Resume and Cover Letter Guide
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Everyone Needs a Resume, Cover Letter, and Career-related Materials- Branding and Design
Whether you’re looking for scholarships or grants, are just starting out, have several years of experience, want to continue your schooling, or your position has been eliminated — everyone needs a résumé. Creating a package that includes a résumé, cover letter, references, business cards, and more — and keeping these items up to date — helps you establish and maintain a professional reputation.
Your brand is an experience people have with you, not a concept you've created. It includes what others know about you, whether it comes from your influence or someone else's. Everything you do adds to or takes away from your brand.
Your content highlights your education, experiences, and interactions. Your design visually organizes and unifies your content.
Designing a Visual Brand
- Create documents using a program you are comfortable with.
- Avoid using templates.
- Understand your audience. Creative fields, such as art, advertising, and graphic design, appreciate highly designed materials and even consider them work samples. More traditional fields, such as engineering, business, and health care, expect understated design.
- Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are web-based tools often used by employers as a way for candidates to apply. When submitting a resume through an ATS, keep the formatting basic. Robots can't see design, they can only read content. Check out these tips!
- Use color to complement content and design elements. Recognize that some colors can be viewed as masculine/feminine.
- Traditional design elements include lines, orientation of headings, and separating categories with white space that is balanced.
- All material should be void of typos, errors, awkward white space, and inconsistencies in punctuation and font.
- When applying online, directly through a company’s website, use web-standard fonts and eliminate tables, graphics, and headers/footers.
- Have at least THREE sets of eyes review your documents before using them.
- Most recent college undergraduates have a one-page resume. However, for graduate students and in some specific fields, a longer resume can be appropriate. Ask your career advisor for their feedback.
- Adding your references to the bottom of the second page is a good way to fill empty space with useful information.
- Create a targeted heading as an easy way to group your most relevant experience together toward the top of your resume.
- Multiple page résumés are typically printed on separate pages instead of back to back.
- It's OK to staple or use a paper clip to hold multiple pages together.
When designing your resume, it is not uncommon to have two variations...a more creative/designed document to use for networking events or shared via email; and another created in rich-text, or with limited editing that can be used for ATS submission.
While the temptation is to sit down with a blank page and fill it in as you go, it is better to first spend time reflecting on what you have done, the skills you have, and how you will translate your experiences and accomplishments to others.
Make a list of everything you have done. Remember to include education, internships, full- and part-time jobs, volunteer experiences, study abroad, research, awards, honors, campus involvement, and academic projects.
Consider your audience. Read the job description, graduate school application, or scholarship requirements and highlight the key skills and traits required. Which of your experiences line up most
closely with what your audience is looking for? Identify your audience and write for them.
Pare down your list of skills and traits. Feature only those items most relevant to the job description. These are what you want to emphasize. If you are using your materials for general networking
purposes, consider which are the most important qualities to feature.
Translate this information into accomplishments.
Accomplishments are things you started, completed, worked on, created, developed, or made possible — things that happened because you were there. Expanding on your information turns tasks into more measurable accomplishments.
Use accomplishment statements for résumé bullet points, summary statements, cover letters, or any number of correspondence.
Adapted to overseas living in Zemmer, Germany.
Supervised eight front desk employees, ensuring excellent customer service to 150 residents.
Identified target audience and developed theme for a philanthropic event hosting 45 members of the local business community.
Developed seismographic program with five team members to measure the deterioration factor of various rock strata to assist researchers analyzing compounds for repair and upkeep of a monument.
Typically, people list a task, duty, or responsibility like those that appear in a job description:
Now, as an accomplishment, the same information includes details and outcomes:
BEFORE: Wrote weekly incident reports and submitted to housing director.
AFTER: Completed 134 annotated incident reports on roommate conflicts, lock-outs, vandalism requiring work orders, and noise complaints; received commendation from housing director for quality of reports and for never missing a deadline.
BEFORE: Assisted camp director with campers' schedules.
AFTER: Utilized leadership skills to coordinate camp schedules and weekly swim schedules of 250 campers.
BEFORE: Managed and trained switchboard staff.
AFTER: Managed and trained switchboard staff to ensure adequate coverage and excellent customer service.
BEFORE: Responsible for United Way campaign.
AFTER: Directed United Way campaign successfully reaching a $1.5 million goal.
- Objective Statements: Optional. However, a well-written objective statement can set you apart. Keep it simple and focus on what you hope to contribute to your potential employer.
- Projects: Relevant class projects can provide evidence of real-world application of transferable skills and practical experience.
- Secondary admit: Many GV programs require a resume as part of the secondary admission process. Be sure to follow guidelines required by your program.
- Athletics: Participation in college-level athletics can highlight campus involvement, leadership experiences, community engagement, and transferable skill development.
- Professional Summary: Can be an effective method to connect varied skills and experiences together.
- Course work: For those with limited experience in their field, or for those pursuing internships, highlighting relevant courses in the education section provides a nice set of keywords and shows what concepts/areas you’ve already been exposed to.
- Skills section: Skills sections work best when they include technical and industry related details that are directly relevant to your field. Subheadings can be a helpful way to showcase specific sets of skills.
