Resumes and Cover Letters

Created by: Katie Smith, 2012-2013 Career Advising Fellow

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I’ve found myself talking about resumes and cover letters a lot lately. I presented on the topic last weekend for the 160-member sorority chapter of Phi Mu, on Monday for the Math and Statistics Transitions Strategies course that I am currently co-teaching with faculty member Lisa Rosenberg, and yesterday for the Leadership Transitions Strategies course taught by Steve Mencarini and Janis Baughman. Many students are working on these documents as they apply for on-campus opportunities such as the coveted University Guide position in the Admissions Office and in preparation for the upcoming spring break. Further, Mikki and I are currently in the midst of reviewing the resumes and cover letters of Career Fellow candidates for the 2013-2014 academic year, and lastly, the two of us continue to polish our own documents as we prepare for our next steps.

Although a well-written resume and cover letter are crucial to a job search, many students do not learn how to create these documents prior to their interaction with career services at the college level. In reflection of the conversations that I have most frequently on these topics, I wanted to share some general resume tips for students:

  • Be sure to not only list your experiences, but also to provide details (typically in the form of bullet points) describing what you did at the job/internship/leadership role, your accomplishments, and the skills that you gained.
  • When recounting experiences on your resume, be specific. Compare “assisted with fundraising” to “assisted with the creation and execution of a campus-wide philanthropy event, raising over $2,000.” The second phrase is more specific, and much stronger.
  • Resume formatting should be consistent and clean.
  •  Sections should be arranged to highlight your most relevant experiences at the top of your resume.
  • Undergraduate resumes should be kept to one page.

For cover letters:

  • Try to address the letter to a specific person. If you cannot find a person’s name, addressing the letter to the company or department you are applying to is typically better than “To Whom it May Concern.”
  • Your cover letter should focus on how you will benefit the position and the company instead of how the position will benefit you.
  • Each cover letter should be different and catered to the company, the position, and the job description.
  • A cover letter is not a duplication of a resume. Instead, it should highlight a few of your most relevant experiences, providing additional detail and drawing direct parallels between past experiences and the opportunity to which you are applying.

There are, of course, probably one hundred more tips that I could list above for each, which is why it’s a good idea for students to visit the Student Professional Development Center early and often. It is our hope that first year students will use our services, establishing a strong foundation for continuing to build experience and articulate skills in a professional manner. Additionally, students who use our services early in their academic careers still have time to consider how they want to shape their time at Elon. What do underclass students want their resumes and cover letters to look like once they are seniors? How can they get there? We’re happy to work with students to answer any of these questions.

While reviewing resumes and cover letters is a crucial part of our job, a great deal goes into preparing students for opportunities related to their professional interests. Establishing an excellent resume and cover letter is just the start.

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