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Resume and Cover Letter Assistance

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This guide to writing effective resumes and cover letters [also available in published format (pdf file)] is primarily for use by individuals seeking entry level jobs, with little or no experience in the particular field to which they are applying.

The helpful hints and sample resumes and cover letters illustrate the common formats used and will help improve the quality of your resume. Remember, the purpose of the resume is to get you an interview. A good resume...

  • Is about the job hunter -- not about the job hunterís history.
  • Focuses on the future -- not the past.
  • Focuses on achievements or accomplishments -- not on job descriptions.
  • Documents and prioritizes skills the job hunter enjoys using -- not abilities they used in the past just because they had to.

Things to Remember Before You Start

Think of your resume like an advertising copywriter thinks about an advertisement. You are promoting something Ė You! Ask yourself, "How can I catch the attention of the reader to make myself stand out from every other candidate?" Create a desire for the employer to invite you in for an interview by proving your ability to meet their needs and showing them how you produce results. Zero in on what the employer needs, not what you want. Position your strongest selling points on the top half of the first page. Donít hide them at the end.

Consider these steps as you prepare your resume:

  • What kind of job are you looking for? Every word you put on your resume should somehow be relevant to that job.
  • Brainstorm and make a list of the skills, knowledge, and experience you have and are needed for the desired job.
  • For each skill you list, think of accomplishments that illustrate the skill and describe each accomplishment in terms of how it benefited the employer.
  • Make a list of all the jobs youíve had. Include internships, volunteer work, part-time work, and school or community activities.
  • Make another list of your training and education related to the job.
  • Create multiple resumes for multiple job targets. One resume doesnít fit all jobs.

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Choose a Resume Format That Fits Your Situation

Chronological
This style focuses on where and when youíve worked, beginning with your most recent employment, and goes backward in reverse chronological order. It works best for individuals with consistent work histories with no gaps. It also works well for those who have had increasing responsibility and who are advancing in the same field. Many employers prefer this format.

Functional
This style focuses on the job functions you have performed rather than where and when you performed them. The functional resume is especially useful for those who have had several jobs, have gaps in their work history, are changing careers, or are re-entering the job market. Employers are sometimes suspicious of this format, thinking the candidate is trying to hide employment gaps or something worse. It is also more difficult to write.

Combination
Providing your job functions at the top and your job history in a list at the bottom of the resume is known as the combination format. This style may benefit individuals whose situations are similar to the functional resume writers.

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What to Include in Your Resume
(Regardless of the Format You Choose)

Contact Information
At the top of the page, include your proper name, current address with zip code, phone number with area code where you can be reached from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and e-mail address (which is appropriate for any serious job seeker) if you have one. Make it as easy as possible for employers to contact you. Your name should be in a size 14 font in bold to make it stand out. The rest of your resume should preferably be in a size 12 font, using Times New Roman, Arial or Courier fonts.

Job Objective
Some people prefer to include their objective in a summary statement. Most people find that including an objective helps them give focus to their resume. Put the objective after the contact information. For the objective to be effective, it needs to include: the specific kind of work you want to do, the industry in which you want to do it, the level at which you want to work (e.g., entry), and the benefit you bring to the employer.

EXAMPLE:

A store manager position for a leader in the menís clothing industry where my experience in retail and business education will be an asset.

Qualifications Summary
Most current resumes include either a bulleted or paragraph summary of the job candidateís key selling points. It is accomplishment-oriented and includes many key words in the target job category. A typical group of highlights includes:

  • How much relevant experience you have in the targeted field
  • What your formal training and credentials are, if relevant
  • One significant accomplishment, very broadly stated
  • One or two outstanding skills or abilities relevant to the field
  • A reference to your values, commitment, or philosophy if appropriate

EXAMPLE (of a summary with a corresponding job objective):

Objective: Position as an account clerk in a business that can use my recently acquired cutting-edge skills.

Qualifications Summary

  • Internship experience using newest accounting computer programs
  • A.A.S. degree with honors in accounting
  • President of student accounting club -- initiated speakers program
  • Demonstrated ability in organizing, follow-through to the last detail
  • Committed to producing results above and beyond whatís expected
  • Education
    Most recent college graduates put their education before their experience because that is often more relevant to their job target. If it isnít, put your experience first. List the degree you are pursuing or have earned, the institution you are attending with the city and state, and your graduation date. Include your GPA if it is higher than 3.0, and any academic honors. It is also a good idea to list relevant courses if you have no experience in the field, so employers can ascertain your knowledge in the field. You may also want to describe any research or design projects. List other degrees or relevant education in reverse chronological order. Rarely is any reference to high school needed.

    EXAMPLE:

    A.A.S. Accounting, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, NJ, May 2005 GPA 3.2, Deanís List Spring 2004

    Relevant Coursework
    Principles of Financial Accounting
    Principles of Managerial Accounting
    Computerized Accounting
    Microeconomics
      Introduction to Business
    Intermediate Accounting I and II
    Cost Accounting
    Business Law

    (If you havenít completed your degree, insert something like the word "candidate" before the degree and include your anticipated graduation date.)

    Experience
    In a chronological resume, begin with your current/most recent position and work backward, chronologically. Include part-time work and unpaid work such as internships and volunteer work. Start each position with a job title, follow with name of organization, city and state, and years (months not necessary) employed there. Use action words to describe responsibilities and accomplishments.

