A Quick Guide to Writing Cover Letters and Résumés

By Diane Kollman on July 12, 2013
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Hundreds—if not thousands—of guides for job applications currently exist across the great wide Web, but as a Writing Consultant at The Ohio State University Writing Center, I have reviewed stacks on stacks on stacks of cover letters and résumés, so I feel qualified to put in my two cents. Below are condensed lists on how to create a professional, persuasive, and aesthetically pleasing application.

Cover Letter Guide

Cover letters are your way to show that you are:                                          

1. Sincerely passionate about the position

2. Confident your abilities will benefit the employer’s organization

Formatting Tips

1. Use the same header for your cover letter as you do for your résumé.

2. Put a COLON after the salutation, not a comma (Dear Mr.___:).                                                                         If you don’t know their name, try to call or email the job poster and find out. Avoid writing “To whom it may concern.” If you absolutely cannot find their name, you can say “Dear Hiring Manager.”

2. 1-inch margins, size 12 font (Times New Roman or Garamond are recommended)

3. 1 page, 3-5 paragraphs (unless the application specifically requests shorter or longer formats)

4. Include spaces between each paragraph.

5. Do NOT indent the paragraphs.

6. Have three spaces between your closing and your name (sign your name in ink within that blank area). Handwritten signatures demonstrate that you put extra effort into your application. Sign in blue ink if you want to be extra showy, but not red or green. Take a picture or scan in your signature if you’re submitting an application online. Small touches can add up!

Key Ideas

1. Match your needs and skills to the employer (how THEY will benefit).         Don’t talk too much about your leadership experiences in your cover letter for a position that requires writing skills. Emphasize strengths that are relevant to the position.

2. Demonstrate knowledge of the organization by explaining how your values match those posted on the company’s website. Say what you admire about the company, perhaps by referencing a recent news article.

3. Be brief. Remove redundant sentences and long lists of adjectives.

4. Don’t restate your résumé. Instead, explain how the experiences you listed on your résumé demonstrate your qualifications. Why did you choose to pursue those experiences? What did you learn from them?

EXAMPLE: “In addition, I am well versed in AP style and have extensive experience writing for online venues. I write regularly for both Uloop News and USA Today College. I believe that my articles demonstrate the malleability of my writing style; I can adjust my tone to different levels of formality depending on my audience.”

First Paragraph

1. Mention the specific position title you are applying for.

2. Mention the resource or person you used to find out about position.

3. Introduce your credentials/experience.

EXAMPLE: “I am writing to apply for the Editorial Assistant position at onCampus, which I discovered through The Ohio State University’s FutureLink website. As an English and psychology double major with minors in both professional writing and creative writing, I believe that I possess the skills required for this position.” (Don’t be afraid to try a more unique opening, however!)

Second and Third Paragraphs

1. State why you are interested in the position.

EXAMPLE: “I wish to find a constructive outlet to apply my expertise…” or “After researching your company, I have found we have similar values/interests…” (describe what those are)

2. Describe your qualifications and achievements. More specifically, show how you plan to use those past experiences to benefit their company.

3. Connect your skills to the company’s needs; show that you’ve researched them.

EXAMPLE: “I believe that my former writing and editing experiences would greatly benefit onCampus, ensuring that the high quality of the publication is carefully maintained.”

Fourth Paragraph

1. Restate why you align with that organization’s goals.

EXAMPLE: “I understand that the role of an Editorial Assistant is one that requires high-quality work performance and a considerable time commitment, both of which I can provide for onCampus.”

2. Refer to your enclosed résumé, and indicate that it summarizes your qualifications and background.

EXAMPLE: “Attached is my résumé, which details my writing and marketing experience.”

Closing Paragraph

1. State your desire for an interview.

EXAMPLE: “I would like to meet with you to further discuss this opportunity at your  convenience.”

2. Let them know they can contact you by phone or email if they need additional information.

3. Thank them for their time and consideration. DO NOT FORGET THIS.

4. Sincerely,

(three spaces and then penned signature)

Your typed name

                                               Résumé Guide                                                 The 10-second Test

In an interview, employers will first judge you by your attire and appearance; your résumé is another form of attire. The format you use gives employers a certain first impression of what you’re like as a person, so you better make it look good. According to recent research, employers will spend six to ten seconds on average looking at a résumé. Look at your résumé for ten seconds. What does it say about you?

