Résumés and Cover Letters
A résumé is a "selfie" for business purposes – a promotion of you as an ideal candidate for any job you may be interested in. What are the elements of a successful résumé? What must you be especially careful about? And how can your cover letter best complement your résumé to help you win a job? Explore some of the many ways you can design and develop both for the greatest impact on your job search.
Purpose of Résumés and Cover Letters
A résumé is a "selfie" for business purposes. It is a written picture of who you are – it's a marketing tool, a selling tool, and a promotion of you as an ideal candidate for any job you may be interested in.
The word résumé comes from the French word résumé, which means "a summary". Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing one of the first known résumés, although it was more of a letter that outlined his credentials for a potential employer, Ludovico Sforza. The résumé got da Vinci the job, though, and Sforza became a longtime patron of da Vinci and later commissioned him to paint The Last Supper. You can see the letter and read the translation at Ladders Career Advice.
Résumés and cover letters work together to represent you in the brightest light to prospective employers. With a well-composed résumé and cover letter, you stand out – which may get you an interview and then a good shot at landing a job.
In this section, we discuss résumés and cover letters as key components of your career development tool kit. We explore some of the many ways you can design and develop them for the greatest impact on your job search.
Your Résumé: Purpose and Contents
Your résumé is an inventory of your education, work experience, job-related skills, accomplishments, volunteer history, internships, residencies, and/or more. It's a professional autobiography in outline form to give the person who reads it a quick, general idea of who you are. With a better idea of who your are, prospective employers can see how well you might contribute to their workplace.
As a college student or recent graduate, though, you may be unsure about what to put in your résumé, especially if you don't have much employment history. Still, employers don't expect recent grads to have significant work experience. And even with little work experience, you may still have a host of worthy accomplishments to include. It's all in how you present yourself.
The following video is an animated look at why résumés are so important. You can read a transcript of the video here.
Elements of Your Successful Résumé
Perhaps the hardest part of writing a résumé is figuring out what format to use to organize and present your information in the most effective way. There is no correct format, per se, but most résumés follow one of the four formats below. Which format appeals to you the most?
- Reverse chronological résumé: A reverse chronological résumé (sometimes also simply called a chronological résumé) lists your job experiences in reverse chronological order – that is, starting with the most recent job and working backward toward your first job. It includes starting and ending dates. Also included is a brief description of the work duties you performed for each job, and highlights of your formal education. The reverse chronological résumé may be the most common and perhaps the most conservative résumé format. It is most suitable for demonstrating a solid work history, and growth and development in your skills. It may not suit you if you are light on skills in the area you are applying to, if you've changed employers frequently, or if you are looking for your first job.
- Functional résumé: A functional résumé is organized around your talents, skills, and abilities (more so than work duties and job titles, as with the reverse chronological résumé). It emphasizes specific professional capabilities, like what you have done or what you can do. Specific dates may be included but are not as important. So if you are a new graduate entering your field with little or no actual work experience, the functional résumé may be a good format for you. It can also be useful when you are seeking work in a field that differs from what you have done in the past. It's also well suited for people in unconventional careers.
- Hybrid résumé: The hybrid résumé is a format reflecting both the functional and chronological approaches. It's also called a combination résumé. It highlights relevant skills, but it still provides information about your work experience. With a hybrid résumé, you may list your job skills as most prominent and then follow with a chronological (or reverse chronological) list of employers. This résumé format is most effective when your specific skills and job experience need to be emphasized.
- Video, infographic, and website résumé: Other formats you may wish to consider are the video résumé, the infographic résumé, or even a website résumé. These formats may be most suitable for people in multimedia and creative careers. Certainly, with the expansive use of technology today, a job seeker might at least try to create a media-enhanced résumé. But the paper-based, traditional résumé is by far the most commonly used – in fact, some human resource departments may not permit the submission of any format other than paper-based.
An important note about formatting is that, initially, employers may spend only a few seconds reviewing each résumé – especially if there is a big stack of them or they seem tedious to read. That's why it's important to choose your format carefully so it will stand out and make the first cut.
Writing Effective Résumés
For many people, the process of writing a résumé is daunting. After all, you are taking a lot of information and condensing it into a very concise form that needs to be both eye-catching and easy to read. Don't be scared off, though! Developing a good résumé can be fun, rewarding, and easier than you think if you follow a few basic guidelines. In the following video, a résumé-writing expert describes some keys to success.
Contents and Components To Include
- Your contact information: name, address, phone number, professional email address
- A summary of your skills: 5–10 skills you have gained in your field; you can list hard skills as well as soft skills (refer to the Professional Skill Building topic in this course)
- Work experience: depending on the résumé format you choose, you may list your most recent job first; include the title of the position, employer's name, location, employment dates (beginning, ending)
- Volunteer experience
- Education and training: formal and informal experiences matter; including academic degrees, professional development, certificates, internships, etc.
