Resumes & Cover Letters


When pursuing positions outside of academia, you will likely be asked to submit a resume instead of a curriculum vitae (CV). Whereas the CV has a scholarly focus, offering a broad summary of academic-related content, the resume has a more targeted purpose specific to the position, industry, and employer being sought. 

The resume is often a “ticket” of sorts to the interview, and many employers report spending very little time perusing resumes in the process of deciding who they consider to be viable candidates. It is therefore important to tailor your resume as much as possible to the key requirements of the position, conveying succinctly through the document your ability to succeed in the role, as well as your fit and enthusiasm for the work. As this is no small task, research and strategy are of the utmost importance.

Resume Writing Tips

  • Use Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica or other common font styles throughout.
  • Spell check and proof your document before sending it to anymore.
  • Use phrases, not complete sentences.
  • Use past tense for experiences completed and present for those still current.
  • Don’t use personal pronouns.
  • Leave at least a 1/2" margin throughout.
  • Avoid a text heavy document.
  • Put headings in CAPS/BOLD to help identify sections.
  • Use bullet points instead of paragraphs to outline key points.
  • Point size should ideally be between 11—12 and consistent throughout, with the exception of headings and your name which need to stand out.

Resume Sections

Use the following sections to help structure your resume. Remeber that titles can be adjusted to further highlight your expereince and categorize positions accordingly (i.e. Relevant Experience or Management Experience). You may add or remove sections as needed, but remember to stay within the 2 page limit.

Heading -Name & Contact Information
  • Make your name stand out, often bolded and in larger font than the rest of the text
  • Personal mailing address (or just city and state for security reasons)
  • Institutional office address not normally included
  • Phone number and email address
  • LinkedIn address and/or website (optional)
  • Optional section
  • If used, be targeted, concise, and meaningful. Avoid general statements, such as “A challenging position with a dynamic organization that will reward my strong analytical skills.”
Summary of Skills and Qualifications
  • Optional section
  • Brief summary of skills and/or other specific qualifications most relevant to the position being sought. This section primes the reader, in a sense, by emphasizing the most relevant content.
  • Can be effective for graduate students who want to create a narrative about their skills and consolidate what’s most pertinent from their varied educational and other experience
  • Section typically precedes Experience while you are a student or recent graduate, unless you have substantial experience clearly related to the position being pursued. Students interested in positions for which their education is not obviously related, or who worry that their graduate   degree may deter a hiring manager, may also choose to foreground their Experience.
  • List in reverse chronological order
  • Include institution, location, degree, field of study, graduation date or expected date of completion
  • Can also include research focus (if pertinent), relevant courses, study abroad experience, honors, GPA
  • Include related and other significant experiences, whether paid or unpaid (work, internships, research, projects, volunteer, campus activities, etc.)
  • You may choose to have more than one experience section, dividing  into areas that target the position you are pursuing (e.g. Related Experience, Industry Experience, Professional Experience, Projects, Research Experience,  Leadership Experience, Additional Experience, Campus Involvement, etc.). Personalize the sections to highlight your important experiences.
  • Within each section, list your experience in reverse chronological order
  • Include position title (if no official title, create one within reason), name of organization, location, dates of employment/involvement (months and years – abbreviation is okay).
  • Be consistent in how you present your information
  • Add bullet points that relate to accomplishments and skills related to the job for which you are applying for.
  • Bullet points do not need to be full sentences but should have enough detail to get the point across; include numbers, percentages and dollar amounts where applicable.
  • Start bullet point with an action verb using proper tense.
  • Put most important bullet point as it relates to the position you are applying for at the top of the list.
Additional Sections (optional)
  • Computer/Technical Skills
  • Languages
  • Professional Affiliations
  • Honors/Awards


Final Steps

Once you have a complete resume, it is important to go through it one more time to make sure everything is in order. Follow the tips below to ensure you submit your resume in the most professional manner.

Last Minute Reminders
  • Remember, target your resume to the position you are pursuing. Employers normally have a handful of key requirements that they are looking for when they hire. Many employers, especially in the engineering/tech sector, use resume-scanning software to weed out resumes that do not contain certain key words. It is imperative, then, that you do your best to discover these key requirements and display them prominently on your resume.
  • Length should be 1-2 pages. There is generally more leeway to go over one page as you get further in your career, but it will normally never exceed two pages.
  • Proofread! Check and double check your resume, and have it critiqued by several people for content and grammar. Bring your resume to Career Services to have it reviewed by a career counselor.
Sumbitting Process
  • For positions in the United States, do not include personal information such as photo, birthdate, marital status, or physical characteristics.
  • For submitting/distributing hard copies, use resume paper (white or ivory bond paper, 8½ x 11, laser-printed, one-sided only).
  • For sending electronically, attach as a PDF file to preserve formatting and make sure your file is clearly named so employers can easily identify that it is yours.
  • You do not generally include your references on your resume, nor do you need to include the phrase “references available upon request.” Instead, include your references on a separate “References” document that you will have available at all times if the employer requests them.

