Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Job Search Guide: Strategies for Professionals

Chapter Seven

Writing Resumes and Cover Letters

[Resumes] [What Does a Resume Accomplish?] [When is a Resume Used] [What to Include on Your Resume] [Where to Get Additional Help?] [Types of Resumes] [The Reverse Chronological Resume] [The Functional Resume] [General Guide to an Effective Resume] [Cover Letter] [Follow Up]


The resume is often the first contact a potential employer has with a job seeker. To be useful, it must make a good impression immediately. The current practice by corporate personnel is to give each resume a quick glance (10-20 seconds), discard those that appear disorganized or too wordy and file the rest. On the average, only one or two out of 100 resumes mailed will result in an interview. But employers still ask for resumes and a good resume continues to provide a competitive edge in the majority of professional, administrative and managerial occupations.


What Does a Resume Accomplish?

A resume tells the prospective employer what you have accomplished in the past and what you can do for their company now.

The resume's primary function is to sell your talents and skills to an employer--clearly, forcefully and quickly. In a sense, you are selling yourself and the resume is your advertisement. It serves as your advance contact to awaken an employer's interest and to generate an interview.


When is a Resume Used?

Mass mailing campaigns. Resumes frequently have been used by job seekers to contact each and every potential employer in an industry or selected area. You may not know if the company has a job opening, but you want them to know that you are available and that your experience and talents can be an asset to the firm.

Mass mailings of this kind can be very expensive and the odds of promoting an opening are slim. You can improve your chances of getting interviews by composing specific resumes for different companies. One suggestion is to sort your targeted companies into groups with similar characteristics, and write a resume highlighting your appropriate strengths for each group.

Responding to a want ad. The most effective resumes are tailored for a particular employer. If the job requirements listed in the ad are vague or unclear, call the employer for more information. Try to get a clear picture of the job duties, education and experience requirements. It's a good idea to list your questions in advance. Find out at the outset to whom you are speaking. Also try to find out the name and title of the individual who will review your resume. If you are speaking to someone in authority and the call is going well, try to schedule an interview. Remember to thank your information giver.

Interviewing. The resume operates as a script for both you and the employer. When you compose your resume, keep in mind that it gives you the chance to choose those topics you wish to discuss during the interview. Be prepared to expand on all the accomplishments you listed. A rehearsal with friends and honest critics will help.


What to Include on Your Resume

Be prepared to spend some time and effort in writing an effective resume. You will need two types of information:

About Yourself. You need a clear picture of your job talents, work history, education and career goals. (Look over the list you completed in Chapter 3 on self-assessment.)  It may be helpful to refer to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). The O*NET database is the nation's primary source of occupational information. This Web online application for job seekers, employment professionals, and others interested in exploring occupations is located at

About the Job. Gather as much specific information as possible about the position for which you are applying. Your resume should show that your skills, education, achievements, work experience and past job achievements are related to the position requirements. O*NET may prove helpful here as well.


Where to Get Additional Help?

There are many sources of information on how to write the best resume:

Books. There are as many variations in resume styles and formats as there are books on the market. Most books describe these variations in great detail and provide numerous examples. Some are specific to particular industries or to specific groups of job seekers. Some of the books are listed in the Sources of Additional Information section of this Guide. Check your local library or bookstore for them.

The Internet. The New York State Department of Labor's (NYSDOL) JobZone contains a resume preparation section with an online resume program. Open a free account to access the program, and store the resumes you create for future reference.

Workshops. One-Stop Centers and NYSDOL Division of Employment Services (DoES) offices offer resume preparation assistance. Many workshops run by public and nonprofit agencies will help you write a resume. Private, fee-charging firms will also help you write a resume.

After completing this chapter, you might want to refer to one of these additional sources to ensure that you write the best possible resume.


Types of Resumes

All of the resume styles described in books and computer programs are based on variations and combinations of two formats: reverse chronological and functional. The key to writing an effective resume is choosing the right style for you--one that emphasizes your strengths and de-emphasizes your weaknesses. Whichever resume style you choose, make sure to include examples of results that you produced that benefited your previous employer(s). Employers want to see measurable achievements. They want to know they are going to hire someone who can contribute to their organization's bottom line.


The Reverse Chronological Resume

This format lists the jobs you've had by dates of employment, starting with your most recent job. The usual arrangement is: dates of employment, job title, name and address of company, a brief description of the duties performed, skills used and major ways you have benefited the company. Make sure you include all transferable skills. This format stresses what you accomplished in each of the positions you held.

Use if:

  • You have progressed up a clearly defined career ladder and are looking for career advancement.
  • You have recent experience in the field you are seeking.
  • You have a continuous work history in your field.

Do not use if:

  • You have had many different types of jobs.
  • You have changed jobs frequently.
  • You are trying to switch fields.
  • You are just starting out.


The Functional Resume

This format emphasizes your skills and accomplishments as they relate to the job for which you're applying. Like other resume formats you should include all transferable skills. A functional resume presents a profile of your experience based on professional strengths or skill groupings. Your employment history usually follows, but in less detail than in a chronological resume.