    EXAMPLE:

    Telecommunications Aide, Comcast, Neptune, NJ            2002-present

    Describe each position, stressing the major accomplishments and responsibilities that demonstrate your competency. Donít include all responsibilities; some are assumed by employers. Start each phrase with an action word. Tailor your descriptions to your job target. Do not repeat skills that are common to several positions.

    Most recent college graduates can include all necessary information in one page. If you are preparing a two-page resume, include your name at the top of the second page and make sure the most marketable information appears at the top half of the first page. You can also divide your experience into relevant and additional experience, rather than one reverse chronological list.

    Special Skills
    If you think these could add to your qualifications, identify computer skills, technical skills, knowledge of foreign languages, and special training at the bottom of your resume.

    References
    Do not list your references on your resume. You may say "References available upon request," but it is not necessary. Prepare a separate list with names, titles, addresses and phone numbers of individuals who have agreed to provide reference information. You should also specify what relationship you had/have with them (e.g., co-worker, supervisor, clergy person, professor).

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    Resume Doís and Doníts

    Do...

    • Proofread, have a friend proofread, then proofread again.
    • Be clear, concise, specific and honest. Never lie on a resume.
    • Print on quality white or off-white paper using a laser printer.
    • Make your resume visually appealing and easy to read.
    • Remember, your resume is a marketing tool. It reflects what you have to offer.
    • Try to fit your resume on one page, or two pages if youíve had more than 10 years of work experience.

    Donít...

    • Specify salary requirements or reveal salary history.
    • Write long paragraphs or sentences.
    • Exaggerate your accomplishments.
    • Forget the purpose of the resume: to get an interview.
    • Use resume templates if you want an unusual format.
    • Include personal information such as age, religion, ethnic background, marital status, height and weight.

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    Action Words for Resumes

    The following "action" words can be used as the first word of sentence fragments in your resume. Always begin your statements with an action word that describes a certain skill or ability you possess. A thesaurus can be a helpful tool in this process!

    accelerated
    accomplished
    achieved
    adapted
    administered
    analyzed
    approved
    completed
    conceived
    conducted
    conferred
    constructed
    contracted
    controlled
    converted
    coordinated
    created
    cut
    delegated
    delivered
    demonstrated
    designed
    developed
    devised
    directed
    doubled
    drafted
    edited
    effected
    eliminated
    enlarged
    equipped
    established
    evaluated
    exhibited
    expanded
    expedited
    formulated
    generated
    guided
    helped
    implemented
    improved
    increased
    influenced
    initiated
    installed
    interpreted
    invented
    launched
    lectured
    maintained
    managed
    motivated
    negotiated
    operated
    organized
    originated
    participated
    performed
    pinpointed
    planned
    prepared
    produced
    programmed
    promoted
    proposed
    proved
    provided
    recommended
    recorded
    reduced
    reinforced
    researched
    revamped
    reviewed
    revised
    scheduled
    set up
    simplified
    sold
    solved
    streamlined
    structured
    succeeded
    supervised
    supported
    taught
    trained
    translated
    trimmed
    tripled
    uncovered
    unraveled
    widened
    wrote

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    How to Prepare a Resume for E-mailing and Computer Scanning

    Due to the greater number of job openings and job candidates along with smaller Human Resource staffs, most large organizations use computers rather than humans to accept, process, store and review resumes. This means that most job seekers need to have two versions of "computer friendly" resumes in addition to a paper one. Consequently, new formats are needed that will enable the computer to scan your resume in a readable format. The scannable resume can be mailed to the employer. The electronic or e-mail resume is sent as an e-mail message, or attachment, to the employer.

    Scannable Resumes

    • Use standard typefaces such as Arial, Times Roman, or Courier New in font size 10 to 12 points.
    • Avoid italics, script, bold, and underlining. Instead, use capital letters for highlighting.
    • Eliminate graphics, borders, boxes, and shading. Do not use horizontal or vertical lines.
    • Use asterisks or plain round bullets.
    • Print on white or off-white paper from a laser printer, which delivers the most contrast.
    • Do not fold or staple your resume. Mail in a large envelope.
    • Keep text left-justified, with a ragged right margin.
    • Position your name, and nothing else, on the top line of the resume.

    Resumes for E-mailing
    Many employers will not accept attachments due to the possibility of viruses. Send your resume as an e-mail message with your cover letter as part of the document. To avoid formatting problems, you will need to create a new version of your resume by following these steps:

    • With your typed resume on the screen in your word processing program, change the left margin to 1.0 and the right margin to 2.0, then select the Save As feature and click on "text only," "plain text" or ASCII. Rename file.
    • Close the file and then open the text editor program in your computer, such as Notepad, and review how the resume will look to the employer. Youíll see that your resume has been reformatted and the text is left-justified. Youíll need to do some cleaning up of the new version.
    • Fix any glitches. Set off category headings by using ALL CAPS.
    • Save your changes in Notepad. Do a test run; send an e-mail to yourself by selecting and copying your e-resume, then open your e-mail program and type a brief cover letter. Two lines below that, press Ctrl + v to paste in your e-resume.

    When e-mailing, you want to motivate employers to open your e-mail and read your resume. Put in the Subject area of your e-mail something like "Award-winning Web designer, 6 years exp." -- more than the words "job seeker."

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    Resume and Cover Letter Samples

    Resumes
    Chronological Format Functional Format Combination Format
    Cover Letters
    Sample 1    Sample 2

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