This chapter was written by Megan Savage, Portland Community College, and is licensed CC-BY 4.0.
Employment materials are some of the most important, and most challenging, pieces of writing you will ever undertake. This is because of the number of contradictions involved in writing employment materials. The résumé is both a simple list of your job history, and a referendum on your qualifications; you must show your passion for the job you are applying for, but too much passion is over-the-top. Your job application (cover) letter is an evidence-backed statement of your achievements, a clear representation of your personal brand, and the first writing sample a potential employer will see. Add to that one more challenge: your materials must be concise, and yet also comprehensive. If accomplishing all these tasks at once feels daunting, you are not alone.
The aim of this chapter is to ease your mind and demystifying the job application process by giving you some core principles to follow. Whether you are applying to be an administrative assistant or an engineer, a web developer or a caregiver, many of the strategies are the same. As you read through this chapter, keep the following principles in mind:
- The more customized your materials are, the more successful they will be — generic materials are unlikely to capture an employer’s attention.
- Your materials should demonstrate not why this job would benefit you, but instead how you, as a unique candidate, can benefit your potential employer.
- Your materials should not simply list every job you’ve ever held, but emphasize transferable skills, making an argument for how your past accomplishments prepare you for the job you are applying for.
To tailor your materials to a specific audience is to work smarter, rather than harder. In fact, tailoring is one of the core principles of technical writing — a principle you read about in the audience analysis chapter of this text. Imagine yourself in the position of a hiring manager. Would you be more likely to hire a candidate whose generic résumé looks like it has been sent to dozens of similar employers? Or would you be more likely to hire a candidate who has researched your business and understands what the job entails?
Spending adequate time preparing to write your employment materials can save you many headaches in the drafting process. This section of the chapter covers strategies that can help in your job search.
Finding a Job
Finding a suitable job opening itself can be a time-consuming process. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Job boards: browse sites like Indeed, CareerBuilder, Glassdoor and Monster to search for jobs in your field.
- Specialty job lists: look for lists of jobs in specific industries such as food service (Poached), nonprofits (Idealist), or media (MediaBistro)
- Company, organization and government web sites: visit the employment section on websites of companies you admire; search federal, state, county, and city websites for job government job postings.
- Your own network: talk to friends, past employers, and professors or visit LinkedIn to search for openings at companies in your network.
- Your college: visit your college or university placement office/career center and attend job fairs hosted at your college.
Many job seekers also use craigslist to look for work; just be aware that craigslist postings often lack detail and may come from headhunters or placement agencies, rather than from the direct employer.
Once you have found a job, make sure to print and/or save a copy of the job posting or job description. You will use this document to help you tailor your application materials. Because companies often delete the job posting once they have received sufficient applicants, it is important that you save your own copy of the document by copying the text and pasting it into a new document, or by saving the webpage.
Conducting a Self-Inventory
As you work on your resume, you may worry that you have nothing valuable to include, or you may worry that you are “bragging.” One way to get over these hurdles is to allocate pre-writing time to a self-inventory. Brainstorm your skills, accomplishments and knowledge. What did you accomplish at work, school, or a volunteer position? What skills have you learned? What would you tell a friend or family member you were proud of having achieved there? Start writing down key terms and action verbs that describe your experiences and accomplishments, and don’t worry yet about putting them into a résumé format.
For help brainstorming action verbs that describe your skills, browse a key term list such as the one below. First, scan the groupings of skills (Communication Skills, Creative Skills, Financial Skills etc.) for key terms related to skills you have or work you have done. Then, write down 1) categories of skills you have (again, Communication Skills, Creative Skills, Financial Skills etc.) and 2) action verbs that describe skills you have or work you have done (e.g. analyzed, performed, calculated, advocated, etc.).
As you gather information about your work history and skills, double-check that your information is accurate and current – gather dates of employment, dates of trainings, lists of activities you have been involved in, academic awards, achievements, and special projects. Job descriptions or performance reviews from previous jobs can also include key terms to include on your resume. Finally, ask former coworkers or managers about your significant workplace contributions.
