for Resumes and Cover Letters
Why do we need a resume and a cover letter? What
purpose do they have in the job search? Are they important?
How much time should I spend on them? These are all very good
questions and so let's get to work addressing them.
The purpose of a resume and cover letter is to land
you an interview. They work as an introduction to your
professional qualifications and experience. They do not work as a
personal introduction. In fact, personal information about you is
not considered in a job search and asking job hunters for some types of
personal information is actually illegal.
How important are resumes and cover letters? For
American employers, they are critically important! American
employers generally move very fast when they hire people. Most
jobs in America are given after a quick series of resume matching and
interviewing. You may get a job with only the right resume and a
30-minute interview. For this reason, the resume and cover letter
will be judged very carefully and your quality and fit for the job be
judged immediately by your resume and cover letter. This point is
critical to understand: to have an equal chance against other qualified
applicants, you must have a perfect resume and cover letter. ANY
mistake in format, mechanics, organization, or logic will cause your
resume to look uneducated, careless, and of low quality. In other
words, you are being immediately judged by the beauty, clarity,
impression, and style of your resume and cover letter. Make sure
you get it perfect!
Okay, let's get started with the
writing. Find yourself the right paper for the task. This
paper must be 8.5 inches by 11 inches (standard American letter).
Also, your resume needs to have a certain look and feel right from the
start. Don't use regular copy paper which tends to be thin.
Use a high-quality resume paper. Some of these even have
"watermarks" when you hold them up to the light. This is
a sign of quality and it shows the employer that you take your
correspondence seriously. Look for those papers that say
"cotton bond" and "20Lbs". Those are the
truly, high quality papers. Choose a conservative color like plain
white, ivory, or tan. A little color is okay, but nothing bright
like sky blue, pink, or yellow. Make sure you have fresh ink in
your printer and choose a conservative font like Times Roman or Arial in
10-12 points for a professional look.
There are actually 3 styles of resume
writing. They are chronological, functional, and creative.
Chronological, or organized by time, is the only one we are interested
in here. The other 2 are more fitting to artistic and
non-traditional careers that allow more freedom of expression.
These styles can do a lot of harm to your job hunting if you are not in
a such a career however. For NPU students, we will focus on the
chronological resume style as it is considered the most professional and
popular resume format.
The Components of a Resume
Your professional resume must include 4 parts:
identifying information (who you are), objective (what you want),
experience (what you know), education (what you've studied).
Please note that what you know and what you've studied are 2 very
different things. In Silicon Valley today, you will find that your
work experience carries a great degree of power, and often your
education does not. A company may decide to hire a person with
only 2 years of community college work and 5 years of experience over a
Stanford graduate with no experience, simply because of the value that
they put on the work experience. Keep this in mind when writing
your resume and cover letter. It's not the name of your school as
much as what you can DO!
1) Identifying Information
The first bit of information you put on your
resume will be your name, address, phone number, and email. You
can also put an office number if appropriate. Make sure NOT to
write in the margin (sides of paper). Leave about 1 inch on all
sides, top and bottom, to give your paper a framed look. If you do
write in the margin, you may as well forget about any chance to get that
job. Writing in the margins is one of the biggest mistakes a
person can make and for Americans it is one of the ugliest
mistakes. Don't do it!
The objective is what you seek. For
example, "Objective: Lead Project Manager". Try to keep
the objective specific to a job area, but not too specific in case there
are other jobs available as well. For instance, if they have 3
jobs in the engineering department for "Lead Software
Engineer", "Software Engineer - I", and "Software
Engineer-II", then give yourself a chance at all 3 jobs by putting
as your objective just "Software Engineer". The
important thing about the objective is just that it matches one of the
job titles that their company currently has available. If you
choose to, you may also use a Summary. This is like an objective
but it has more information about your objective and why you fit the
job. Use a summary only if you have at least 5 years of experience
because summaries are generally an executive tool to advertise in-depth
experience. If you do not have that background and experience,
then a summary could sound a bit "too strong" for the job and
for your qualifications.
You may choose to put your work experience before your education, or you
can put your education first. If you feel that your experience
will be valued more than your education, or you feel that your education
may not be as high or as appropriate as the competition's, then put your
experience first. Put your most recent job first, and work
backwards. Be sure not to leave to many "gaps" in
time. If you did not work for several years, you should have a
reason listed. Include the name and address (just city, state,
country) of the employer, and include the dates that you worked
there. Be specific and include the month and year. Next,
include your job title for each job and write a concise description of
that job (use the past tense grammar accept for the current job).
Don't be shy about your job description. Don't be arrogant.