- References statement (optional): "References available upon request" is a standard phrase used on résumés, although it is often implied
- Other sections: may include a job objective, a brief profile, a branding statement, a summary statement, additional accomplishments, and any other related experiences
Résumés resemble snowflakes in as much as no two are alike. Although you can benefit from giving yours a stamp of individuality, you will do well to steer clear of personal details that might elicit a negative response. It is advisable to omit any confidential information or details that could make you vulnerable to discrimination, for instance. Your résumé will likely be viewed by a number of employees in an organization, including human resource personnel, managers, administrative staff, etc. By aiming to please all reviewers, you gain maximum advantage.
Top Ten Tips for a Successful Résumé
- Aim to make a résumé that's 1–2 pages long on letter-size paper.
- Make it visually appealing.
- Use action verbs and phrases.
- Proofread carefully to eliminate any spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typographical errors.
- Include highlights of your qualifications or skills to attract an employer's attention.
- Craft your letter as a pitch to people in the profession you plan to work in.
- Stand out as different and courageous.
- Be positive and reflect only the truth.
- Be excited and optimistic about your job prospects!
- Keep refining and reworking your résumé; it's an ongoing project.
Remember that your résumé is your professional profile. It will hold you in the most professional and positive light, and it's designed to be a quick and easy way for a prospective employer to evaluate what you might bring to a job. When written and formatted attractively, creatively, and legibly, your résumé is what will get your foot in the door. You can be proud of your accomplishments, even if they don't seem numerous. Let your résumé reflect your personal pride and professionalism.
In the following video, Résumé Tips for College Students From Employers, several college graduate recruiters summarize the most important points about crafting your résumé. You can download a transcript of the video here.
Résumé Writing Resources
|1||Résumé Builder (from Super Resume)||This site allows you to select a resume template and then either edit it directly on the website or download your resume as a Word Doc and edit it on your computer. Additionally, once you've completed your resume, you can download a PDF of your final resume. You have the option to create an account, but you are not required to do so.|
|2||Résumé Samples for College Students and Graduates (from About Careers)||This site offers a plethora of sample résumés for college students and graduates. Listings are by type of student and by type of job. Résumé templates are also provided.|
|3||JobSearch Minute Videos(from College Grad)||This site offers multiple to-the-point one-minute videos on topics such as print résumés, video résumés, cover letters, interviewing, tough interview questions, references, job fairs, and Internet job searching.|
|4||42 Résumé Dos and Don'ts Every Job Seeker Should Know (from the muse)||A comprehensive list of résumé dos and don'ts, which includes traditional rules as well as new rules to polish your résumé.|
|5||11 Free Resume Templates You Can Customize In Microsoft Word (from Hub Spot)||A collection of résumé templates that you can download and use as a starting point for your résumé.|
|6||The Online Resume Builder(from My Perfect resume)||The online résumé builder is easy to use. Choose your résumé design from the library of professional designs, insert prewritten examples, then download and print your new résumé. Please note that you must create an account to use this resource.|
Click here for a text-only version of the activity.
Writing Effective Cover Letters
What Is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a letter of introduction, usually 3–4 paragraphs in length, that you attach to your résumé. It's a way of introducing yourself to a potential employer and explaining why you are suited for a position. Employers may look for individualized and thoughtfully written cover letters as an initial method of screening out applicants who may who lack necessary basic skills, or who may not be sufficiently interested in the position.
Cover letters should accomplish the following:
- Get the attention of the prospective employer
- Set you apart from any possible competition
- Identify the position you are interested in
- Specify how you learned about the position or company
- Present highlights of your skills and accomplishments
- Reflect your genuine interest
- Please the eye and ear
The following video features Kerri Twigg, who explains five steps you should take to write an effective cover letter for a job application.
Cover Letter Resources
|1||Student Cover Letter Samples (from About Careers)||This site contains sample student/recent graduate cover letters (especially for high school students and college students and graduates seeking employment) as well as cover letter templates, writing tips, formats and templates, email cover letter examples, and examples by type of applicant|
|2||How to Write Cover Letters (from CollegeGrad)||This site contains resources about the reality of cover letters, using a cover letter, the worst use of the cover letter, the testimonial cover letter technique, and a cover letter checklist|
|3||LinkedIn Cover Letter||This site contains articles, experts, jobs, and more: get all the professional insights you need on LinkedIn|
|4||Cover Letters (from the Yale Office of Career Strategy)||This site includes specifications for the cover letter framework (introductory paragraph, middle paragraph, concluding paragraph), as well as format and style|
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