Job Application Materials
Applying for a job or internship usually requires an up-to-date resume and cover letter. Even if it’s “not required,” it’s always good practice to include a cover letter when possible. A cover letter allows you to tell your story and it can set you apart from the other applicants that didn’t take the extra time to write one. Although it’s tempting (and easier) to submit a generic resume and cover letter, you’re far more likely to hear back if you tailor both documents to the job description and the employer.
- Don’t Include Everything on Your Resume
Think of your resume as a marketing document selling you as the perfect candidate for the job. For each resume you send out, highlight the accomplishments and skills most relevant to the job to which you are applying (even if that means you don’t include all of your experience).
- Keep a Master Resume
Keep a master resume on your computer where you can save all the information you’ve ever included on a resume. This will make it easier to cut and paste (and remember!) relevant information when you prepare your resume for future positions.
- Follow the “Above the Fold” Rule
Make sure your best experiences and accomplishments are visible on the top third of your resume since this is the section the hiring manager is going to see first.
- Remove the “Objective Statement”
Objective statements are no longer common practice on a resume. Consider a summary statement if you’re changing careers or have over 10 years of professional experience.
- List Experiences in Reverse Chronological Order
It’s best to keep everything in reverse chronological order (where your most recent experience is listed first).
- Keep It to One Page
Generally speaking, a resume should be one, or two in some instances, pages max. Your resume should only go beyond one page if you have enough relevant experience, training, and credentials to highlight.
- Keep it Simple and Easy to Read
Use a basic but modern font, like Helvetica, Arial, or Century Gothic. Make your resume easy to read by using a font size between 10 and 12 and leave a decent amount of white space on the page. Also, make sure that font, font size, margins, and spacing are consistent.
- Make Your Contact Info Prominent
Make sure to include a phone number and professional email address (not your work address) in your header. You do not need to include an address, but you can include a link to your LinkedIn profile.
- Keep it Recent, Keep it Relevant
As a rule, show only the most recent 10-15 years of your career history and only include the experience relevant to the positions to which you are applying. And remember to prioritize space and bullet points for relevant experiences.
- No Relevant Experience? That’s Ok!
Don’t worry if your background and experiences do not match completely. Instead, focus your resume on your relevant and transferable skills along with any related side or academic projects and then make sure to pair it with a strong cover letter telling the narrative of why you’re ideal for the job.
- Curate Your Bullet Points
Aim to have no more than five or six bullets in a given section. For experiences that are less relevant and/or further back, you may only need one or two bullet points.
- Bring it Down a Level
You may be tempted to throw in tons of industry jargon, but ultimately you want your resume to be understandable to the average person. Remember the first person who sees your resume might be a recruiter or an assistant so it’s important that it’s readable to a wide audience.
- Quantify When Possible
Use as many facts, figures, and numbers as you can in your bullet points. How many people were impacted by your work? By what percentage did you exceed your goals? How many people were on your team? How many people did you manage? By quantifying your accomplishments, you allow the hiring manager to understand your level of responsibility.
- A Formula to Follow for Strong Bullet Points
Action Verb + Task + Result/Outcome/Value Added.
Pro tip: Mix up your word use so you do not repeat the same action verbs over and over again. Additionally, focus on accomplishments in your bullet points when possible.
- Show, Don’t Tell, Your Soft Skills
Avoid listing your soft skills on a resume, it can quickly sound like a list of meaningless buzzwords. Instead, think about how you can demonstrate these attributes in your bullet points and your accomplishments.
- Make Sure to Include Non-Traditional Work Entries
There’s no law that says you can only put full-time or paid work on your resume. So, if you’ve participated in a major volunteer role, worked part-time, worked on a big project for school, were hired as a temporary or contract worker, freelanced, or blogged, you can absolutely list these experiences on your resume as their own “jobs”. Just make sure the job title accurately reflects your role.
