Career Center

Career Center staff helping a student with their resume

Résumés, Cover Letters and More


Employers typically spend 7-15 seconds pre-screening a résumé to find the right candidate.

Make yours stand out.

  • Summarize and promote your greatest qualifications and accomplishments.
  • Reflect your most relevant personal, educational and work experiences.
  • Review our Résumé Writing presentation.
  • Watch one to two minute Résumé Writing videos

Once your résumé is written, email the Word document to us at We will reply within 24 business hours. You can also schedule a Zoom appointment.

Experiences to Include on a Résumé

Experience comes in a variety of forms on many fronts.

Use this checklist to help you recall projects or work you have done or are doing that may be appropriate for a résumé.

  • Community involvement: Have you ever volunteered? Where?
  • Work or job: Have you or do you have a part-time job? Where? Paid or unpaid?
  • Extra-curricular: Have you received any honors or participated in activities such as sports, clubs or memberships? Where and what did you do?
  • Language skills: Do you speak multiple languages? Which ones? Are you fluent?
  • Professional memberships and leadership: Have you attended any camps or workshops? Where and what did they involve?
  • Certification or licenses: Are you certified in areas such as First Aid, CPR, water safety, etc.?
  • Computer or technical skills: Do you know how to use any specific software or tools such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Picasa, Adobe products, etc.? List them.
  • Travel or study abroad: Where have you traveled or studied or served in missions?
  • Class presentations/projects: Have you ever had a presentation or project that you completed that you are particularly proud of? Describe it.
  • Military experience: Have you participated in the military? If so, list special training or education.

Creating an Effective Résumé

The purpose of a résumé is to get interviews!

A person whose qualifications closely match those sought by the employer gets the interview.

Key items for consideration

  • We think the best approach is to build your résumé using Microsoft Word document (.doc). Look at our résumé samples or search online for actual résumés of professionals in your desired field, pick your favorites and use those as inspiration for your own. Avoid using a template if possible.
  • Print on high quality résumé paper.
  • One page only, unless you have significant related experience. Second page must be at least half full.
  • Use consistent indentation, capitalization, font style, spacing and margins.
    • Font should be easy to read (Helvetica or Times New Roman) 10-12 point font size.
    • Margins between .5-1.0 inches.
  • No personal pronouns (I, me, you, etc.).
  • Gather your selling points and prioritize.
  • What key qualifications do you need to highlight? Look for key skills on job descriptions that employers are looking for. Make the key items stand out.
  • Use our formula for constructing bullet points that will stand out for an employer. (See below)
  • Prepare, review & revise your drafts.
  • Review our presentation.

Don'ts for résumés

  • Don’t make it too long. Employers generally spend no more than 7-15 seconds pre-scanning résumés.
  • Don’t list vague information. Tell something about your experiences.
  • Don’t be negative. List the positive skills you learned.
  • Don't include religion, political party or national origin.
  • Don't include salary information. If requested, provide it in the cover letter.
  • Don’t use a photo. It may give the wrong impression.
  • Don’t list your references. If needed, an employer will request them.
  • Don’t tag your résumé with an incorrect title. Be sure to change the objective each time you submit.
  • Don’t ruin your résumé with a poor format. Be as neat and use high quality printing paper.
  • Don't send a résumé without a cover letter.

Avoid these eight subtle mistakes.

Résumé content

A résumé should speak to how you as a person will fit within the employers company based on their philosophy of service. Here are a few types of experience that may help you tailor your résumé:

  • Employment.
  • Involvement in clubs.
  • Professional organizations.
  • Internships.
  • Professional recognition.
  • Extra-curricular/Volunteer.
  • Leadership/Coaching.
  • Field experiences.
  • Valuable certifications.

Possible résumé headings

  • Objective.
  • Career objective.
  • Professional objective.
  • Education.
  • Educational background.
  • Teaching preparation.
  • Professional development.
  • Experience.
  • Relevant experience.
  • Related experience.
  • Work experience.
  • Work history.
  • Employment summary.
  • Summary of qualifications.
  • Highlight of qualifications.
  • Capabilities.
  • Honors and awards.
  • Activities and achievements.
  • Volunteer activities.
  • Community service.
  • Extra-curricular activities.
  • Skills.
  • Related skills.
  • Teaching skills.
  • Computer skills.
  • Technical skills.
  • Professional skills.
  • Academic projects and skills.
  • Special projects and skills.
  • Additional experience.

Contact information

  • Contact information should be at the top of your résumé.
  • Name is bolded and between 14-20 point font.
  • Address information is the same font size as the main body text (11 pt).
  • Email should be professional and one you check frequently (ex: NOT

Objective (optional)

  • An objective states what you are looking to accomplish through your career search. When writing an objective, specifically target the position you wish to attain.