Get a partner and a piece of paper. Take ten-minute turns speaking and scribing. The speaker should describe past work history and experience, especially as it relates to the job at hand. The scribe should take notes while listening to her partner’s description, taking care to note any key terms she hears. The scribe should also ask questions that help the speaker go into detail about the experience (who, what, when, where, why?). Finally, the scribe should help identify any skills or achievements the speaker may not realize he or she has; sometimes we have a skill that we don’t recognize because we assume it is something everyone can do. Then, switch.
Researching Your Potential Employer
It is important that you research your potential employer as well as the job for which you’re applying. The easiest way to research a potential employer is to visit the company’s website. Look for an “about us” page or a “mission statement,” and observe how the company describes its goals and values.
Try to answer the following questions about the company or organization:
- Whom does this company serve?
- Who are this company’s partners or competitors?
- What technologies would I use at this company?
- What is the tone of this company’s materials (formal, conservative, humorous, “cutting edge,” etc.)?
- How would you describe this company’s brand?
Here are a few more ways to research a company: search for its name on LinkedIn and other social media sites, browse for news articles about the company or press releases written by the company, speak with friends or colleagues who work for the company, or call the company to request an informational interview.
As you research, look for ways to connect with the company:
- What do you admire about the company?
- Where do your values and interests overlap with those of the company?
- What makes this company a good fit for you?
Try to summarize your connection to the company in one sentence. Remember that your potential employer is also your audience, and adapt your tone, examples, and level of technicality accordingly.
Researching the Potential Job
To research the job itself, take advantage of the job description you have found. The job description is your secret weapon; in this document, you are told what the employer is looking for in a candidate.
Print out the job description and annotate it; get into a conversation with it:
- Highlight or underline any qualifications that you hold — any skills you have, technologies you’ve used, etc.
- Make note of any past achievements that relate to any of the preferred qualifications. For example, if the job description seeks a candidate who can diagnose and solve technical problems, write down an example of a specific time in which you did so in a professional or academic setting.
- Circle any key terms you might use in your own materials. Using the same terms as a potential employer demonstrates to that employer that you are able to “speak their language.”
- Note any questions/uncertainties and any qualifications you do not have in order to decide what to highlight and what to downplay in your materials (as well as what you need to learn more about).
Make a word cloud of your job description, using a site like www.wordle.net (you will cut and paste the text of the job description into a word cloud generator – note that you might have to try a few different programs before you find one that’s compatible with your computer.) A word cloud presents text as a visual display, reorganizing content so that the largest words are those that appear most frequently (see Figure 1). A word cloud can be a helpful visual tool to identify key terms to use in your resume and cover letter. You might also be surprised to find that a “big word” (a commonly repeated key term) is one that you would not automatically associate with the job.
In Figure 1, below, we see how some of the words are obvious terms we would expect to find in a children’s museum job description – museum, children, exhibits, playing, etc. However, diversity” and “diverse” are both large terms, too. If you were applying for this job, you would now know to talk about your commitment to diversity/experience working with people from diverse backgrounds.
The purpose of a résumé is twofold:
- A résumé is an overview of your skills, experience, and education as they relate to your career objective, and
- A résumé is a marketing tool that conveys your “personal brand.”
All of us want our résumés to stand out from the stack. However, the best way to create an eye-catching résumé is not through gimmicks or flash, but rather through substance and customization.
Formats: Chronological Resume Vs. Functional (Skills) Resume
Work histories come in a variety of forms; so do résumés. Although career experts enjoy debating which style is the best, ultimately you must consider which fits your current situation. Which style will allow you to best package your work history, and convey your unique qualifications?
The chronological résumé is a traditional format whose principal section is the “Employment Experience” section. In the chronological résumé’s “Employment Experience” section, jobs are listed in reverse chronological order, and achievements/skills are detailed underneath each position.
In contrast, a functional (skills) résumé, features a well-developed “Skills & Achievements” section, in which skills are organized into categories. The functional resume still includes an “Employment Experience” section, but it is streamlined to include only the basic information about each position held.
