Resume & Cover Letter Resources
A professional looking resume and cover letter are crucial to conducting a successful job search. The information provided below will help you create high quality documents. For additional information and assistance, contact a Career Services counselor.
Whether or not this is your first resume, you should consider what you will be using the resume for—what goal are you trying to accomplish? Resumes are used for a variety of purposes such as job applications, program or graduate school applications, scholarships, and volunteer positons because these applications require a brief presentation of your background, skills, and experience.
There are many different ways to format a resume and there really is no right or wrong format. You have two or three pages for a resume and cover letter in which to communicate your uniqueness, skills/qualifications, and personal motivation. You must decide what you want to include.
The following outlines some steps that people usually go through when writing a resume. The samples demonstrate how resumes and cover letters can be professional, yet unique. Usually, people like to look through the samples to pick and choose from a variety of formats in order to develop their own distinct resume. We encourage you not to copy the resumes, especially the cover letter wording, because the result ends up looking too much like a manufactured product. Take the time to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you would like feedback on your resume or cover letter, you can schedule an appointment with a Career Counselor or come to Career Services for a 15 minute walk-in counseling appointment. Call Career Services at 406-243-2022 to schedule an appointment or for walk-in hours.
It usually takes more than one draft to perfect your resume. So spend some time writing, getting advice, and then writing some more. The result will be a resume and cover letter that you feel good about.
Before you write
Take some time to pull together all the background information you have about yourself. We would suggest keeping a file of this information for future reference. Include dates of previous employment, job descriptions, promotions, achievements, honors and course lists. Keep copies of all of your resumes and any other employment correspondence to use in writing future resumes.
There are many different kinds of resumes. The two most common formats are:
1. Reverse Chronological: an arrangement of your qualifications in reverse chronological order, that is, the most recent information listed first. This is the resume format that most employers expect.
2. Functional: an arrangement by skills and abilities possessed. This style is often used by career changers and some students who have little or no related work experience.
Writing a Resume
There are several fundamental guidelines about resume writing.
1. Design your resume so that it says the most about you in the fewest words. One page is often recommended, but depending on the length of your work history and/or amount of related experience, two pages are sometimes needed.
2. Be consistent with your formatting--margins, spacing, underlining, and capitalizing. Use white space, bold type, font size, etc., to draw the reader's eye down the page.
3. Proofread, proofread, proofread for typing and spelling accuracy.
4. Keep it relevant. Only information that’s directly related to the job/job description/organization should be included. Everything you include should be to motivate an employer to want to schedule an interview with you. Salary requirements, abbreviations, glitches, reasons for leaving jobs, are usually excluded.
5. Both the resume and cover letter should be examples of your best work. Stress those things that are most positive about you and eliminate the more negative. For instance, if your GPA is 3.5 you would want to emphasize it, but if it is 2.5 you may want to exclude it.
6. Be specific about dates, job titles, employers, skills, and accomplishments. Be complete, descriptive and specific without being too wordy. Always be truthful and accurate without exaggeration or distortion.
7. Use results-oriented or what are often called action verbs in describing your experience on your resume or in an interview. Words such as administered, coordinated, developed, supervised, consulted, managed, and prepared, are keys in telling employers (verbally or in writing) what you have accomplished.
8. Use what is called the telegraphic style. Omit all personal pronouns (I, we, etc.).
Organizing your resume
The following items are commonly included in the resume:
1. Heading. Include your name, address, ZIP code, and telephone number with area code at the top of the first page: only your name should appear on any subsequent pages. If you are moving after you graduate, add a second or permanent address.
2. Profile. This section allows you introduce yourself and briefly describe your professional goals as they are relevant to the job description. You may provide a few sentences that outline how you are qualified for the specific position and/or organization to which you’re applying.
3. Education. Put your most recent degree and date of completion first, or your expected date of graduation. Do not list your high school. Usually your degree, major, and graduation date will be listed on the first line and the name of the university and location (city, state) will follow on the second line.
You may want to include bulleted (or indented) information related to your education. This might include any minors, GPA, scholarships, or courses specifically relevant to the types of jobs you are seeking (especially if they are outside or not implied by your major).
