10 Tips for Better Resumes and Cover Letters

As an undergrad student going into her final semester of university, I am terrified of the “real world” and finding a full-time job, paying off my crippling student debt, and reaching that elusive thing we call “making it.”

I’ve recently passed the halfway mark on my summer internship, and I figured I might as well pass on a few nuggets of knowledge to my loyal readers. I’ve spent many, many semesters frantically sending out internship applications, resumes, and cover letters to any number of companies without ever turning to the campus career center for help. Shameful, I know. These tips are the result of my own recruiting season struggles and inspired by things I’ve heard from professionals, hiring managers, and other “real adults” throughout the years.


Resumes

  1. Sans serif fonts!!

    So this is definitely personal preference, and I’m just being nitpicky here but please, please use sans serif fonts. Sans serif is cleaner, easier to read, and more pleasing to the eye, especially for large blocks of text or small font sizes. Serif fonts are okay for headings though. However, I recommend using a different sans serif font in a larger size and bolder weight to make the headings stand out while keeping the document clean. Play around with sizing, weight, capitalization, italicization, and horizontal lines too!

  2. Customize it to the job listing/company.

    As a college student, you probably have a lot of random, unrelated work experience—internships with scrappy startups, campus work study, odd summer jobs, leadership positions in school clubs, personal projects, etc. Not all of it is relevant to the job listing, and chances are not all of it will fit on a one-page resume anyway. Pick your best and most relevant work experiences, club positions, and projects to feature on your resume so that the recruiter/hiring manager sees the most relevant version of you.

  3. Proofread it like crazy.

    Recruiters only look at resumes for about 7 seconds, especially if they get tons and tons every season from desperate college students just like you. If there’s a grammar mistake or a formatting inconsistency, they’ll notice and likely put you in the “No” pile. Don’t let that happen. Turn on spell check, put your bullet points in Grammarly, and sift through every line with a fine-toothed comb to ensure every dash, comma, italicization, and bullet is exactly the way you want it. Step away for a while and check again.

  4. Make it concise.

    Like I said, recruiters barely look at your resume because they have a mountain of papers to tackle every season. Not every single club membership needs to grace the page. You don’t need to list every single responsibility you had during your last internship. Keep your bullet points to two per job maximum. Get to the point, keep it one page, and be extremely stingy about what you choose to show. Leave it to LinkedIn to be braggy and superfluous; there you have tons more space to toot your own horn.

  5. Get feedback.

    It might be kinda embarrassing at first but ask a friend, professor, careers counselor, supervisor, your mom, the random lady at the bus stop—okay maybe not that one—to critique your resume. They might notice something weird you overlooked or have really good insights on how to phrase your bullet points more effectively. Make sure to get their opinions on the formatting and design too. Even though content is most important, the look of your resume is paramount to the likelihood of it being noticed at all.

Cover Letters

  1. Use the same style as your resume.

    Your resume and cover letter are the first impressions the employer will have, so consistency across your documents is key. You’ll look more professional and the recruiter or hiring manager will be more likely to remember you. Use the same fonts, header, and formatting.

  2. Keep it to one page max. Shorter is better.

    Recruiters/hiring managers will spend more time on a cover letter than a resume, but oftentimes they’ll skim the page and move on. Get to the point, be concise, and keep it to four paragraphs max—introduction, expanding on your resume, goodwill/saying thank you.

  3. Provide context to your resume. Tell a story.

    Resumes are generic and only tell the bare bones of your experience and skills. Here’s your chance to expand on “Increased unique website visitors by 57% using pay-per-click advertising” by talking about the challenges, tasks, and lessons learned from your previous experiences. How did you grow professionally from your work? What did you learn? What skills did you develop? How has your prior experience developed you and made you qualified for the position for which you’re applying?

  4. Tailor it to the job listing/company.

    Use key words or phrases throughout your letter—resume too—that indicate your qualification for that specific job. These key words or phrases can be found in the job description and sprinkled (when appropriate!) throughout your letter to connect your past experiences to your potential internship/position. Sometimes hiring managers will run resumes and cover letters through document scanners to Ctrl + F—Command + F for you Macs out there—specific words or phrases to see if the candidate mentioned skills and experiences relevant to the position. Using these key words/phrases also shows that you actually read the job description carefully! Relate what you learned from past experiences to the new job to the best of your ability. If one of the responsibilities is script coverage, but you’ve never done that before, talk about how you rewrote news articles for internally distributed industry reports and that you exercised similar skills so coverage won’t be difficult for you to learn.

  5. Say thank you and encourage dialogue.

    Thank them for the opportunity to apply and for their time in appraising your resume, cover letter, and application. Let them know how to contact you—whether that be email, phone, or LinkedIn—and sign off with one of the following:

    • Sincerely,
    • Best regards,
    • Thank you,

Use these tips for a Maitlyn-approved job application process. Good skills and may the hiring gods be sympathetic on our struggles… T_T

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