What’s the Big Deal with Résumés and Cover Letters?

A crowded desk with a coffee cup, a laptop, a cell phone, and various paperwork

As a continuation of our graduate series, we’re compiling tips, tricks, and advice on drafting the perfect résumé and cover letter. We’ll discuss what they’re for, why they’re important, and how to impress any employer with your resume and cover letter design. 

What’s the difference between a résumé and a cover letter?

A résumé and cover letter not only look different, they have different purposes (although the main goal of each is to convince an employer that you are the ideal candidate). You can think of a résumé as closer to a highlight reel of your educational and professional achievements. Résumés are typically broken down into main sections (like education, work experience, skills, etc.), and then include bullet points about the sections. Cover letters, on the other hand, are full paragraphs (although shorter than typical paragraphs) that describe why you are the best candidate for the job. Cover letters can include stories that highlight your relevant experience, and they allow applicants to express a little individuality. 

Why do jobs require these documents? 

Jobs require these documents to easily access potential employees. Résumés and cover letters let the hiring manager quickly scan the relevant information. One thing to note is that sometimes companies will use résumé software, which will scan resumes before they are read by the employer. Because of this, it is important to check out the job application and try to use the words in application in your résumé. For example, if a job application said that they were looking for a “highly-skilled, self-motivated individual,” you might consider adding that phrasing into your résumé. Here’s a great article about getting your résumé past this software and into the hands of your potential employer. 

How should I format a résumé? What about a cover letter? 

Typically, résumés and cover letters are each one full page in length. It is best to have a cohesive theme throughout both documents, so it is wise to consider using the same fonts and/or headings. To ensure proper formatting when submitting these documents, it is usually best to submit as a PDF, rather than a Word document, which can sometimes affect the formatting of your documents. However, sometimes the job posting will cite specific file formats, so you should be sure to read the posting in full before submitting. 

Do I really need to include a cover letter?

Sometimes a job application will not require a cover letter, so there’s no need to attach it. Make sure to read the application very carefully to make sure you’re attaching all necessary documents. 

For more information about résumés and cover letters, you can check out this extensive guide prepared by the Service Learning and Career Development center. As well, even after graduation, alums will be able to stop by the SLCD for résumé and cover letter reviews. 

Keep an eye out for more tips for our 2021 graduates.

Read the first in this series – all about LinkedIn.

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