A hybrid (or combination) résumé includes a well-developed “Skills & Achievements” section that highlights the candidate’s most important and relevant skills, but it also includes select bullets under each job in the “Employment Experience” section.
The following pages contain examples of chronological, functional (skills), and hybrid résumé formats.
Example of the Chronological Resume Format
123 Address | City, State 01234
10.1234.5678 | firstname.lastname@example.org
E D U C A T I O N
AAS: Portland Community College 2010 | Sign Language Interpreting
BA: University of Colorado, Boulder 2007 | Psychology
Certifications: Certificate of Interpretation, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf | Certificate of Transliteration, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
E X P E R I E N C E
Staff Sign Language Interpreter | St. Joseph’s, Boulder CO | September 2014 – present
Provide Sign Language Interpreting to approximately 15 Deaf adults with pervasive mental illnesses in a Partial Hospitalization setting. Provide interpreting for staff meetings, therapeutic groups, psychiatry sessions, and medication monitoring.
Educational Sign Language Interpreter | Boulder High, Boulder CO | August 2011 – June 2014
Provided Sign Language Interpreting for Deaf and Hard of Hearing High School students in day-to-day activities including academic classes, assemblies, after-school clubs, varsity sports, class trips, and more.
Interpreter Intern | Portland Community College, Portland OR | January 2010 – June 2010
Provided Sign Language Interpreting services for one deaf college student for all of her day-to-day activities including academic classes, after-school clubs, advising sessions, and more.
Customer Service | Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center, Clackamas OR | 2008 – 2010
Provided members with information pertaining to benefits, enrollment, and coverage. Assisted members with benefits-related questions and concerns, resolving problems and supporting members with special needs.
Volunteer | Denver Homeless Family Solutions | January 2016 – present
Prepare and serve meals, collect and sort donations, overnight host.
National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
National Association of the Deaf
Note that the chronological resume:
- Lists both work and education in reverse chronological order (starting with the most recent positions/schools and working backward)
- Lists job achievements and skills under each position
- Presents experience under headings by job title, company, location, and dates of employment
- Allows employers to easily determine work performed at each company
Example of the Functional (Skills) Resume Format
|Graphic Design major with about 10 years full-service agency experience, from creative marketing material design to print management and coordination with a wide range of clients. A passionate and dedicated designer, capable of handling a large workload and tight deadlines. Working toward B.A degree in Graphic Design.|
|Print Management||Managed 5000 copies MTT company calendar printing process, from finalizing artwork to output file check, paper stock selection, color proofing, print finishing, and delivery deadline coordination.|
|Event Management||Designed and organized a company anniversary cocktail event for a new client – INSTINET Hong Kong, receiving positive feedback from client’s guest and resulting in 3years event management contract with Pink Tiger Media.|
|Editorial Design with Collaborative||Designed and collaborated with Prince of Wales Island International School on production of 16pp program book, received positive feedback from every division of the school and resulted in more business to Priority Resources design team.|
|Portland State UniversityPortland Community College
Equator Academy of Art
|B.A Degree Graphic Design – Expected enrollment 2018Associate Transfer Degree – 2016-present
Diploma in Graphic and Multimedia Design – 2004-2006
|Senior Graphic Designer
2013 – 2015
|Priority Resources – Penang, Malaysia
Editorial design, Web interface design, vendor coordination
|Jr. Art Director
|Pink Tiger Media – Penang, Malaysia
Team management, Event management, Marketing campaign, Visual communication, vendor coordination
|Moonlight Media & Design – Penang, Malaysia
Exhibition design, Branding & Identity design, Print design, Product branding, Typography, Event management
|Trainee Graphic Designer
|Dolphin Printing – Penang, Malaysia
Print production, Packaging, Customer service
|Honors||Awarded $3,000 tuition scholarships from Portland State University (2017-2018)|
|Languages||English, Bahasa Malay, Chinese: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkian, Hakka|
This resume is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.
