Resume and Cover Letter Writing

I'm working on getting examples up here, but for now, here's the lowdown on making your best resume and cover letter:

Hiring managers spend an average of 30 seconds looking at each resume when it is first received. Your goal is to inspire them to take a second look at yours!

What is a resume?
It creates a first impression
It showcases your skills, talents, education, and experience
It demonstrates your match for a position
Its purpose is to get you an interview

Applying online
80% of employers receive resumes electronically (either through email, or online job application tools).

Online job application tools generally have a resume builder option, or you can cut and paste your existing resume into a field.
If you use the cut and paste option, make sure you remove formatting beforehand.
Be sure to always double check for completeness before submitting an online resume, cover letter, and/or application.
If the online job application tool does not include a place for your resume, be sure to get the email address of the hiring manager and email them your resume and cover letter.

When emailing, put your cover letter and resume in the body of the email AND as an attachment (and note this in the cover letter in the body of the email, i.e. “I have attached a PDF version of my resume and cover letter, as well as a pasted the plain-text versions below”). Some employers will not open email attachments for security reasons.
When attaching your resume and cover letter, save it as an .rtf or .pdf
Use your name in the file name of the resume and cover letter

Things to keep in mind while writing a resume
Your resume needs to compel others to continue reading- get their attention and keep it BUT also needs to be well organized so it is easily skimmable.

Focus it on how you can be of value to the company.

Have a copy of the job posting with you as you write your resume, so you can refer to it for specific points. Use the action verbs from the job posting in your resume and cover letter

Keep in mind your resume is a summary, it doesn’t need to list everything in your life.

Always bring a paper copy of your resume to an interview, even if you applied electronically.

Resume formats
Ideally, you should always have a formatted resume and an unformatted resume.

Unformatted is text-based, so you can:
DO NOT use the MS Word pre-formatted resume templates
Always in .txt or .rtf format (.pdf if you are not going to go in and make changes to it)
Use minimal formatting (plain text, left justified, no indenting, no bullets, no italics)- the code for this can sometimes show up as gobbledeguck, which will get your resume trashed.
Use CAPS instead of bold, use *asterisks instead of •bullets

Formatted resumes come in two basic types:
Reverse chronological emphasizes your job history, shows progessive experience, highlights increasing responsibility, quanitifes the depth/length of experience in a field, and shows a clear and consistent career path.

Functional emphasizes transferrable skills, and is good to use if you are new to the workforce, new to a field, switching career fields, or reentering the workforce.

During your job search, it can be helpful to create a folder on your desktop (or hard-copy) for each job you apply to. In that folder, keep a copy of the job posting, a copy of your resume and cover letter sent in application to that job, and any communications you receive as follow-up. This way, if someone contacts you, you are not ‘caught with your pants down’.

Resume content

- Contact information should always be at the top
- Always provide name, address, phone number(s), and email (avoid inappropriate email addresses, like Instead, create a free email account for your professional correspondence, such as

Summary of Qualifications/Objective
- Purpose of this section is to focus how the reader should see your resume, using buzzwords (found in the job description posting)
- Objective section is optional, and beginning to be considered outdated.
- If you use a career objective, keep it to 3 lines or shorter, and focus on employer needs. Be specific to the job/career/field (no “to find a challenging position in a rewarding field” type of stuff).
- You can use (instead of, or in addition to) a Summary of Qualifications which lists professional and technical skills, only 1-3 lines long. This is meant as an overview of skills and experience, summarizing the info in the body of the resume (i.e. “Experience program developer, event coordinator, and organizer”, “highly motivated and quick to learn”, and “computer literate in MS Office 2007 (Word, Excel, Access)”).

Skills/Experience and Employment/Work History
- You can separate into “related experience” and “other experience” as a way of listing jobs that cover a wide range
- Start with most recent position and employer, and use months and years of employment
- Use applicable job experience only, even if it means gaps in your timeline
- Explain gaps in timeline within your resume with a one-liner (i.e. “Full-Time Parent March 2005- January 2007”)
- Start with skill summary bullets- the top half of the first page is going to get the most attention
- If it’s been ten years since you had a job, only put it on the resume if it’s very valid to what you are applying for
- Avoid age descrimination by omiting specific job dates- simply say “over fifteen years of experience”, or “seasoned professional”.
- Focus on accomplishments, not duties (and note promotions!)
- Highlight what is relevant from your positions to the one you are applying for, even if it’s in a different field
- Quantify accomplishments (i.e. “increased efficiency by 50%”, “provided workshops for 30-50 professionals”)
- Generally, you can use the term ‘experienced’ after about five years in any given field

- Include the highest level of education you’ve completed
- Include ongoing/continuing education if you’re studying (i.e. “B.A. in English, expected 07/2009”, or list brief course work, field, and university or degree, field, emphasis, and month/year of coursework).
- Include professional training and certifications
- If it’s been ten years since you graduated, you can omit the graduation dates from this section

Technical Skills
- List computer skills, software proframs, and systems (Be specific! If you know Word and Excel, don’t just say “Microsoft Office Suite”; list out the programs you know)
- Identify your level of proficiency
Familiar- You couldn’t do a project with this application independently, but you have been exposed to it before.
Proficient- You can use this application for a project, without needing to be tutored in it
Expert- You could support/train others in using this application

Professional and volunteer activities
- Include meaningful activities/volunteer work
- Affiliations are ok to list, but avoid anything that indicates a political or religious affiliation

Formatting tips
Your resume should be between 1 and 3 pages long, but focus on keeping it succinct and targeted
Use 11 or 12 pt Times New Roman or Arial style font
Use white or off-white colored paper only
Spell out words before you use the acronym of them
Leaving a blank space around an item in a resume draws attention to it (as with dates)
Always do a spelling and grammar check before sending your resume and cover letter to anyone (don’t just to a Word spell check- this often misses errors!)
Have someone else proofread, if possible
References should be on a separate page that also contains your contact info at the top (professional references are best, generally 3-5)

Cover Letter
The cover letter provides context to your resume, and is a reflection of your written skills.
Each cover letter should be tailored to each specific job you are applying for.
Keep it to one page long (3-4 paragraphs).
Keep it targeted to the specific job you are applying for.

What do I include?
First Paragraph
- Explain how you heard about the position
- Provide key information related to your match to the job
- Express interest and enthusiasm

Second Paragraph
- Emphasize what you have to offer (two or three really relevant things from your resume, explain relevence, highlight their transferance to position you are applying for).
- Provide context for the experiences on your resume

Last Paragraph
- Request an interview (i.e. “I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you further”)
- Thank the employer for their consideration

It is okay to call or email the employer 2-8 business days after the job posting has closed (or, if you don’t know the closing date, after you have submitted your resume and cover letter) to inquire politely about the status of the position.

If you get an interview, always send a brief thank you note or card, thanking the interviewer(s) for their time and consideration. Sending this in email form is nice, but always make sure you have something in the mail as well. This will serve to remind them of you, and to emphasize your willingness to go the extra mile in order to get this position.

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