  • Include degree, current or intended major, university name with city and state, and expected graduation date.
  • Include GPA or major GPA (compute your GPA) if above a 3.0, deans list, study abroad experience, related coursework, previous colleges, working 20 or more hours while in school full time, and national accreditations.
  • Omit high school information unless something exceptional or first-year student.


  • Use “Experience” if you include unpaid position(s).
  • Employers want a reverse chronological list of jobs with dates of employment.
  • List the position title, followed by the name of the employer/organization, and location (city and state). Use bullets to list key skills, responsibilities and results.
  • Give details. Employers want to know exactly what you did and the skills you gained.
  • Check to make sure statements are in correct tense.

Activities and Achievements

  • College degrees, honors, relevant experience, promotions, outstanding recommendations, leadership, community involvement, creativity, etc.

Additional skills (optional)

  • This section allows you to include other relevant skills sought by employers that wouldn’t fit in other sections.
  • For example, computer languages, job specific certifications, foreign languages, etc.

Action verbs for describing job functions

Communication Skills

  • Addressed.
  • Announced.
  • Arbitrated.
  • Arranged.
  • Authored.
  • Communicated.
  • Corresponded.
  • Delivered.
  • Developed.
  • Directed.
  • Displayed.
  • Drafted.
  • Edited.
  • Enlisted.
  • Formulated.
  • Influenced.
  • Interpreted.
  • Lectured.
  • Mediated.
  • Moderated.
  • Motivated.
  • Negotiated.
  • Persuaded.
  • Presented.
  • Promoted.
  • Publicized.
  • Read.
  • Reconciled.
  • Recruited.
  • Sold.
  • Spoke.
  • Translated.
  • Wrote.

Clerical or Detailed Skills

  • Approved.
  • Arranged.
  • Classified.
  • Collected.
  • Complied.
  • Conceived.
  • Delivered.
  • Detected.
  • Dispatched.
  • Displayed.
  • Distributed.
  • Executed.
  • Generated.
  • Implemented.
  • Inspected.
  • Interviewed.
  • Monitored.
  • Operated.
  • Organized.
  • Prepared.
  • Processed.
  • Purchased.
  • Recorded.
  • Reorganized.
  • Retrieved.
  • Revamped.
  • Reviewed.
  • Revised.
  • Screened.
  • Specified.
  • Systematized.
  • Tabulated.
  • Validated.

Creative Skills

  • Acted.
  • Arranged.
  • Built.
  • Captured.
  • Conceptualized.
  • Constructed.
  • Created.
  • Designed.
  • Developed.
  • Directed.
  • Edited.
  • Established.
  • Exceeded.
  • Excelled.
  • Fashioned.
  • Founded.
  • Illustrated.
  • Innovated.
  • Instituted.
  • Integrated.
  • Introduced.
  • Invented.
  • Launched.
  • Marketed.
  • Originated.
  • Performed.
  • Planned.
  • Revamped.
  • Revitalized.
  • Shaped.
  • Simplified.
  • Sketched.
  • Updated.

Financial Skills

  • Administered.
  • Allocated.
  • Analyzed.
  • Appraised.
  • Audited.
  • Balanced.
  • Bargained.
  • Budgeted.
  • Computed.
  • Conserved.
  • Developed.
  • Financed.
  • Forecasted.
  • Handled.
  • Managed.
  • Marketed.
  • Planned.
  • Projected.
  • Researched.

Helping or Teaching Skills

  • Adapted.
  • Advanced.
  • Advised.
  • Assessed.
  • Assigned.
  • Assisted.
  • Clarified.
  • Coached.
  • Collaborated.
  • Communicated.
  • Consulted.
  • Contributed.
  • Coordinated.
  • Counseled.
  • Demonstrated.
  • Designed.
  • Diagnosed.
  • Educated.
  • Enabled.
  • Encouraged.
  • Evaluated.
  • Explained.
  • Facilitated.
  • Guided.
  • Informed.
  • Initiated.
  • Instructed.
  • Mentored.
  • Persuaded.
  • Planned.
  • Prepared.
  • Provided.
  • Referred.
  • Represented.
  • Stimulated.
  • Solved.
  • Supported.
  • Taught.

Management Skills

  • Accelerated.
  • Activated.
  • Administered.
  • Analyzed.
  • Anticipated.
  • Assigned.
  • Balanced.
  • Conducted.
  • Consolidated.
  • Contracted.
  • Controlled.
  • Coordinated.
  • Decided.
  • Delegated.
  • Demonstrated.
  • Developed.
  • Directed.
  • Enhanced.
  • Evaluated.
  • Executed.
  • Implemented.
  • Improved.
  • Increased.
  • Led.
  • Managed.
  • Organized.
  • Oversaw.
  • Planned.
  • Prioritized.
  • Produced.
  • Recommended.
  • Reviewed.
  • Scheduled.
  • Streamlined.
  • Strengthened.
  • Structured.
  • Supervised.
  • Trained.

