Each cover letter needs to be tailored to demonstrate how you can meet the employer’s needs. Writing a "template" can hurt your application, as these letters measure whether you are really interested in their position. They may also be viewed as writing samples and used to make an easy connection with a qualified applicant. Your cover letter is a story that connects you and the organization and is similar to a persuasive essay demonstrating your qualifications.
Content & Format
Give examples, be concise and convey authentic interest.
Your letter will have three main parts: The Hook (introduction); the Pitch (body), and the Close (conclusion).
Let the reader know from the start that you are a candidate that they want to meet. Make sure that you include these three elements — the order can vary:
What is your connection to this employer? While employers understand that the primary objective of many applicants is to get hired, it is important that you convey that you are applying to this job on purpose. Mention something specific about your fit or connection to this employer so they understand that you are applying with sincere intention.
Why are you writing? Mention the position for which you are applying.
Who are you? Rather than repeat resume content, such as your major and/or that you are a Brandeis student, it is even better if you include something descriptive that connects you to the job or the industry. For example, an “avid environmentalist” might apply for a job with the EPA. Or a “dedicated problem solver” would appeal to an employer looking to increase efficiency. Tip: do not begin with “My name is___________.”
Write one or two paragraphs to highlight skills and experience from your resume that meet the needs of this position or this employer. You’re not repeating your resume, you’re explaining it. Identify 2–4 desired qualifications form the job description, and discuss them:
Identify the desired qualification
Give an example of how you have used or developed this qualification, including courses, achievements, and relevant experiences.
Demonstrate that you understand why this qualification is relevant to the position.
Confirm why you fit with this employer (culture, mission, common interest, etc.)
Indicate that your resume is enclosed (or attached) for their reference.
Let them know how they can meet with you: Phone or in person — if not a local position and you know you will be in town during a specific period, share those dates.
Mention when are you available to start. (optional)
Thank them for their time or for their consideration of your application.
Sending Cover Letters
If a letter is sent via email, consider attaching the letter (and your resume) as a PDF file rather than writing the letter in the body of the email. In the body of the email you can let the employer know which position you are applying for, and that your resume and cover letter is attached.
Use our Anatomy of a Cover Letter to see the format put together and examples of sentences. To keep your writing individual and strong, do not copy the language.
Hook a Recruiter with Your Cover Letter
Review cover letter video trainings and more from Lynda.com, provided for free by Brandeis. Find videos on application materials, interviewing, following up, and practice scenarios.
Checklist for a Successful Cover Letter
Is your cover letter …
No more than one page?
Free from grammatical and spelling errors?
Addressed to a specific person? Call or research online to find the appropriate name and title. If no information is available, consider using "Dear Hiring Manager/Internship Coordinator/Selection Committee:"
Targeted toward a specific employer? Use keywords from the job description or organization’s website or mission statement.
Specific, citing explicit examples to highlighting your skills?
Written in active voice?
Focused on your match with the company and what YOU can bring to THEM (rather than the other way around)?
Consistent with your resume (i.e. on the same high-quality paper and using the same font and contact information)?
Your resume is a concise, targeted summary of your skills and experiences. It highlights accomplishments that are relevant to your career objectives and “next move,” whether that is a promotion, new job in your field, transition to a different area of work or re-entry into the marketplace. Your resume itself will not get you hired; rather it should give readers a solid understanding of your relevant academic and professional background and “fit” so that they want to meet you and discuss your qualifications further in an interview.
In addition to showing your experience, remember that your resume is also an example of your writing skills and attention to detail. The grammar, punctuation, consistency and formatting must be flawless.
It is essential that your resume be honest and truthful. Include only those things that you have done or are currently doing. A resume is generally one page upon graduation from an undergraduate program. However, as you accumulate additional positions and transition to higher level experiences, your resume may be two pages.
This page will cover:
Types of Resumes
There are a number of types of resumes that address the varying circumstances of your search, including your years of experience, field, professional situation and career goals. You may have several versions of your resume to respond to the needs and expectations of your field, position, level of responsibility and audience.
Standard Chronological (view sample)
This resume lists your experience as detailed entries (in reverse chronological order) under section heads such as Education, Work Experience, Activities and Specialized Skills.
This resume format is very helpful when you have held one or more positions in highly relevant or strongly related fields in which you want to continue to work. It groups together entries so that the reader can immediately identify the depth of your experience. To further emphasize your background, the experience section is sometimes broken down into separate sections of relevant (to the opportunity) experience and then additional experience.
Functional or Skills-based (view sample)
Functional resumes are structured to focus on and showcase skills relevant to the position you seek but which you may have obtained in very different environments. The resume usually begins with a bulleted list of your verifiable experiences, skills and accomplishments that match what the reader wants to see in a strong candidate. Below that is a shortened list of your past work experience (the names of your past employers, locations, dates of work, and your role).
This resume is often used by job seekers who are making a transition from one field to another and want to bring the readers’ attention immediately to their qualifications rather than their past employers which may be in a different field.
Arts-related (view sample singer and sample actor)
Resumes in the arts focus primarily on concrete accomplishments – gallery shows in which you have participated; theater roles you have had; films you have directed; engagements as a featured singer, etc. – and the technical skills you have within your field – use egg tempura, chalk and watercolor; ride horses and tap dance; edit musical arrangements; sing opera and pop ballads; etc.
These resumes resemble “tables” of information, in which you list your individual achievement and the associated organization or company within which you performed or functioned.
Education and, if necessary, additional non-performance or non-technical work can be listed but these are usually positioned at the bottom, not the top, of the resume.