Note that the functional (skills) resume:
- Focuses on skills and experience, rather than on chronological work history
- Groups functions or skills under categories
- Describes responsibilities, accomplishments, and quantifiable achievements under categories in the skills section
- Typically opens with a brief summary/profile detailing strengths (one-three sentences)
- Demonstrates how you match the requirements of your potential job by including relevant achievements and accomplishments
Example of the Hybrid Resume Format
1234 Happy Lane, Hillsboro, Oregon 97006 · email@example.com · 971-555-1212
Electrical engineering major with experience in testing, analyzing and developing digital systems. Strong written communication skills and experience working with diverse cultural backgrounds.
Skills and Abilities
- Designed and built a pulse and breathing monitor which required over 40 hours of troubleshooting. Involved circuit design and building, and circuit analysis. Required a good knowledge of reading electrical component schematics and basic programming with an Arduino.
- Proficient in Windows, Mac, Office Suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access.
Organization and Professional Development Skills
- Coordinated finals study sessions with staff of ten math instructors and more than 100 students in attendance.
- Organized and planned community clean-up events while delegating tasks to a team of 15 students.
- Planned S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) panel consisting of six professionals from various industries, providing students the opportunity to learn about different career paths.
- Managed foreign teacher organization, communications, and hiring. Introduced innovative teaching methods to staff and created exciting classroom environments for Chinese students.
- Maintained communications between management and foreign staff using Mandarin Chinese while ensuring high teaching standards were maintained. Trained new foreign teachers as well as overseeing three education centers to verify quality of teaching.
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Oregon Tech, (2016 – 2019)
Associates of Science Degree, Portland Community College, GPA: 3.8 President’s list – 7 quarters (2013-2016)
Chinese Language, Beijing Language University, Beijing, China (2009-2010)
Math Tutor, Portland Community College, Portland, Oregon (2014 – 2016)
Gave special instruction to students to help simplify difficult math concepts and walk students through critical thinking process to solve difficult problems. Instructed students working on advanced mathematics courses.
Math Club President, Portland Community College, Portland, Oregon (2014 – 2016)
Organized finals study sessions for the college with over 100 students attending each session. Facilitated events with panels of working professionals giving students access to vital information about pursuing specific majors. Hosted weekly study sessions to help struggling students successfully pass math exams.
Data Entry Specialist, Seamless Systems, Portland, Oregon (2013 – 2014)
Maintained national database of legal documentation with extensive use of Microsoft Access.
Head Foreign Teacher and Trainer, KidsCan!, Beijing, China (2010 – 2012)
Worked with Chinese investors and management to create a training curriculum for the Hubei Province region. Instructed foreign teachers and developed fun team-building activities that created strong bonds between the staff. Mediated between foreign and Chinese staff when language barriers were present.
Anthony Swift Resume is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.
There are many reasons to choose one format over another. In brief, the chronological résumé serves candidates with a long/uninterrupted work history, in fields where the company worked for is of paramount importance. On the other hand, the functional résumé serves candidates who are transitioning between fields, candidates shifting from a military to a civilian career, or candidates who have gained skills in a variety of different settings (workplace, academic, volunteer). The hybrid resume offers the best of both worlds.
Because functional (skills) and hybrid résumé formats are the easiest to customize for a number of different potential employers, the following section of this chapter (Key Sections of a Résumé) will emphasize those formats.
Resume Sections and Guidelines
Key Sections of a Resume
Whatever format you choose, employers will expect to see certain key sections. There is some room for creativity in organization and phrasing, but make sure to be thorough. Each number in the list below corresponds to a section on the sample résumé that follows; as you read through the list, refer to the sample résumé to see how the section appears in context.
- Contact Info: Create a header that includes your address, telephone number, professional e-mail address, and possibly a Linkedin page.
- Headline (Also called Summary, Profile or Highlights of Qualifications): include a brief summary of your professional self to grab your reader’s attention. Think of this section as your “elevator pitch,” offering a quick impression of your personal brand. Include a few key (relevant) achievements/strengths (in bullets or sentences). Summary/profile sections are especially useful for candidates with a long work history, or who have experienced job transitions. Here are two formulas for a one-sentence headline:
– “Accomplished [job title]/Certified [industry] professional holding more than [x] years of experience, specializing in [x,y,z].”