Research Skills

  • Clarified.
  • Collected.
  • Conducted.
  • Critiqued.
  • Determined.
  • Diagnosed.
  • Discovered.
  • Evaluated.
  • Examined.
  • Explored.
  • Extracted.
  • Identified.
  • Inspected.
  • Interpreted.
  • Investigated.
  • Measured.
  • Observed.
  • Organized.
  • Predicted.
  • Researched.
  • Reviewed.
  • Sorted.
  • Studied.
  • Summarized.
  • Surveyed.
  • Systematized.
  • Tested.
  • Uncovered.

Technical Skills

  • Assembled.
  • Built.
  • Calculated.
  • Computed.
  • Devised.
  • Engineered.
  • Fabricated.
  • Installed.
  • Maintained.
  • Operated.
  • Ordered.
  • Overhauled.
  • Programmed.
  • Remodeled.
  • Repaired.
  • Serviced.
  • Solved.
  • Trained.
  • Updated.
  • Upgraded.
  • Worked.

Other Skills

  • Anticipated.
  • Assembled.
  • Bargained.
  • Completed.
  • Corresponded.
  • Earned.
  • Effected.
  • Eliminated.
  • Entertained.
  • Estimated.
  • Expedited.
  • Familiarized.
  • Fostered.
  • Fulfilled.
  • Judged.
  • Located.
  • Mastered.
  • Obtained.
  • Participated.
  • Prescribed.
  • Proposed.
  • Protected.
  • Proved.
  • Qualified.
  • Received.
  • Reduced.
  • Reinforced.
  • Served.

Match Your Skills to the Ones Employers Want

It's important to match your skills to the ones employers look for when hiring.

This list of top skills sought by employers shows you how to present your skills using the successful bullet point formula:

  • WHO Bullet Point = What, How (skill used), Outcome

Top skills with examples

Customer service

  • Developed strong interpersonal communication skills by providing quality customer service to hundreds of customers daily
  • Demonstrated ability to effectively multi-task in a fast-paced work environment while maintaining accuracy and excellent customer service by serving clientele
  • Provided excellent customer service to ensure a positive dining experience resulting in repeat business

Money management

  • Demonstrated skills in efficiently executing cash, check, and credit transactions by operating own cash register each shift
  • Established cash accountability by being in charge of large sums of money
  • Reconciled monetary transactions efficiently and accurately for hundreds of customers daily, resulting in being recognized by my supervisor for outstanding customer satisfaction

Office skills

  • Managed office operations, including mail and staff of 3 using an open communication approach with a result of increased productivity
  • Arranged records to increase functionality and efficiency of working environment
  • Conducted daily inventory of over 150 items resulting being entrusted to periodically order supplies


  • Trained and supervised 10 new staff in company standards and procedures successfully
  • Effectively oversaw and delegated tasks to an average of 15 employees per 8 hour shift resulting in an 8% increase in productivity within the first 2 months
  • Developed strong goal orientation and self-motivation skills working in a competitive environment


  • Work well as a member of a team, helping to maintain a positive attitude among team members
  • Learned to work effectively with managers, cooks, and other servers to help the restaurant process run smoothly
  • Collaborated with department personnel using open communication to meet the needs of customers and perform daily operations of the store


  • Lead dynamic campus tours and acted as a master of ceremonies for numerous student events, which resulted in increased engagement and satisfaction according to post-event surveys
  • Wrote 6 individual articles, aided in writing 3 group articles as a writer for the campus publication, and helped to organize the sections of the paper by considering students’ interests
  • Utilized bilingual language skills to effectively communicate with diverse populations

Strong work ethic

  • Commended often for getting work done in a timely manner and with great thoroughness resulting in two promotions within a 12-month period
  • Developed the ability to stay positive and enthusiastic in order to handle situations effectively and constructively as a customer service representative
  • Demonstrated strong work ethic by working longer shifts to ensure projects were completed on time


  • Developed the ability to quickly assess situations and provide solutions as a member of the Husky Forensics Team
  • Utilized active listening skills to effectively collaborated with others to effectively solve problems and ensure excellent customer satisfaction
  • Identified scheduling issues and developed solutions to meet the needs of all employees
  • Identified scheduling issues and developed solutions to meet the needs of all employees


  • Skilled in effectively prioritizing schedules and juggling multiple projects and tasks as a result of working 20 hours per week while attending school full-time
  • Demonstrated flexibility through multi-tasking in a fast paced work environment
  • Utilized customer service and sales experience to help out other departments when needed


  • Strengthened ability to be energetic and enthusiastic in order to promote innovative ideas and events as a result of involvement with campus recreation
  • Motivated the track team consistently during practices and meets and adopted a strong leadership position in order to accomplish our goal of a successful season as captain
  • Demonstrated initiative by creating templates and documents to create a more efficient and effective intake process for all staff and customers


  • Used Excel to create and maintain the University Program Board club’s budget and constructed many PowerPoint presentations for event promotions
  • Designed and maintained a website for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central MN for four years while volunteering in the program and continuously supporting their
  • Demonstrated proficiency in HTML coding by creating an efficient and easy to use web design for customers, employees, and administers


  • Paid strong attention to details and checked for accuracy in newspaper articles through work as a copy editor for the University Chronicle (campus publication)
  • Acquired the talent to be detail-oriented and organized throughout work as a housekeeper while continuously performing routine tasks with preciseness and care
  • Demonstrated strong attention to detail while managing inventory and reconciling daily receipts

Include International Experience

Have people assured you that your international experience “looks great on a résumé”? They're right!

