Resumes, Cover Letters, and References

Resumes

Your resume is your chief marketing tool that provides employers, graduate schools, scholarship committees, and others with a first impression of your qualifications. Resumes must be detailed yet concise and easily skimmed; they should give details on your education and relevant experiences (e.g., work, involvement, research, projects). There is no one definitive resume format – sections and formatting should be customized to your discipline – but use the following tips and template to get started on or refine your resume:

  • Begin with a Word or Google Doc document and save as .docx or .pdf
  • Avoid templates, columns, tables, text boxes, images, and other elements that can’t be parsed by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
  • Fill one page if you are an undergraduate student; two pages are acceptable if you are a graduate student
  • Use a modern and clean, size 10-12 font for your text
  • Be consistent with your text formatting between entries and sections
  • Order experiences in reverse chronological order (most recent at top) within sections
  • Balance your text from top to bottom and left to right; the most relevant sections should be at the top
  • Use bullet points for descriptions of experiences; avoid paragraphs and utilize action verbs to begin each bullet point
    • Include 3-5 bullets for highly-related experiences, 2-3 for less-related
    • Vary the verb tense of your action verb – current positions = present tense, completed positions = past tense
    • Skills-based bullet points = task + transferable skill + result (or scope/impact)
  • Customize your resume to the application: rearrange sections, swap out keywords, add/remove content based on relevancy

Learn More in LAS 203

Arts ResumeCommunication ResumeComputation Resume
Humanities ResumeMathematics ResumeScience Resume
Social Science ResumeFreshman ResumeGraduate Student Resume

Curriculum Vitae (CVs) are used by graduate students to obtain positions in academia and sometimes in advanced industry research. However, two-page resumes are most appropriate for graduate students who are looking to work in industry.

Cover Letters

With the exception of career fairs, you should include a tailored cover letter with your resume submission to explain your qualifications for a position and demonstrate how your unique abilities meet the skills needed in the role and add value to the organization. Cover letters are a chance to connect the dots between your experience and the job, to tell your professional story, and to provide the employer with a sample of your writing.

  • Cover Letter Outline with Tips
  • Sample Cover Letters (with job description analyses):
  • Sample Prospecting Cover Letter – A prospecting letter is a type of cover letter that you can send if you find an employer of interest but are not aware of a specific job opening. You need to make a strong case for how your skills can contribute to the organization’s specific needs/priorities. Research the organization through sources such as their website, their press releases, and their employees’ LinkedIn profiles.

References

Most employers will ask for a list of 3-5 references either as a part of your application or once you are a top candidate. The employer will call, email, or send a questionnaire to these people to learn more about your work history, professionalism, and likelihood of succeeding in their job. You want references who can be strong advocates for you and your potential, so be sure that you:

  • Select references who will speak well of your work ethic and professionalism
  • Do not have all of your references from the same organization and do not use relatives or clergy
    • Your current or previous supervisor is often a reference, but if your employer does not know you’re searching or it was a discriminatory or unsupportive environment, don’t include them
  • Always ask permission before giving a reference’s name and clarify which contact information they want to be shared with an employer
  • Send your resume, cover letter, and job description(s) to your references – when potential employers call, this will make it easier for your references to speak about you in detail

Letters of recommendation are more common for graduate school applications, but the same protocol of selecting references and keeping them informed applies.

Sample List of References