I would like to thank Dana Bright from Career Services who came and talked to us last week about job application documents. Creating these documents–affectionately known as resumes and cover letters–are difficult for students and professionals alike. The talk helped to add clarity around this ever evolving topic.
Before I relay the highlights from the discussion, let me first stress that the items listed below are the norm. That said, there will be outlying situations that are not accounted for in these statements. The items below, like Dana mentioned, are the safe bet.
I have broken down the information into 2 sections Cover letters and Resumes. Inside the Resume section there is information regarding government and industry resumes.
Cover letters should be prepared for every job you apply to. Below are some items to keep in mind while creating them:
- Limit to 1 page.
- A four paragraph cover letters should:
- Introduce yourself to the hiring manager
- Argue why you’d be a good fit for the job
- Fill in places your resume cannot describe
- Further explain other aspects of your resume
- Consult resumegenius.com for more detail.
First and foremost, there is a big difference between the documents needed to apply to government jobs and those needed for industry jobs. As a result, the two are addressed separately below.
Government Job Resumes
The government requires a standardized and highly specific resume. Therefore, using the resume builder found at usajobs.gov to create a resume is the best option. When using the resume builder, the questions should be answered in their entirety, including the sections that are not often required in industry resumes, like hobbies, coursework, or information about High School experiences.
Industry job Resumes
There were a number of recommendations pertaining to industry resumes. For the sake of brevity (and reference) I use bullet points to cover the items. The list is further sorted into the broad categories: generalities, content, and design.
- Resumes should be clean looking and professional.
- Use 1 page unless you have 10 years or experience.
- List your strongest assets first. For students, that usually means education is the first section.
- Tailor the resume to the job application, make sure to address all of the requirements fully.
- Ensure that each job listed has a job title, employer, date, and location. Do not use summer, fall, or other seasons. Instead list the start and ending months.
- Do not overly use keywords (e.g., creating a list of skills just to use keywords), simply employ the keywords naturally in the description of your job duties.
- Use present tense for current jobs and past tense for previous jobs.
- Eliminate the objective, it takes up real estate and is not helpful.
- Streamline the resume to cover only the sections and material that represent you well. Remove hobbies, personal interests, previous colleges, and odd jobs if they do not pertain to the job you are applying to.
- Remove bullet points for obvious jobs. For example there is no need to describe duties for cashier or waitress, unless the duties are atypical.
- Google resumes from your field and model the good ones.
- Do not include non-professional links (e.g., Facebook or Twitter). But do include professional links like LinkedIn and your portfolio. Add links these links at the top of your resume with your contact information.
- Show your expertise, don’t just tell it.
- Do not embellish or lie.
- Stick to job duties that demonstrate strong transferable skills.
- Remove HS and your HS experiences from your resume unless they are directly applicable to the job (e.g., you led the accountants club for 2yrs in HS and you the job you are applying to is an accountant). The only exception is Eagle Scouts.
- List accomplishments over mundane tasks. For example, instead of “I answered the phones” say something like “Responsible for…”
- Avoid listing nebulous unsupported claims in a list of skills (e.g,. good communicator, trustworthy), instead show these attributes through examples from your job duties. For example, you might you would list public speaking to demonstrate your confidence in communicating.
- Remove “I” or “me” and stick with action verbs.
- List any proficiency with foreign languages in a skills section. In that case, use the modifiers of basic, intermediate, fluency, or native speaker to describe your aptitude in the language.
- Remove hobbies unless they directly relate to the job. For example, you would keep your guitar playing if you were applying for radio station work.
- Provide a “relevant courses” section if they help to demonstrate your fit for the job. In it do not include general education, instead list the 3 or 4 courses that are completely relevant to the job. When doing so include the course name (without the catalog number) and any tailored highlights that relate to the job
- List your cumulative GPA ONLY if it is above 3.0. Do not include your major GPA or substitute it for cumulative. The major GPA can be misleading and can cause confusion once your transcript is reviewed.
- Include a summary or profile statement at the top of the resume, if you need to explain some transition. In this case, the statement should be your elevator pitch where you pick 3 or 4 of your top assets. Include a few words that support the need for the statement (e.g., “seeking to transition into”).
Comments for specific majors
- If you are a humanities major, eliminate a skills section and incorporate those items in your list of job duties or courses.
- If you have a government security clearance, it should be listed on your resume. Try to place it near the top. A summary is a good place to include your clearances.
- Do not use Word templates, they are a tremendous pain in the long run. Stick to a resume without without tables or boxes. Starting from scratch with a fresh new document is your best option.
- Use an all black serif font, no color.
- Make your name and other headings no larger than 14pt bold and text between 11pt or 12pt at most.
- Maintain 1″ margins with single spacing
- Use a serif font (i.e., Tahoma, Calibri); it comes across as more formal. Note, there is some flexibility in fonts as sans serif becomes more popular.
- Send the resume as a PDF, if possible. PDFs will retain your formatting and Word may not.
- Do not use a full line at the top, it separates information on the page too much.
Should anything in this long list be unclear, I’m sure Dana would welcome any questions you might have about this material.