But, it’s up to you to effectively communicate how your experience has value and will benefit a potential employer's organization.


  • Improved foreign language proficiency.
  • Developed awareness of global economic and political issues and realities.
  • Increased awareness of cultural differences.
  • Enhanced cultural awareness and understanding of customs.
  • Intensified understanding of others’ cultural views of the United States.
  • Increased confidence in working with individuals and groups from other cultures.
  • Gained independence in taking risks and dealing with unfamiliar situations.
  • Demonstrated ability to problem-solve and handle difficult situations.
  • Deepened understanding of lack of resources available in other countries.
  • Improved personal skills in organizational management, handling budget, patience, adaptability, flexibility.
  • Improved communication skills including listening and observation.
  • Increased ability to maintain an open mind and be understanding of others.
  • Expanded ability and willingness to travel.
  • Improved skills and knowledge in my discipline such as ... .


Always include international experience on the résumé, even if you do not think it relates to your objective. It almost always does.

Study abroad example


Education example

Bachelor of Arts degree in French
St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN

May 20xx

International study program of French Language and Culture
University of Social Sciences, Toulouse, France

Spring 20xx

Internship, Marketing, Wilbur-Ellis Co., Brighton, Australia

  • Assisted with creating strategies for marketing agricultural products.
  • Increased awareness of global economic and business practice.

Aug.-Dec. 20xx

Experience example


Related Experience Example

Intern, Marketing, Wilbur-Ellis Co., Brighton, Australia

  • Assisted with creating strategies for marketing agricultural products.
  • Increased awareness of global economic and business practice.

Aug.-Dec. 20xx

Volunteer, House of Resurrection, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

  • Adapted easily to changing circumstances.
  • Organized, implemented and supervised structured recreational activities for children.

Aug.-Dec. 20xx

Employed position example


Work Experience Example

Laborer, Washerei, Wyk auf Fohr, Germany

  • Worked and communicated in German with supervisors and co-workers.
  • Travel throughout Germany and visited historical sites.
  • (Add bullet points based on skills identified above.)

Summer 20xx

List experiences in Skills/Accomplishments Section example


  • Traveled through seven countries in Europe during summer of 20xx.
  • Used speaking skills of three languages -- French, German, Italian.


  • Read, write and speak Japanese proficiently.
  • Studied abroad in Japan and increased ability to be open-minded and understanding of others.
  • Gained an appreciation for diversity while living with a Japanese family.

Cover Letter

  • How does your international experience relate to your field?
  • Know your objective and the career field in which you intend to work.
    • "My studies in Japan provided me with a great insight into the cultural differences that influence consumers in different countries and will improve my ability to contribute to international marketing initiatives."
  • If your career goals do not include a specific international dimension, you can promote the general transferable skills that apply to most career fields such as diversity awareness and flexibility.


  • Plan how and where you will refer to your experience abroad. While it is important, it is only a small piece of your qualifications.
  • Prepare specific examples. Did you:
    • Complete a specific project, research, or case study related to your field?
    • Learn to work with a more diverse group of people, or work with a specific culture related to a particular company that has connections in that country?
    • Learn new activities, languages or skills?
    • Develop skills through experiences or independent travel?

Résumé Samples

Submit Résumés and Applications Online

The first “look” at your résumé may not be with human eyes. An employer may use technology such as a search engine to screen applicants.

The scan searches for skills, qualities, or minimum qualifications that fit the position requirements.

Then, a human resources professional reviews the applications that fit the best and decides who to interview.

Improve your chances that your résumé will be seen

Realize that the job and internship search process is an active process.

  • If your only strategy is submitting résumés to job boards and waiting for a response, you will limit your chances at an interview. Attend a career fair, professional conference, or network with industry professionals in addition to your online application.

Make sure your résumé addresses specific skills the employer is seeking.

  • Use key words described in the job posting. This will improve the chances the search engine will return your résumé as a match.

Submit your résumé in a format that employers can read online.

  • Follow the instructions on how to submit your résumé. Make sure to attach your documents in the format they request (.PDF, .doc, ASCII file, etc.).

How do I fill out an online application?