– “[Field of study] graduate seeking opportunity to focus on [x,y,z,] and promote [desired company’s mission or goal].”Have you been starting your résumé with an Objective statement? These days, most experts recommend leaving the objective off your résumé entirely. Objectives too often emphasize what you want from a job, rather than what you can offer an employer, and thus are generally seen as a waste of space.
– Use sub-headers to group skills into skill set headings (management skills, customer service skills, laboratory skills, communication skills, etc.). Use targeted headings based on the qualifications your potential employer is seeking.
– Include only the most relevant, targeted skills and achievements.
– Emphasize quantifiable achievements and results: skills, equipment, money, documents, personnel, clients, etc.- Use the active voice (supervised sixteen employees, increased profits, built websites) vs. the passive voice (was responsible for supervising or duties included…)
– See the “Building a Better Bullet” section below for more information on how to craft an effective “skill bullet.”
- Employment Experience:
– List positions in reverse chronological order (most recent first).
– Include basic information for each job: job title, employer, dates employed, city/state (and country if outside the U.S.) of employment.- Include internships and skilled volunteer positions (but if you do, title the section “Experience” rather than “Employment”).
– Consider filtering work experience into “Related Experience” and “Experience” instead of one employment section to highlight most relevant jobs (and downplay less significant experience).
– Place your education section after the headline/summary section if it is recent and relevant, after the experience section if your stronger qualification is employment experience.- List the most current degree/school attended first, and proceed in reverse chronological order.
– Include the following information for each educational item: the name of the school, the school’s location, your graduation date or anticipated graduation date, the degree earned (and major if appropriate).- DO NOT include high school if you are in college unless your high school work was outstanding or unique (like a trade/technology/arts high school).
– DO include trainings and certifications (e.g. first aid certifications, sales seminars, writing groups).
– Develop this section by adding educational accomplishments:
o Your GPA (if it is 3.0 or better, and if it is expected in your industry)
o Relevant courses (if they prepared you for the job)
o Special accomplishments (conferences, special papers/projects, clubs, offices held, service to the school)
o Awards and scholarships (could also be separate section – Honors)
6. Optional Sections (not included in Figure 5):
– Volunteer Work: List skilled volunteer work (building websites, teaching classes) under skills, along with your other qualifications, but include general volunteer work (making meals for a soup kitchen, etc.) toward the end of your resume in its own section or under activities.
o DON’T include a section titled “Hobbies” or “Other,” with irrelevant interests.
o DO include interests that may be relevant to the position, but aren’t professional skills (sports for Nike, Eagle Scouting for leadership, golfing for business jobs, game design/play for game design jobs, blogging for PR jobs). Market yourself in the best light.
o DO include honors, awards, publications, conferences attended, languages spoken, etc. You may choose to include a separate honors section or fold these into your skills/achievements section.
7. References: Do not list references on your résumé. Instead, give a separate sheet at the employer’s request. Generally, three references are sufficient. The most important references are your superiors, but you can also use co-workers, clients, or instructors. Contact each person to verify his/her willingness to act as a reference for you. Your reference sheet should match the look of your cover letter and your résumé.
|MIA SANTIAGO123 Four Street · City 10110 · 123.456.7890
firstname.lastname@example.org · www.website.com
|PROFILE||Business student with extensive retail experience and award-winning customer service skills. Successfully implemented social media presence and branding to improve sales. Strong written communication and graphic design background. Fluent in Spanish.||←2|
|EDUCATION||A.A.S. Business (Will Graduate 2018)
Portland Community CollegeAdditional Coursework in Graphic Design
Great Sales Seminar, 2015, 2016
Customer Service Training, Macy’s, 2015
|EXPERIENCE||Retail Associate, Macy’s, Portland, OR Dec 15 – presentSales Representative, Target, Portland, OR Sept 14 – Dec 15
Server, Otis Café, Lincoln City, OR Jan 12 – Sep 14
The following tips will help you write a résumé that adheres to the conventions employers expect while ditching fluff in favor of expertise.
