Resumes and Cover Letters

Your resume is a powerful marketing tool to land an interview. Employers typically scan a resume for 15-30 seconds, so craft a resume that is clear, concise, and demonstrates how you meet their needs.

How to Build Your Resume

Reflect on Your Experience

Make a list of special qualities that set you apart from other applicants. Employers will be looking for examples of:

  • How your skills/experience/knowledge fit with the position/industry/organization.
  • Your ability to deal with high-pressure situations.
  • Willingness to assume responsibility.
  • A high energy level.
  • Strong interpersonal skills and initiative.

Think of specific examples of where and how each skill or attribute led to a tangible result or achievement. Include work experience, internships, volunteer activities, clubs and organizations, research projects, sports, etc. Consider the following as you get started. Have you:

  • Identified and/or helped solve any problems?
    Instituted any new methods, systems, or procedures?
  • Acquired industry-specific knowledge?
  • Done something faster, better, or cheaper?
  • Increased membership, participation, or sales?
  • Saved your organization money or reduced waste?
  • Suggested a new service, product, or project?
  • Re-organized or improved an existing system?
  • Refined the nature of an existing task?
  • Maintained a consistently high level of performance?
  • Demonstrated leadership skills and exhibited good team player skills?
  • Reached out for more work or more responsibility?
  • Achieved results with little or no supervision?
  • Motivated others?
  • Coordinated an event or project?
  • Trained another person? What were the results?
  • Tutored anyone? Did their grades improve?

Emphasize the Results

Show measurable results to an employer. Quantifying and qualifying your accomplishments gives prospective employers a sense of how you went about an assignment or project and the bottom-line results of your performance. Numbers speak volumes to people who make hiring decisions. Qualifying your results is also important so prospective employers can see the impact of your services. Here are a few examples of how you can turn your bullet points into powerful statements that demonstrate your accomplishments.

Instead of: “Organized all sorority philanthropic events.”
Write this: “Organized all sorority philanthropic events which resulted in contributions of over $4000.”

Instead of: “Served food.”
Write this: “Developed tact and diplomacy when dealing with customers in a fast-paced environment”

Instead of: “Responsible for typing and filing.”
Write this: “Commended for efficiency and accuracy in completing office duties”

Building a Powerful Resume

Writing a stand out resume requires the perfect combination of formatting and content. Make sure your resume is easy to read, understand, and digest.

Resume Format

Name & Contact

  • At top of resume, centered or justified to left or right. Name should be larger by at least 4 points.
  • If you have a preferred name, include it in parentheses between your first and last.
  • May include contact information on one line, separating address, phone, and email with a bullet.

Margins & Spacing

  • 0.5” to 1” on all sides
  • Include white space between the sections of your resume. The space should go before each section heading (not necessary after each section heading).
  • Include a space between each item within each section so that it’s clear where one ends and the next begins.

Font Format

  • Size: 10-12 points
  • Font: Any that is easily legible (ie Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Helvetica, Times). Use the same font throughout.
  • Color: Black is preferred. Color may be difficult for some to see and/or not industry-appropriate.
  • Typical items to bold include Name and Headings.
  • You may bold whatever content is most relevant to the position such as the university name under Education or your position title under Experience.

Tables & Text Boxes

Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to scan resume submissions for keywords. Avoid tables, text boxes, and other complex formatting, as they may make it difficult for the ATS to scan your resume.

Length & Paper

  • 1 page for undergraduate students and recent grads. Fill the page completely.
  • 2 pages may be acceptable for grad students and others with extensive relevant experience.
  • When printing your resume, use 8 1/2” x 11” resume paper in white or ivory.

Bullets

  • Experience descriptions should be in bullet list format.
  • Use bullets and avoid dashes, arrows, check boxes, or diamonds.

Dates

  • List all dates along the same margin (right preferred).
  • Include months and years for each experience instead of the year only or the quarter/season.
  • You may format dates as numbers (09/20xx), words (September 20xx), or abbreviate (Sept. 20xx). Be consistent.

    Category Headings

  • Left justified (preferred) or centered.
  • All caps and bold (preferred).
  • May include a bottom border line. To add a line under your section headings in MS Word, go to Home > Paragraph > select the Bottom Border icon.

Resume Content: Essential Categories

Contact Information

  • Name (16-18 pts), address, phone #, email, and web address (optional).
  • Make sure your email address and your phone’s voicemail greeting are professional.

Education

  • Name of school, degree earned or seeking (i.e., BS, BA, MS, MA, PhD), major and minor, expected graduation date (month and year), and GPA (if required or if above 3.0).
  • List highest degree first. Include study abroad. High school information should be omitted after sophomore year at the latest.

Experience

  • Job title, company name, location (city, state), dates of experience, bullet points describing your actions, skills, and accomplishments.
  • May include any type of experience: paid and unpaid positions, internships, military service, volunteer, leadership - anything you’ve done that’s relevant to the position you’re seeking.

Resume Content: Additional Categories

Include only those categories that best represent your qualifications for the position. The order of your resume categories should be based on the needs of the position.

Objective (Optional)

  • A specific, concise, one-sentence description of the position desired.
  • For a specific position, include the title and company name. For general use, omit or state the field, industry, type(s) of positions you are seeking.

Qualifications Summary

  • List of all of your qualifications for the position (tailored to the job posting).
  • Typically toward the top of the resume, after Education

Skills

  • Categorize the relevant, concrete skills you possess. Categories may include: Languages, Computer, Laboratory
  • List only the skills you can perform with little or no supervision. State your proficiency level with languages and programs (fluent, advanced, proficient, etc.).

