Resumes & Cover Letters

Resumes

The resume is a professional marketing tool to introduce you to potential employers for internships, volunteer roles, and on- and off-campus job postings. This written presentation, and sample of your personal writing style, must be concise and error-free to make a positive first impression. The resume should highlight relevant information including:

  • Your relevant experience (paid and unpaid)
  • Your skills and achievements
  • Your education

The types and number of experiences students have will vary, but a resume cannot always include everything. In fact, it should not be a summary of everything you have ever done. Your resume should highlight the skills and experience that are most important and relevant to the types of positions you are targeting.

Creating a Cover Letter

Composing a well thought out cover letter will help make a positive first impression with employers.  The cover letter is an essential document used to introduce you to an employer. Ideally, your cover letter is a response to the job description and should reflect back to the employer your demonstrated ability to do the job. It accompanies your resume when you submit it for consideration for a position opening. It must capture the attention of the employer, encourage a close look at your resume, and match your qualifications with the job requirements.

The purpose of a resume is to generate interviews. Ask yourself, "What are potential employers looking for?" Do some research, and analyze the job descriptions to be sure you are emphasizing what is most important to the potential employers. Remember that a resume will be read or skimmed in approximately 10 to 15 seconds by a recruiter or manager at the screening stage - that is all! Consequently, a professional resume should be clear, direct, easy to read, and include the critical information that presents you the best it possibly can for the position you are applying for.

Researching specific job postings that interest you will help you determine what type of keywords you should include in your resume. A keyword refers to the skills and experience recruiters seek in their organizational terminology. Research job descriptions on Handshake (Simmons' online job board) to get an idea of position descriptions for full- and part-time jobs, internships, volunteer, and seasonal opportunities. You should also take a moment to review the short CareerSpots video "Make Your Resume POP

While there are many possible ways to structure your resume, here are common formats that can be tailored and adjusted as needed: 

For undergraduate, graduate students or recent alumnae/i: 

  • Header (Name, email, city, state, LinkedIn profile you have one)
  • Education (can include Activities, Honors/Awards, and Study Abroad)
  • Clinical Experience or Academic Projects (include clinicals, research or lab experience)
  • Experience
  • Community Service
  • Skills (Computer, Foreign Languages, other)
  • Certifications (if applicable, such as CPR, First Aid, Teaching License)
  • Professional Associations (if applicable, such as student memberships)

As you become more focused in your field upon 5+ years of graduation, you may consider this format (this may be good for alumnae/i): 

  • Header (Name, email, city, state, LinkedIn profile you have one
  • Summary of Skills
  • Experience
  • Community Service
  • Education (can include undergraduate and/or graduate degrees)
  • Skills (Computer, Foreign Languages, other)
  • Certifications (if applicable, such as CPR, First Aid, Teaching License)
  • Professional Associations (if applicable, such as student memberships)

The format should be organized and easy to read so that employers can quickly skim your resume.  Employers are looking to find relevant information about your skills and experience that fit their job opening. Instead of describing your experience in paragraphs, use a bulleted format which will make it much easier for employers to find details. Use bold and capitalized letters for the subheadings of your resume. For your header, make sure to bold and capitalize your name and use a larger font size (14-16 pt.).  The goal is to have your name stand out at the top of the entire document.

What do I include on my resume, and in what sequence?

While there are standard resume sections such as “Education” and “Experience”, you have the option of customizing your resume headings depending on your specific situation. Since your resume is a marketing tool designed for your specific career goals, the sequence of your subheadings may vary depending on your experience level, required certifications, if applicable, and specialized skills required for the type of job you are targeting. For instance, if you do not have extensive paid experience working in your desired field, consider including internships or related volunteer roles under your “Experience” section.

Do I list Education above Experience?