Cover Letters

The cover letter is an opportunity for you to discuss your interest in the position you are applying for and personalize it for the employer, including highlights from your experiences and skills/qualities that relate to succeeding in the workplace. It is a chance for you to “come alive,” so to speak, and hopefully get the employer excited about reading your résumé and bringing you in for an interview.

The cover letter is also a “first assignment” of sorts, where the employer is judging your ability to effectively communicate in writing, including coherent structure, content, grammar, and spelling, that is targeted to the subject at hand – that is, the specific position you are pursuing.

Tips for Writing an Effective Non - Academic Cover Letter

When writing a non - cover letter, consider the following:

Wrting Format
  • Use business letter format which includes your resume header (name, phone, email, LinkedIn URL/website, address optional), date, business address, ‘Dear Hiring Manager’/name.
  • Keep it to typically 1 page (3-5 paragraphs).
Goal of a Cover Letter
  • Use it as an opportunity to share more of who you are with the employer.
  • Show the employer WHY you are a good fit for the job.
  • Supplement your resume, don’t restate your entire resume.
  • Differentiate yourself.

Keys to Writing Success

  • Use a professional, positive tone.
  • Tailor every letter to position, employer, and industry (do your research!).
  • Assess the employer’s needs and incorporate into the letter using your most relevant experience, education, skills, etc.
Outline of a Cover Letter
  • Paragraph 1
    • State who you are.
    • Explain why you’re interested.
    • Let them know how you found out about position (if connection, show it!)
  • Paragraph 2 (may be split into more than 1)
    • What skills do you have?
    • Where you did you get them?
    • Why are they a good fit for the job?
    • You can address any shortcomings in these paragraphs.
  • Paragraph 3
    • Summarize your qualifications.
    • Acknowledge any follow up plans or relevant logistics.
    • Thank them for their time!

Details & Writing Style

  • Cover letters show you writing skills, so be sure to edit your work.
  • Use key words and qualifications highlighted in job ad.
  • Check for spelling, grammar, and flow. Have your cover letter proofread by several people.
  • Focus on the value you’d bring to them, don’t talk about what this position will do for your career.
  • Promote your most relevant accomplishments, but not in a pretentious manner.
  • Always send a cover letter with your résumé, unless you are specifically instructed not to or the system does not allow it. Note, though, that if you are only asked to submit a résumé, the employer may not have time to read a cover letter, so make sure to include all relevant content on your résumé.
Next Steps

Tips for Writing an Effective Academic Cover Letter

Considering the following points can help you write an effective academic cover letter:

Know your Audience
  • Know what is most valued by the institution and department you are applying to (e.g., research, teaching, interdisciplinary, working with diverse students, quantitative vs. qualitative focus). Go through the website carefully and spend time doing your research.
  • Read the job description carefully and use it as your guide for points you need to address.
  • Consider additional qualities you may bring beyond those listed in the job ad.
  • Include a clear statement of your research and teaching interests (reference the job description so you know what gaps you may be able to fill for them).
Know your Research
  • Be able to briefly describe your research in a way that describes the depth of what you do but in a way that is broadly understandable. This will be tough, but it is worth your time to do this well.
  • State how your research does or could impact the field and why it is important.
  • Get feedback from your peers and advisors on the readability and importance of what you write.
Communicate Value
  • Have a cohesive message and develop clear themes to address.
  • The body of your letter should communicate what you can do for them and how you would be a good fit in the department. Your networking and extensive research on the department should pay off in this section as you address your expertise and how it fits into their needs.
  • Include specific traits you bring and avoid generalities or vague statements.
  • If applicable, discuss obvious/overt shortcomings, and explain how other experiences, interests, or skills still make you a good fit/ “off-set” deficits.
  • The level of detail and style depends on the department you are applying to. Generally, for larger departments, you can be less detailed. However, if you would be coming into a department where no one else does what you do, then more details on the significance of your work are probably warranted, and you need to make your case more explicitly.
Be Engaging
  • After reading hundreds of cover letters, committee members remark that reading a letter that is engaging can offer a good appeal to the reader. However, it is important to remember that you should never sacrifice clarity for wit.
  • Write an opening that clearly communicates why you are writing and addresses why the reader should care.
  • Don’t give too much detail or discuss each of your career choices. It is not necessary to respond to every requirement listed in the job description.

Exit with Grace

  • End on a positive note and with a clear description of what you hope happens next (i.e., a meeting or interview). If you are going to be at a conference that is well-attended in your field, mention that you will be there and could meet with them then.
  • Let them know what is enclosed in the application and any letters of recommendation that may be coming if not included in the packet you sent (you could mention your referees by name so they can be aware).
  • Do not add additional documents unless the ad specifically states that you can.
What not to do
  • Don’t copy and paste cover letters to institutions. Sure, you have to cast a wide net given that the competition for tenure-track positions is tough. But if you really want a job, you need to take the time to personalize your documents. Get started on this process early and do your best with trying to personalize each cover letter.
  • Don’t restate what is in your CV, teaching statement, or research statement.