  • Follow directions. Enter the correct data in the correct field and complete all fields, even those that aren’t required.
  • Tailor your information to the position. Don’t copy and paste text from your generic résumé.
  • Use key words and industry verbiage. Select key vocabulary from a company's brochure, website, advertising, etc. Do your research.
  • If the company offers an optional assessment test online, take it.
  • Include a strong objective. Match this to the specific position(s) available at this organization.
  • Complete the application in one sitting. Some sites will not allow you to re-enter or change your application.
  • Make careful note of any user names, passwords or PIN numbers if you have to register on sites.
  • Be professional. Electronically submitted information is governed by the same laws of copyright, defamation, discrimination, etc. as other forms of written communication.

Additional tips on applying online:

  • Keep a saved record of each document submitted in an application.
  • Before submitting, print off the completed application and proofread (spell check and grammar check).
  • Make any changes and save or print off a final copy as a reference and as proof of application.
  • Follow up with a personal e-mail to the recruiter to let them know that your resume is now available online. A follow-up phone call is acceptable if the ad does not say, “No phone calls.”

When sending applications via email:

  • Make sure your résumé can hold its own in a very simple format. The best way is to save it as a PDF because it cannot be edited by accident.
  • Limit attachments to only what the recruiter has requested.
  • Request a receipt of application acknowledgement either in your cover letter, or by setting up an automatic recipient received message through your email.
  • Select a title for each attachment such as Résumé for J Smith, Cover Letter for J Smith, References for J Smith.

What if an online application requires you to cut and paste your resume to a text box?

  • Cutting and pasting a Microsoft Word document to a text box does not produce a well formatted resume.
  • You need to use a Plain Text document using the Windows Notepad program.
  • Since Notepad does not use tab stops, all information on the resume is formatted off of the left margin.
  • Use spacing to separate key sections of the resume.
  • Use capitalization in place of bold face characters to highlight information that needs to stand out (titles, degrees, etc.)
  • Replace bullet points and borders with symbols found on a standard keyboard (* , - , _ , = , etc.)

Working Abroad Resources

Professional Summaries

Use them for your résumé, LinkedIn profile, or other professional platforms.


Summary- a few short, well worded, well targeted sentences that summarize your skills, competencies, and experiences.

Example- Engineering Graduate with leadership training and experience with academic training at St. Cloud State University. Proven skills in project management, organization and research. Able to provide employers with administrative support and professional communication skills.

Objective- a short, targeted statement that clearly outlines your career direction while positioning you as someone who fits what the employer is exactly looking for. 

Example- Dedicated and motivated engineering graduate seeking entry level assistant quality control manager position.

Objectives may still be effectively used in résumés, but in today’s job hunting world it would prove more useful to utilize a summary. Summaries give a more detailed insight, “snapshot” per say, to readers about whom they are reading about, compared to the one sentence an objective provides.


Step 1: Figure Out Where You're Going
Since you need to be concise, it’s important to figure out what you want in your next position, so you know exactly what skills and experiences to highlight. If you are not absolutely clear about what you want, envision an ideal position that will value you for the main characteristics and experiences you want to be hired for.

Ask Yourself:

  • What skills do you most enjoy using?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of and can best illustrate your abilities?
  • What issues, topics, or areas are you most passionate about?

Step 2: Analyze Your Target Industry
Once you know what you want to do, your next step is identifying where you want to be—think industry, city, and companies. Then, research your industry and key trends affecting it now. Read relevant industry news articles, research companies, and analyze job descriptions you’re interested in.

Ask Yourself:

  • What is most valued in your target industry?
  • What experiences, skills, and characteristics matter in your target jobs?
  • What would you look for if you were the hiring manager?

Step 3: Find Your Fit and Condense
With your knowledge of your target industry, it’s time to figure out how you fit in (or want to). Identify, describe, and refine your key selling points with your end goal in mind. Then, craft them into three to five sentences, shooting for statements that are vivid and that clearly illustrate what you bring to the table over anyone else.

Ask Yourself:

  • What are your most impactful selling points?
  • What critical problems are you well positioned to solve?


Registered Nurse Example (School of Health and Human Services)

  • Registered nurse with experience in providing compassionate care to multicultural populations and competent in observing patients for condition changes. Knowledge of developing, altering and implementing care plans in accordance to patients’ healthcare needs. Special interest in pediatric care.

Criminal Justice Example (School of Public Affairs)

  • An ambitious criminal justice graduate, driven to serve others. Seeking work in capacity of a correctional officer. Experienced in communicating with inmates and explaining release conditions effectively. Expertise include emergency situations management, activity supervision, and record keeping.

Elementary Education Example (College of Education and Learning Design)

  • Dedicated and student-focused elementary education professional who is committed to providing holistic, supportive, and engaging environment for all learners. Committed to grow and learn professionally, while ensuring every child’s learning styles and abilities are addressed.

Communications Studies Example (College of Liberal Arts)

  • Honors graduate of St. Cloud State University Communications Studies program seeking a position in training and development. Offering hands-on experience from classroom experiences, corporate training, and communication research. Specializes in conflict resolution in the workplace.