Typically recent university graduates, both undergraduate and graduate, will list “Education” first and then “Experience”. One of the determining factors is deciding what makes you most marketable to prospective employers. A new graduate, including career changers with an advanced degree, can emphasize up-to-date coursework and recently acquired knowledge about the field, while experienced professionals can stress their recent accomplishments in a work environment. Some graduates, such as nurses (RN), social workers (MSW) or librarians (MLS), might add new credentials after their name at the top of the resume.

Should my resume be only one page?

Most recent university graduates will be able to keep their resume to one page. However if you find you have numerous part-time jobs, several internships, leadership roles, and extensive community service, you have the option of expanding onto a second page. With a two-page resume, the first page should include the most relevant experience leaving the second page for sections such as professional association memberships, publications, conferences, etc.

Do I need an “Objective” section on my resume?

An “Objective” section is usually not required on your resume since you can state your customized objective in your cover letter when applying for a specific job posting. Since job titles vary, even in the same industry, you may not want to have such specific wording since it will not match all the types of jobs you will be applying for during your job search. An “Objective” could be used, however, if you have selected a specific job title such as Nurse, Elementary School Teacher, or Physical Therapist.

If you have more questions about how you should design your resume, plan to meet with a career coach in the CEC to discuss specific details in more depth.

  • Review the Resume Checklist to see suggested formats with common resume sections and more details on font styles, margins, subheadings and dates. This checklist can guide you when you complete the first draft of your resume.
  • Look at two different formats of the same resume and learn more about resume Do's and Don’ts by reviewing the Poor vs. Good Resume.
  • Resume Formatting Webinar  

One of the best ways to capture the resume reader's attention is to include concise, results-oriented statements which demonstrate your past achievements with previous employers or volunteer organizations. These carefully crafted statements are mini-success stories, which show how you have made significant contributions or improvements in your previous work roles. Since past performance is often viewed as a great indicator of future success, prospective employers feel confident that you are more likely to be a well-qualified candidate when they read about your personal achievements.

Brainstorm Your Accomplishment Statements

Brainstorm your accomplishment statements by using the CAR approach: 

  • Challenge - Challenge you overcame, problem you solved, or opportunity you saw to improve something. What was the specific situation you encountered to resolve?
  • Action - Action you took to address the challenge. What are the steps you took to improve the situation?
  • Result - Results and positive outcome of the actions you took. What was the benefit for the employer after you implemented this improvement?

Make sure your resume highlights your accomplishments - not just your duties or responsibilities - so that the reader can tell that you were successful at what you did!

Identifying your Past Successes

To help you recall the details of what you've done well in the past, ask people who are familiar with you and refer to letters of recommendation, performance reviews or supervisors' reports describing the quality of your work. Ask yourself, "Have you. . ."

  • Been complimented by customers, supervisors or peers for doing an exceptional job?
  • Trained new employees or interns?
  • Consistently met deadlines?
  • Simplified complex information or streamlined procedures?
  • Saved money or time?
  • . .or had other similar accomplishments?

Avoid using common action verbs such as "Responsible for", "Duties included", "Worked with" and "Assisted." Instead begin your CAR statements with Powerful Action Verbs.

Writing Your Accomplishment Statements

Distinguish yourself! When you are ready to write your accomplishment statements, make sure you stand out! Take a close look at the wording and then tailor your own personalized resume with your specific skills and achievements. Select and highlight those skills which are most relevant to the type of jobs and employers that interest you most. 

Below are three sample accomplishment statements to give you an idea of how to structure your own well-written statements on a resume. Compare:

  • Sold merchandise and promoted store credit card applications. (Weak)
  • Provided friendly and timely customer service, and successfully promoted store credit card applications. (Better)
  •  Exceeded weekly sales and store credit card goals by consistently delivering friendly and timely customer service, and actively promoting store credit card applications. Awarded two bonuses. (Best)

Also, please check out the Resume Content Development Video and article on Sample Accomplishment Statements.