- Use Keywords
Use keywords in your resume. Scan the job description, see what words are used most often, and make sure you include them in your bullet points. Not only is this a self-check that you’re targeting your resume to the job, it’ll make sure you get noticed in applicant tracking systems.
- Experience First, Education Second
Unless you’re a recent graduate, put your education after your experience.
- Keep it Reverse Chronological
Usually, you should lay down your educational background by listing the most recent or advanced degree first, working in reverse chronological order.
- Skip the Dates
Don’t list your graduation dates. The reviewer cares more about whether or not you have the degree than when you earned it.
- Highlight Honors, Not GPA
If you graduated from college with high honors, absolutely make note of it.
- Include Continuing or Online Education
You can also include continuing education, professional development coursework, or online courses in your education section.
Skills, Awards, and Interests
- List Out Your Skills
Be sure to add a section that lists out all the relevant skills you have for a position, including tech skills like HTML and Adobe Creative Suite and any industry-related certifications. Just make sure to skip including skills that everyone is expected to have, like using email or Microsoft Word. Also, generally speaking, a skills section should be reserved for hard/technical skills, not soft skills.
- Show Some Personality
Feel free to include an “Interests” section on your resume, but focus on interests that are relevant to the job.
- Awards and Accolades
Do include awards and accolades you’ve received, even if they’re company-specific awards. Just state what you earned them for, e.g. “Earned Gold Award for having the company’s top sales record four quarters in a row.”
- Ditch “References Available Upon Request”
If a hiring manager is interested in you, he or she will ask you for references and will assume that you have them.
- Save It as a PDF
If emailing your resume, make sure to always send a PDF rather than a .doc. That way all of your formatting won’t accidentally get messed up when the hiring manager opens it on his or her computer.
- Constantly Refresh It
Carve out some time every quarter or so to pull up your resume and make some updates. Have you taken on new responsibilities? Learned new skills? Add them in.
- Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Spellcheck might not catch everything so ask a family member or friend to review your resume before you submit it.
Example Action Verbs
Recruiters often see the same action words on a resume – led, responsible for, managed, etc. Quite frankly, they have lost their meaning when it comes to properly communicating your accomplishments. Using a variety of action verbs can help to spruce up your resume and ensure that you’re not using the same verbs over and over again.
When you created or wrote something…
- Acted, Adapted, Authored, Briefed, Campaigned, Combined, Composed, Conceptualized, Condensed, Conveyed, Convinced, Corresponded, Created, Customized, Defined, Designed, Developed, Devised, Directed, Displayed, Documented, Edited, Entertained, Established, Fashioned, Formulated, Founded, Illustrated, Initiated, Instituted, Integrated, Introduced, Invented, Modeled, Modiﬁed, Originated, Performed, Photographed, Planned, Promoted, Publicized, Reviewed, Revised, Revitalized, Shaped, Solve.
When you achieved something…
- Attained, Awarded, Completed, Demonstrated, Earned, Exceeded, Outperformed, Reached, Showcased, Succeeded, Surpassed, Targeted.
When you were a research machine…
- Analyzed, Assembled, Assessed, Audited, Calculated, Clarified, Collected, Compared, Conducted, Critiqued, Detected, Determined, Diagnosed, Discovered, Evaluated, Examined, Experimented, Explored, Extracted, Forecasted, Formulated, Gathered, Identified, Inspected, Interpreted, Interviewed, Invented, Investigated, Located, Mapped, Measured, Organized, Qualified, Quantified, Researched, Reviewed, Searched, Solved, Summarized, Surveyed, Systematized, Tested, Tracked.
When you managed or led a project or group…
- Accomplished, Administered, Advanced, Analyzed, Appointed, Approved, Assigned, Attained, Authorized, Chaired, Considered, Consolidated, Contracted, Controlled, Converted, Coordinated, Decided, Delegated, Developed, Directed, Eliminated, Emphasized, Enforced, Enhanced, Established, Executed, Generated, Handled, Headed, Hired, Hosted, Improved, Incorporated, Increased, Initiated, Inspected, Instituted, Led, Managed, Merged, Motivated, Navigated, Operated, Orchestrated, Organized, Originated, Overhauled, Oversaw, Planned, Presided, Prioritized, Produced, Programmed, Recommended, Reorganized, Replaced, Restored, Reviewed, Scheduled, Secured, Selected, Streamlined, Strengthened, Supervised, Terminated.
