Resumes and Cover Letters

Resume

Your resume is the initial filter for employers; most give each resume under a minute of their time, so it’s extremely important to make a good first impression. They’re really looking for a just a couple of things: whether you have the required skill set for the open position(s), and your level of attention to detail.

There are lots of resume writing resources out there, so we won’t get into the details, except for important pointers and advice for new graduates.

For the recent college graduates, the first item should be your objective, which states in one sentence which position you're applying for. Next should be higher level education - don't put your high school. Try to include your college GPA, since withholding it on the resume often implies to employers that your GPA was low. Include school projects and make sure to state your contribution if it was a group project. Put relevant work experience (fixing computers, tech support, internships, etc.) after that if you have any, and don’t bother including retail/food service. Describe your job responsibilities as well as the impact it had on the organization; try to quantify it if possible, and definitely use a bulleted list instead of a paragraph. Lastly, include a list of development environments, source control systems, databases, etc. that you've used.

It’s a good idea to separate technologies by level of aptitude instead of just listing them all; this lets employers have a better idea of how well you know certain technologies. Don't over-exaggerate! Anything on a resume is fair game, so if you put something down, be prepared to answer some questions about it.

Technical resumes are allowed to break the one page rule, but it’s suggested to keep it at a two page maximum; this way, it’ll still fit on one sheet of paper, double-sided.

Your resume should be custom tailored for the organization you’re applying for! As both a web application developer and a software engineer, I have two different skillsets that are not exactly complimentary. As a result, although my Education and Work Experience sections remain the same, I modify my Projects section to contain the projects I’ve worked on that relate to the employer’s needs. It’s highly recommended to make a default overall resume and modify it slightly for each company you’re applying to.

People with foreign last names should indicate citizenship status (citizen, permanent resident, or student visa) because they will ask anyways.

Don't worry about printing your resume on nice paper. This advice was more applicable back before computers, since nowadays your resume will be scanned and passed around electronically. Most of the hiring staff won’t get to see the quality of your paper so it’s better just to skip it.

Click here if you want more in-depth tactics on how to make your resume really stand out.

Cover Letter

Your cover letter helps the employer acknowledge that you have read the job description and are qualified for the position. Here you get to show a little bit of personality, too.

Sending a resume without a cover letter is usually not a good idea, because you want to give the employer an incentive to read your resume.

Start off by stating which position(s) you’re interested in. You can also include information regarding how you found out about the opportunity. Then, reiterate the job requirements and include information about how you satisfy each requirement. This may be because of relevant educational/work experience, or leadership you’ve demonstrated, or personal interest in an area, etc. Be as specific as possible by using clear examples. Make sure to remember to include information about availability both in regards to location and time if the job has specific constraints there. End by expressing your interest in an opportunity to interview and how you plan on following up.

Resources

There is plenty of additional information about resumes and cover letters online. Excellent sources include your university’s Career Services department, and even if you didn’t attend college, most universities post their resume / cover letter advice on their websites, so a quick search should do the trick.

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