4. Related Experience. Again, the most recent information should be listed first. It is usually helpful to indicate your job title, the name and location (city, state) of your employer, and dates of employment. Include bulleted descriptions of your contributions to the organization, the responsibilities you assumed, and what relevant skills/knowledge you learned and/or used in the position. When possible, use quantifiable, specific information in your bulleting (i.e. size of budget, number of persons supervised, present increase in sales, etc.). Job descriptions are not as important as what you accomplished or achieved. Always consider who will be reading your resume and what will be most relevant to them and the position for which you are applying.
5. Additional Experience: this category should include work experience that isn’t closely related to the position, but does provide information about work history and may illustrate that you worked while attending school and paid for your own education. This section often doesn’t need bulleted descriptions.
6. Activities/Organizations. This section would include university and/or community activities, organizational memberships, offices held, volunteer participation, service learning, etc.
7. Honors/Awards. This section may include Dean’s List, Honors College membership, scholarships, honor societies, awards or recognition of quality work or achievements. For clarification, it may be necessary to give short descriptions of the nature or purpose of some organizations or awards, honor societies or service organizations (selected from 700 freshmen as top speaker, etc.).
8. Interests. This category is optional. You may want to list hobbies and interests to show diversity and to provide additional topics for conversation during the interview.
9. References. This can be a section at the end of your resume if you have space, or you can create a separate references page. You should always ask for permission before using anyone as a reference. Professional references include professors, advisors, or former/current employers. Give your references a copy of your resume so they can discuss the details of your background more fully when they receive calls from employers.
After you complete your resume, read it over and have others review it. You should consider:
1. Overall appearance. Does it make you take notice and want to read it?
2. Layout. Does it look professional, neat, with no spelling/grammar errors?
3. Length. Could it tell the same story if shortened?
4. Relevance. Has extraneous material been eliminated?
5. Writing Style. Is it easy to get a clear sense of your qualifications?
6. Results Oriented. Have you used action verbs in your job descriptions?
7. Specificity. Avoid generalities and focus on specific information about experience, projects, numbers, level of responsibility, etc.
8. Accomplishments. Are your accomplishments and skills emphasized?
9. Completeness. Have you omitted anything important?
10. Will your resume make the employer want to interview you?
The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and personalize your application. A cover letter is sent to "cover" (accompany) your resume. It is an introductory letter, usually responding to a known job opening and addressing the required qualifications in the job description. It is designed to let the potential employer see you as a unique individual whose interests and experiences match the needs of his/her organization. It also serves to interest an employer and encourage an interview.
- The opening sentence (or somewhere in the first paragraph) you should state the purpose/objective of the letter.
- Emphasize your particular interest in the company in a few short sentences.
- If possible, use a personal reference to indicate how you heard about the opening or organization.
- Specify how your educational background can contribute to the job and organization.
- Be sure to mention what motivates and interests you about the job and organization.
- Show that you are familiar with the organization’s services, customers/clients, mission, etc.
- The cover letter should complement and may refer to the resume, but should include as little redundant information as possible.
- Close the letter with a reference to the next contact you have with the organization (i.e. I look forward to hearing from you soon, I look forward to providing more detail about my skills and experience, etc).
Address the letter to a specific individual and address the letter to him/her specifically whenever possible. If a specific name isn’t provided, there are other options such as: Dear Hiring Committee, Greetings, Dear Reader, etc.
The goal of your letter should be stated in the first paragraph (i.e. the position for which you’re applying and why it interests you), and should include the specific job title of the position you are seeking. Mention how you became aware of the position, especially if it was through someone connected to the organization.
Refer to the enclosed resume and elaborate on any facts in it that you want the employer to especially notice. Your cover letter should:
- Explain what you know about the organization and its needs
- Describe what motivates and interests you about the job
- Illustrate how your skills, experience, educational background, and personal characteristics can help meet those needs
Thank the employer for their time and consideration of your application and express your interest in being interviewed. Include a sentence or two reiterating your enthusiasm about the position and/or organization for which you’re applying. You may be proactive and say that you will contact them soon ("Thursday," or "next week") to confirm that the employer received your application materials. Then put the date on your calendar and follow up as promised.
Action Word Categories
- Reduced (losses)
- Resolved (issues)
- Cared for
- Set up
- Set goals
- Reverse Chronological Resume
- Reverse Chronological Resume
- Functional Resume
- Combination Resume
- Grad School Resume
- Information Technology Resume
- Education Resume
- Industrial Technology Resume
- Human Services Resume
- Entry-Level Curriculum Vitae