When numbers and figures are your thing…
- Administered, Adjusted, Allocated, Analyzed, Appraised, Assessed, Audited, Balanced, Budgeted, Calculated, Computed, Conserved, Controlled, Corrected, Decreased, Determined, Developed, Estimated, Forecasted, Managed, Marketed, Measured, Netted, Planned, Prepared, Programmed, Projected, Qualified, Reconciled, Reduced, Researched, Retrieved.
When you creatively brought an idea to life…
- Acted, Adapted, Administered, Built, Charted, Combined, Composed, Conceptualized, Condensed, Created, Customized, Designed, Developed, Devised, Directed, Displayed, Engineered, Entertained, Established, Fashioned, Formed, Formulated, Founded, Illustrated, Implemented, Incorporated, Initiated, Introduced, Invented, Launched, Modeled, Modified, Originated, Performed, Photographed, Pioneered, Planned, Revised, Revitalized, Shaped, Solved.
When you helped with a project…
- Adapted, Advocated, Aided, Answered, Arranged, Assessed, Assisted, Clarified, Coached, Collaborated, Contributed, Cooperated, Counseled, Demonstrated, Diagnosed, Educated, Encouraged, Ensured, Expedited, Facilitated, Familiarized, Furthered, Guided, Helped, Insured, Intervened, Motivated, Prevented, Provided, Referred, Rehabilitated, Represented, Resolved, Simplified, Supplied, Supported, Volunteered.
When you needed to explain technical expertise…
- Adapted, Applied, Assembled, Built, Calculated, Computed, Conserved, Constructed, Converted, Debugged, Designed, Determined, Developed, Engineered, Fabricated, Fortified, Installed, Maintained, Operated, Overhauled, Printed, Programmed, Rectified, Regulated, Remodeled, Repaired, Replaced, Restored, Solved, Specialized, Standardized, Studied, Upgraded, Utilized.
When you increased efficiency, sales, revenue, or customer satisfaction…
- Accelerated, Achieved, Advanced, Amplified, Boosted, Capitalized, Delivered, Enhanced, Expanded, Expedited, Furthered, Gained, Generated, Improved, Lifted, Maximized, Outpaced, Stimulated, Sustained.
When you changed or improved something…
- Centralized, Clarified, Converted, Customized, Influenced, Integrated, Merged, Modified, Overhauled, Redesigned, Refined, Refocused, Rehabilitated, Remodeled, Reorganized, Replaced, Restructured, Revamped, Revitalized, Simplified, Standardized, Streamlined, Strengthened, Updated, Upgraded, Transformed.
When you supported customers…
- Advised, Advocated, Arbitrated, Coached, Consulted, Educated, Fielded, Informed, Resolved.
When you were the teacher…
- Adapted, Advised, Clarified, Coached, Communicated, Conducted, Coordinated, Critiqued, Developed, Enabled, Encouraged, Evaluated, Explained, Facilitated, Focused, Guided, Individualized, Informed, Installed, Instructed, Motivated, Persuaded, Simulated, Stimulated, Taught, Tested, Trained, Transmitted, Tutored.
The Summary Statement
- A few short lines or bullet points that go at the top of your resume that make it easy for the hiring manager to understand your experience and qualifications. Basically, it explains what you bring to the table for that particular employer and job.
- Summary statements are not always necessary but can be helpful when you have five+ years of experience or are trying to switch industries or careers.
Are Cover Letters that Important?
While the answer can depend on the industry, recruiter, employer, etc., it never hurts to include a strongly written cover letter, especially if you’re applying to your dream job. Additionally, some employers screen applications based on the cover letter alone.
