Tips on Writing Cover Letters and Résumés

Before you begin writing your cover letter, you must first decide on a career type as your cover letter will defend why you are qualified for the position you are applying. A helpful way to get started is to complete a Career Objective Worksheet. This worksheet asks the following questions:

  • What do I want to do?
  • In what field do I want to do this?
  • At what level am I qualified to do this?
  • What characteristics do I want my work setting to have?
  • What unique strengths can I offer an employer?

What Is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter should accompany your résumé in order to personalize your contact with a prospective employer. Your cover letter and résumé complement each other and work together as a team. Your cover letter is just as important as your résumé but has a different focus. While your résumé describes your major qualifications for a certain type of work, your cover letter further details why you are qualified for one or several specific positions within a particular organization and why you are interested in working at this organization. Your cover letter should be targeted to emphasize selected, relevant information for each different position and organization.

How to Plan Your Cover Letter

To plan a persuasive cover letter, it is best to research the specific position and organization so that you know what qualifications are required. Read available literature in the Career Planning and Placement Office and the library. Carefully analyze the advertisement or job description, if available. Talk with employees within the organization and other professionals in similar positions. Finally, you may write or call the prospective employer to request further information, if necessary.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Cover Letters

  1. Exceed one page: When you prepare a cover letter, remember the people screening your application are busy individuals who prefer to review a well-written statement that does not exceed one page. You will be on target if you include the four "W's" of cover letters: tell who you are, what your background is, why you are interested and qualified for the position, and when you would be available for an appointment or interview.
  2. Be hand-written: Hand-written letters are taboo—they convey a lack of professionalism and are often difficult to read. Before you send your letter, make sure that the print is dark and legible and the paper free of smudges and stains.
  3. Contain spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors: Nothing will eliminate you from consideration faster than a letter that contains spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. Since your application will no doubt be only one of many submitted for any given job, scrupulous attention to these details is a necessity.
  4. Repeat what's in the résumé: Cover letters serve as the candidate's introduction to a prospective employer and need to summarize and highlight only those qualifications that relate specifically to the desired position. Don't waste time and space repeating in a letter of application information that can easily be found in the enclosed résumé.
  5. Convey an inflated ego: Expressions of self-confidence and ego are worlds apart. Use wording in your letter that conveys confidence without arrogance and depicts you as a team player.
  6. Attempt to flatter the employer: Most personnel directors or prospective employers are put off by fawning, ingratiating comments. Factual references regarding an organization's accomplishments are preferable. If you don't have this kind of information, simply focus on your qualifications for the job.
  7. Include inappropriate information or omit critical data: Your cover letter is your very first encounter with a personnel manager or prospective employer. In its structure, format, and content, you may reveal more or less about yourself as a future employee than you intend. Take the time and effort necessary to give yourself the winning edge in today's highly competitive job market.

Taken from "The Seven Deadly Sins of Cover Letters" by Deborah Flores

Types of Résumés

For best results, you should use a form or format that reflects the particular demands or requirements of your own job targets and work history. Although there are many variations in format, there are basically three main types of résumés: Chronological, Functional, and Targeted.

Chronological Format

Work experience and personal history are arranged in reverse time sequence, with the most recent job history first. Titles and organizations are emphasized and accomplishments within those titles described.

Best Used: When your career direction is clear and the job target is directly in line with your work history or the name of your last employer adds strong prestige.

Functional Format

This format highlights major areas of accomplishment and strength and allows you to organize them in an order that most supports your work objectives and job targets. Actual titles and work history are in a subordinate position and sometimes left off entirely.

Best Used: In cases of career change or re-direction, first-job search, or reentry into the job market. Effective when you wish to play up a particularly strong area of ability.

Targeted Format

This format is best for focusing on a clear, specific job target (you would have a different one for each target). It lists future-related capabilities and supporting accomplishments that relate to a clear job target.

Best Used: When you are clear about your job targets and what they require