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Module 2: Choose Your Path

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Resume and Cover Letter

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Résumé and Cover Letter

A Stand Out Résumé

Looking for the right job to start your career is a process that includes preparing your résumé and cover letter, getting them to the right people, going on interviews, and negotiating and accepting the right offer.

There are a few important steps to follow to create the résumé and cover letter that will make you different and stand out to a prospective employer.

Define Your Brand
Format and Font
Choose Your Headings
Bullet Points
Review

Define Your Brand

Your brand points are actually the foundation of your résumé and cover letter; it is in their summary that you compose your brand story.

You might think of creating a résumé that is a chronological summary of your background.

This is good, but it is not compelling enough to differentiate yourself amid the sea of résumés.

There are two important things to remember when creating your résumé:

1. Tell your brand story with your brand points.

2. Your brand points should be clear at a glance.

Let’s say your three brand points are leadership experience, academic excellence, and community service.

Those brand points make up your brand story, the story that you want to tell about yourself, so your résumé headings should highlight these areas.

Format and Font

Now that you have the foundation of your résumé message (brand points), it’s time to choose a résumé format.

Executives in all industries encourage students and young professionals (those who have been working for five years or less) not to exceed one page for your résumé. In some cases, it may be difficult to keep all of your experience and accomplishments to one page, so choose those that best tell your brand story. As one executive said, “It better be worth my while to turn to page two.” [1]

Résumé templates are available in Microsoft Word and templates may also be available at your local career center. The downside to some templates is that they are difficult to adjust or adapt. The most important thing to consider when you are choosing your résumé format is to be sure it is easy for the reader to skim.

Some formats with horizontal lines separating the categories, or those with dates that precede company and position information, are harder to skim because the reader has to work too hard to see the brand story.

Once you choose the format you want to use, you should choose a font that you will use for your résumé and cover letter. The font should be easy to read like Arial or Times New Roman (Arial is a bit more contemporary; Times New Roman is more traditional). It’s best to use twelve-point type (or eleven-point at the smallest) for ease of readability.

If you need a little more space on your résumé, consider adjusting the margins slightly, keeping at least 0.7 for each margin. You don’t want your résumé to feel crowded or that it is an effort to read.

Choose Your Headings

Now that you’ve done your groundwork, it’s time to actually create your résumé. Think about your brand points and then determine the headings you want to use. Use headings that help you tell your brand story at a glance. Don’t focus yet on what you will write in each heading.

There are some headings that are standard to include such as “Objective,” “Education,” and “Experience,” but other headings should be used to support your brand story.

For example, instead of having a heading for “Work Experience,” be more specific and use “Sales Experience” to highlight that if it is one of your brand points.

One of the most critical things to remember is to put the most important things first. Start with a heading for “Objective,” then “Education.” As you gain more experience in your career, education will move to the bottom. But at this point, it is a key selling point.

Now, it’s time to put your brand points to work by choosing headings that tell your story. If academic excellence is one of your brand points, you might consider adding a heading after “Education” called “Scholarships and Awards” or “Honors” to highlight honors and awards that demonstrate your academic excellence.

It’s a good idea for your next heading to reflect one of your brand points such as “Leadership Skills” or “Sales Experience” (or any other specific type of experience).

If leadership skills are one of your brand points, don’t make the reader go all the way to the bottom of the page to read about them.

If it’s important to your brand story, bring your skills into focus in the first part of your résumé with a strong heading. If you don’t have leadership skills, don’t worry-you still have a lot to offer.

Next, include your work experience. This is where you can really make your brand story come alive. Don’t be restricted to a traditional chronological order of your jobs. If you have had an internship in marketing, sales, or other area that supports your brand points, make a separate heading for it, such as “Marketing Experience” or “Sales Experience.”

If you have had other jobs, you can simply add another heading after it called “Work Experience” below it. This approach tells the reader at a glance that you have valuable experience in the area you want to pursue.

If you have participated in projects or activities to support the community, you may want to include a heading for “Community Service.” If you have additional activities that are worth noting, you might consider a heading for “Activities.”

It’s best to avoid a long list of generic activities at the end of your résumé. Although you may include some key activities from high school, it’s better if you can replace those with your more recent activities. It’s not necessary to include the dates of your involvement.

It’s a good idea to have a final heading for “Skills” at the end of your résumé. This should include computer software in which you are proficient such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, Adobe Acrobat, and others.

It’s a good reminder to your prospective employer that you are skilled for any position. Although it may seem second nature to you to use these software products, there are employers who didn’t learn them in school so they may not be aware that you are proficient in them.

A few things that should not be included on your résumé are hobbies, activities, or a photo.

See the résumé example to see how headings are used effectively to highlight brand points such as leadership skills, sales experience, and a committed work ethic.

Bullet Points

Bullet points are better than a narrative format because they are easier for the reader to skim.
Keep your bullet points concise, but specific, so that each delivers powerful information.