- Employment w/out accomplishments: Don’t discount employment that seems unrelated—often our early jobs develop professionalism and soft skills employers desire. In some cases, it is appropriate to simply list the positions you’ve held without providing descriptions.
- GPA: The rule of thumb in most situations is to include your GPA if it is 3.0 or above. You might want to calculate your major GPA and include that number if it is higher.
- Study abroad: It’s a great idea to include your study abroad experience on your resume. Most often, it fits best in the Education section.
- Leadership: Employers are seeking candidates with leadership experience. Include your leadership involvement both on campus and in the community.
Tailoring Content to Fit Your Format
Once you have your content — what you want to highlight and what you have accomplished — it’s simple to make changes according to the way you are using the content and what format you are using. Here are examples of how this might work for a student who has studied abroad, completed a senior research project, and has been a member of an e-board.
While living overseas, I visited three international companies in Europe: Johnson Controls, Caterpillar, and MasterCard Corporation. During the visits, I was struck by the importance of providing international colleagues a framework for cross-cultural communication.
Last spring, I used this observation as the springboard for my senior thesis. Part of my project was to create five best practices that were tailored to two different cultures — German and American. These strategies were piloted at Amway and the initial outcomes were positive as shown by the decrease in email traffic requesting clarification of communications. If hired, I would love to work with your leadership team to determine which strategies would help you reach your goals.
Resume Bullet Points
- Adapted to overseas living in Frankfurt, Germany, during a 12-month exchange program while successfully completing a business degree
- Served as committee chair or on e-board of six student organizations at GVSU: Student Senate, International Relations Club, Delta Sig, Alternative Breaks, American Marketing Association, and the Running Club
I am an international business major who
- speaks two languages;
- job shadowed at three international companies;
- completed a four-month internship at Amway;
- identified five best practices for communicating across cultures while reaching a common business goal as part of a senior thesis project; and
- served as committee chair or on e-board of six student organizations while at GVSU.
Thank You Note
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. It was nice hearing about your own travels to Germany. Although we visited different regions, it is uncanny how many similarities there were in our experience with cross-cultural communication.
As you can see, every detail isn’t listed in every instance. However, the message is consistent. An employer would be able to anticipate that this student leader would be successful living overseas and have the ability to apply what was learned to new situations in a way that would add value to the organization.
Professional Communication Tips
When meeting someone in person isn’t feasible, there are other strategies for reaching out to professional networking contacts. Depending on the situation, these methods can be informal or formal.
The following methods create a first impression of your communication skills, interests and motivation, and knowledge about the organization or field.
Contrary to popular belief, business cards are not just for the employed. Many savvy young professionals (students and new grads) develop business cards as a communication tool used at conferences, networking events, and even in unexpected day-to-day interactions.
If you share a connection with someone on LinkedIn, you can connect with them without upgrading your account. Once you click the “Connect” button, you can send a short message to accompany your connection request. In your message, be clear and concise regarding your reason for reaching out.
It is appropriate to email a company that may not have an advertised job opening. A job inquiry letter, also known as an email inquiry, or email/letter of interest expresses your interest in the organization and will hopefully help you connect with people who work there (perhaps human resources professionals or hiring managers).
These emails should contain information about why the organization interests you and how your skills and experience would be an asset to them. The email should be brief and end with a call to action (what you hope will happen as a result of reading our email), e.g. an email back, a contact name, or an answer to a specific question.
Do I need to send a cover letter with my résumé? It is always a good idea to include a cover letter — even when it is not required — when you are applying for a position and when you will not be having a face-to-face conversation with the person in charge of hiring. Many job or internship applications only request a résumé; however, a well-written cover letter serves to introduce your résumé and gives you the opportunity to direct your reader’s attention to specific areas of your background. In addition, you can clearly outline for the employer what specifically about the job or internship is interesting to you and what appeals to you about their particular company or organization — something you cannot do with a résumé.
Things to Consider
- Target your letter to match each particular organization or position being sought.
- Match your skills to the skills the employer is seeking and give concrete examples.
- Address your cover letter to a specific individual whenever possible. When a name is not available, use “Hiring Manager,” “Internship Coordinator,” or “Human Resources” instead of “To Whom It may Concern or Sir/Madam.”
- If someone has referred you to this position or company (e.g., an alumni contact, family friend, or parent), mention this at the beginning of the letter.
- Your cover letter will most likely be sent via e-mail (as an attachment, or as the message itself), or it may be uploaded as part of an online application along with other supportive materials.
Thank You Letter
While a note following an interview is essential, you may also consider writing one following instances such as meeting someone at a career fair or chatting with someone over coffee. Personalize the thank you note to include details from your conversation that stuck out to you. You can also use the letter to highlight or re-emphasize details about your background/experiences/etc. that you want to make sure they remember.
A thank you note can be a formal letter that is mailed, an email, or a written note card that is hand-delivered directly following an interview. You can be the judge for the method that will work best for your situation — just don’t forget to send one!
Creating visually cohesive materials communicates professional consistency, adding value to your personal brand