Cover Letters/Resumes - Iowa College Access Network - ICAN

Cover Letters/Resumes

Cover Letter

Would you stride right up to a company president's office to ask for a job without having been introduced in some way? Not likely. A cover letter serves the same purpose as that introduction – before your resume brashly states that you are the right person for the job, your cover letter eases into who you are and why you might be a good fit for the position.

Because people who screen applicants have different personalities and workloads, some of your cover letters may get tossed aside as an unnecessary restatement of the information on your resume. But many of them will be read, and since you aren't likely to lose an opportunity because of a well-written cover letter, it's a good policy to always include one.

A good cover letter should reveal:

  • How well you communicate in writing. Make your sentences and paragraphs clear and to the point. Avoid exaggeration and overblown words.
  • Your level of professionalism. Write with respect for the reader's time, intellect and purpose.
  • Clues to your personality. Remain professional but allow some of your own personality to seep through.
  • Your experience and qualifications. Briefly point out what makes you ideal for this position.
  • Attention to detail. Make sure your letter is free of typos and misspelled words and that you've addressed the letter to the person who is hiring for the position. Also name the position you're applying for (and remember to change it for each mailing if you're sending out many at once).

Elements of a cover letter include:

  1. The opening. The first paragraph should briefly say:
    • Who you are ("a senior at ABC College graduating with a business degree in May").
    • What position you are applying for.
    • How you heard about the opening.
  2. The pitch. Four to five sentences should be enough for the second paragraph to demonstrate:
    • Why you are the best candidate for the job.
    • What your qualifications and skills are.
    • Two or three short examples of specific abilities.
  3. The push. Use the third paragraph to:
    • Make a positive comment about the organization.
    • Demonstrate enthusiasm for the position.
    • Show that you've chosen this company for a particular reason, not just because you're looking for a job and they happen to have one open.
  4. The call to action. A one- or two-sentence paragraph should end your letter with:
    • Your availability. Especially if you live outside the immediate area of the company, let the reader know when you will be available for a face-to-face meeting. Generally, you should be available at their convenience.
    • Your next step. If you have contact information, say when you'll call or e-mail to ensure your materials were received or to set up a meeting (then do it).
    • Thanks. Always extend your appreciation for the reader's time and consideration.

Before you send your letter, proofread it carefully. Ask a friend or roommate to read it as well; they may catch something you missed. Go online to search for sample cover letters.

Resume

With a good cover letter comes a good resume. Now that you're completing college coursework and hopefully getting some good work experience, it's time to create a resume that will get your skills noticed. This piece of paper will usually be the first impression you make with an employer, so make the effort for an effective resume.

Depending on your career field, one type of resume may work well for many openings or you may need to change the format for each opportunity. Either way, you do need to customize your resume for every job you apply for.

Create a Resume

Use logical order to build an impressive resume.

  1. Collect data.
    • Brainstorm to identify your accomplishments in:
      • Education.
      • Training.
      • Experience.
    • Include what you're doing now and work backward.
    • Choose the most relevant information to include.
    • Decide what type of resume will work best. Review styles of resumes online or in books available from the library or bookstore.
  2. Build your resume.
    • Contact information. Includes your name, address, telephone number(s) and e-mail address.
      • Avoid nicknames.
      • Use information where employers can be sure to contact you, like your parent's address or your cell phone number.
      • Make sure your phone greetings and e-mail address sound professional.
      • Include the URL to your website if it reflects your professional goals (and does not include any photos or posts that could embarrass you).
    • Objective. Tells potential employers about the type of work you hope to do.
      • Be specific about the job you are applying for. If you are sending out multiple resumes, don't forget to change it for different employers and positions.
    • Education.
      • List your most recent educational information first.
      • Include your degree (A.S., B.S., B.A., etc.), major, institution and any minors or concentrations.
      • Include your grade point average if it's higher than 3.0.
      • Remember any special recognition or academic awards.
    • Work experience. Briefly outlines work that enhances your skills.
      • Use action words to describe your duties.
      • Avoid long words or phrases that sound impressive but don't really say anything.
      • Work backward from your most recent work experience.
      • Include:
        • Title of position.
        • Name of organization.
        • Dates of employment.
        • Specific skills and information.
    • Other information. Include any that apply to you and seem to mesh with the job description.
      • Special skills or abilities.
      • Leadership experience.
      • Participation in sports.
      • Volunteer experience or other employment.
    • References.
      • Note that references are available upon request and make a separate page for references.
      • Talk to anyone you list first to make sure they're willing to be a reference for you.
  3. Design your resume. Make your resume easy to read or to scan into a database.
    • Use one side of white or off-white 8½" x 11" paper.
    • Use one non-decorative typeface in 10- to 14-point font size.
    • Avoid italics, script and underlined words.
    • Don't use horizontal or vertical lines, graphics or shading.
    • Lay out your information in a standard format:
      • Personal information.
      • Objective.
      • Education, then work experience (if you are a recent graduate).
      • Work experience, then education (if you graduated a year ago or more).
    • Don't fold or staple your resume. (If you're mailing it, send it in a large envelope.)

 

 

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