Preparing Your Resume and Cover Letter: What They Forgot to Teach You in College

Congratulations! You have a college diploma in your hand that says you’re ready to go out into the working world. You may have maintained a stellar GPA. You may have participated in groundbreaking scientific research. You may have written, produced, and performed an entire concerto. Whatever your program of study, you may feel like your college education has paved the way into the work force. That is, until you realize something: you don’t know how to prepare a resume.

It’s astounding how comprehensive your college education seemed to be, and yet it’s likely you were never taught the basics of resume-writing. Presenting yourself to a potential employer by writing an excellent resume may be critical to your success. It may even be more important than your grades, extra-curricular activities, and your other achievements. Make sure that you include these crucial elements:

* Your personal info. Include your name, address, telephone number, cell phone number, pager number, and email. Most potential employers will try to contact you by your home phone. But just in case, it’s good to leave a few different contact options. Never include your social security number, as some people mistakenly do on resumes or job applications. This information could be used to steal your identity and isn’t necessary during the application process.

* Your educational history. You need not go all the way back to elementary school. Start with your most recent educational info: college. Details should include where you attended (every institution, if you attended more than one), its location, your graduation year, and your major/program. Next, list the high school that you graduated from. It is usually not necessary to list every high school, if you happened to attend more than one. Simply include the name of the one where you graduated and the year.

* Your employment history. How many of your past work places you include will depend upon how many there are. If you’ve had less than five different jobs in your life so far, list them all, and the duration that you worked at them. If you’ve tried more than your average share of jobs, you may want to list only the most recent ones. There is no prohibition against listing them all. However, if you did a lot of job hopping and some of your positions lasted mere months, including this information should be discretionary.

* Any volunteer work that you’ve done. This is important because it shows that you have other experience besides your last fast food job. Volunteer experience may be the key that sets you apart from other potential job candidates.

This is the basic information about yourself that every potential employer you contact will see. In addition to handing out your resume, you should include a cover letter addressed directly to the company you are making application to. The cover letter is extremely important, because it gives you a chance to share more than just the basics about yourself. Your resume contains general information; the cover letter contains information specific to that company. This is where you explain why you want to work for that particular company. It’s your chance to persuade a potential employer that you are worth granting a face-to-face interview. There’s a good chance that whoever is looking at your resume is also reviewing dozens of others. A persuasive cover letter may be the difference between causing an employer to examine your resume more closely or tossing it in the ‘out’ file. Address it directly to the person who will be reviewing candidates. If you don’t know it, make an effort to find out.

Remember that being persuasive does not mean being long-winded. Busy executives won’t have time to read a five page cover letter. Make it at least a page, but no more than two pages. Coupled with a well-written and concise resume, your cover letter will grab an employer’s attention and make him or her want to take a second look at you.