Resumes & Cover Letters

What is a résumé and why use one?

The goal of a résumé is to get the interview. A résumé does not get you the job! The résumé is your first impression to a prospective employer, and therefore it needs to be well-written, factual, and relevant to the job in which you are applying.

A résumé is a marketing tool, designed to sell you to a prospective employer. A résumé is not for your past; it is to market yourself for the next job! You need to answer the four questions an employer has in their mind when reading your résumé:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you want?
  3. What have you done?
  4. What are capable of?

An employer will visually scan your résumé for 30-45 seconds. In that time you must attract them to your résumé, tell them what you want, and most importantly, what you can do for them.

What type of résumé format should I use?

While there are several technical terms for the different types of résumés out there, you should use a format that presents your qualifications best. No two people should have the same résumé. There is an individuality that must shine through a résumé - your voice that speaks to the employer. This is why you should never use a template résumé from MS Word or any other résumé software program.

Resumes should contain all information that is relevant to the job in which you are applying, in order that best sells you to what least sells you.

Section 1: Objective or Professional Summary
Section 2: Education
Section 3: Internship/Work Experience
Section 4: Volunteer/Campus Activities
Section 5: Awards and Accomplishments
Section 6: Skills (Computer, Language, etc)

*Remember: A résumé is set-up to your personal qualifications, so the order of these sections may differ. Example: If your Campus and Volunteer Activities are stronger than your Work Experience, you would change the order on the résumé.

How many pages should my résumé be?

Ideally, a college student or soon-to-be college graduate should try to limit their résumé to one (1) page. However, if you have excellent and relevant information that will help you gain the interview then it is all right to use an additional page.

Do I need an objective?

If you have a specific job title or career path, then yes, use an objective that is well thought-out, well-written, and specific to the type of position in which you are applying.

If you do not have a specific position, then do not use an objective. Avoid boring and generic statements that really don’t say anything. Consider using a Professional Summary that provides a general overview of your skills and experience in 2-3 sentences.

General résumé tips and pointers

Here are some suggestions that work!

  • Keep your résumé as close to one page as possible (unless you have 10+ years of experience).
  • Dates should reflect reverse chronological order for your education and work experience. Do not include high school.
  • Your résumé should be concise, easy to read, and word processed
  • Be consistent in displaying techniques, punctuation, and verb tense.
  • Use perfect spelling. Errors on your résumé tell the employer that you're likely to make errors if hired.
  • Be honest - don't exaggerate.
  • The use of phrases or splinter sentences is fine; avoid word abbreviations.
  • Avoid slang and trite expressions.
  • Use action verbs to describe accomplishments and experience.
  • Allow a minimum of 1" border all around.
  • Be sure reproduced copies are clean. Use white or off-white paper. Avoid gray paper.
  • Avoid graphics, underlining, italics and excessive use of bold. These devices cause problems with résumés that are electronically scanned.
  • Your résumé provides an opportunity to communicate with an employer. Preparing a superior résumé takes thoughtful planning which starts with taking an organized look at yourself.

What exactly is a cover letter? Do I really need one?

A cover letter is the companion document to the résumé; it is an introductory letter that guides an employer through your résumé. A well-written, well-set up cover letter will encourage an employer to read your résumé the way you want it read. The letter will highlight your specific skills and traits for the job, point out your related experiences, and explain how you will perform on the job.

Cover letters absolutely are necessary. You should begin to think of Resume and Cover Letter as one word: Resumecoverletter. When someone asks for your résumé, you also provide the cover letter.

The letter works in your favor, and will almost subconsciously tell the employer how to read your résumé.

OK. How do I do all that?

There is a basic and effective outline to writing a cover letter. Following our cover letter outline allows your cover letter to be personal, yet work effectively in guiding the employer through your résumé.

Check out the full outline and letter samples in the box to the right

Any other general tips?

Sure. Here are several:

  • Find out who you are sending this letter to, and address it to them. Try to avoid Dear Sir or Madam at all costs.
  • Be direct – this is not an autobiography. It is a place to talk about your specific qualifications for the job in which you are applying.
  • Writing style counts – while you can “talk” to the employer in your letter (I, my, etc), make sure you do not start every sentence with “I”. It is a very choppy way of writing.
  • Do not indent your paragraphs. English papers are indented, not business letters.
  • Proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling are vital. Have your letter reviewed for help
  • Put a space between your paragraphs – this helps break up the text.
  • Do not simply regurgitate your résumé. While they will sound alike and use some of the same words, you do not need to repeat each job. Focus on the skills and abilities – this is what forces the employer to your résumé to locate those skills.
  • Always sign your cover letters, if handing in a hard copy.

How do I send a cover letter and résumé via email? What do I put in the email body?

The best way to send your résumé and cover letter is as one file – when the employer opens that one attached file, it starts with the cover letter and scrolls down to the résumé. This is preferred, so now your file is always together and an employer only has to open one attachment.

In the body of your email you can simply state:

Dear Mrs. Doe,

Attached is my résumé and cover letter for the _______ position.

I look forward to speaking with you about this great opportunity.


Job Seeker

Can someone at the Career Development Center help me write and review my résumé?

Absolutely! While we are not a résumé writing service, we will happily sit down with you to teach you the mechanics of writing a résumé and cover letter. We also offer résumé and cover letter review services. Additionally, you can attend a résumé/cover letter writing workshop to get the help you need.

For review, submit your résumé and cover letter on Charger Career Link.