Using “Me” and “I”:
The convention in a résumé is to write in sentence fragments that begin with active verbs. Therefore, you can leave out the subjects of sentences. Example: “I eliminated the duplication of paperwork in my department by streamlining procedures” would become “Eliminated paperwork duplication in a struggling department by streamlining procedures.”
The more you can present your skills and achievements in detail, especially quantifiable detail, the more authoritative you will sound. This means including references to technologies and equipment you have used; types of documents you have produced; procedures you have followed; languages you speak; amounts of money you have handled; numbers of employees you have supervised or trained; numbers of students you have taught; technical languages you know; types of clients you have worked with (cultural backgrounds, ages, disability status – demographic information that might be relevant in your new workplace); graphic design, blogging or social media skills; and so on.
Filler Words (Fluff):
Avoid generic, filler words that can be found on many resumes and don’t suggest meaningful skills. Filler words include: “team player,” “results-oriented,” “duties include,” “fast-paced,” and “self-motivated.” If you MUST use these phrases, find concrete examples to back them up. For example, instead of using “team player,” include a time you collaborated with peers to earn a good grade on a project, save your company money, or put on a successful work event.
In at least one place in your resume, preferably more, make mention of a positive impact (or result) of your skills/achievements. How did you create positive change for your employer, coworkers or customers? Did you resolve a customer complaint successfully? Did you make a change that saved your employer money? Did you build a website that increased traffic to your client? Did you follow procedures safely and reduce workplace injuries?
Building a Better Bullet (Two Skill Bullet Formulas):
Each skill bullet may need to go through a few revisions before it shines. Here are two formulas to help you strengthen your bullets:
Formula 1: Verb + Details = Results
Start your bullet with an action verb describing a skill or achievement. Follow it with the details of that skill or achievement, and then describe the positive impact of your achievement. For example:
- Developed (VERB) new paper flow procedure (DETAILS), resulting in reduced staff errors and customer wait times (RESULT)
- Provided (VERB) friendly customer-focused service (DETAILS) leading to customer satisfaction and loyalty (RESULT)
- Organized (VERB) fundraising event (DETAILS) generating $xxx dollars for nonprofit (RESULT)
- Provided (VERB) phone and in person support for patients with various chronic and acute health issues (DETAILS & RESULT COMBINED)
- Supported (VERB) 8-10 staff with calendaring, files and reception (DETAILS), increasing efficiency in workflow (RESULT)
Formula 2: Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]
Develop your bullets by going into detail about how you accomplished what you have accomplished and why it matters to your potential employer. Compare the following three versions of the same skill bullet:
- First Draft: Participated in a leadership program
- Second Draft: Selected as one of 125 for year-long professional development program for high-achieving business students
- Final Draft: Selected as one of 125 participants nationwide for year-long professional development program for high-achieving business students based on leadership potential and academic success
Note how the third version is not only the most specific, but it is the one that most demonstrates the “so what” factor, conveying how the applicant’s skills will benefit the potential employer.
Remember, use key terms you gathered in your pre-writing, preparation phase (from the job description, research into your field, and the “action verb” list presented earlier in this chapter). If your potential employer is using a résumé -scanning program, these key terms may make the difference between getting an interview or a rejection.
Résumé length is a much-debated question, and guidelines change as the genre changes with time. In general, the length of a résumé should be no longer than one or (at most) two pages (and each page should be full — no 1.5 page résumés). Some fields, however, may have different length conventions (academic resumes, for example, which include publications and conference attendance, tend to be longer). If your resume is on the longer side, your work history should justify the length. Some experts recommend one page per ten years of work history; while that may be extreme, it is better to cut weaker material than to add filler.
Résumé design should enhance the content, making it easy for the reader to quickly find the most significant and relevant information. See the chapters on Document Design for overall design tips.
A few general guidelines:
- Templates are handy, but bear in mind that if you use a common template, your résumé will look identical to a number of others.
- Use tables to align sections, then hide the borders to create a neat presentation.
- Use ten-twelve point font.
