Résumés, CVs, and Cover Letters

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Résumés

What is a résumé? What is its purpose?
For anyone seeking a position in the work force - whether he or she is an undergraduate looking for an internship or a recent graduate searching for his or her first full-time job - a well-written, organized, and accurate résumé is an essential element of that search. Your résumé is your primary means of marketing yourself. It delineates your qualifications for a given position, which would most likely include your education, professional experience, and the skills you have acquired. The résumé does not have to include every single thing that you have done, or even every position you have ever held, but it should highlight those aspects of your background that are most relevant to the position or industry for which you are applying. For this reason, you may want to tailor your résumé as closely as possible to the position you are seeking. Remember: your résumé's objective should be to carry you past the initial screening process for that position and get you an invitation to an interview.
What should it include?

  • Your contact information - This includes your name, mailing address, phone number, and email.
  • Educational information - This includes your degrees, the institutions at which you pursued them, the locations of those institutions, and the dates that the degrees were conferred. This should also include your major, your minor, your GPA (if above 3.5), and even study abroad experience. This should not include anything before college, such as high school accomplishments.
  • Awards information - This includes scholarships and awards for things such as academic achievement and community service.
  • Work experience - This may include your part-time paid work, full-time paid work, internships, volunteer experience, and research experience, depending on the relevance of the experiences to the position/industry for which you are applying. Each entry should include your title/role, the name of the company/organization and its location, the dates of your time spent there, your areas of responsibility, and most importantly, any achievements you had within that position.
  • Skills - This includes real and transferable skills, such as foreign languages spoken and the ability to use computers or relevant specialized equipment. This should not include empty platitudes or clichés, such as “motivated self-starter,” “attentive to detail,” or “quick learner.”
  • Professional affiliations - This includes memberships in relevant professional associations and the dates of membership.
What is some optional information that may be included?

  • Activities - This includes membership in relevant extracurricular clubs, groups, athletics, or community organizations, with a particular focus on leadership roles.
  • Relevant coursework - This could include some upper-level classes in your major that may be particularly relevant to the position for which you are applying. The intention behind including this section would be to demonstrate that you have acquired some of the fundamental knowledge required for a particular position. For these entries, be sure to use the course name (not the course code) and possibly include a short description of the class.
  • Profile statement - This section, which should lead off the résumé, is designed as a concise introduction yourself as an individual who has managed to develop a fairly wide range of experiences, with a particular focus on the specific qualifications required for a particular position.
  • Other information - Depending on the position, the field, or your respective experiences, you may include sections detailing relevant projects, accreditation, or licenses held.
How should it be organized?
There is no one right way to construct your résumé. Recruiters in various industries are looking for different qualifications; everyone has his or her unique skills, accomplishments, and career paths. However, there are certain constraints to which all job seekers must adhere when putting the résumé together:
  • It should be neatly organized, with clearly delineated sections and an internal consistency within each section. Many positions for which you apply will require that you scan the document or upload it to an internet application, so you should make sure that the résumé has a simple format that easily translates to other applications.
  • It should be concise, presenting your experience within one page. In order to conform to this one-page limit, it is possible to adjust font sizes and margins, though one must be careful not to pack too much information onto the page, thereby making it hard to read. An individual with a great deal of relevant experience and education may have a résumé that is longer than one page.
  • Your name and contact information should be at the top of the page. There is no strict order for what comes next, though it is generally recommended that the most relevant experience should be presented first. Many individuals place their educational experience at the top of their résumés, though that is certainly not required.
  • There are two primary means of organizing one's experiences: with a chronological format or a functional format. A chronological format, the most widely used format, as well as the format preferred by most employers/recruiters, requires you to list your experience in reverse chronological order, with the most recent position held listed first. A functional format focuses on the experiences and skills directly related to the position for which you are applying. It does not follow a chronological organization, and is therefore good for applicants with widely varied or irrelevant experience or large gaps of time in their employment.
  • A chronological format can be somewhat restrictive, and, understandably, many students' most recent experiences are not directly related to the positions for which they are applying. This often requires the creation of a Relevant Experiences section, in which relevant experiences, independent of the chronological order, are grouped together at the top of the résumé.
What else should you keep in mind?

