Overall Takeaway – a good resume and cover is specific to the skills / qualifications of a particular opportunity or field.
Remember to highlight related experiences & transferable skills that you may have used in a different context. Consider things from across your background: coursework, research, jobs, extracurriculars, internships, etc.
Not all fields expect or ask for cover letters, so in more technical fields or roles you many only be asked for a resume. For opportunities where cover letters are optional, they can be used as a way to create a narrative for why you’re a strong fit, or to help set yourself apart.
A good resume succinctly conveys specific aspects of your education, experience, and skills to the reader as it relates to the particular opportunity or field in which you’re applying.
Curate what you include – employers have limited time to evaluate candidates and so it’s important for the key pieces of information to jump off of the page. It’s normal to remove older and/or less relevant experiences/information. Ask yourself:
What are the main ideas you want to communicate and is the currently layout & content conveying that message effectively?
Create impactful descriptions – start your bullet point descriptions of your experiences with strong active verbs. Ask yourself: What skills did I use? Are there quantifiable details that could provide context, scope, or demonstrate impact? What was I proud of or what were my accomplishments? What were the outcomes related to what I did?
Ensure consistent design – double check your formatting for consistency & typos! Date ranges, spacing, dashes, use of bold/italics, etc. are all common areas for inconsistencies & mistakes.
A cover letter quickly summarizes 1) why you are applying to an organization or for a particular position, and 2) what skills and knowledge you bring that make you a strong candidate for that position. It’s an opportunity to create a narrative that emphasizes & demonstrates the skills you’ve used or are developing.
Cover letters are often viewed as a demonstration of your writing abilities, so make certain that it is free of spelling mistakes, grammar issues, and typos.
Be specific about ‘why them’ – including a line or two about the particular organization and/or role you’re applying for shows that 1) this isn’t a generic form letter, and 2) you did a little extra research & are familiar with their work. What makes you excited about this specific role or organization?
Show your skills in context – instead of stating or listing your skills, demonstrate them in context by talking about accomplishments or experiences that show it. Can you use a brief story or example that would show times you’ve used or developed those skills?
Go beyond your resume – it’s better to go in depth on two or three experiences than just restating what’s already on your resume. How have your experiences from across your background honed skills that are related to what you’re applying for?
In addition to our online resources, FAQ, and appointments, we also have an excellent team of Peer Career Advisors who can assist with resume and cover letter reviews. If you have more questions, come talk to Career Services!
By Emily Barrale
Emily BarraleAssociate Director for Data Visualization, Analysis & Reporting