a resume that is missing qualifications and doesn't show experience related to the job requirements. The resume is another area where the job seeker needs to apply preparation, because they need to ensure the requirements of the company and the position are addressed.

What advice do you have for new college graduates with limited work experience when they assemble their resumes?

New college grads need to analyze their schooling and determine the transferable skills they have acquired that will meet a company's needs. New grads should also consider mentioning extra-curricular activities that required responsibility and dedication, have strengthened skills, and offered experiences that may be of value (such as volunteer work or tutoring).

What are some approaches to dealing with a "gap" of time on a resume?

There are a few different approaches you can take depending on the length of the gap and the reasons for it. If it was a small gap of time between jobs (for example, three to six months) and you were doing some volunteer work or helping out a family business, you should include those experiences on your resume to help close the gap. If the gap of time is due to being fired, be prepared to explain it in an interview by just providing the facts and focusing on what you accomplished and experienced in the job.  

It's important to be transparent and honest about the reason for the gap, especially if it is a longer period of time such as one to several years. It doesn't matter whether you were taking off time to be a stay-at-home parent or care for a sick family member, going to school to further develop your career, taking a year off to travel in Europe, or taking a break from the corporate world to gain perspective on what you want to do. When a hiring manager cannot get a straightforward or honest answer as to why a job seeker has a gap in their resume, then that raises a huge red flag for them. It's fine to briefly mention these experiences in the cover letter, but you should also provide an explanation of the skills, education, and life lessons you gained and how they were applied to the job that followed or can be applied to the job you are currently pursuing.

We generally advise against hiding job gaps by using a "functional" resume, which emphasizes your skillsets rather than your employment history. This type of resume can tip off the employer that you are hiding something and thus become a deal breaker.

Do you expect the job search process to change drastically over the next five to ten years? Or will the overall basic rules and processes remain the same?

Ever since we launched Pongo, we've heard talk in the industry about the demise of resumes and cover letters. At one time, we heard that video resumes were going to be the next big thing and everything else would become obsolete, but that's never really taken off. We've also heard that social media is going to become the primary medium in the future for companies filling open positions and job seekers looking for new positions.

I think that the reality is that the job market and the kinds of positions offered by the numerous types of employers out there is all over the map, so it's unlikely we will see a universal change. Regardless of whether you're applying to a small mom-and-pop outfit or a large Fortune 500 company, the process of job hunting will continue to be the same. You'll always need to research the company and the people you hope to work with, and you'll always need to provide information on your past work experience, education, skillset, etc. That is why resumes and cover letters are never going to become obsolete. This information is extremely relevant to potential employers and will still need to be presented to them in some format. Since technology is continuously evolving, there will always be new ways of submitting resumes and cover letters, but the best way to secure an interview with a hiring manager will continue to be via referral.

Individuals should look ahead to the next five to 10 years and consider how their industry might change so they have a sense of how their job might evolve. As we know, manufacturing in the United States went through a major downturn for close to two decades, but a lot of it is coming back (although with very different types of positions and skill requirements). People in manufacturing are now writing software or running robotics as opposed to doing the hands-on physical labor. My advice is to stay on top of your industry because there could be a dramatic change at one point and you will need to make sure you understand how you can evolve with it to continue working in that space.

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Zack Andresen

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