- Don’t use too many design features — be strategic and consistent in your use of capitalization, bold, italics, and underline.
- To create visual groupings of information, always use more space between sections than within a section. This way your reader will be able to easily distinguish between the key sections of your résumé, and between the items in each section.
- Use the same font in your résumé and your cover letter to create coherence.
You may find that there are certain conventions in your field or industry that affect your choices in writing your résumé. Length, formality, design, delivery method, and key terms are just some of the factors that may vary across disciplines. Ask faculty or professional contacts in your field about employers’ expectations, visit your school’s career center, or conduct web research to make informed field-specific choices.
In the era of social media, the idea of writing a cover letter to introduce your resume may seem outdated. However, the cover letter still serves a few critical functions. If the resume is characterized by breadth (giving a broad overview of your qualifications), the cover letter is characterized by depth (choosing a few most significant qualifications to cover in detail). Written in paragraphs rather than bullet points, the cover letter is the first writing sample your employer will see from you. In paragraphed prose, it is easier to market your unique qualifications and how you will fit in with the culture of the company. An effective cover letter will create a picture of you as a potential employee, and inspire a potential employer to learn more about you.
Keep the following tips in mind as you write your cover letter:
- Your cover letter is essentially an argument for why you should be granted an interview. Make sure to support the claim that you are qualified for the position with evidence. Demonstrate your authority by speaking in detail about your qualifications, and SHOW the reader that you have the skills and abilities necessary to do the job at hand. The more detail you offer and the more precise your language is, the more the reader will be able to picture you doing the job. See the sample cover letter below for examples of “showing.”
- Use your audience analysis research to help you connect with the company and to choose the appropriate tone, level of formality, and level of technicality.
- Follow the format for professional letters found in the Professional Communications chapter.
A general outline for cover letters:
- Salutation: Make your best attempt to find a specific name (or at least the job title) of the person to whom you should address this letter. If you cannot find the name, you may address the letter “Dear Hiring Manager.”
- Opening Paragraph: State why you are writing, specifically naming the position to which you are applying. Indicate how you learned about the position (networking if you can). In one sentence, use your audience analysis research to establish a connection with the company. Finally, in one sentence, summarize your strongest qualification/s for the job.
- Body Paragraph(s): Build each paragraph around a key qualification or professional strength that relates to the job for which you are applying. Open the paragraph with a claim about this qualification/strength, and then provide a developed illustration of a time in your work or academic history when you used/excelled at this skill, or used it to benefit others. For example, if the job requires excellent customer service skills, you might discuss a time in which you used your customer service skills to diffuse a conflict or increase your company’s profits. It can be effective to conclude your middle paragraphs with sentences that express how these past experiences prepare you for the potential job.
- Closing Paragraph: Thank the reader for his or her time and consideration. Gesture towards an interview. You may explicitly request an interview, or you may wish to include a phrase like “I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you in person, soon.” If there is any information the reader should know about getting in touch with you, include it; if your phone number and email address do not appear elsewhere in the cover letter, include them here. You may refer the reader to your enclosed resume.
Sample Cover Letter
|12248 SE Wilderness Dr.