The “Summary statement” is an optional section on the resume for those job seekers with previous professional experience. In general, the more experience you have - i.e., the longer you have been in the workforce - the more likely it is that you would include a “Summary Statement” on your resume. After your name and contact information, the summary is the first piece of information a hiring manager sees at the top of the resume. It gives the resume reader a concise introduction to you and should include your area(s) of expertise, industry background, computer knowledge and specific industry skills, personal traits, and values.

A “Summary Statement” allows the resume screener, at a quick glance, to focus on the top third of your resume and find the most relevant information to help determine if you are a good fit for the job opening.  For more on “Summary Statements” and to help you decide whether to include one or not, review the article Building a Summary Statement.

In your resume, you may want to include a section that lists your specific hard skill areas used during paid jobs, volunteer activities, internships, and leadership roles on campus. Hard skills include computer and software skills, ability to use social media, language proficiency, and other unique skills that you bring to the table that other candidates may not.  See "Resume Resources" on this page for sample resumes with Skills sections, including Sample Resume - Liberal Arts.

Electronic Resumes

These days the resume is as often an electronic document as a paper one. This requires you to be aware of different considerations, such as the use of keywords to make sure your resume stands out in an electronic scan, when your resume will be read only by a computer and not a person. This typically happens in larger organizations at the initial screening stage, when many applicants apply for each job opening and the employer needs to narrow down the pool to those whose qualifications meet their needs. In addition, if an employer asks you to file your job application electronically on their site's application form, many times they will request your resume along with it. In this case it is critical that you follow each employer's specific instructions on preferred format, such as Word, ASCII-text, PDF, or HTML version.
For more information on electronic resumes, view the following:

Occasionally some employers, especially academic institutions, research institutes, and international employers, will ask job applicants for a curriculum vitae (CV) instead of a resume. Unlike the concisely written resume, the CV is a very detailed, multi-page document. Additional sections include educational background with degrees plus teaching assistant positions or scholarships; thesis/dissertation title; research projects; fluency in foreign languages; professional licenses/certifications; professional journal publications and books; conference presentations; grants (awarded and pending); professional references; consulting experience and professional boards or executive committee positions; and more.

The CV, which is more commonly used in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, might even include more personal information such as marital status and date of birth. In the United States you might be asked to submit a CV only when you apply for graduate or professional schools, upper-level administrative positions in higher education or research hospitals, fellowships or grants, and consulting and leadership positions with professional associations.

For more information on curriculum vitaes, view the following:

Before you write your cover letter, carefully review the job description to determine what types of skills, experience, and knowledge the employer requires of qualified applicants for the position. You also need to consider what type of work and academic experience you have and how the potential employer will benefit from your specific skills and knowledge. With each cover letter you can customize the specific wording to the employer's stated needs.

For the traditional format of a customized cover letter, review the CEC's Cover Letter Format as well as the article on Cover Letter Language Examples for both language and formatting guidelines.

Another cover letter option is using the "T-Format" cover letter. You can also use the T-chart strategy to write the second paragraph in your cover letter to follow the standard form.  The “T-Format” cover letter is a two-column format emphasizing your qualifications in an easy-to-read layout. Specific wording from the job posting is listed in the first column and then matched against your specific qualifications in the second column.

To learn more about this option, review the Sample Cover Letter - T-Format 

For more information, check out the tips and samples in the "Cover Letter Resources" section on this page, including including the CareerSpots Video - The Cover Letter and the companion CareerSpots article Quick Tips: The Cover Letter.

Before meeting with a CEC career coach about your resume or cover letter, we recommend that you review the above information to help you get started on the process of drafting your resume and/or cover letter.

If you feel you would benefit from a meeting with a CEC coach after having done the above, you can schedule an appointment through Handshake to have a coach review your draft and answer any of your specific questions. We also offer CEC Drop-In Hours, which does not require arranging an appointment in advance.  

You can stop by the CEC during Drop-In hours (Mondays - Thursdays, 2:00-3:30PM during the academic year) for a brief 15-minute session with a coach.