Marketing Example (Herberger Business School)

  • Accomplished sales and marketing management graduate from St. Cloud State University who excels in strategic planning, marketing, sales, and support of advanced technology solutions. Keen on presentation, contract negotiation, and communication skills and abilities.

Engineering Example (College of Science and Engineering)

  • Dedicated mechanical engineer with field experience and technical expertise to provide high quality mechanical component and system support. Skilled at formulating and implementing equipment designs, testing and producing specifications, and researching product applications. Specializes in testing and diagnosing electromechanical system functions.

Art Example (School of the Arts)

  • Creative and skilled Art graduate with in-depth knowledge of diverse mediums, techniques, and equipment. Highly detail-oriented and customer-focused, displays excellent communication skills and possesses willingness to improve techniques and processes through continued training and education.résumé


Cover Letters

Cover letters connect your experiences on your résumé to potential future positions. They highlight your strengths, accomplishments and can be tailored to the needs of the potential employer.

Get started by watching these short Cover Letter videos.

Once your letter is written, email the Word document to us at We will reply within 24 business hours. You can also schedule a Zoom appointment.

Format Guidelines

Cover letters are the key to making a great first impression.

It is your opportunity to personalize your résumé and target your skills to that specific employer.

  • It connects the past experiences listed on your résumé to your potential future position.
  • They allow you to go in-depth about important experiences.
  • They also highlight your strengths, accomplishments and personality.

Types of cover letters

  • Employer invited: An employer has asked for your résumé.
  • Uninvited or cold contact: Match your qualifications to the perceived needs of the employer. This strategy requires that a phone or personal contact with the employer either precede or follow the sending of the résumé and cover letter.
  • Referral: Use the referral letter to contact employers to whom you have been referred.
  • E-note: Use as a shorter version of your cover letter; either in the body of an email or uploaded onto job boards.

What should be included in a cover letter?

  • A cover letter needs to be concise and well formatted to be effective.
  • It should use action words and descriptive statements to convey qualifications and career objectives.
  • It should identify why you should be called in for an interview.
  • It should use words from the job ad or description.
  • It can explain any problems or questions such as gaps in employment or anything that may not be clear in your resume.

Do I have to write/send a cover letter with my résumé?

  • Yes! Anytime you send or submit a résumé it should be accompanied by a cover letter.
  • When possible address the cover letter to a specific person by name and title.
  • Customizing the cover letter for a particular company can also get your résumé past the first barrier.

Cosmetics of a cover letter

  • The same cover letter cannot be used in every situation.
  • Keep it short and sweet! Three to five paragraphs and no more than one page.
  • Use the same paper stock you used for your résumé.
  • Sign in blue ink. It implies the letter is original and personalized. The only alternative color is black.
  • Write "Enclosure" at the bottom. This indicates other documents accompany your cover letter.

Cover Letter Samples

Curriculum Vitae

A curriculum vitae, meaning "course of one's life," gives much more detail than a résumé about academic and professional accomplishments.

Curriculum vitae are most often used for academic or research positions, whereas résumés are the preferred documents in business and industry.

A CV focuses more on responsibilities such as writing, researching, and teaching, than administrative duties and skills.

It should present your competencies and experiences related to the needs defined by the prospective employing organization.


Common uses

  • Admission to graduate school or as part of an application packet for a graduate assistantship or scholarship.
  • Grant proposals.
  • Teaching, research, and upper-level administrative positions in higher education.
  • Academic departmental and tenure reviews.
  • College or university service appointments.
  • Professional association leadership positions.
  • Speaking engagements.
  • Publishing and editorial review boards.
  • Research and consulting positions in a variety of settings.
  • School administration positions at the superintendent, principal, or department head level.


  • Education.
  • Master's thesis or project.
  • Dissertation title or topic.
  • Course highlights or areas of concentration in graduate study.
  • Teaching experience and interests.
  • Research experience and interests.
  • Consulting experience.
  • Internships or graduate practicum.
  • Fieldwork.
  • Publications.
  • Professional papers and presentations.
  • Grants received.
  • Professional association and committee leadership positions and activities.
  • Certificates and licensure.
  • Special training.
  • Academic awards, scholarships, and fellowships.
  • Foreign education and travel abroad.
  • Language competencies.
  • Technical and computer skills.


  • Despite the length, it's important to write concisely and present it in a clean, easy-to-read layout.
  • Although CVs are often similar to résumés, the preferred style, format, and content varies from discipline to discipline. Become familiar with the requirements of your academic field by:
    • Asking faculty members in your department.
    • Consulting professional associations for additional guidelines and examples.
  • Vitae are usually two pages at the shortest, and can be many pages in length. Common lengths for curricula vitae are:
    • One to three pages for bachelor's and master's degree candidates.
    • Two to five pages for doctoral candidates.
    • Five or more pages for an experienced academician or researcher.
  • Plural or singular forms:
    • "Curricula vitae" (vee-tie) is the plural form; "curriculum vitae" is singular.
    • The informal shortened form, "vita" standing alone, meaning a brief autobiographical sketch (Webster's), is singular, while "vitae," is plural.
    • The abbreviations CV or CVs are often used.

