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How to Write a Professional Resume and Cover Letter

How to Create a Professional Resume and Cover Letter

Just thinking about creating a resume is enough to make some people want to stick their heads in the sand. It can definitely be time-consuming and stress-inducing, but having a well-written resume is an important means to an end. A killer resume impresses hiring managers and can lead to a job offer. Here’s how to create one that does just that.

Why Resumes Are important

The job market is highly competitive, and you only have one shot to make an impression powerful enough to warrant an interview. Your resume needs to capture the attention of the hiring manager or employer within seconds.

Your resume should list your key selling points: your education, experience, and other relevant information showing off who you are as a professional in your field. It only takes about 8-10 seconds for an employer to decide whether or not to invite you in for an interview. Every word on your resume needs to be impactful. Let's take a look at what's involved.

Picking the Perfect Resume Format

There are four different types of resume formats to consider. You need to be able to choose which one will work best with your type of experience and background.

  • Chronological: This is the traditional, and most popular, type of resume for job seekers. It’s also the preferred style by most employers, because it gives a quick look into your history, in chronological order. It shows off your work history more than the actual skills you bring to the table (or office, or cubicle). If you’ve had a stable career, the chronological resume is best suited for you.
  • Functional: The functional resume structure highlights your experience and skills as opposed to your employment history. If you’ve had gaps in your employment, this may be the format for you.
  • Combination: The combination resume joins a chronological format with a listing of your skills and experience. It paints a detailed picture of who you are as an employee, and it’s the perfect structure to use if you have extensive work experience.
  • Targeted: This type of resume is tailored specifically toward the job you’re hoping to get an interview for. Creatives oftentimes use the targeted approach to show the employer that their experience aligns with the job description.

How to Choose Between Past & Present, and First & Third

When writing a resume, it’s sometimes hard to determine which tense to use. It shouldn’t be too difficult, though. You’ll use present tense if you’re still employed (and obviously looking for a new job). With present tense, you'll list responsibilities you have where you currently work.

Use past tense when listing something for your current job that you no longer do, or tasks or previous jobs you have had.

First person, active, verbs are words like: manage, create, train, influence, volunteer, etc. They are more interesting and engaging than most other verb forms, especially for the purpose of resume writing. And, of course, if you want to use past tense, you simply add an -ed at the end in most cases. For example: managed, created, trained; you get the picture!

Tip: When in doubt, stay tense-consistent by using past tense.

How to Structure Your Resume

How To Structure Your Resume

Once you’ve picked the format you’re going to use, you now need to put your resume in proper form. Follow a definite outline. What you’ve done in your career is what will determine how long your resume is going to be, but if you can, keep it to no more than one page.

  • Header: You’ll put your name (first, middle initial, and last) in bold print to make it stand out. You don’t want anyone missing your name, that’s for certain. Underneath your name, put your address, phone number, and your email. Also add your professional website or online portfolio, if you have one.
    • John D. Smith (here you bold and increase the font size to 14 or 16)
    • 1234 Main St. (normal 12 font from here down)
    • City, ST 00000
    • (222) 555-6666
  • Objective Statement: This should be one or two sentences clearly stating what the purpose of your resume is. It lets the employer know what position you’re applying for. This is an optional step in your resume writing. It’s not highly regarded anymore and can best be saved for your cover letter. Keep in mind, the objective will be different for each position you apply for, so if you do include an objective statement, be sure to edit this to fit each individual job you apply to.
  • Summary Statement: This is your sales pitch. Write a maximum of seven sentences emphasizing your background to give the employer a quick look at who you are and what experiences you can bring to the company. Make it about what you can do for the company instead of what it is you’re looking to find; that’s what the objective statement is about. If it’s done perfectly, the hiring manager may not even feel the need to look at the rest of your resume, because this statement proves you’re a perfect candidate for the company.
  • Example: Content strategist with 5+ years of experience in a highly creative corporate environment. Outgoing and detail oriented, highly proficient at creating impactful SEO content. Team player with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English.
  • Tips for creating your summary statement:
    • Do write with short, impactful statements.
    • Do chose your words wisely; they are very important.
    • Do use action words (accomplished, orchestrated, spearheaded, supervised, initiated, etc.).
    • Do use company value words usually found on the “about” page of the job listing.
    • Do use skill words such as passionate, responsible, and analytical.
    • Do use relevant industry jargon.
    • Avoid I, me, my and other personal pronouns.
    • Avoid using very long sentences.
  • Education: Using chronological order, list your education from high school forward. If you went to college or trade school, put the name of the school, the year you graduated, and your GPA. You should also include your major and, if you have one, your minor.
  • Experience: It’s at this point that you’ll determine which resume format is most appropriate for you. Let’s look at the two most popular: chronological and combination.
    • Chronological: You’ll write about your job experiences in chronological order, starting with the most recent. List the name of the company first, along with the location and dates of employment. On the next line, you’ll list your title or position with three or four sentences describing what you did in this role. Feel free to use bullet points; it’s easier for the hiring manager to look over. Use verbs and stay consistent. Talk about the tasks and responsibilities you have had for each past position. You can briefly touch on challenges you’ve faced and the steps you took to overcome them (if appropriate). Describe some of the results you’ve accomplished in your previous positions.
    • Combination: When using the combination resume type, you’ll create categories of your experiences such as financial, management, research, technology, etc. Underneath each category, you can bullet point your list of relevant duties and experiences. You can tailor it to fit the needs of the job description, but don’t get carried away, and remember to always be honest on your resume.
  • Activities: Do you participate in extracurricular activities? Volunteer? Run workshops? In the activities section of your resume, you can list all your after-work accomplishments, especially if they are applicable to the job or jobs you’re trying to get. However, keep your activities tactful and somewhat related to the job at hand.
  • Skills: The last section of your resume will list all the skills you’ve acquired and learned throughout your career. Some you should include are technology (software you’re familiar with), social media (platforms you use such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), training certifications and awards, along with any other languages you may speak. You can also choose to combine this section with the activities one by using a title-line “Activities and Skills.”

