Your resume and cover letter represent you. A good cover letter and resume translate to an opportunity to make a good first impression on a potential employer. You want to make sure that your resume and cover letter meet professional guidelines and adequately and accurately reflect your skills and your desire to contribute to the team. By following the tips and guidelines below, you’ll have a resume and cover letter that stand out among the rest!

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Rules for creating a resume 

  • Communicate clearly. Substitute short words for long ones. Your average sentence should be 10-20 words. Any sentence longer than 20 words should be shortened or broken into two sentences. Paragraphs should be under five lines with many considerably shorter
  • Select the right format for your needs (chronological, functional or a combination of chronological and functional)
  • Don't just state job responsibilities. Emphasize accomplishments and results
  • Use action verbs in paragraphs and sentences. For instance, instead of saying that you were "responsible for managing 4 buyers" say that you "trained 4 buyers in direct mail and catalog fulfillment techniques increasing net sales 12% and maximizing staff potential"
  • Draft, revise, and proofread at least three times before you finalize. It's usually a good idea to show someone else your draft to get suggestions. Remember you are striving to create a perfect document. Don't rush it
  • Eliminate extraneous information. Ask yourself if you can cut any paragraphs, sentences, or words. See if you have repeated yourself. If in doubt, cut it out and leave nothing but facts and action words. If you cut too much you can put it back in later
  • The accepted rules for length are one page for every ten years of your experience. If you have more than twenty years however, you don't want to appear steeped in the annuals of ancient history so do not exceed the two page mark in any event

Visual impact

  • No typographical errors
  • If hardcopy is preferred (rather than an attachment sent via email), paper should be white, buff or light grey only
  • Layout should have a varied type style with some "white space"
  • Use boldface and italics to highlight specific information
  • Do not include your picture on your resume

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What to include on your resume

Name: Give your first and last name. It isn't necessary to include your middle name. Even if you are known by your initials (J.R.), don't use them on a resume.

Address: Always give your complete address. Do not abbreviate unless space restrictions make it mandatory. If you must abbreviate St. or Apt., be consistent. The state of your residence, however, is always abbreviated to two capitalized letters (NJ), according to post office standards. Always include the correct zip code.

Telephone number: Always include your telephone number and area code.

Email address: If you have an email address, include that after your phone number.

Job, employment or career objective: All are acceptable terms for this objective. Regardless of the heading, this traditionally is one or two sentences about the kind of job you want and what you can contribute in return for such a job. This is optional depending, in part, on the style of resume you choose. A functional resume almost demands one. In a chronological resume, it has pluses and minuses. A plus is that it gives the resume a focus. A minus is that it can be too constricting and exclude you from consideration from jobs you might have been interested in or for which you might be qualified.

Education: Educational history, such as schools, degrees, accreditations, licenses and/or special training courses should be listed whenever it helps your case. The positioning on the resume will vary according to your circumstances. If you are recently out of school with little experience, put your educational credentials near the beginning of the resume. As you gain experience your academic credentials become less important and can slip toward the end. The exception would be certain professions, such as medicine, where academic qualifications dominate a person's career.

Work experience: This includes paid employment as well as non-paid or volunteer experiences, internships or work. Here you list not only your responsibilities but also your special achievements and other contributions. It is generally expected that the names of your employers as well as employment dates will be included.

Professional affiliations: Memberships, offices held, projects and certifications with associations and societies dedicated to your field should be included. Omit references to any religious, political or non-job-related affiliation.

Special skills: If you are fluent in a foreign language, computer operations or possess a potentially marketable skill, you may want to mention it.

What not to include on your resume (Leave this information off your resume) 

Reasons for leaving a job: There is no real point in stating your reasons for leaving a job on a resume. The topic is always covered during an interview anyway and mentioning it in advance can only damage your chances for being called for an interview.

Salary requirements or history: Unless the position states that salary information MUST be included for your resume to be considered, do not include it. Even then, give a range such as "over the last five years, my salary ranged from $35,000- $42,000." Too high or too low a salary can knock you out of the running before you start. If you feel obligated to give salary requirements, simply write "competitive" or "negotiable" and include it in your cover letter.

Potentially discriminatory information: Leave out any reference to age, race, religion, national origin, marital status, height or weight.

Titles such as resume, fact sheet, curriculum vitae (CV) etc.: The appearance of these titles or labels is redundant and should not be used as a heading on a resume. It should be very evident from the look of your piece of paper that it is a resume.

References: Be prepared with a list of references but do not include a statement or the actual names in the resume.