Relevant Coursework/Projects

  • List course titles (not numbers) of relevant courses, in order of relevance. If a lab, include (Lab) after title.
  • May be listed separately or as a subsection under Education.

Honors & Awards

  • Students & recent grads can include academic honors, awards and scholarships.
  • May be listed separately or as a subsection under “Education”. Include date or # of quarters honors, awards, & scholarships received.

Research

  • List the research project, department/lab/organization name, dates, and description of the project, methods, & findings.
  • Use same format as Experience section.

Publications

  • Cite publications using the correct format for your discipline (MLA, APA, etc.). Bold your name.
  • Identify if still in submitted status. May also indicate if peer-reviewed.

Leadership

  • List office(s) held, organization, dates, and a brief description of accomplishments
    * Use same format as Experience section.

Activities/Volunteer

  • List membership in any clubs, sports, or community service experiences.
  • May not include a description, depending upon the depth of your involvement.

Interests (Optional)

  • List outside hobbies, interests and talents.
    * Only include those that are unique, specific,and/or require skill/dedication.

Certifications/Licenses

  • List is applicable to the position or field
  • Can go under Education or Skills

Do Not Include

  • References should not be on your resume, but can be on a separate page.
  • Personal information such as marital status, citizenship, date of birth, etc.
  • Pictures or headshots should not be included on a resume (except if applying for acting/modeling positions or in countries where it is customary to include a photo).

Build Your Bullet Points

There is a formula for creating detailed, compelling bullet points. The content of each bullet point should contain the following:

What did you do?: What were your duties, responsibilities, and/or projects?

How did you do it?: Specific tools, resources, or technology (transferable skills)

Elaborate with details: How often? How many? What was the purpose? Who else was involved? (Use numbers when possible.)

What were the results?: What did you accomplish or improve? Did you meet or exceed a goal? Did you create something new? (Use numbers when possible.)

Download the "Build Your Bullet Points" worksheet here.

CV vs. Resume

A Curriculum Vitae (CV) may be requested in lieu of a resume, typically for academic, scholarly or research opportunities. For undergraduate students, the differences between a CV and a resume are limited.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)
* Audience: Academics, researchers, or teachers
* Goal: To obtain an academic or research position, grant, or fellowship
* Structure & Format: Complete history of your academic credentials - research, teaching, awards, funding, service
* Focus: Your academic achievements and your scholarly potential
* Unnecessary Information: Activities not related to academic pursuits (ie., personal information, irrelevant work experience, hobbies, etc.)
* Length: Flexible

Resume

  • Audience: Potential employers and networking contacts
  • Goal: To obtain a position in any industry outside of academia
  • Structure & Format: Brief snapshot of your most relevant skills and work experience. Most relevant skills and experiences should be in the first 1/3 of the resume. Resumes are targeted
    specifically for the job description
  • Focus: Relevant experience and demonstrated skills through accomplishments that prove you can do the job well
  • Unnecessary Information: Unabridged list of publications, presentations, conferences attended, courses taught. Work or accomplishments that are not relevant to the position
  • Length: 1-2 pages (One page highly recommended)

Target Your Resume to the Job

Your Skills + Their Need = Connection

  • Make it easy for the employer to see your fit for the job.
  • Do not assume they will “know what you mean” - be specific.
  • Use action verbs to demonstrate what you have accomplished.
  • Use the job posting as a guideline for targeting your resume.

Steps to Target Your Resume

  1. Create a great resume following the guidelines in the preceding pages of this chapter.
  2. Review the job description. Read the specific skills and qualifications: underline
    words/phrases that match your background. Read the job responsibilities: underline words/phrases that match your background. Take an inventory of your experiences: how and
    where have you applied these skills?

Tips

  • Use the keywords from the job posting in the targeted industry (Online applications are often matched to keywords in job posting for screening out resumes)
  • If the job posting is very limited, find similar jobs to use as a guide
  • The cover letter will also be targeted and can elaborate your “fit”

To see a variety of sample resumes targeted to specific positions and industries, download Chapter 6 of the Career Guide at the bottom of this page.

Writing a Stand Out Cover Letter

A cover letter should communicate your strong interest in the company and your enthusiasm for the position or internship you’re applying for.

Purpose of the Cover Letter

  • Brief overview of qualifications.
  • Differentiate yourself from the crowd.
  • Captivate the attention of the reader.
  • Communicate interest in the organization.
  • Convince the employer of your skills and accomplishments.

Rules for Cover Letters

  • Address the employer’s “wish list”.
  • Assess the employer’s needs.
  • Actively promote yourself.

Focus on What You Have to Offer

  • Describe how your skills, expertise, and past accomplishments can benefit the employer.
  • Follow standard business letter format.
  • Write clearly and concisely, and proofread your letter for spelling and grammar.
  • Use the same font and paper that you used for your resume.

Send Your Cover Letter to a Specific Individual

  • Ideally, the letter should be addressed to the person who is likely to make employment decisions. It may take some resourcefulness on your part to identify this person, but the
    letter will probably be better received.
  • Make sure you have the correct spelling of their name and title before submitting.
  • If you cannot find the name of the person the letter is addressed to, you may use a title that is specific such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Internship Coordinator”.
  • Don’t forget to sign your letter (You can scan it and include it as a .jpg).

Cover Letter Samples

There are cover letter samples in Chapter 6 of the Career Guide and in Vault.

  • Resist the temptation to take a “fill-in-the-blank” approach based on the samples.
  • Do not use the exact same language found in a sample. Your cover letter should be a reflection of you.
  • A cover letter need not stick to a set structure or outline as long as it effectively communicates your fit for the company and position as well as your desire to work for them.

For more information on Resumes & Cover Letters, download Chapter 6 of the UCLA Career Guide.