  • Always make certain that your résumé accurately reflects your experiences and skills, to the best of your recollection. If you misrepresent your experience, it will most likely come out when your prospective employer follows up with your references.
  • Sell yourself! Whenever possible, emphasize your achievements and the skills you have developed in detail. Use numbers or concrete examples as evidence.
  • Proofread your résumé very carefully and several times before sending it out to anyone. Do not rely on the spell/grammar check feature of your word processing program as they frequently miss mistakes. It is also strongly encouraged to have a staff member at CACE review it before you submit it for any position. Remember that employers will make certain assumptions about you based on the quality of your résumé: if the résumé contains mistakes, employers will very likely assume that you are either inattentive to detail, sloppy, or a poorly trained writer, which are three qualities they are not looking for.
  • You should consider how to use key terms, taken directly from the job description or that are commonly employed in your field, as frequently as possible. This may involve technical language or jargon. At the very least, it is what recruiters will be looking for when they scan your résumé; also, many firms and organizations utilize keyword-search software to screen résumés.
  • Do not include contact information for your references. That information should be provided to your prospective employer in a separate document when they ask for it after the interview.
  • Do not include information on your age or marital status. Potential employers may not request or consider such information.
  • Always begin descriptions of your responsibilities with action verbs. (There is a list of verbs that you can use here.) Always employ sophisticated, professional language to explain your responsibilities. Avoid using the first person, including “I,” “me,” and “my.” Finally, when describing positions in which you are currently employed, use the present tense; when describing positions in which you are formerly employed, use the past tense.
  • Do not include information regarding your age or marital status. It is illegal for potential employers to request or consider such information.
  • If you are sending your résumé by email, send it as a PDF file attached to the email. Your cover letter should serve as the body of the email, though you can attach a file of that as well. If you are sending a paper copy of your résumé, print it on high-quality paper, preferably résumé paper; your cover letter should also be printed on this paper.
  • Your résumé is a professional document and not a work of art. It is important to stand out, but using colorful formats or wild lettering is not the way to do so. The way to make your résumé stand out is through order, sophistication, and clarity. For most fields, it is best to keep your résumé low-key and conservative.
  • Your résumé is a living document that grows and changes with you. Go back periodically and update your résumé, whenever there are any major changes in your job or areas of responsibility.
Examples of résumés
The best way to learn how to write a résumé is to study other résumés, particularly those that have been successful in getting interviews for the candidates. Below are links to résumé examples for all of the major fields of study here at Wagner. Keep in mind, though, that these examples are merely suggestions. You might have different headings on your résumé or opt for a different format, particularly if you are applying for a creative field. However, these examples serve as a helpful starting point for your own document. When you have a draft of your resume completed, be sure to make an appointment with CACE, and we will help you refine it and make it ready for employers' eyes.
 
Anthropology
Art and Art History
Arts Administration
Biology
Business Administration
Chemistry
Computer Science/Information Systems/Mathematics
Economics and History
Education
English
Government and Politics/Philosophy
International Affairs
Microbiology
Modern Languages and Literature
Physics
Psychology/Biopsychology
Public Policy and Administration
Sociology
Theatre and Speech

Curriculum Vitae

What is it? What is its purpose? How is it different from a résumé?
A Curriculum Vitae, or CV, is essentially an academically focused résumé. It is preferred over the usual résumé format when applying for positions in certain career fields - namely, academic or research-oriented positions. It is typically longer and less concise than a résumé, and it focuses more on academic or educational experiences, such as publications, presentations, conferences, and teaching experience.
What should it include?
The CV should include much of the same information as a résumé, including:
  • Your contact information - This includes your name, mailing address, phone number, and email.
  • Educational information - This includes your degrees, the institutions at which you pursued them, the locations of those institutions, and the dates that the degrees were conferred. This should also include your major, your minor, your GPA (if above 3.5), and even study abroad experience.
  • Awards information - This includes scholarships and awards for such things as academic achievement and community service.
  • Work experience - This should not necessarily be a thorough account of your work experience, but rather work experience that is relevant to the field or the position. This is usually superseded by teaching and research experience sections.
  • Transferable skills - This includes such things as languages spoken and knowledge of computers or specialized equipment.
  • Professional affiliations - This includes memberships in relevant professional associations and the dates of membership.
  • Activities - This includes membership in relevant extracurricular groups, with a particular focus on leadership roles.
It should also include:
  • Information on your thesis/dissertation - This includes the title, names of your advisers, and a brief description of the subject matter.
  • Publications - This should include any journal articles, online articles, chapters in a manuscript, etc. on which you are a listed author. It should also include manuscripts that are under review or to be published soon. For the format, observe whatever is the standard form of citation in your field, such as MLA or APA.
  • Conferences or presentations - This should include the full name of your presentation, the conference or event, and the host, as well as the location of the event and its date. This should also include conferences at which the presentation has been accepted but have not yet taken place.
  • Teaching experience - This should include the names, levels, and dates of each class, your title or role, your efforts at curricular development, and the schools at which the courses were taught.
  • Research experience - This should include dates, your project's title and/or description, your supervisor or advisor (if relevant), location (if relevant), responsibilities and achievements, and outcomes, such as further grant funding, publications, or conference presentations.
  • College/university service - This should include participation in on-campus committees and special events, with dates, your roles, and possibly a description of the committee or event's purpose and accomplishments.
  • Skills - Optional, depending on the field. This may include foreign languages read and spoken, technical skills, and lab skills.
How should it be organized?
As in the case of the résumé, there is no one right way to organize the CV. Your experience and what you choose to emphasize will dictate how you order your information. If you have advanced degrees but little related experience, then your education experience would probably come earlier. If you are applying for a research-oriented position, then the research experience should be emphasized; the same goes for teaching experience. As far as formatting, it is safe to say that the CV should be simple, neat, and conservative. Unorthodox fonts or "creative" formatting are generally discouraged. Clearly identify the different sections and be consistent with your placement of certain information and/or the use of typeface. The most important qualities for the design of the CV are to be accessible and easy-to-read, with strong emphasis on your most relevant experience. As far as length, that depends on the extent of your experience. A graduate student's CV would probably only run to one or two pages, whereas a tenured professor with a fairly prolific fifteen-year career may have a CV that is as long as seven or eight pages.
What else should you keep in mind?
To no surprise, with the CV, you have many of the same concerns as with the résumé. It should be well-organized and professional, it should have an internal consistency, and it should sell your skills and experiences above all. Some other important considerations are:
  • Pay attention to your audience. Make sure to emphasize the experience and/or skills that your prospective employer is looking for. Some positions are more administrative, more focused on teaching, or more concerned with research, so it may be a good idea to develop multiple versions of the CV.
  • Many of your professors have published or posted their CVs on their own websites or on those of their respective departments. These can serve as excellent models for how you may be able to put your own CV together.