Be proud of your accomplishments and show your successes. Use Action
Words to convey a positive, results-driven worker.
List all your colleges and universities. Do not include High
Schools as Americans feel that this is not relevant education.
Include your school's name and location, the dates you attended, and
your degrees from that school. Include any honors you have
received such as "Phi Beta Kappa", "Summa Cum
Laude", or "Magna Cum Laude". If your G.P.A. was
very high, it's okay to list these as well. If it was below 3.0,
then it's better to leave it out.
There are many things that you should NOT
include on your resume. Never send a photo (unless you are
applying for a modeling or acting job of course). Never include
your age, marital status, number of kids, reasons for leaving jobs, past
salaries, health information, or any information about your ethnicity
and race. An employer may ask you if you can legally take a job in
the U.S., and they also may ask about your language abilities. You
MAY put on your resume any foreign languages you speak, professional
memberships and associations, awards, degrees, and honors, publications,
licenses, titles, military service, security clearances, and even
hobbies if they relate to the job. Keep this extra information
limited though, because it may work against you. Most employers
will have already decided if you are worth an interview based on
education, experience, and the quality of your writing.
Some employers will want to talk about your
qualifications with past employers, teachers, or friends. These
"references", however, should not be listed by name and
telephone number on the resume, as that information is personal to the
person who is your reference. A more acceptable practice is to put
on the bottom of your resume, references available upon request. When,
and if, the employer requests the reference, then you may provide
Writing the Cover Letter
Top Ten Cover Letter
The cover letter is where the employer gets a
first look at your communicative style. Since the resume is more a
table format of information, it is actually less revealing about how you
communicate. Your communication skills can be judged more directly
by the cover letter you write. A cover letter is like a
dialogue. It should have a conversational tone, but also be
professional, direct, concise, and written with a clear business format
and organization. Follow the same conventions for margins that you
did with your resume (1" margins) and be sure to write your cover
letter on high-quality, 8.5 x 11inch paper. There are 2 different
styles for formatting, and both are acceptable. For the sake of
confusion, I will teach just the more popular one. Put your name
and address in the upper right corner (but not in the margin) and the
employer's name and address one space below it, and to the left
margin. You may also include a date in the upper left corner at
the margin. Next, skip down 2 or 3 lines and put the
greeting. The greeting should be all capitals and it is always
better to use the person's name if you know it (more friendly).
Here are some examples of greetings to choose from:
- Dear Mr. (Ms., Mrs.) (last name);
- Dear Sir or Madam:
- To Whom It May Concern,
You may choose to end the greeting with either a comma
( , ), a colon ( : ), or a semicolon ( ; ), but you can not use a period
( . ). Next, skip a space and use block writing for the
"body" of the letter. Block writing means that you do
not indent the first sentence of a paragraph. Instead, the first
sentence begins on the left margin. When there is another
paragraph, then a space is left between the paragraphs.
In the body, your first paragraph should say
very clearly and concisely what your objective is. This is like
the main idea of an essay and it should show that you are confident
about your abilities to pursue this kind of work and are most interested
in the position being offered. This first paragraph may paraphrase
your objective from your resume and give the employer a very clear
understanding that you want that job. In the next paragraph or
paragraphs, you should begin a determined persuasive argument that you
are the perfect fit for that job. Again, you may use your resume
for details and explain more about your qualifications, experience, and
education as it relates to this job. Action
Words will again be your best
friends here. In the conclusion paragraph, thank the employer for
the opportunity and leave him with the feeling that this is the right
fit. How to leave him with that feeling will depend a lot on your
research about that job, the company, their needs, and their corporate
culture. Let him know that you are standing by to discuss this fit
further and would most welcome a call.
Close your letter politely and cordially with
one of the following closings:
- Sincerely Yours,
- Respectfully Yours,
There are other closings, but I would be careful since
not all of them are appropriate to the occasion. For example,
"Best Wishes" sounds too much like "goodbye".
"Regards" sounds a little bit informal for this
occasion. "God Bless You", well, what if they are not a
practicing Christian? Stay safe and use one of the above closings
to be certain of the right effect.
That's about it. Now you just need to tailor the
cover letter and resume for the individual job description. Do
your research and try to market yourself as the answer to their hiring
problems and you should have a good chance at an interview. Once
you get an interview, then you're really ready to get serious.
Check out the Interviewing
pages for more information. GOOD LUCK!
Most of the information is very usful.
Most of the tips are very practical. Free resume help
A good overview on how to write a resume.
Mistakes to avoid on your resume.
This is a brief look at resume writing.
This site will help you prepare a nice cover letter to go with your