Resumes and Cover Letters
What is a resume?
Contrary to some beliefs, a resume is not an all-inclusive list of your experiences or accomplishments. Rather, a good resume is a targeted marketing document that paints a picture of you as a close match for the target opportunity (job, internship, scholarship, grad school program, etc.) to which you are applying. Typically resumes range from one to two pages in length, with longer resumes more appropriate for individuals with more experience.
What is a cover letter?
While a resume looks back at your past experiences and accomplishments, a cover letter looks forward. Also called a letter of intent, it explains why you are interested in a particular position and synthesizes/highlights the education and experiences detailed on your resume, as they apply to a particular employer. The cover letter should not tread the same valuable real estate as the resume, but should offer new insight, especially painting a clear picture that you are knowledgeable about the opportunity to which you’re applying and are a great fit for it. Most successful cover letters are a maximum of one page (3-4 paragraphs).
How can I get help with a resume and cover letter?
Career Services offers advice and resources to help you, whether you’re starting from scratch or you’re an experienced job searcher who just needs another set of eyes to polish your product. Follow these steps:
Create a first draft
Download Career Services’ Resume Writing Guide for comprehensive assistance for creating functional and chronological resumes, crafting descriptive, action-verb statements and writing cover letters and thank-you letters. See numerous samples of resumes and letters. Not sure how to describe all that great broad liberal arts experience? Check out My Liberal Arts Transferable Skills Checklist to assess your own strengths and discover how to articulate them. While Microsoft Word and other software offer resume templates, we generally recommend starting with a plain Word document and using the Resume Writing Guide samples to create the format. Templates often have built-in formatting that is more cumbersome to change and displays content in less powerful ways. We do, however, offer a Word document we have prepared ourselves that we believe is a more powerful format. You can use this scaffold to build your resume by typing over the content to replace it with your information. You will still need to make adjustments to margins, font size and spacing to make the most appropriate use of the space or to rearrange sections to highlight the most important content. [Note: This Word document works best on a PC; if you have a Mac, we recommend creating a version using a PC, such as ones found in a campus computer lab.]
Target your resume
The best resume is targeted to the specific position for which you’re applying. In fact, submitting an untargeted resume is likely an exercise in futility. Do not expect an employer to make assumptions or draw conclusions about your experience and skills. You must paint a clear picture that provides evidence you are a good match through both the content and the format of your resume. You will likely need at least a few different versions for any job search, targeted to different fields (e.g. sales vs. human resources) or even to different specific positions.
- Content: A written job description, descriptions of similar positions and information you’ve collected from talking with networking contacts are all good sources for clues to best tailor your resume. Use the words and phrases in the job description to describe your experience. Jobs, internships, volunteerism, significant class projects, research with faculty and leadership in campus and community organizations are all reasonable fodder for you to include as content, with the most relevant experiences warranting the most detailed descriptions. For less relevant experiences, be sure to focus on transferable skills (i.e. skills useful in almost every position, like communication, working in a team, resolving problems, etc.). Also, be sure to provide enough detail, including numbers, to provide a sense of scope of responsibility and definitely highlight accomplishments and results.
- Format: We read from top to bottom and left to right in English, and because the typical employer spends fewer than 5-10 seconds scanning your resume the first time, you want the most important information to appear toward the top of each page and section and to the front of each line. You may need to rearrange the order of resume sections, move some entries to/from the “Relevant Experience” section or remove irrelevant information entirely.
Consider technical logistics
Today, when you submit a resume to many employers, especially larger ones, your resume is loaded into an applicant tracking system. This software will extract data from your resume and organize into a database. Paying attention to how you format your resume is very important because software cannot interpret your resume in the same way human eyes can. Unfortunately, resumes optimized for review by software may not look as nice to the eye, so having two versions - one optimized for human consumption and one for computers - is a good idea. Ideally, you can contact a prospective employer to whom you’re applying and find out if your resume will enter an applicant tracking system initially or be reviewed by a person. Doing so can help you determine which resume to submit first. As you move through a selection process and are invited to interview, you can always bring the version of your resume formatted to be pleasing to the eye. For more information, see our handout on Technology-Friendly Resume Formatting Tips.
Get a critique
Get one-on-one help by scheduling an appointment with a career advisor to discuss resume development and/or critique a draft of your resume. Call us at (512) 863-1346 to schedule a time. Want a preview? Download My Resume Checklist to see if you’ve covered the bases.
Register and upload up to 10 resumes/other documents (cover letters, writing samples, transcripts, etc.) and select one as default. Use them to apply directly to jobs and internships through PirateLink and to be eligible to participate in on-campus recruiting opportunities. The first time you upload a new default resume, Career Services will automatically critique it for you and contact you with feedback about any recommended changes.
Take advantage of Resume Drive
Career Services offers events to help encourage you to develop an effective resume. For example, during Resume Drive, Career Services types and formats resumes for up to 25 students who have not previously created a resume draft. Provide us basic information via the Resume Writing Worksheet during the first month of the semester, and if you’re one of the first 25 to turn in a completed Resume Writing Worksheet and set up an appointment to go over the results, you can get a professionally written resume, for free!
- Resumes, Cover Letters and Other Job Search Correspondence - The Riley Guide offers comprehensive advice about all aspects of career exploration and job search, linking to numerous valuable articles, like these about resumes, cover letters, writing samples and other job search correspondence.
- Resume Samples - Hundreds of job-specific resume examples written by professional resume writers and career coaches to help aspiring job seekers.
- The Veteran’s Guide to Developing Resumes - The National Association of Colleges and Employers provides great tips for veterans moving into civilian careers.
- How to Present Your Online Degree to Employers - Did you earn a graduate or other degree online? Get advice on how to market that experience to prospective employers on your resume.
- 279 Free Resume Templates - While you should be cautious downloading just any old template, this site does a great job of explaining how to use templates and dividing templates into categories useful for different goals.