Resumes and Cover Letters


A resume is one of the most common tools used in applying for work. It gives employers a sense of who you are and what you have to offer and is a major determining factor in securing an interview. A strong resume highlights your:

  • Experiences: formal education, paid and unpaid work, professional development activities, work experience required to complete your degree, experiential learning activities, extra-curricular activities, projects, and so on.
  • Attributes: skills, values, interests, beliefs, philosophies, and personality traits.

Experiences and attributes overlap and include things beyond the examples listed above. Your attributes are inextricably linked to your experiences. The most important thing to know is that your resume will make the most impact if it is targeted for each job you apply for. As you apply for each job, think about what you can include in your resume to showcase your candidacy.

Components of a Targeted Resume

There are four components to consider when writing a resume:

Content - what information to include
  • As space is limited, include only relevant experiences and attributes.
  • Rather than just listing qualities, provide specific details and examples to qualify your content.
    • For example, compare "Strong communication skills" to "Completed 10 to 15 individual advising appointments weekly, assessing client needs, providing information, support and referrals, and assisting them in planning next steps"
  • Use language that is meaningful to your readers. Use well-known industry terms, but avoid over-using acronyms and jargon that will not be understood by human resources.
  • Avoid including information that is not required at the application stage (e.g. photo, date of birth, social insurance number, etc.)
Formatting - the sections you will include, and the strategic sequencing of those sections

There are three formats for resumes, all of which differ in the way work experience is listed. Each format emphasizes a different aspect of your experience:

1. Chronological Resume 

Emphasis is on your past work experience. Your past employment, including your position title and the name of your employer, are listed in reverse chronological order (i.e. starting with your most recent job, then working backwards). Under each job, you list the details of what you did and the skills you used.

This is the most commonly used format and it is the best one to use when you have paid or unpaid work experience that is directly related to the job you are applying for.

2. Combination Resume 

The emphasis is again on your skills, but, it also includes your work history, including your position title, name of employer, and period of employment, listed in reverse chronological order. Your work history is typically listed after your skills section in which your skills are grouped under skill headings similar to the functional resume.

This format is more time-consuming to prepare but it is the best one to use if you don't have much work experience directly related to the job but feel you possess the necessary skills.

3. Functional Resume 

Emphasis is on your skills rather than your work history. Skills are grouped under skill headings and under each skill heading, you list how you've used and developed these skills, providing examples. Skill headings are arranged in order of their importance. For example, if the most important skill you need for the job is research, then put it first.

This format is based on the premise that it does not matter where or when you gained your skills, as long as you have them. As such, you do not include names of past employers, job titles and dates of employment. Since work history is not included, this is the least popular resume format.

You do not have to adhere strictly to any of the formats. You can adapt them in such a way that your most relevant experience attributes shine through.

Create sections on your resume choosing ones that are relevant to the job you are applying for. What you include in each section can be also be modified. For example, you may choose to include your co-op experience with your education, or you might include it with your other work experience.

Sequence sections based on the relevancy of experiences to the job. For example, you might list your volunteer experience close to the top of your resume because it is in your field, while your paid experience may be listed lower on your resume because it is not directly related.

Common resume section titles include:

  • Highlights of Skills: five to six points that summarize your unique experience and attributes
  • Education: post-secondary education
  • Education and Training: post-secondary education and professional development
  • Professional Development: professional associations and membership
  • Relevant Experience: a selection of your paid and unpaid experience
  • Technical Skills: computer skills, software skills, languages, etc.
  • Additional Training: workshops, seminars, certificate programs, etc.
  • Extracurricular Activities: student group involvement, community group involvement, short volunteer positions, athletics, etc.
  • Awards: include those that are more recent and consider including a very brief description if the reason for the award is not obvious.
Wording - the vocabulary you use to describe your experiences and attributes
  • Target your resume by using keywords from the job posting.
  • Use action verbs (e.g. designed, lead, coordinated) to start each point, rather than passive statements (e.g. duties included, responsible for).
    Highlight your accomplishments and achievements and quantify your experience, when possible (e.g. Increased enrollment by 25% in three months).
Presentation - the visual appearance and overall look of your resume

Although there are no strict rules around how your resume should be presented, you should consider who will be reading your resume and make your design decisions accordingly. Ensure your resume remains easy to read so important information can be found quickly. If you can, find out if the organization you are applying to uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). If your resume will initially be read by a computer, this will affect how you lay out your resume. In these instances, defer to very simple design avoiding the use of images, lines, text boxes, and so on.

General presentation tips:

  • Use type fonts and formatting (e.g. bolding, capitalization, size) to create a consistent hierarchy, but keep it simple using no more than 2-3 fonts and design elements.
  • Ensure consistency spacing and text alignments so the reader's eye is not confused. Optimal line lengths are 50 to 70 characters across.
  • Use bulleted points rather than paragraph format.
  • Adjust margins to ensure that there is enough white space around the text. Overcrowded pages are difficult and time-consuming to read.
  • Limit your resume to a maximum of 2 pages., unless industry standards or specific employers request otherwise.
  • Proofread yourself many times. Check for errors in names, dates, and contact information, in addition to spelling, grammatical and formatting errors. Then, have at least one other person proofread it for you.

Guide to Cover Letters

A cover letter is an opportunity to explain how your experience, education, skills, and accomplishments uniquely connect to the position you are applying for. Your letter should communicate your personal narrative, why you will be a great fit for the position and the contributions you can make to the organization.

The Basics

All cover letters should be:

  • Highly targeted to the position for which you are applying.
  • Written as a professional business letter.
  • Formatted to match your resume, using a font size that is easy to read and plenty of white space.
  • Maximum one page in length (academic cover letters are often longer).
  • Thoroughly proofread to check for errors in names, contact information, spelling and grammar.
Things to Avoid

Common mistakes in cover writing include:

  • Rehashing or simply summarizing your resume.
  • Over-explaining or giving an excessive amount of detail that does not add to the impact of your examples.
  • Sharing irrelevant or extremely personal information.
  • Summarizing the company or organization's mission statement without connecting it to you.
  • Using slang, abbreviations, or an overly casual tone.
Targeting Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter should have 2 to 3 body paragraphs that give examples of how you will benefit the organization and how your experience and attributes align with the position's requirements.

  • For each paragraph, choose one requirement listed in the posting and use specific examples from your school and work experience to demonstrate how you possess these skills. Give enough detail that the employer gets a sense of what you have to offer.
    • "I have strong interpersonal and communication skills"
    • "I developed strong interpersonal and communication skills by participating in case competitions. In a limited time frame, I worked with a partner to analyze problems facing an organization, then we discussed our individual strategies and collaborated on a shared recommendation. Together, we presented our solution to the judge with the use of visual aids and a PowerPoint presentation."
  • Quantify your experience
    • e.g. number of team members you worked with, percentage of sales increase, how many people did you supervise, etc.
  • Use words and phrases from the posting when describing your skillset and experience