Writing Cover Letters and Resumes
Introduction to Cover Letters and Resume
Writing cover letters and resume for job applications is a daunting task, especially if you're starting from scratch. It also feels harder if you're a student who doesn't have much employment experience. What can you say, if you can't just rattle off a list of impressive jobs that you've held?
Having lots of experience is certainly one way to make employers notice your resume. But there are other ways, none of which involve lying or even exaggerating. You just need to take certain steps to show yourself in the best possible light:
1. Don't mass-mail your resume:
The first step in applying for a job is to find out as much as you can about the job you're applying for. That may sound obvious, but many people still think that the best way to find a job is to spray generic resume across the country, assuming that, statistically, someone will have to respond.
But employers can instantly recognize a mass-mailed resume, and they take it to mean that you have no special interest in their company. Therefore, they will have no special interest in you.
You need to write a letter and resume that describe your qualifications in terms that fit the job and the company. If you're applying for a job as a computer programmer, for instance, it would make no sense to dwell on your landscaping skills.
If you apply to a company in response to a specific job advertisement, you have a head start in knowing how to focus your application. In your cover letter, explicitly point out any qualifications you have that correspond to the ones they've described. If they ask for a qualification that you feel you don't have, don't address it. You don't want to lie, but you also shouldn't draw attention to things that you can't do.
Of course, your letter and resume should not merely "check off" the qualifications that the employer has listed. If you've done some research on a company-for instance, by looking at their Web site-you can make educated guesses about what other qualifications you have that they might be interested in. General personal qualities, such as being detail-oriented or outgoing, also interest employers.
You can still send a resume and cover letter to companies that haven't advertised a specific job. In this case, you need to show very clearly that you know a lot about them, and that they've impressed you enough that you want to work with them. Suggest to them the types of jobs that you would be able to fill.
2. Use action verbs
It might seem corny, but using action verbs in your cover letter and resume makes you seem more effective. Bland or passive verbs like "did" or "was" are much less powerful than action verbs such as "created," "managed," "designed," "organized," etc.
Cover letters and resume should both be neatly typed. This also may seem to go without saying, but employers notice poor grammar, incorrect spelling, typos, and so forth. Sending someone a poorly proofread application indicates that you don't care much about your work. Not the best way to land a job!
4. Use standard formats
Employers are busy, so you have to keep your application short. The standard length for resume is one page; for cover letters, it's about three-quarters of a page, and usually no more than three or four short paragraphs.
Secondly, employers often just skim letters and resume for keywords that will make them want to read in more detail. For this reason, you should arrange both into standard formats so that your readers can tell where to look for the information they need. The standard formats, however, still allow enough flexibility for you to arrange information in the way that best suits you.
Three Parts to a Cover Letter
A cover letter is a letter that accompanies your resume outlining why you are the best candidate for the job. A cover letter generally has three main parts:
1. Introduction: You want to tell the reader why you are writing and name the position or department for which you are applying. You also want to capture the reader attention. Mention how you heard about the organization or the opening. Name someone you and the reader know in common or someone in the company that knows you. Show you have done some research on the company by talking about new projects the company has taken on, the particular management philosophy they use, or citing something you read about them.
2. Body: In this section, you want to build a connection between your background and the company needs. If you have any directly related experience or education, summarize it here so the reader can be looking for it in your resume. If you have used skills or have accomplishments that relate to the job, mention them here. You are effectively summarizing your skills as they relate to the company research you have done. Be sure to do this in a confident manner.
3. Conclusion: Indicate your interest in working for the company and hearing from the reader. Thank the reader for his/or her time and consideration.
For more examples and specific information about writing a cover letter, please see the Basics, Challenge, Real Life, Journal, Exercise, and Multimedia enhancements to this lesson.