Cover Letters

What is it? What is its purpose?
The primary purpose of a cover letter is to introduce your résumé and provide some context for it. It should explain what position you are applying for and why. Most importantly, it should highlight the aspects of your background, experiences, and skills that best qualify you for the position. The letter should also serve as an example of the quality of your writing. Unless you are otherwise instructed, the résumé should always be accompanied by a cover letter, and that cover letter should be closely tailored to the position for which you are applying.
How should it be organized?
The cover letter needs to accomplish specific objectives, and those objectives dictate the letter's organization.
  • Introduction - Briefly introduce yourself. Explain what you are applying for and how you learned about this opportunity. Did someone at the organization refer you to this position? You should mention that person by name. If you are not responding to a specific opening, then state what sort of a position you are interested in. This section should be short. Here are a couple of examples of an introductory paragraph.
  • Your qualifications - Here you must address the most important question: what makes you the best candidate for this job? What can you do for this company/organization, both in the short term and long term? This section should probably be the longest section of your letter. Here are a couple of examples.
  • Your interest in the position and/or the company/organization - This paragraph provides you with the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the company/organization and your enthusiasm for the position. Why do you want to work for this company/organization? How do you think you can fit into this company/organization? Here are a couple of examples.
  • Request for an interview - Basically, this section allows you to conclude the letter while also providing your contact information again. Reiterate your interest in the position. Promise to provide further information, if necessary. Explain what the best means are for reaching you. Thank the employer in advance for the time they will take to review your résumé. This section should be short. Here are a couple of examples.
What else should you keep in mind?

  • Remember, you should not simply restate your résumé word-for-word or include every professional experience you have had. Focus on the two or three most relevant experiences, what you accomplished there, what you learned there, and how these skills or lessons can be applied to the position for which you are applying.
  • Be concise. You do not need to go into exhaustive detail about any of your experiences or skills. Remember that the letter focuses on highlights. The letter should run to no more than a page.
  • Be positive. There is no need to focus on any negatives, such as what experience you do not have, or what criteria from the job description you do not meet. Sell yourself.
  • Do not use a general cover letter for multiple applications. It is acceptable if you have a base cover letter off of which you work, but each cover letter should be closely tailored to each job.
  • Address the job description directly. Focus in on your skills and experiences that apply directly to it. If possible, use some of the same terms or language employed by the job description.
  • Research the employer. Before you start writing anything, you should have an idea of what the company/organization does, how the position for which you are applying fits into that picture, and how your abilities can be used in that role. There are many tools available online for this task: the company/organization's website, LinkedIn, trade/professional publications, and Google.
  • Remember, the cover letter should be a strong example of your writing ability. As with the résumé, proofread your cover letter carefully before sending it out. It is also strongly encouraged to have a staff member at CACE review it.
  • You may use the first person, but try not to start every single sentence with "I."
  • Avoid use of the passive voice.
  • Always, or as often as possible, address the letter directly to a person. The job description should tell you to whom the letter should be addressed. If it does not list a specific person, contact the HR department or the department that is hiring to find out to whom the letter should be addressed. Use appropriately professional titles when addressing this person (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr.). If you cannot locate the name of a specific person, address the letter "To Whom It May Concern."

Need Help?

Not certain where to start? Still have questions? Don't be afraid to ask for some help or advice from our staff. Make an appointment with us, send an email to cace@wagner.edu, or call us at (718) 390-3181. You can also just stop in - we are located on the 3rd floor of the Union, right next to the Hawk's Nest. Do you just need your résumé and/or cover letter reviewed or revised? You can send it as an attachment to cace@wagner.edu, or you can upload it to your account on WagnerWorks, which we check several times a day.