Resumes and Cover Letters are sources of dread for every college student applying to jobs: “How will I catch an employer’s eye? Am I presenting myself in the best way possible? What information should I include and how do I organize it?”
In the OPCD’s latest Lunch and Learn, Ashley Hamilton provided a walk-through of key aspects of a strong resume and cover letter. As the Community Engagement Director of City Year Dallas, Hamilton receives and reviews many applications, in which she notices reoccurring patterns of strengths and weaknesses. Her lecture, “Strong Resumes and Engaging Cover Letters,” maintains that these documents are not a daunting prospect if the following guidelines are understood.
Hamilton first named the seven building blocks to formatting a resume properly: Heading, Objective, Work Experience, Education, Awards and Recognition, Volunteer Experience, and Skills. Experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order, with concise descriptions that highlight skills.
Hamilton listed several recommendations to keep in mind while writing a resume. First, while there is no “best” way to format, it is important to remain consistent, and to stick to the recommended length of one page, maximum 2 pages. “Quality over quantity!,” Hamilton urged. There is a difference between listing off information and tastefully selecting experiences that are relevant and show one’s potential. Tailoring a resume to each job application is crucial in order to highlight the ways in which the applicant will be valuable to that specific company. Hamilton encouraged resumes to be read by friends, coworkers, or parents, because they can catch mistakes or incongruities that may otherwise go unnoticed; “the devil is in the details!” Another point she mentioned is to quantify experience, because numbers are more eye-catching and meaningful than words such as “a lot” and “often.” Hamilton added that depending on the type of organization or field, a stylized resume may be appreciated by hiring managers. While a business career calls for a clean-cut, professional format, a more artistic field could allow some creativity in style.
While the resume states quantitative and qualitative details, or the “what,” the cover letter is the “how and why,” a chance to show how the applicant will fit this position. Hamilton addressed the myth that some employers do not take the time to read cover letters, by saying, “Even if nine out of ten don’t read it, one will, and that is why you must send it.” She also shared several tips on writing an engaging cover letter. She emphasized the importance of length being less than a page, the opportunity to name drop if applicable, and the necessity of expressing gratitude at the end for the time taken to read the application. Another small secret Hamilton shared was to address the letter to the Hiring Manager, and avoid the overused “To Whom it May Concern.” Hamilton recommended keeping a base cover letter accessible, and customizing it specifically for different job applications.
Lastly, it is recommended to send in a resume and cover letter as a PDF document. Hamilton urges applicants to be specific, yet concise, in order to present the best and most truthful version of themselves, and with these guidelines, anyone is able to write a strong resume and an engaging cover letter.
For further guidance, schedule an appointment with a career counselor here.