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Resumes & Cover Letters

Kogod Center for Career Development Resumes

Guidelines to a Great Resume

Use these resources and suggestions to better improve your resume and cover letter.

Your Resume

A resumé, literally translates to "summary" in French. In fact, it is a brief summary of your experiences and qualifications, as they relate to a position and employer you are applying to. On the other hand, a CV - or Curriculum Vitae - is Latin for "life course", meaning the sum of your life experiences. In the United States, and in many Western countries, a resume is the standard document you present to prospective employers.

Why a resume?
An employer who has to fill an internship or full time job has a problem. It is likely that the company is understaffed and is operating outside of its comfort zone. The posted job description articulates the company's needs in the form of a new employee who will be the answer to this problem. Your resume should clearly identify you as the solution to their problem in a clear and concise manner.

Where to begin?
Considering that most resumes should be no more than a page, the onus is on you to keep the content easy to read and pertinent to the employer you are trying to impress. With this in mind, consider what kind of information your future employer will want to find on your resume. What experiences do you need to highlight? What skills do they need you to possess? What do they need to know about your education?

Resume Guidelines

General Formatting

  • A resume should be in Garamond, Times New Roman, or Arial fonts in a 10 to 12 point size.
  • The general layout from top to bottom is: Name, Contact information, Education, Experience, Activities, Skills.
  • Dates should be right-justified as opposed to right-aligned. Avoid tabbing or spacing dates, as those who review resumes frequently will notice.  
  • Your resume should be no longer than one page.
  • Note that most recruiters and hiring managers spend about eight seconds on average looking at a resume. This means that they will scan your resume and only glean a small amount of information from it before they make a decision to hold on to it or not. 
  • Your resume should be easy to navigate and have the most pertinent information about you at the top. In most cases, that will be your education, whereas if you have already worked in the field you are applying to, you may want to put your experience first.

Cover Letter Guidelines

A cover letter is your chance to sell the employer on how your skills and experiences make you the best candidate for the job. A well written cover letter can be a determining factor in a recruiter’s decision to pursue you as a candidate.

What you need to know...

  • 90% of cover letters sound exactly the same. The first paragraph is an introduction to you and how you heard about the position. The second and third a monologue about how wonderful you are, and the final paragraph a conclusion with an invitation to contact you.
  • The above mentioned cover letter often is actually a template that job seekers use and change around a few words depending on the employer they are approaching. Recruiters can detect when they are receiving a template rather than a letter and will quickly dismiss the applicant's candidacy when they do.
  • To avoid being part of the majority that never gets their resume read, consider making your second paragraph an explanation of how you share common values with the company, or why you want to work at that company, independently of the job you are applying for. Note that this is not an invitation for you to regurgitate what's on the company’s "About Us" page. You must demonstrate that you know how you fit in at the company.
  • Additionally, your third paragraph should make a case for how you meet or exceed the major requirements of the job description. Feel free to back up what you are saying with examples of quantitative and qualitative successes, both professionally and academically.