Job Basics: Tools

Tools Hammer Pliers

Now you want to go find a job, well there’s a few things you need to have to actually do it. These are core tools that are invaluable to the job search – and though they may seem obvious, what they are isn’t always obvious.  These Job Basics are so common we forget their impact or think they’re “not for us.”

These are the tools you need to have for your career – and your job search (which I’ll get to next).

Cover Letter

Thought I was going to say resume, right? Well not exactly. In a lot of cases the cover letter is the first thing people see. In many cases, it’s also a dismal pile of cliches or just plain bad.  Trust me on this.

You know that saying about how you never get another chance to make a first impression? Your cover letter has a good chance of being that first impression.

Please make sure it’s a good one.

The core to a good cover letter is that it’s not about you.  It’s about what the company/client/etc. needs and how you meet it.  It’s an opening to a partnership, an alliance – yes, maybe some people can get away with bragging, I’m guessing you’re not that person, and you may not want to work for people that works on.

Making a cover letter usually consists of:

  • An introduction. This should be about the people you want to work for “I understand you’re looking for . . .” you’re helping them.
  • A summary of you and your qualifications. This shows you are the person they’re looking for.
  • A summary of why you’re right for the job. What are you going to do for them?
  • A friendly closing.

I’ve used a structure like this, with some variants, for nearly two decades and it works well.

Now I don’t reccomend writing your cover letter first – I usually find doing a resume first helps you write a cover letter. But remember it may be the first thing people see, so take time.

Next Step

  • Want a better over letter, take the above pattern and write one now towards an ideal employer. Imagine they have a position you’re qualified for, and write that letter. How do you make it about them and how you help them?

A Resume

You know this. You want a job or to convince a client. You need a resume. You hate it.

I know this. I wrote a book on making resumes more creative and interesting and did an in-depth series exploring interesting ones. It’s not easy, it takes effort, and it can be boring.

You also are going to have to get good at it because a resume is, despite everyone’s hope of replacing it, how people assess your skills and abilities. A resume is a story of you, and you’ve got to tell it so people realize they should hire you.

I’ve gone into this repeatedly, but a good resume lists:

  • An introduction/quick career description.
  • Skills.
  • Background and achievements.
  • Education.
  • Training (note, not always the same as training)
  • Certifications (separate from Education and training as it can be distinct and may have specific information like renewal dates)
  • Personal information like hobbies.

Making a good resume is a skill. Start building that skill now.

Next Steps

  • Does your resume fit the above outline? If not either change it or list why the above outline doesn’t work for you.  Maybe in your case I’m wrong – so tell me.
  • Make a plan to rewrite your resume once a week for a month to get it better. Find people to give you feedback. Don’t worry,it’s easier after the first as you can shuffle things around.


Sure we think of portfolios as being for artists. They’re not, they just use the term a lot when we should use it more. A portfolio is a body of work you can show off – it doesn’t have to be art.

A good portfolio means you have something that really demonstrates what you do so people can see it. It could be a document you wrote (and can share), it could be a piece of art, it may even be a direct demonstration of a skill you can do on demand. But it’s something you have or can do that shows you are capable.

Having a portfolio is a great choice especially if you aren’t an artist because it asks the question “what can I show.” Answering it is a valuable exercise.

Now for some of us showing work is hard due to NDAs, issues, etc. A surgeon can’t exactly show off patients, a programmer can’t show code that is restricted by an NDA, and so on. Sometimes you have to get creative and show tangental works, do the above demonstrations, or use a reference.

Either way, have ways to show your work.  A few examples I’ve seen:

  • An artist who showed his blog design skills pointing to client sites – his portfolio was his clients.
  • A nonfiction writer with extensive self-published fiction, showing their skills in a broader light – he could use his published work as a portfolio as well as his self-published work.
  • A games translator using his non-video game experience to show design skills relevant to video games.
  • I myself use my books and blog work to show my organizational skills.
  • A person being trained as a program manager who did a paper on organization – by applying theories to running an anime convention.

Next Steps

  • List five things you can do that a potential employer or client may want. How would you show that work or demonstrate that ability?

Web Page

You need a web page if you’re any kind of a professional. If you’re not a professional, having one really makes you look good.

Now this may not be anything fancy – you might just get a domain and point it at your LinkedIn profile (see below). But any kind of professional needs to have some kind of valid internet home.

  • It looks professional.
  • It lets you show skills, portfolios, and yourself.
  • It can act as a platform for other activities.
  • It looks good on you.

Now some people can get away without this, but I’d say most technical, creative, and media professionals need one, and I’d recommend it for anyone in STEM and anyone that writes or speaks on anything.

Besides the aforementioned buy-a-domain-and-redirect, you can probably make a site easy. If anything else just throw up some blog software. If you don’t know how to set up a site, go learn how then put it on your resume . . .

Next Step

  • How could you get a web page up? I you don’t know, find someone who would and ask them as soon as possible.

LinkedIn Profile

Everyone who is careerist needs a LinkedIn profile. It’s simply normal these days – it’s expected.  Not having one is a bit like not having a resume.

LinkedIn is about as close as you can get to a resume substitute – the irony being that really it’s a resume system connected to extensive social media. Because of this it has a lot of benefits:

  • It’s expected. Having one is professional.
  • It makes you visible – recruiters and people can find you.
  • It lets you have a classy display and even a dedicated URL (a good substitute for a web page).
  • It has job search and research tools.
  • It has paid options increase tools and visibility.
  • There’s plenty of groups to join and folks to meet.
  • It lets you network easy with people – and always leave references for people you worked with!

It’s unavoidable. Fortunately, it’s well, well worth your time.

Next Steps

  • If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, go make one now.
  • If you have one, go take a look and ask if you need to change anything.

Now with that done, let’s get to the search itself . . .


– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at