Resume & Cover Letter
The résumé: What is it?
A résumé is a data sheet documenting your skills, experience and training. Its purpose is to get you an interview.
How to write it:
Be brief yet include enough detail to clearly communicate your strengths; it should be designed so the reader can visually scan the page and immediately see your top skills and primary qualities (if unsure of your top skills, please see our Identifying Skills worksheet). Be sure you have highlighted how you meet at least the minimum requirements of the internship/job for which you are applying.
Organization of information and page layout are key to résumé success. There are three formats to choose from: Chronological, Functional, and Combination. Your choice will depend on your skills, experience, and how you wish to promote them to a potential employer.
In the U.S., a CV (Curriculum Vitae) is often requested by academic institutions. Its emphasis is on your teaching and research experience as well as academic awards, grants, university service, conferences, etc. Countries outside of the U.S. often refer to a résumé as a CV.
A few tips:
- Be promotional – it’s your job as an applicant to advertise your abilities.
- One page is strongly recommended unless the strength of your relevant experience requires a second page.
- Carefully review the job description/posting if you are responding to one and note the specific skills, strengths, and experience desired. Identify key words for use in your résumé.
- List information in order of interest to your targeted reader.
- Use action verbs (see our Need a Verb? handout), be consistent in tense, avoid paragraphs, use concise phrases, proofread for grammatical and spelling accuracy – it needs to be error free.
- References are typically past or current employers, faculty, or advisors who can speak to your skills and performance related to work. If references are requested, on a separate sheet include your résumé header (your contact information), the word References, and the name, title, company/location, phone and email of each reference. Be sure to ask each reference for permission before providing their name to a potential employer.
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Sections to include in your résumé:
Contact information (place at the top of the résumé)
- Include your name (bold and usually in a slightly larger font), street address, phone number, email address, web presence (e.g. link to portfolio)
- List pertinent educational history (college/university) in reverse chronological order. Include degree, major, institution, and expected date (month, year) of graduation
- Optional: May add minor studies, languages, scholarships/academic honors, GPA, study abroad, related coursework (if you create separate sections for any of these, e.g. “Honors”, don’t list them under education)
B.A. Environmental Studies, University of Oregon, June 20xx
Minors in Biology and Political Science
Study abroad in Madrid, Spain, 20xx
- Include position title, name of organization, location (city and state), employment dates (month & years or simply years)
- Avoid a review of your duties/tasks – focus on skills/accomplishments/results and lead with strong descriptive action verbs (see action verb handout for examples). Do not use the pronoun “I”; instead begin phrases with action verbs
- Select from all of your relevant experience, paid or unpaid: employment, internships, volunteer, leadership activities
- Use numbers to add dimension to your statements. Examples: Increased attendance at annual conference by 20%; Contributed to professor’s research by reviewing and analyzing 35 articles
- When preparing statements, ask the questions “who, what, why, where, when and how” to clarify and demonstrate the impact of your work
- Use bullets to draw attention to action verbs; employers want to skim for detail and will typically not read lengthy paragraphs
Examples of optional sections:
Objective (typically first section on résumé after contact information): Tells an employer what kind of job you are looking for. Be specific about the industry or position if you know it. Example: Facilities manager for performing arts center
Qualifications Summary: Makes assertions about abilities, qualities, experience and achievements. Presents relevant information related to your objective.
Academics: If you have demonstrated relevant skills in your academics, consider listing this information as a subsection of your education, or in a skills section, or in a separate section with a title such as: Academic Highlights, Academic Projects, Studios, Design Projects, etc.
Activities: Include community or university activities not mentioned in Experience section.
Example: Volunteer, Upland Humane Society, Pearland, CA (20xx-20xx)
Skills: List skills relevant to the job you are applying to, e.g. computer literacy, languages, design skills, etc.
Honors / Awards: This section might include awards, honors, scholarships, etc.
Interests: List to show diverse skills. You can also list interests that help highlight your fit with a particular job/company that would otherwise not be apparent on the résumé. This section may serve as a conversation starter in interviews.
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Writing a Cover Letter
The following is an example of formatting to be used for cover letters that are printed and then sent to an employer or for letters that are attached to an email or uploaded for an application.
City, State Zip code
Phone Number/Email address
City, State Zip
Dear Mr. or Ms. Last Name:
Introductory Paragraph may include:
- Your reason for writing this person. This should always be included in the first paragraph, first sentence if possible.
- Title of a specific position (if applicable) and why you are interested in the position.
- Mutual acquaintances or the name of the person that referred you.
- Your interest in the company/organization.
- Concise overview of the skills/ experience you have to offer the employer (which you will elaborate on in the body paragraphs).
- Provide details about what you have to offer the employer, e.g. your skills, experience, knowledge, expertise, work characteristics/ qualities, etc.
- Prior to writing the body paragraphs consider the following: What is needed to accomplish the job? Identify 2-3 qualifications or background themes the position requires. Use the job description or information obtained through your research. How do your strengths match the job requirements? For each of the themes listed above, write about an experience (from classes, employment, co-curricular activities, etc.) that illustrates your skills or background in each area. Consider closing the paragraph(s) with a sentence focused on how the skill will impact the employer.
- Reiterate your interest in the opportunity.
- Thank the reader for his or her time. Acknowledge that you look forward to hearing from or meeting with the employer.
- If appropriate, include your next steps. “I am very excited about the position of…with…and look forward to beginning the interview process” or “I will connect with you the week of…to discuss my application.”
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Follow these tips to ensure a successful cover letter:
Be promotional – the product is you!
Cover letters are a marketing tool to demonstrate to an employer why you are a strong candidate for the job/internship. Effective letters explain the reasons for your interest in the specific organization and identify your most relevant skills and experiences. They tend to be more flexible than a résumé in that you can convey your enthusiasm, assertiveness, organizational skills, self-knowledge, interest in the organization, sense of humor, and ability to write.
Know yourself and the job/organization. Study the position description (if available). What does the employer want? Compare this to what you have to offer. This overlap will help you outline your letter.
Avoid simply reiterating your résumé or listing activities. Identify skills and/or experiences you have to offer and provide examples.
Make it unique
Every letter should be written for a specific position and organization. Generic form letters do little to show why you are a good fit with your target audience. While this approach takes time, it will show the employer that you are serious about pursuing the job/internship.
Include “proof” of your skills
Make connections between your statements. For example, if you write that you understand the goals of the ABC firm and would do well as a designer with the company, give specific examples and reasons for thinking so. Your reasons could include that you have developed the skills necessary through coursework, you have had prior experience in a related position, or you have held the job before with a different organization.
Show your enthusiasm
Use an active voice and enthusiastic tone. Once written, reread the letter. If you sound too passive, apologetic, or indifferent, rewrite the letter to capture the reader’s attention. Engage the reader with your enthusiasm and commitment to the work.
Make it easy for the employer to select you for an interview
Focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. Know what the employer wants and clearly outline why you meet their needs. If you make the connection clear, the employer is more likely to call you for an interview!
A few more tips:
- Cover letters, with formatting shown on the other side of this page, typically should not exceed a page in length.
- Show off your ability to communicate in writing.
- Use spell check and a human proofreader to ensure it is error free.
- Avoid over-used phrases and clichés.
- Cut extraneous words. Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
- Check for coherence and readability – read your letter aloud.
- Be the employer: would you be interested?
- Let a day pass, reread and ask someone else to read it.