Writing Resumes and Cover Letters

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Nov 18, 2010 in , , | 6 Comments

The Art of Crafting a Resume

Writing a resume can easily be described as crafting a tool used to market yourself. It is much more than a list of education, work experience, and volunteer endeavors, it is a way to convey your value to a potential employer–both present and future. Taking the time to craft a winning resume will be well worth the effort, since this is the first introduction of who you are and what capabilities you possess, to those that do the hiring.

Most college students have little, if any, on-the-job experience to include on a resume. But taking what you have and presenting it properly–basically playing up strengths and minimizing weaknesses–you can put together a resume that will get attention. By using volunteer work, extra curricular school activities, and summer job experience, it is possible to put together a stunning resume.

Seasoned professionals may not have an updated resume and cover letter. Things have changed in recent years and knowing exactly how to write your resume to get your foot in the door is essential now. Most people list their duties, not highlighting what they’ve accomplished in their long careers, which is valuable. Depending on your industry and the position you are applying for, you will need to gear your resume and cover letter to suit that specific need. On average, a hiring manager takes only seconds to look at a cover letter and resume combined. Unless you are one of the “Captains of Industry”, your resume should be never more than one or two pages long. With the unemployment rate inching up, you need to have the edge.

I have had people ask if they should have a professional resume writer produce their resume. My advice echoes Michael Farr’s (known as the job search “guru”), and that is, “you are the best writer for that job”. Professional resume writers don’t often use much of the lingo associated with certain industries, which is necessary on your resume. By writing your own, you will prepare yourself for your interview by reviewing all of your skills and experience. Besides that, resume writers usually charge a hefty fee for their service.

Here is a to-do list to help you:

1.) Your top priority is to obtain good resources to assist you, “Gallery of Best Resumes for People Without a Four-Year Degree” (2009), by David F. Noble, PhD., is a good place to start if you haven’t graduated yet. Additionally, make sure to pick up Michael Farr’s books on this subject.

2.) Carve out a couple hours of quiet time. Turn off the cell phone! Let family and friends know you will not be available for a while so you can concentrate your efforts. Gather up all documentation you have of work, volunteer experience, and school activities. Hopefully, you have kept this important information in a file specifically for this time. If you don’t have a file set aside for your resume writing, begin one today, and keep it in a safe place. This is a file you will build throughout your working lifetime.

3.) Read and complete the exercises in Farr’s books. These will enable you to put together your personal information in a much more organized professional manner. Pay close attention to chapters that identify your key skills, document your experience and accomplishments.

4.) After you have completed the exercises, it is easy to see how much more there is available to work with now. What is in front of you will enable you to go on to the next steps. Notice there are categories on the resume samples in the books; objective, work history, and education (some resumes have more categories, others leave off objective).

Using the helpful hints in the books, begin to fill in those categories based on the information you have gathered. This will be your first draft. Use what you’ve read, adding and deleting from your draft, to create the end result–a great resume. Remember, this is a means to “sell yourself”, or market what you have to offer–don’t be shy.

When you have finished, have several people critique it, especially someone with experience writing resumes, a professional at a career center is an excellent choice. Take into consideration what they have suggested and change what needs to be changed. When you feel your resume is “perfect”, get one last critique. Compare what your final product looks like to what is in the books–do they look very similar? If so, congratulations!

Your final decision will be to choose what type of paper to use. Make it simple, go to your local business supply store and ask to see the paper used for this purpose. They should have a few you may compare–feel the paper–you can tell the difference between a high quality sheet and one used in your copier. It’s not necessary to spend a small fortune, or buy a large quantity either.

The Importance of a Cover Letter

Cover letters have gotten a bad reputation in the past. Some people believed they were only “throw-aways”, never read by potential employers, while others thought cover letters were not as valuable as the resume itself. Most experts in the field concur–the cover letter is equally important as the resume–which is precisely why it deserves the same attention.

Both Farr’s and Noble’s books go into great detail about the best way to construct a cover letter. Again, if you follow my suggestions in 1-4 above for the cover letter, your final product will be an excellent companion to your resume.

Your cover letter may be viewed as highlights of the best of your resume while inclusion of evidence you are qualified for the job in question. The opening lines need to let the reader know why you are writing them, be specific. What position or department do you want to work in? What skills and experience do you have that fit what they are seeking? These are just two questions to consider when putting together your cover letter. Use their terminology describing the job you are applying for.

Be sure to use the same paper purchased for your resume on the cover letter, giving you a professional looking matching set, don’t forget the matching envelopes. Properly addressing your envelope and the heading of the cover letter is essential. Do be sure to get the correct spelling of the company name, name of person it is addressed to, and full address.

Remember, the time you take to carefully and skillfully construct your resume and cover letter pays off in the calls you receive for an interview.

©2009 Judy Anne Cavey, who resides in the S.F. Bay Area of California, is a credentialed, certified, higher education instructor who taught Work Experience/Cooperative Education and ESL at three community colleges. She is also a freelance writer and grant writer currently authoring a textbook, has designed other learning programs, and worked with several nonprofits. Her Edublog, “Work Experience”, is a not-for-profit endeavor designed to assist job seekers of all ages. http://workforcedevelopment.edublogs.org/