Resume Pro Tips

resume pro tips

Mistakes can be disastrous when it comes to resumes. It’s important to include the relevant information and to leave all the fluff out. Aside from the words you choose to relay who you are, there are other important factors you need to know when writing your resume.

  • Use font size 12, and something from the serif or sans serif font families such as Times New Roman or Arial.
  • Make good use of bold, underline, CAPS, and italics.
  • A clean and functional resume template or design is best.
  • Be certain you are error-free; check for typos, punctuation, and spacing.
  • Always save and send your resume as a PDF.

The Cover Letter

resume cover letter

Now that your resume is pretty darn perfect, it’s time to focus on your cover letter. This is going to be what is seen first. It’s your handshake, your calling card, and the reason the hiring manager even bothers to take a look at your resume. Most likely, you’ll need to tailor it toward each different position you’re applying for, from the hiring person to the name of the position, to why you’re qualified.

The basics of a generic cover letter:

  • Greeting: Similar to any other type of letter, you need to address the hiring personnel.
    • Choose an appropriate greeting: Dear (name of hiring personnel), To Whom It May Concern, Dear Sir or Madam (it may be antiquated, but it still works), Greetings, Good Morning, Good Afternoon. Remember to include a comma (,) after the person’s name.
  • The Body: This part of the cover letter should hold all the important information such as how you were referred to the company or where you found the job posting. It should also mention your qualifications, interest, and what makes you an excellent candidate for the job.
    • Include keywords: There are many attention-grabbing buzzwords describing qualifications and responsibilities you can scatter across your cover letter. Just do so tastefully.
  • Closing: Sign off leaving a positive impression of you by picking an appropriate closing.
    • Sincerely, Regards, Yours Truly, Yours Sincerely are always solid options, although a bit formal. Other closings are Best, Many Thanks, Kind Wishes, Regards, Respectfully. Be sure to avoid extremely personal closings, unless you know the person personally.

Should You Use a Resume Writing Service?

When it comes down to it, hiring a resume writing service is going to be a personal choice. But, buyer beware: There are a lot of scams out there, and it can end up costing you some money. With all the information out there like this article, it should take a bit of the stress out of creating your own resume. There are definite pros and cons to hiring a professional resume writer.

Reasons for hiring a professional resume writer:

  • You’re just not any good at writing.
  • You’re having a hard time getting it up to date.
  • Interviews just aren’t happening on your own.
  • You have a hard time writing about yourself, no matter how hard you try.
  • They know how to make resumes shine.

Reasons to not hire a professional resume writer:

  • It’s expensive.
  • Your resume may end up looking like everyone else's.
  • It’s not so easy to find a truly good writer.
  • You don’t develop the necessary skills for writing a resume yourself.

Pre-Interview Tips

Avoid the pre-interview jitters with these tips:

resume pre interview tips

Having a well-written resume and cover letter are important pieces in the job-hunting process. It can be an intimidating task, creating the resume and sending it out to potential employers. And it’s definitely an investment, both the time and emotional energy spent. But once you get those sign-on papers, it will have made the effort of creating that killer resume so worthwhile.