Any potentially negative information about you: Any weaknesses, lack of qualifications, handicaps or information about what you can't do or don't know should not be included. Neither should past prison terms, lost lawsuits or anything likely to be detrimental to your cause.

Avoid statements which would allow the reader to make judgments about you on subjects that are unrelated to the skills and abilities related to your job performance. 

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Resume Formats

Chronological format

  • Experience and accomplishments are organized by employer and dates, starting with your most recent job and working backward
  • The most recent employment experience, unless very brief, takes up the most space
  • If more than three or four jobs are represented, the earlier ones can be lumped together to avoid repetition

Advantages

  • Emphasizes continuity and career growth
  • Highlights position and titles
  • Easy to read and to follow
  • Most popular and accepted format by recruiters and hiring managers

Disadvantages

  • Not appropriate if you're changing career direction or organizations
  • Highlights lack of experience
  • Calls attention to gaps in employment history

Click here for samples of resumes produced using the chronological format.

Functional format

  • Accomplishments and experience are organized under functional or topical headings
  • The functional topic most pertinent to the next job is at the top, followed by at least one other function
  • There must be at least one functional category to describe your most recent job experience
  • The chronology of employers, job titles and dates is written below the functional categories

Advantages

  • Emphasizes strengths
  • Focuses attention where you want it
  • Allows you to include non-work related experience
  • Supports a new job target by organizing experience related to your target separately from your most recent work or job title
  • Conceals periods of unemployment

Disadvantages

  • Less commonly used format than chronological and less popular with recruiters
  • Downplays direct experience in specific jobs

Click here for samples of resumes produced using the functional format.

Combination chronological-functional format

  • Combines elements of both the chronological and functional resumes
  • Usually includes a career summary to describe skills, achievements and personal traits
  • Starts out like the functional resume that highlights job achievements without reference to employers
  • Also, like the functional resume, it focuses on the professional skills you have developed rather than on when, where or how you acquired them
  • In the latter half, it switches to a chronological approach with names, companies, dates, titles, duties and responsibilities

Advantages

  • Has the strength and flexibility that comes from combining both the chronological and functional formats
  • Can be a powerful showcase for upwardly mobile types with a strong performance record behind them

Disadvantages

  • Requires a focused and clear employment objective to be effective
  • Not appropriate if you are just looking for a job, any job

Click here for samples of resumes produced using the combined format.

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Writing Accomplishment Statements 

You are selling your skills and accomplishments in your resume, so it is important to put your achievements in the best possible light. Avoid subjective statements such as "I am a hard worker" or "I always got along well with my coworkers." In fact, the words "I" and "my" should be avoided altogether. These words are repetitious and tend to clutter your resume with unnecessary words. Instead, start your resume sentences with relevant action words to spruce up your resume and give it impact. It's perfectly acceptable, even preferred, to write incomplete sentences on a resume.

Instead of: "I have researched and written online help manuals."

A better example would be, "Created and developed three online help manuals currently utilized by over 200 users."

Instead of: "My staff performed well under my supervision and I always made budget."

A better example would be, "Led a staff of six to the successful completion of four critical targeted goals while remaining 3% under budget."

Try to put in quantifying numbers and percentages whenever you can but it is important to remember that you must always remain honest. Don't exaggerate your achievements to the point of misrepresentation. Most organizations will immediately drop an applicant from consideration (or fire a current employee) upon discovering inaccurate or untrue information on a resume or other application material.

Click here to view more examples of accomplishment statements.

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Cover Letters 

Always include a cover letter with your resume. This is your opportunity to showcase some personal information about yourself which cannot be done in a resume. You can also point out one or two of your strongest skills or accomplishments that directly relate to the position you are seeking.

If you can get the name of a specific person to send the letter to, address it directly to that person. You should call the organization to verify the spelling of the person's name, correct title and mailing address. If you have been given a personal referral by a third party, include his or her name in the letter.

Type cover letters in full. Print them on the same color and same high quality paper as your resume.

Cover letter Do's and Don'ts

  • Do keep your cover letter brief and to the point
  • Do be sure it is error-free
  • Do accentuate what you can offer the organization and what you hope to gain from them
  • Do be sure your phone number, address and email is on the cover letter in case it gets separated from your resume
  • Do sign your cover letter. Blue or black ink are both fine. Do not use red ink
  • Don't just repeat information verbatim from your resume
  • Don't overuse the personal pronoun "I"
  • Don't send a generic cover letter. Show your particular knowledge of and interest in that specific organization

Click here to view a cover letter template.

Click here to view a sample cover letter.

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