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Writing Tips

Tips for success

Find tips below on how to write a resume, cover letter and reference page. 

If you need help creating or having your documents critiqued, or if you have any questions, contact Career Services.

Writing a Resume

The number one goal of a resume is to win you an interview. It is an advertisement for YOU! 8 out of 10 resumes are discarded with only a 10-second glance.

  • For entry-level positions, or if you don’t have a lot of work experience, you may want to start with your contact information then your education, experience, extracurricular activities, and honors and awards.
  • Contact information should include your name, address, phone number and email.
  • Your education section should include your university name, your major, years attended, anticipated graduation date and GPA is 3.0 or above. If you graduated with honors, such as summa cum laude, include those.
  • Each job should be organized in reverse chronological order and include the company name, what your title was, city and state, and the dates you worked there. 
  • Keep it concise, consistent and easy to read.
  • Apart from the job description and requirements, research the company website to figure out what they value. Look for ways to use exact words and phrases from the job description, within your resume. Customize your resume to each job ad.
  • Use numbers to make your resume seem more impressive. Metrics, data, or any kind of stats help recruiters and hiring managers see the impact you made.
  • Use powerful action verbs to liven up your resume. Weak, vague, or overused verbs can actually diminish the excellent work you have done.
    • EXAMPLES:
      • Action verbs for communication skills: Instead of: talked, led, presented, organized, USE: addressed, corresponded, persuaded, publicized, reconciled
      • Action verbs for organizational skills: Instead of: organized, ordered, filed, USE: catalogued, executed, monitored, operated
      • Action verbs for management skills: Instead of: led, handled, oversaw, USE: consolidated, appointed, delegated, established
  • Show how extracurricular activities or non-traditional forms of experience you have had, such as volunteer activities, work experience, school projects, internships, hobbies, or sports, can relate to values that a company is looking for.
  • Use reverse chronological order for all information so that the most relevant and recent information is closer to the top.
  • Font: Use an easy-to-read font.
  • Size: 12 pt. font, except for name, which should be larger. Section headings can also be 14 pt. or 16 pt., if needed.
  • Margins: Ideal margins contain overall page margins of one inch.
  • Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Any spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or grammatical error is 100% unacceptable.
  • Don’t abbreviate or use acronyms- spell everything out. (St., Ave., Cir, B.S., etc.)
  • Have your resume reviewed by Career Services and others within the field.
  • Convert your Word document into a PDF to retain the original formatting when sending as an attachment. Save as pdf.
  • Keep a running Word document on your computer and update it every time you receive an award, scholarship, get a job, etc. This will make it easy to pick out information and transfer it to your resume when you need to update it.
  • Resume Example:

The following sample is for illustrative purposes to provide you with ideas for formatting, content and ways to highlight your own skills and accomplishments.

Dusty Drover Resume Example

  • Resume Target:

Resume Target is a free tool for career development and job readiness. Visit www.resumetarget.com/usao/ to access all of the FREE tools, including more than 1,000 professional resume and cover letter templates, customizable job alert emails, and career advice articles.

  • Action Words and Phrases:

This document provides you with a list of action words and phrases to use on your resume.

Resume Action Words and Phrases

Writing a Cover Letter

A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re are the perfect person for the position. It should be customized for each job you apply to and show off your skills and how they will benefit the company you want to work for. 

  • Parrot the keywords. Just like with your resume, customize your cover letter for each job you apply to. Find important keywords within the job description and use them throughout your cover letter.
  • Talk about how your skills will benefit the company you want to work for. Target the companies needs--not your own. Sell yourself!
  • Prove that you have done your research and know what the company is about. Ask yourself how you can help the company and demonstrate that in your letter.
  • Ensure that content is unique and not copied verbatim from your resume or taken directly from an online example.
  • Include examples of your accomplishments so employers can see what you have done.
  • Avoid starting every sentence with “I” or “my.”
  • Never submit a cover letter without proofreading it numerous times and having others proofread it. Go slow when reviewing it and make sure it reviews properly. Send your cover letter to Career Services to have them proofread it.

First paragraph: Clearly introduce yourself.

This is your chance to make a strong first impression. Explain who you are, the position you’re interested in and how you discovered the opportunity. You can also mention any connections you have with the organization, such as if you know a previous intern or alumni who worked there.

Second paragraph: Talk about your relevant skills and accomplishments.

With little or no experience, this paragraph can seem the most challenging. This is where you want to connect the dots with the employer as you explain why you are qualified for the position. For example, if you didn’t have a marketing internship but you gained a lot of marketing experience through a part-time job in student services, you could highlight the communications skills and experience you gained through that position.

Third paragraph: Highlight your best qualities and explain why you’re a good fit.

It is important to use examples that illustrate why you’re a good fit for the job. Simply stating that you have excellent time management skills and are a good team player with a knack for leadership will not land you a job. Talk about real-life examples and make sure they are succinct and visual.

Fourth paragraph: Conclude with a call to action.

Leave a lasting impression on the reader. Make sure your conclusion is confident, upbeat and encourages the hiring manager to get in touch with you.

  • The header should be the exact same as your resume.
  • Match the font style to your resume.
  • Address the letter to a specific individual. Take the time to find out who you’re addressing. NEVER use “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • Don’t abbreviate or use acronyms- spell everything out. (St., Ave., Cir, B.S., etc.)
  • No more than 3-4 paragraphs.
  • Do not forget to enclose your resume.
  • Remember to sign your cover letter.
  • Convert your Word document into a PDF to retain the original formatting when sending as an attachment. Save as pdf.

Writing a Reference Page

No matter when an employer asks for references, it’s helpful to have a list of several contacts who can communicate your best professional attributes.

  • Have a selection of 3-6 professional references.
  • When selecting a reference, consider people who can speak about your best qualities, skills and qualifications. If possible, choose people who can attest to specific talents related to the job you are applying for.
    • Generally, the best people to include are:
      • Current or former manager or direct supervisor
      • Current or former co-worker
      • Current or former employees/direct reports
      • Academic advisor
      • Professional mentor
  • Make sure you are comfortable with your reference knowing you are applying for a job, especially if you currently work with them.
  • Only send your reference list with your resume if the job posting explicitly requests references with the application. Otherwise, wait until the request is made.
  • Do not put “references available upon request” on your resume.
  • It is important to ask your contact to be a reference before providing their name. Give them plenty of notice.
  • The header should be the exact same as your resume.
  • Match the font style to your resume.
  • In bold, title the page “References”
  • For each reference, include:
    • Reference name (bold)
    • Reference position (italics)
    • Reference company
    • Reference company address
    • Reference phone number
    • Reference email address (remove hyperlink)
  • Convert your Word document into a PDF to retain the original formatting when sending as an attachment. Save as pdf