Portland, OR 97214April 29, 2017Mr. Doug Jones
Director of Human Resources
600 Minnow Lane
Seattle, WA 12345Dear Mr. Jones:
|At Portland State University’s computer science job fair on April 9, 2017, I met with your representative, Ms. Karen Lincoln, regarding your entry-level Database Administrator opening. Not only am I a DBA and SQA certified CIS specialist, but I also have over a decade of experience in the steel and manufacturing industry EVZ specializes in. My strong manufacturing and technological background prepares me to help EVZ continue your impressive track record of safety improvements.||Introductory ParagraphYour introduction should discuss the following:
– The title of the job for which you are applying
– Where you heard about the position
– A connection with the organization and its goals
– How your experience matches the position
– How you will help the organization achieve its goals
|From my conversation with Ms. Lincoln and your online information, it’s clear you are looking for someone who not only has technical skills, but who understands the steel industry. Within six months at United Steel Mill, I was promoted from Clerk to Machine Operator, largely as a result of my attention to detail and ability to collaborate. In three years, I had worked my way up to Plant Safety Coordinator, Quality Control Database Administrator, and Floor Trainer. While in those roles, I implemented a plant-wide safety program, saving my company roughly $15 million in recovered product, and reducing accidents by over 25%. In addition to demonstrating my understanding of the steel industry, this experience demonstrates the kinds of skills EVZ seeks: accuracy, integrity, and strong problem-solving skills.||Body Paragraph 1This paragraph should discuss the following:
– More connection with company goals/mission
– Support for your claim that you can help them achieve goals/mission
– Specific example based on information in résumé
– How you will help the organization
|I have a BA degree in Computer Information Systems and an AAS in Network Administration; through my experiences, I have become very familiar with all aspects of Database Administration. In my position as Database Intern for Work Inc., I enrolled users, maintained system security, and monitored user access to the database, with 30-40 concurrent users at any given time. At Portland State, I maintained a 4.0 GPA, was admitted to Phi Theta Kappa, and was placed on the President’s List every term – a standard I will bring to EVZ.||Body Paragraph 2This paragraph should discuss the following:
– More detail on position requirements
– More detail supporting your claim that your experience fulfills these requirements
– Specific example based on information in résumé
– How you will help the organization
|EVZ has grown rapidly for twenty years, and I would like to speak with you to discuss how my experience can aid your commitment to improving safety, quality and processes as you continue to grow. Enclosed is my resume, and you can reach me at 503-555-6237 or email@example.com with questions. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you soon.||Closing ParagraphThis paragraph should do the following:
– State your main objective: an interview
– Provide contact information
– Close the letter in a professional manner, thanking the reader
– Provide signature block
– Provide enclosure information
Submitting Your Materials
Once you are ready to send out your materials, remember the following guidelines:
- Proofread carefully! Do not rely on Spell-check alone. Proofread by reading your work backward one sentence at a time (using this strategy helps you focus on sentence-level writing rather than on content and “flow”). Ask a few friends to help you proofread before you send it out.
- Make sure your verb tense, font, and design choices stay consistent throughout.
- If you are submitting your documents as hard copies, use high-quality paper.
- If you are submitting your documents electronically, consider saving your documents as PDF files, so that the formatting is preserved (PDF files are also widely readable).
- If you are e-mailing your materials:
- Send the materials as attachments to a brief, introductory e-mail.
- Consider ALSO including the résumé in the body of the e-mail (in case the employer is wary of attachments).
- Do not replace a job application letter with an e-mail. Job application letters are formal enough to warrant formal letter format.
- Send a copy to yourself first to make sure it opens and is formatted properly.
You may be thinking that it sounds like a lot of work to create a new set of employment materials for every job opening you have identified. While it is true that it takes time and effort to customize, you do not have to create a new resume and cover letter from scratch for every job opening. Instead, you can create “modular” materials with moving parts that you can simply adapt and reorganize for each job.
For example, let’s say you are a nursing student, and you are looking to work in a related field while you are in school. You might be happy as an administrative assistant in a clinical setting, as a medical translator, or as a biology tutor. If you use the functional (skills) resume format, you might create 3 different “templates” of your résumé that each emphasizes and expands upon different skill categories, administrative, communication, and educational. Each of these résumés, however, would stress your medical background.
The same holds true with the cover letter. Once you have a draft cover letter, you can work with it as a template for numerous other jobs, keeping the overall format but revising some key sentences. It is quite likely that the final paragraph of your cover letters will never change. The central paragraphs, on the other hand, may undergo substantial revision, depending on how different one potential job is from another. Just make sure to always change the name of the potential employer; no matter what the skill level of the potential job, addressing a potential employer by the wrong name is the surest way to remove your application from consideration.
Résumés and cover letters are two documents in an “ecology” of documents related to the employment process: job descriptions, interview questions, the thank-you note you send after an interview, writing samples, and hiring materials are just a few other documents you might find yourself reading and writing as your hiring process moves forward.