Resumes, CVs, Cover Letters, & Personal Statements
Marketing yourself effectively in writing is essential to your search process - and we can help.
A well-written and well-constructed resume, CV, cover letter, personal statement, social media profile, or other self-marketing article is the first critical step in applying for any opportunity. The Center for Career & Professional Development can help you develop and refine your self-marketing materials. After using the resources here to craft a first draft, get feedback from CCPD by submitting a resume draft in HireSU or via email.
If you need additional help getting started or just want to talk through your draft, visit Career Cafe drop-in advising or schedule an appointment with a career advisor.
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. Common resume sections include education, experience, activities, honors, and skills.
A CV, or curriculum vitae, is the self-marketing document typically used in academic or research settings. It is as long as it needs to be. A focus on research experience, academic honors, and publications/presentations distinguishes a CV from a resume.
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).
Personal statements are essays that are part of graduate and professional school applications. Similar to a cover letter for a job, they generally address why you’re interested in an opportunity and why you’re qualified for it: “Why are you interested in graduate school?”, “Why in this particular program?”, “What research interests do you have?”, and “How does this program fit in your long-term goals?” Scholarship and fellowship applications also often have similar personal statements.
The CCPD can help you develop a statement and critique it, as well as providing examples of statements through publications available in the Career Cafe. The Writing Center and your faculty are also excellent sources of guidance with personal statement development.
Need more details?: Writing Personal Statements (PDF)
Start from a Good Foundation
While you can find many resume templates online, we generally recommend starting with a plain MS Word document and following samples to create the format yourself. Templates often have built-in formatting that is more cumbersome to change and displays content in less powerful ways.
CCPD has created a Word document with minimal (and easy to modify) formatting you can use 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 using 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.
- Analyze the job posting to which you’re applying for clues to best tailor your resume. Some postings aren’t well written, so other postings for similar positions or information you’ve collected from talking with networking contacts are also good sources of intelligence.
- Use keywords. Ideally, use the same words and phrases in the job description to describe your experience.
- Use action verbs and “gapping” language. Leave out “I”, “a/an”, “the”. Need ideas for verbs? Review our Action Verbs for Resumes guide.
- Include all relevant 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.
- Focus on transferable skills. For less relevant experiences, focus on transferable skills (i.e. communication, working in a team, resolving problems, etc.). Need help articulating your skills? Check out our 21st Century Career-Readiness Skills Checklist.
- Be detailed. Also, be sure to provide enough detail, including numbers, to provide a sense of scope of responsibility and definitely highlight accomplishments and results.
Use Format to Drive the Eye to Relevant Content
We read from top to bottom and left to right in English, and because the typical employer spends about 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.
There are three main types of resume formats: chronological (preferred), functional, and hybrid. See examples among the Sample Resumes below.
Consider Technical Logistics
Today, when you submit a resume to many employers, especially larger ones, your resume is loaded into an online database - the applicant tracking system. Software scans for key words and cannot interpret certain formatting (e.g. tables). Use simple formatting and ensure your content is rich with key words that match the job posting.
CCPD offers numerous samples of real SU student self-marketing documents targeted at many different opportunities:
Sample CV (PDF)
Sample Resume - Business (PDF)
Sample Resume - Theatre (PDF)
Sample Reference Sheet (PDF)
Sample Thank-You Letter (PDF)
Additional helpful resources include:
Action Verbs for Resumes (PDF) - Handout to help craft bulleted resume descriptions
Resume Checklist (PDF) - Handout about resume development
The Curriculum Vitae (PDF) - Handout with details on CV development
21st Century Career-Readiness Skills (PDF) - Handout articulating dozens of transferable skills with resume-ready descriptions
- Resume Samples - Hundreds of job-specific resume examples written by professional resume writers and career coaches to help aspiring job seekers.
- The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Stand-Out Resume - Terra Staffing Group’s, great article goes into detail on what makes certain resumes stand out above the rest when the average time a resume has in an employer’s hand is just six seconds.
- 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.
- Hloom Resume Samples - 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.