Even if a cover letter is not required, including one can set you apart from other applicants who did not take the additional time to write one. And yes, while it would be easier to let your resume speak for itself, if that was the case you’d completely miss the opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are, showcase why they should hire you, and stand out above all the other candidates.
Think about your cover letter as the document that ties your resume and job description together, while explaining how and why you would add value to their organization. That said, it’s crucial to tailor your cover letter to each position to which you apply. Employers can tell when someone has sent them a tailored vs. generic cover letter, and will likely move an applicant forward based on that extra effort. Think about it from the employer’s point of view: If you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort before you even have the job, it might demonstrate your work ethic and motivation as a future employee.
Header and Formatting Tips:
- Use the same header from your resume so your application materials look cohesive
- Address the cover letter with the company’s contact information on the top left-hand corner, and include the position title so the employer can see what you are applying for.
- Start your cover letter by addressing someone specifically, preferably the hiring manager’s name
- If you can’t figure out the specific hiring manager’s name, try addressing your cover letter to the head of the department for the role you’re applying for. Or if you honestly can’t find a single real person to address your letter to, aim for something that’s still somewhat specific, like “Systems Engineer Hiring Manager” or “Account Executive Search Committee.” Avoid using generic salutations like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”.
- Write a fresh cover letter for each position
- Do not submit a generic cover letter. Most employers want to see that you’re truly excited about the specific position and company, which means creating a custom letter for each position you apply for.
- Avoid starting every sentence with “I”
- Focus more on the employer’s needs and how your experiences fill the role they are searching for.
- 1 page (8.5” x 11”) with .5” to 1” margins all around
- Ensure that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct.
Structure and Content: A 3-Step Approach
Opening Paragraph – Why Them?
- Introduce and connect yourself to the company’s mission and values.
- Describe what you are applying for and how you found the position. If someone referred you, this is the place to mention their name. Explain why you want to work with this company in this specific position. This is where you will want to do your research on the company’s mission statement, structure, values, milestones/achievements, culture, etc. End the paragraph with your thesis statement, i.e. the top two or three reasons that you’re qualified for the position.
Middle Paragraph(s) – Why You?
- Show the employer why they should hire you. Go beyond your resume!
- This will be the largest portion of your cover letter. Describe your main qualifications and accomplishments (academic background, work and non-work related experience, personal skills) and explain how your experiences fit the needs and goals of the company. Address how your background satisfies each requirement of the position. Remember the qualifications don’t necessarily have to match the requirement directly. Instead, find where you may have gained or developed those skills in other positions and experiences and how they can be transferred to this position.
- Be sure to review the job posting to incorporate industry language, action verbs used in the description, and the specific skills and experience the employer is seeking.
- Common Mistakes
- Think not what the company can do for you
- Do not use this space to talk about how great the position would be for you and your career goals. Instead, focus on what you bring to the position and company. Try to identify the company’s pain points—the problem or problems they need the person they hire to solve. Then emphasize the skills and experience you have that make you the right person to solve them.
- Don’t apologize for your missing experience
- When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s tempting to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience as a…” or “While I may not have direct experience in…”, but don’t include these kinds of statements in your cover letter. Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, emphasize the strengths and transferable skills you do have.
- Think not what the company can do for you
- Finish strong
- Your closing paragraph is your last chance to emphasize your enthusiasm for the company or how you’d be a great fit for the position. You want to reiterate your interest in the position and thank the employer for taking the time to read your cover letter. You should also indicate how, where, and when the employer can contact you.
- Spell check, spell check, spell check!
- One spelling or grammar mistake can be all it takes to turn off the hiring manager, especially if writing skills are an important part of the role to which you’re applying.
Where and How to List References
References should be included on a separate document from your resume and cover letter.
- Use the same header as your resume and cover letter and then list the requested number of references in the body of the document, including name, contact information, and relationship to the reference listed.