Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

12.7: Résumés and Cover Letters

  • Page ID
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Understand the purpose of a résumé.
    2. Describe the elements of successful résumés.
    3. Know how to prepare a good cover letter.

    A résumé is basically a summary of your experience. Just as an advertiser will invest a lot of resources to condense the essence of his or her product into a thirty-second ad for the Super Bowl, condensing the essence of your experience onto one or two pages can be a challenging task. Fine-tuning, updating, and rewriting your résumé will become an ongoing process as you move through your career, and it is not too early to prepare one now. The purpose of a résumé is to get you invited for an interview. Unfortunately, too often a résumé is a reason to exclude a candidate. Poor grammar, misspelled words, lengthy listings of irrelevant experience, and messy formatting motivate hiring managers to move quickly to the next candidate.

    There is no such thing as a perfect format for a résumé, though hiring managers and recruiters generally agree on the following principles:

    • A short résumé is generally better than a long one. One page should usually be enough—two pages if you have a lot of experience.
    • Focus on your accomplishments, not just the positions you held. Your résumé should point out your strengths. Use dynamic verbs (see “101 Action Verbs” below).
    • Include numbers. Be sure to include dollar amounts and percentages that support achievements. For example, you might write “Reduced costs by 20 percent.” Keep track of your accomplishments in your “notes” notebook so that you don’t have to go back and recreate history when you are revising your résumé.
    • Use keywords. Most recruiters and hiring managers look for résumés online and review submitted résumés with software that looks for keywords.
    • Keep information easy to find. Use the standard convention of a reverse chronological listing of experience, starting with your current or most recent job and moving backward in time, unless there is a valid reason for following a different format (a function-based résumé might be appropriate if you need to cover two or more long periods of unemployment).

    Deciding what to include in your résumé is where most of the work comes in, because it is in the careful wording of the body of your résumé that you can really sell yourself for a position. Ideally, you should review your résumé for each position you are applying for, particularly to include any accomplishments that you would not include in your “general résumé” but that are relevant to that particular job. Your résumé should include these elements:

    • Header. Include your full name and complete contact information. Be sure that you use personal (home) phone number and e-mail address, not your work contact information.
    • Objective. Include a short one- or two-sentence summary of the kind of position you are looking for. Some résumé writers now recommend replacing or following the objective with a listing of skills, particularly when you are going to post the résumé online, because that provides a great opportunity to include keywords. Look to your list of transferable skills to populate this kind of list.
    • Résumé body. Starting with your current or most recent job, internship, or volunteer position, list your experience in reverse chronological order. Each entry should include the title, the name and location of the company, and the dates you held the position. This should be followed by your major achievements in that position. Use strong action verbs and a quantitative measure for achievements. Look for things that will show that you are a better candidate than others. Consider accomplishments such as the following:

      • Being promoted
      • Gaining expanded responsibilities
      • eing recruited by a former employer or boss, or being asked to follow him or her to another company
      • Having your accomplishment copied by other departments or, even better, by other companies
      • Recruiting and training others
      • Receiving awards and recognitions, including speaking at conferences, writing, or being written about (if these are easily found online and you are short on space, omit these types of accomplishments, because you will be googled)

    101 Action Verbs

    Here are the kinds of verbs that help “sell” you to potential employers. Expand on this list to find good verbs specific to your accomplishments by doing an Internet search for “action verbs for résumés.”

    acted delegated implemented persuaded
    adapted demonstrated improved planned
    advised designed increased prepared
    analyzed developed influenced prioritized
    arranged devised informed produced
    assembled diagnosed initiated promoted
    assessed directed inspected publicized
    assigned edited instituted recruited
    attained educated instructed rehabilitated
    authored enabled integrated represented
    balanced encouraged introduced researched
    budgeted engineered invented reviewed
    built enlisted investigated revitalized
    calculated established lectured scheduled
    chaired evaluated managed set goals
    coached executed marketed shaped
    collected fabricated mediated solved
    communicated facilitated moderated spoke
    compiled forecasted motivated stimulated
    computed formulated negotiated strengthened
    conceptualized founded organized supervised
    consolidated generated originated trained
    contracted guided overhauled translated
    coordinated identified oversaw upgraded
    counseled illustrated performed wrote