Use if:

  • You have worked for only one employer, but have performed a wide variety of jobs.
  • You are applying for a job that is different from your present or most recent job.
  • You have little or no job experience; for example, you have recently graduated from school. Emphasize activities that demonstrate qualities such as leadership and organizational skills, at work or in organizations such as clubs or fraternities.
  • You have gaps in your work history.
  • You are reentering the job market after several years of freelancing, consulting, homemaking or unemployment.

Do not use if:

  • Your work history is stable and continuous, because employers sometimes assume that a functional resume hides a spotty, unstable work history.
  • Whichever resume format you use, keep in mind that the more unusual the appearance, the more likely it is to distract the employer from your accomplishments.


General Guide to an Effective Resume

The following suggestions apply to any type of resume. The order below is recommended, but you can be flexible:


Heading: Your name, address, phone number and e-mail should be prominently displayed at the top of the page.

Summary or Objective: If you use a summary, highlight your experience and accomplishments in two or three sentences. Clearly communicate the type of job you want and what you can offer to an employer. If you prefer to state an objective, make it broad enough to embrace closely related jobs, but not so broad that you appear lacking in focus or willing to take anything. This should be done in one sentence.

Whether you choose a summary or an objective, indicate level, function and industry for the position you are seeking. Be concise but general. Use your cover letter to make your summary or objective specific to a particular employer.

Experience: Indicate your major responsibilities. Emphasize accomplishments and measurable benefits to your former employer: situations improved, savings/earnings, new concepts adopted by firm. Achievements should he consistent with career direction, with a concentration on recent successes.

Skills: List special skills such as specific computer programming, word processing or an ability to operate special equipment.

Education: Start with the most advanced degree and give name and location of the institution, major and minor fields, and all career-oriented scholarships and academic awards. Include career related extracurricular activities, workshops and seminars.

Licenses, Certifications, Publications: Include only those that are career-related, without elaboration.

Additional Personal Data: Include only if career-related, such as memberships in associations.



Be positive.

Identify your relevant accomplishments. They should be quantitatively stated where appropriate. Describe how they benefited the employer.

Have friends who know your professional accomplishments comment on your resume and suggest items you may have forgotten or perhaps dismissed as unimportant.

Be specific. Choose words carefully; make every word count and eliminate unnecessary words.

Use concise sentences. Use bullet entries for a clean, easy-to-read look.

Use action verbs.


Don't devote space to items not directly related to the job you are seeking, such as hobbies, personal data such as height, weight and marital status or descriptions of former career jobs.

Don't use more than a few lines to describe your accomplishments. Keep it short. A one- or two-page resume is best. However, if you have a long work history, your resume might be longer.

Don't explain employment gaps.

Don't include references. However, a separate list of references should be available for distribution to employers on request, especially at the interview. Individuals and firms listed as a reference should be informed that a contact may be made on your behalf. On your resume, your last section might read "REFERENCES: Available upon request."

Don't include salary requirements.



Type or word-process your resume or have it professionally printed. If you use a computer printer, make sure the print is "letter quality." Use 8 1/2" x 11" quality white or cream paper. If you can, use 20 Ib. weight, 100% cotton bond paper.

Use wide margins. Single space within sections; double space between sections.

Center or left-justify and capitalize all headings.

Make sure your resume "looks good" - neat, readable, symmetrical and visually balanced. Stay away from needless, attention-getting visual effects.

Proofread your resume carefully and then have someone else proofread it. Be sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are flawless.

Inspect your resume for clarity. Smudges and marks are unacceptable.


Don't use abbreviations, except for names of states.

Action Verbs

Action verbs give your resume power and direction. All skill statements that begin with an action verb help demonstrate to the potential employer responsibilities and initiatives you undertook on prior jobs.


Cover Letter

Each time you mail your resume always include a cover letter stating your interest in the firm. The letter, however, should not duplicate resume information. It should briefly highlight the skills or positions you held previously that are appropriate to the position you seek. It also can be used to add additional information that you think is important to the employer.

Your cover letter should:

Describe how your skills and abilities will benefit the company.

Provoke the employer to read your resume.

Request a job interview.

Elements of a Cover Letter

Opening. Explain why you are writing. State the position you are seeking and the source of the job opening (e.g., newspaper ad, professional organization, colleague).

Main body. Highlight your job qualifications and link them to the firm's needs. Show that you know something about the firm and are interested in the firm's products or services. Explain why you chose this company. For example, you know someone who works there, you use their products or you heard about their good reputation.

Closing. Request an interview. Suggest a specific date and time. For example: "I'll try to contact you on Monday morning to see when you might be able to meet with me."

Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number.

Thank the employer for his or her time and effort.

Tips on Preparing a Cover Letter

Write an individualized cover letter for each job employer.

Address the letter to the person you want to contact, preferably the one doing the hiring.

Type letters on quality 8 1/2" x 11 " paper.

Use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Convey personal warmth and enthusiasm.

Keep your letter short and to the point.



Keep a tickler file of the resumes you send out and follow up with a phone call. Surveys have shown that only two percent of resumes mailed to employers result in an interview. If you follow up with a phone call, the success rate jumps to 20 percent.

Go to Table of Contents, Handling Your Job Loss, Managing Your Personal Resources, Assessing Your Skills, Experiences and Interests, Researching the Job Market, Conducting the Job SearchNetworking, Employment Interviewing, and Employment Testing. 

Thanks for the feedback! It will help us improve your experience.