Design Matters: Format

1.    One page (use narrow margins if you need to conserve space)

2.    Basic font–size 11 or 12 (Times New Roman or Garamond recommended)

3.    Header with contact information (you can use two lines to save space)

4.    Education section first (if you are still a student)

5.    Sub-headings relevant to the position you’re applying for with 2-5 past/current experiences in each, listed from NEWEST to oldest within each section (although there are other ways to organize it)

Examples of sub-headings: Marketing Experience, Writing and Editing Experience, Customer Service/Work/Professional Experience, Leadership, Related Skills, Technical Expertise, Campus and Community Involvement, Awards and Honors, Study Abroad (can be included under Education)

6.    Save as a PDF (but make sure that nothing gets cut off)

Listing Employment History (typical format)

Place of Employment                                                                                       City, State

Position Title                                                                                                        Months Year

Chipotle                                                                                                                  Columbus, OH

Part-time Staff                                                                                                      Summer 2012

DON’T Use These!

1.    Career Objectives: Only use this when the job you’re applying for doesn’t seem to relate to your education or previous work experiences (e.g., applying to an engineering job as a music major). If you do use it, customize it with the company’s name.

2.    Summary of Qualifications: This section lists relevant skill sets, but is usually only used by those who have been in the field for many years.

Content

1.    Use action verbs (try not to repeat the same ones).

2.    Include numbers, if possible (e..g, number of articles written, hours spent on a project, sales increases).

3.    Don’t write TOO much. There’s no point in trying to fill all the white space—you just want balance.

The Quadrant Test (from Purdue OWL): “Each one of your quadrants should have an equal amount of text and white space (empty space where there is no text). When your page is balanced, the reader will typically read anything in quadrant 1 first. So, you should put your most important information—anything you want the employer to see first—in this quadrant.”  

General Tips

1.    Don’t include high school information (unless you’re a freshman).

2.    Be selective with what you include (don’t list everything you’ve ever done).

3.    Tailor the content and organization to the position (what do you want them to see first?).

4.    References: Include only if requested (No need to say “references available upon request” because they already know that).

5.   When Writing Applications: Avoid filling them out in mass batches; only take on one or two at a time. If you do too many at once, you’ll get lazy and start half-assing your work. You want to sound sincere and passionate, not cookie-cutter. Aim to do one per day for a week if you’re submitting more than a few.

6. When Submitting Applications: If you will be physically handing in an application, don’t staple the your cover letter and résumé together. Put your papers inside of a manilla envelope. Be fancy.

7. Have a professional read your application: Go to your university’s Writing Center or Career Center; they will probably be more knowledgeable and up-to-date than your friends or parents when it comes to applications.

If you get the interview:

1.    Bring copies of your résumé and a list of references.

2.    Send a thank you email or handwritten note 24 hours after your interview. Be sure to ask for their contact information at the end of the interview and try to send a separate thank-you note to each interviewer.

EXAMPLE:

“Dear [name]:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me yesterday. It was a pleasure to meet you and your colleagues. After learning the specific responsibilities of a [position title], I am even more interested in working for [company name]. Creating written and visual content and implementing various forms of advertising are all tasks that greatly appeal to me (or whatever tasks the position requires). In addition, I would love the opportunity to apply my writing and marketing experience in a way that benefits a larger community.

Thank you again for your consideration.

Best wishes,

[Your name]”

3.    If you’re rejected for the position, send them a positive note.

EXAMPLE:

“Dear [name]:

Although I would  have loved to fill the [job title] position, I understand your decision and wish the best to you and your chosen candidate. My interview with you left me with a highly positive impression of [company name], and I hope that I will have the opportunity to work for your [publication/organization/company] in the future.

Best wishes,

[your name]”

For more job application advice, visit the OSU Career Services webpage: http://asccareerservices.osu.edu/guides/resumes 

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By Diane Kollman

Uloop Writer
Diane Kollman is a third-year English and psychology major with minors in professional writing and creative writing. Ideally, her future career will involve editing fiction works, screenwriting, or teaching at the collegiate level.

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