Start with your objective and write a short, specific goal. One sentence is perfect; you don’t have to be profound. Something that helps the reader understand what you are looking for is best.

For your education, include the formal name of your college or university, formal degree (e.g., Bachelor of Arts, Communication Studies), and year or expected year of graduation. You may be interested to know that your grade point average (GPA), is not a requirement on a résumé.

Generally, if your GPA is 3.5 or above, you may want to include it. [2] Most business people don’t recognize the significance of a GPA unless it’s 4.0. So, if academic achievement is one of your brand points, you should consider adding a heading for “Scholarship and Awards” to demonstrate your accomplishments. If academics aren’t your strong suit, don’t include your GPA; just list your education. [3]

For experience headings such as Leadership Experience, Sales Experience, or Customer Service Experience, list the name of the company and the city, your title, and
dates of employment.

If you use boldface for the company name, it stands out and helps the reader see at a glance where you have worked. The bullet points in these sections are critical to setting yourself apart; they should be concise and specific, but descriptive, and they should focus on accomplishments and contributions, not a listing of activities or tasks

Your bullet points should help reinforce your brand points with details of how you delivered on those points.

It might be helpful to write down all the things you did at each job and then identify the stories you can tell for each job. This is how you demonstrate traits such as ability to multitask, organizational skills, teamwork, and other skills.

Review
It’s true that some résumés are never even considered because of a typo or grammar error. After you finish your résumé, take a break, and then review it objectively.

Does it clearly tell your brand story? Are your brand points the most important topics? If someone read your résumé, what would that person think you have to offer? Make any necessary adjustments. Spell-check and proofread the résumé carefully. It’s a good idea to ask some people you trust-perhaps at your local career center, a parent or teacher to review and proofread your résumé. You can’t be too cautious. When you are satisfied that your résumé is perfect, print it.

Steps for a Cover Letter

If you haven’t prepared a cover letter to send with your résumé, you should consider writing one. According to a recent article, cover letters are still necessary, and in a competitive market they can give you a serious edge if they are written and presented effectively.[6]

A cover letter is key to set yourself apart, whether you are seeking an internship or a full-time position.

Start with Your Three Brand Points
Understand the Elements of a letter
Write Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be limited to a single page and should include the same font that you used for your résumé.

You should adapt and personalize your cover letter for every situation. You may even want to create new brand points that you can change based on the job posting. It’s best to use your cover letter whenever you send your résumé to someone.

Maybe you are dreading the thought of writing a cover letter. It’s easier than you think, since you have already identified your brand points.

Write a summary statement for each of your three brand points.

In other words, if you only had one minute to talk about your three brand points, what would you say about each one? Write two concise sentences for each point. It might be rough right now, but it will become the core of your cover letter.

Now you just need to know how to structure your brand story. A cover letter has three major sections:

First paragraph. Introduction and purpose .[7]
Second paragraph. Why you will bring value.[8]
Third paragraph. Closing and follow-up.[9] Since business people skim cover letters and résumés, it’s a good idea to use boldface to highlight your brand points.[10]


With your brand points in mind and the structure of a cover letter clearly defined, now you can get to writing. This is the place where you are able to demonstrate you personality and your selling skills.

You can make your cover letter a powerful lead-in to your résumé and sell your prospective employer on the reasons why you should come in for an interview.

As with your résumé, be sure to spell-check and proofread your cover letter carefully. Review your cover letter and résumé together to be sure your brand story is clear and powerful.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Your résumé and cover letter are your “advertising” tools for your personal brand. There are five steps that help you write a résumé that stands out from the crowd.

1. Your brand points are the basis of your résumé because they define your brand and the value you can bring to a prospective employer.

2. You can choose a résumé format that is easy for the reader to skim and see your brand points.

3. The headings on your résumé help provide a framework to tell your brand story.

4. The bullet points under each entry on your résumé should focus on your accomplishments and achievements, not just a listing of job tasks.

5. Always spell-check and proofread your résumé carefully. In fact, it’s a good idea to have several people review your résumé for accuracy before you send it to prospective employers. Your résumé should always be sent with your cover letter. Your cover letter highlights your brand points, which are further reinforced in your résumé.

A cover letter contains three major parts: the first paragraph that acts as an introduction, the second paragraph that highlights the value you can bring to the company, and the third paragraph that is the closing.

Exercises

Visit your local career center and learn about different formats for your résumé. Which ones do you like? Which one will you use? Is it easy for the reader to skim and see your brand story?

Learn about the format for a cover letter. What elements are included in a formal cover letter, which are not included in a casual e-mail?

Bibliography


[1] Connie Pearson-Bernard, “Careers in Communications Night,” presentation at West Chester University, West Chester,
PA, March 23, 2009.

[2] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 156.

[3] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 156.

[4] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 224.

[5] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 226.

[6] Phyllis Korkki, “A Cover Letter Is Not Expendable,” New York Times, February 15, 2009, business section, 10.
[7] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 162.

[8] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 162.

[9] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 162.

[10] Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 162.