Arts resumes are essential for professional positions within your arts field and there are specific expectations for how they will look in your field (for example, actors’ headshots are usually attached to the reverse side). However, some professionals also have an additional version of their resume that translates performance or technical work into a “standard” format and stresses, for example, administrative, entrepreneurial, communication and team skills.
Curriculum Vitae(view sample)
The primary differences between a resume and a curriculum vitae (CV) are length, content and audience. While a resume is brief and concise - no more than a page or two - a CV is usually longer (can be 2-3 pages depending on your experience), has specialized sections and contains more detailed descriptions. While both summarize your skills, experience and education, a CV expands upon these by also listing teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, awards, honors, affiliations and other details.
In the United States, a CV is used primarily when applying for academic, education, scientific or research positions. It may also be used when applying for fellowships, grants or graduate school.
In many countries, the equivalent of a U.S.-style resume is called a CV. However, sections may be arranged slightly differently and there may be additional information required. The resource GoinGlobal, accessible via Handshake > Resources, has country-specific CV/resume advice and samples.
Common Elements of a Resume
While resume formats vary, there are some sections that tend to be common to all of them – in one form or another. Although it would be difficult to cover all situations, here are tips by section that will help you write a great document. As you read through these tips, use the sample resumes above as models.
- No matter which resume/CV format you choose, contact information, including your name (in bold and slightly larger font size), address, phone number and professional email address, is always located at the top of the page.
- If necessary, put your name and "Page 2" on top of a second page.
Career Objective (view samples) or Professional Profile Section (view samples)
The majority of resume writers do not need these sections, however it is sometimes advantageous to showcase your career goal or skills and accomplishments on their own at the start of the document. If you use a Career Objective section you should be certain that it is appropriate for the position for which you are submitting the resume. A Professional Profile section must contain verifiable statements of your skills and accomplishments that are most relevant to the field or position.
When these sections can help:
- Your skills and experience are a strong match with the position’s requirements
- Your skills and accomplishments have been gained in a different field or environment
- Your resume is being shared with individuals for their consideration when there is no immediate position available
- You are reentering the workforce after a time away
- Include the name and location of colleges that you attend(ed), dates of graduation (month/year), degree(s) earned and major/concentration/specialty in reverse chronological order.
- List other degrees or relevant education such as study abroad or certificate programs, also in reverse chronological order.
- If you are currently in a graduate program, write the word "Expected" before the month and year of your anticipated graduation.
- Hiatt recommends that you list the actual or expected date of your degree on the right side of the page.
- If you would like to include your GPA, the correct format has either two or three digits: GPA: 3.2, or 3.24.
- Do not include coursework unless it is directly relevant and unusual.
- You may include any awards and/or honors.
You may list both general skills (languages, computers) and position/field-specific skills (technical programs, statistical packages, scientific methods, etc.).
- Consider grouping your work experience into sections like Related Experience, Additional Experience, Leadership Experience, Public Service, Activities, etc.
- Each experience entry includes: title, place of employment, location (city, state), dates of employment and description of responsibilities in bullet points.
- List experiences within each section in reverse chronological order. Hiatt recommends that you place the dates of your experiences on the right side of the page.
- Each statement of your responsibilities and accomplishments starts with an action verb (avoid phrases like, "Duties included" or "Responsible for") in the present tense for current work and past tense for previous work.
- Include quantitative information when appropriate, e.g. "Developed and implemented leadership training for 50 high school teachers."
Do Not Include
- First-person pronouns (I, me, or my) in your text
- Salary requirements
- Inappropriate personal information (e.g. race, religion, political affiliation, marital status, citizenship, social security number, etc.) or other irrelevant information on your resume
- Reasons for leaving previous jobs
- Uncommon abbreviations or acronyms without providing the full name once
- Font: Use a professional font (Times New Roman, Arial, Cambria) in 10 - 12 point consistently for the body of the resume.
- Margins: Have consistent margins, no less than .5 inches wide around the entire document.
- Spacing: Text should be spaced evenly on the page and easy to read.
- Consistency in format and within the text: Whatever conventions you choose for your format and text (e.g., space between sections, font size for section names, abbreviations for states, types of dashes when listing your dates, etc.) must be used throughout the document.
- Accuracy: Proofread, proofread, proofread then have someone else review your resume.
- Sending your resume: For a print version (hard copy) use quality bond/resume paper in white or ivory. Use a laser printer, not an inkjet or poor photocopy. When sending an electronic version, convert the document into a .pdf to ensure that the formatting does not shift when opened on other computers.
- Do not: Use gimmicks such as pictures, bright paper or creative fonts; they are distracting and do not scan well.
- Use of articles: Eliminate non-essential words such as "a" and "the" to save space.
Addressing Special Circumstances
When Jobs Don’t Work Out
Many resume writers wonder about how to put professional experiences on their resume that did not work out successfully, that is they left a job which brought little professional satisfaction or from which they were laid off or fired. Provided that the positions were substantive and of a significant duration, they must be included in your resume, otherwise potential employers will wonder about time gaps in your employment profile. Simply describe truthfully the responsibilities you had and your accomplishments while on the job.
Incorporating International Study & Experience
Employers are eager to learn about any global skills that are applicable to their work, such as relevant languages, intercultural perspective and regional expertise. Showcasing these relevant skills gained internationally can help your resume and cover stand out.
Short-term Service and Volunteerism
You can include substantive short-term service and volunteer work – especially teaching, administrative or leadership positions – if they relate directly to your field and/or show that you have been active during a time when you may have been out of the paid workforce.