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Creating Powerful Resumes and Cover Letters

by: Ian B. Matthew-Clayton, M.S.Ed., Associate Director, Human Resources
March 20, 2013

The number of applications a college can receive for a job opening is staggering. At the college where I’m Associate Director of Human Resources, we receive anywhere from 175 and 250. If a job-seeker wants to stand out in this sea of applications, it is essential that the submission is visually appealing, smartly written, grammatically correct, and gives a truthful resume and cover letter. Here’s how you can get to the top of the pile.

Let’s start with your resume. It’s important to understand the purpose of a resume. As an applicant, your resume is your tool to showcase how your skills, abilities, and training are applicable to the needs of an employer.  The employer screens resumes to find applicants who match their requirements; therefore, your resume is never a final document but must be continually modified according to job advertisements.

Next, use your online resources, such as the United States Department of Labor (www.dol.gov) to help you make decisions on formatting (chronological, functional, etc.), style, fonts, and the suggested order of resume sections (contact information, summary of qualifications, experience, employment history, education/training).

Once you have constructed a good draft of your resume, it is time to make it powerful. The key to a powerful resume is in the content. Thoroughly review your resume and make certain that you are using strong, descriptive action verbs. Examples of such words are: established, developed, accomplished, and delivered. This is when your thesaurus comes in handy. Use it!

Another key to constructing a powerful resume is to show off. This is not the time for modesty. Did you save or make the company money? Did you improve customer service? Summarize these results in bullets underneath your professional experience or create a “Key Results” section.

Let’s now turn our attention to your cover letter. Again, step one is to understand the purpose. As the applicant, your cover letter is your first introduction to an employer and provides you an opportunity to highlight key skills and accomplishments in an in-depth and summarized manner. It is also your opportunity to show the employer your writing skills. For the employer, who typically spends less than two minutes reviewing each cover letter, the cover letter helps them make a quick determination on whether they should move on to your resume or no longer consider you for the job.

Next, use online resources such as Purdue Owl (owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/) to guide you with your cover letter style, formatting, and sections (introduction, body, and closing).

Personalizing your cover letter is one of the keys to making it powerful. Remember, this is your first introduction. Never send a generic cover letter that you found online. Another key to a powerful cover letter is to make sure you highlight your skills and abilities that complement those listed in the job advertisement and let the employer know why they should be interested in you. Lastly, a powerful cover letter never repeats exactly what is already stated in the resume, rather it highlights it.

Take your time and use care when constructing your resume and cover letter. Strive for powerful, and don’t forget to edit and then edit some more.

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