We Can Help

Make an appointment to review your CV with the Write Place and use your faculty advisor as a resource.

Letters of Correspondence

Thank You Letters

Sending a thank you letter leaves a positive impression and can sometimes be the deciding factor as to who gets offered the position. It is important to send a thank you to each of the individuals you interviewed with within 24 hours after the interview.

If you decide you are no longer interested in the position, it is still common courtesy to send a thank you note as it reflects your professionalism. It also keeps the door open if you should become interested in the organization sometime in the future or if the person you met with knows of another opportunity that might interest you.


  • Use a card and hand write your message.
  • Use simple white paper.
  • Use the same paper that your résumé was printed on and type it.
  • The letter should be concise and in a business format.
  • Show genuineness and professionalism in your message.
  • Try to personalize your letter while maintaining professionalism.

Opening paragraph

  • Show your appreciation for the opportunity to interview.
  • Make a specific reference to the position.

Middle paragraph(s)

  • Reiterate your interest in the job or internship and remind the interviewer of your key competencies that match the position.
  • Express confidence in your abilities and stress the “fit.”

Closing paragraph

  • Restate your gratitude, clarify method of follow-up (i.e. “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” or “I will call you on Friday regarding your decision.”)
  • Close on a positive note.

Sample letters

Acceptance, Referral and Job Offer Rejection Letters

Portfolios and Credentials

A portfolio that reflects your major work and accomplishments is excellent preparation for supporting your answers to employer's questions.

Creating it forces you to think about which accomplishments will be important to the interviewer.

Simply preparing a portfolio gives you a better idea of how well you qualify for the position.

Traditional Portfolios

Benefits of a portfolio

  • Communicates a high level of preparation and strong interest in the position and organization.
  • Demonstrates experience in critical knowledge areas, as well as enthusiasm, creativity, confidence, personality and work ethic.
  • Allows you some control in the interview, which is especially desirable if you know that the employer is looking for candidates with a higher level of “take charge” ability.
  • Adds a critical dimension to your résumé and interview process, making it easier for the interviewer to remember you from a large pool of candidates.


  • Decide on the format (physical or electronic). Depending on your career or job outlook, your career portfolio will take on different looks.
    • How will you use this portfolio?
    • Will you take it with you to show in an interview?
    • Will you send it with your résumé or job application?
  • Choosing a presentation binder is an important step because, if you don't already know it, presentation is everything.
  • Look at your skills. What have you done? Can you get screen shots of it? Print items, preferably in color, to put in your portfolio.
  • Look at yourself the way prospective employers would. The meticulous attention to detail that it takes to create a good portfolio shows them initiative.
  • Choose showcase items that are the very best examples of your skills and work.
  • Customize your portfolio. Select work samples based on the job description. If you are looking in multiple fields, have multiple portfolios.
  • Possible portfolio items:
    • Certificates of honors or awards.
    • News articles about volunteer work, project organization, community involvement, athletics.
    • Writing examples including papers, articles, stories, poetry or music.
    • Teaching or coaching experience, lessons or work-out plans, tutoring plans.
    • Brochures or public relations items.
    • Procedure or form development.
    • Pictures of bulletin boards, artwork, volunteer work or activities.
    • Audio or video tape of performances.
    • Computing skills. Include programs, websites, etc.
    • Research skills. Include a description of research project, research papers (copy), lab reports, etc.
    • Licenses or certificates such as lifeguard, CPR, teaching, insurance, real estate, CPA, etc.
    • Copy of degree, diploma, academic record, transcript, etc.
    • Publications that include stories, poetry or research.
    • Miscellaneous:
      • Reference letters.
      • Thank you notes.
      • Recommendations.
      • Letters of acknowledgement.
      • Résumé (traditional and scanable).
  • Consider how much time is likely to be spent on a particular item. Do not expect a prospective employer to sit and read a 14-page report, even if you did a great job.
    • Prefer visual examples of your work. Drawings, photos, diagrams, etc. won't compete for attention with you. Consider making screencasts.
    • Use smaller samples of larger works. If someone is really interested in knowing more, you can send more later. A smaller piece can still be a great talking point.
    • If a written work is the best way to showcase your skills, you can send it, or a portion of it, electronically for your interviewer to access in advance. Also have it with you and describe and summarize it and its importance.
  • Backup a digital copy of your work portfolio to keep it updated. Espresso Work, for example, allows you to remain prepared for urgent interviews and to update your portfolio quickly.  

Electronic Portfolios

In addition to a traditional portfolio, you may want to create an electronic portfolio to supplement your résumé.


