At a Glance: Make sure your resumé demonstrates that you’ve mastered important skills, and be specific when writing your cover letter.
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

When it comes to job applications, your resumé and cover letter are typically your only chances at a first impression. Before you can meet someone face to face, you have to sell yourself on paper. But what should you include and what messages do you need to convey? Here are some quick tips to help get your resumé and cover letter to the top of the stack.

For Your Resumé:

1. Keep it to one page

While it may be tempting to list every project or job you’ve ever worked on, try to keep your resumé to one page. List your three most recent work experiences and include a bulleted list under each that outlines your responsibilities.

In terms of formatting, avoid lengthy paragraphs or vague descriptions — it will be a lot easier for the person reviewing your resumé to scan it quickly, plus it demonstrates that you can be organized and concise.

2. Translate coursework into work experience

If you’re concerned about a lack of professional experience, don’t fret — even if you’re just out of school you can still construct a well-rounded resumé. List any work experience you do have, and then think about how your coursework has prepared you for this particular job.

Have you completed any certifications or hands-on training? Did you spend hours in the lab conducting research? Maybe you wrote in-depth reports that required interview skills, public speaking, and more? List these experiences to fill in the gaps and show your potential employer that you’ve mastered skills that will be an asset in your future job.

For Your Cover Letter:

3. Use specifics

You may be applying to several jobs at once, but don’t use a generic cover letter for each job you apply for. It’s easy to tell when someone copies and pastes the same generic letter over and over.

Instead, start with a template you can change for each application so that it addresses the specifics of the given job. Your cover letter should be anywhere from half a page to a page, but no longer. Again, your goal is to quickly communicate the specifics that would make you a good fit for the position.

Each cover letter should include:

A greeting that’s as specific as possible
If you can, find out who will be reviewing your materials, even if it’s a title, such as Director of Human Resources. Dear Ms. Jones is a lot better than To Whom It May Concern.

A few lines that describe yourself and your skills
Be specific. For example, rather than saying you’re tech-savvy, mention that you’re well-versed in specific software they use.

A bit about your past professional experience and achievements, and how they can be of use in this position
You don’t need to list everything on your resumé word for word, just reiterate the highlights.

A closing summary of how your strengths will mesh well with the company
Remember to address how your strengths can benefit the company and are well-suited for the position.

A thank you
Thank them for their time and express interest in conducting a face-to-face interview.

4. Address the company’s needs, not your own

Many times, job applicants talk about themselves throughout their cover letter without addressing how they will benefit the company. Do your research on the listed position and also the company itself. What are the requirements for the job? What is the company hoping you’ll accomplish for them? Once you can answer these questions, connect your strengths with tangible results that the business is seeking. Saying things like “I’m a people person” isn’t as descriptive as “I believe my perseverance and positive attitude would be an asset to your sales team.”

If resumés and cover letters seem daunting, try addressing one issue at a time to simplify and focus your application materials.

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