  • Easy access and use.
  • You can include a "mailto" link that will let employers contact you with a simple click.
  • Shows employers that you are familiar with various types of computer technology and programs.

Where to start

Before creating your electronic portfolio, create your traditional version. Then include electronic versions of items in your electronic version. Examples:

  • Word processing files for your writing samples and your résumé.
  • Scans of appropriate photos and certificates.
  • Adobe Acrobat (pdf) files of graphics or brochures that you have designed.

Expand the portfolio with:

  • Audio and video clips.
  • An e-mail link.
  • A link to your major department's pages.
  • A link to the curriculum for your major, and other appropriate links.


  • Avoid personal information and inappropriate links anywhere on your web site.
  • Put your online portfolio on a different server than your personal web connections. Anyone with enough web experience, including potential employers, can easily explore more of your web pages beyond your portfolio.

Additional content

  • Photographs of community service projects or overseas project partners.
  • Voice recording of reading or singing material.
  • Scanned images of artwork, or solutions to math problems.
  • QuickTime VR movies of sculptures, objects or locations that show who you are and how you work.
  • Audio or video recordings of professional work and skills.
  • Multimedia projects or web pages exploring curriculum topics, current events or social questions.

Sample electronic portfolios


A reference letter is provided for an employee by people who are familiar with their work or character and who have positive remarks to make.

Depending on the employees' request, the letter can be employment-related, personal, or it can demonstrate the character of the individual.

Who Should You Ask?

We suggest individuals who know about you and can discuss your work-related qualities.

  • Past and present employers usually know valuable information about your reliability, initiative, quickness to learn and take on responsibility, and your ability to work with others.
  • Faculty members may know about your academic ability, productivity, and timeliness, and perhaps have observed how you work with others.
  • Advisors and coaches may have relevant information about maturity, initiative, interpersonal skills or leadership qualities.
  • Don't list references who only know you in a social capacity. Employers don't place value on family and friend references.
  • Obviously you do not want to offer as a reference someone who would not speak about you in positive terms or who doesn't know you well enough to give a strong reference.

Asking Permission

  • Contact each person you are asking to serve as your reference. Don't assume. Secure the person's permission in advance.
    • It will not enhance your image if a prospective employer calls a reference you listed and finds the reference is surprised to be called.
  • Once you have permission, verify all details of your references' contact information, including spelling of names, titles, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Give each person a copy of your résumé (or vita). You may also want to complete and provide the Candidate Information Worksheet to let your references know about your interests, abilities and experiences.
    • A faculty member may know your academic skills and an employer may know your on-the-job characteristics, but each may not be aware of the other facets of your background. Well-informed references will provide a more better reference to employers.
  • Keep your references posted on your activities and progress.
  • Prepare your references by telling them the names of people and organizations to whom you have given their names. When possible, give them a copy of the job description for the position for which you are applying.
  • Thank each reference in writing for their assistance.
  • Communicating with your references is not bothering them. Brief, cordial e-mail or phone messages show you are businesslike about your job search, and that you appreciate your references.

Providing References to a Prospective Employer

Where to list references

  • Do not include "References available upon request" on a résumé. Most employers assume you can supply references.
  • Do not include references on your résumé. Create a separate reference page.
  • However, on a curriculum vitae it is customary practice to include references.

Your reference page

  • Your name and contact information should be the heading on the page just as it appears on your résumé.
  • Format the sheet like your résumé. It provides continuity and looks professional.
  • For each reference person, include full name, title, organization with which the person is affiliated, complete address, phone number and email address.
  • List your references in order so your best references are first. You want a company to call your strongest reference first.
  • Make absolutely sure you have spelled your references' names correctly.

See a sample.

What References Should Say

Our Suggested Guidelines can help reference writers and candidates seeking reference letters.

It includes a form that we suggest those seeking a reference complete to help those providing the reference.

If you feel you can't write positively on behalf of the candidate, please discuss your thoughts with the candidate and feel free to deny the request for a reference.

It is especially important for references to mention:

  • The capacity in which they know you (i.e., you were a summer intern and they were your supervisor).
  • Time frame of the relationship (i.e., summer of 20xx or has known the candidate for four years).
  • Positive qualities demonstrated in the capacity in which they knew you (i.e., trained other employees, designed posters, and presented proposals to clients).
  • Factual information on performance supportable by documents.

Legal Issues

Some employers have a policy of not giving references. They may confirm dates of employment, but otherwise be unwilling to comment about a former (or current) employee for legal reasons.

This is due to concerns about litigation if there are any negative consequences arising from a reference statement.

Ask before you assume that a former (or current) employer will serve as a reference for you.

If company policy prohibits a formal reference, consider if you had a supervisor or coworker with higher rank who clearly valued your contributions and work ethic. Perhaps the person would serve as an informal reference or speak off-the-record on your behalf.