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Resumés, Cover Letters, and Interviewing


A resumé is a brief, easy to read summary of your skills and experience. Your resumé should be honest, positive, and most of all, concise. Remember, on the first review an employer only spends about thirty or forty seconds reviewing your resumé, and it is the first impression you will make. An effective resumé will serve its purpose of getting you an interview.


This is the most commonly used style of resumé. It presents information about your work experience in reverse chronological order. List your current work experience first, and work your way backwards. A key aspect of this format is to describe each work experience in such a way as to highlight the responsibility you had and the skills you employed. This format is useful to use if your training and experience relate to your current job objective.


The emphasis of a functional resumé is on the skills you have acquired rather than when and where you have worked. You do not describe each work experience in a functional resumé as you would in a chronological resumé. You should select skill headings (i.e. leadership, research, computer skills) based on the skills you have which you feel are the most desirable to an employer. Then indicate how you have used or developed these skills through work, education, or other activities. What is important is that you have the skills that can be transferred to the work place. This format is useful if your training and experience does not match the current job objective.


The combination resumé takes the best aspects of the chronological and functional formats and combines them. This type of resumé usually begins with a skills summary and then a description of work experiences in reverse chronological order. The advantage of the combination format is that you can both highlight your skills and describe your work experiences so that the employer has an understanding of your duties and responsibilities.

Which resumé format is right for you?

The chronological resumé works well for most candidates but particularly well for those with established work histories, new graduates with some work experience, and individuals whose work history is directly related to the job they seek. It is also the most conservative format, and as a result, works well for candidates applying to conservative organizations. The functional format works well for those who have varied work backgrounds or little direct experience for the type of job they seek. The combination resumé works well for any candidate.

Components of a Resumé

There are many ways to create your resumé, but the following are standard components that employers expect to see. You may need to create your own sections to accommodate specialized information about your background.

Name and Address Header

The header of your resumé should include your name, address, phone and email if you regularly use it. Include both a local and permanent address and a phone number so that an employer has no difficulty reaching you. This is especially important when sending resumés close to graduation.

Professional Objective

Though optional, an objective informs potential employers that you are moving in a certain direction, relays your work preferences, and serves as a focal point from which to review and analyze your resumé. It allows the employer to immediately identify kind of position you are looking for. Therefore, if you are simultaneously seeking positions in a number of fields, you may need to have a different job objective for each position you are applying for. To address this problem, prepare two resumés; one with an objective and one without. Do not write an objective that is vague and meaningless. If the objective does not specify a focus within a career field, do not use it.


Your education background is most commonly the next heading. Include in this section information regarding your college degree(s); where obtained; date(s); major; minor or concentration; certification; academic awards and honors. Include your GPA if it is an asset. If not, focus your resumé on your non-academic strengths and skills. A general rule of thumb is that if your GPA is a 3.0 or higher, include it. If your GPA for your major is strong, you may just put that down but make sure that you specify that it is only for classes in your major. If you do not have a lot of relevant experience for the position you are applying for, you may choose to list courses and class projects of interest to the employer.


This section includes the positions you held, names and locations of employers and dates employed. In the chronological resumé responsibilities, achievements or significant contributions, and demonstrated skills are listed. To assist you in writing this section, refer to the list of action words included at the end of the booklet. Mention your most impressive or important duties first.

You may also include independent study or volunteer work in this section if it is relevant to the position you are seeking and you gained significant skills and/or experience from it. If you choose to describe your volunteer work, do not describe it under a heading which implies that you were paid, such as "Employment" or "Work History." Use "Experience" instead. Better yet, use headings like "Communications Experience", "Human Resources", Experiences", "Research Experience", etc. to further emphasize your related skills.


If you have been involved in campus or community organizations, such as athletics, clubs, or student government, you should mention them in this section. Identify any leadership roles that you had in these organizations. If you have too many organizations you to list, choose the ones that have the strongest connection to the type of job you seek. Don't pad this section with organizations you were involved in "in name only". Employers may ask you about these involvements during an interview.


Computer Skills: With more and more employers relying on the use of computers in the workplace, you should include a section where you list any computer programs, hardware, software and/or INTERNET functions with which you have working knowledge.

Other Skills: If you have any notable skills like foreign language abilities, musical talents, writing skills, etc., be sure to mention them here as well.


Simply indicate that references are "available upon request". You should ask permission in advance to use someone as a reference and should know three possible references you can use. Use faculty and employers as references, not personal acquaintances. Do not include names, addresses or phone numbers of references on your resumé itself, however. You may send a separate sheet with this information along with your resumé, or wait until the employer requests references.

Action Words

When describing your work or extra-curricular activities use action words to present your qualifications persuasively. Only use appropriate words. However, never misrepresent yourself. You may choose to use some of these words in your cover letter as well.


activated ... built ... composed ... conceived... constructed ... created ... designed ... developed ... established ... formed ... formulated ... founded ... invented ... set up ... started


calculated ... collaborated ... coordinated ... expedited ... maintained ... programmed ... projected


accomplished ... acquired ... doubled ... demonstrated ... earned ... fulfilled ... helped ... halved ... increased ... improved ... restored ... reinforced ... surpassed ... strengthened ... tripled ... won

“Conflict” verbs

adapted ... advised ... analyzed ... assessed ... assisted ... clarified ... controlled ... corrected ... defined ... influenced ... interpreted ... investigated managed ... monitored ... negotiated ... overcame ... reconciled ... recommended ... resolved ... settled ... solved

“Responsibility” verbs

controlled ... directed ... evaluated ... financed ... guided ... handled ... headed ... hired ... influenced ... inspected ... instructed ... interviewed ... led ... motivated ... negotiated ... oversaw ... promoted .... recruited ... reported ... represented ... scheduled ... secured ... selected ... supervised ... taught ... trained

Layout and Space Utilization

Employers do not have a lot of time, so make your resumé concise and easy to read. Your resumé should be visually appealing to the reader. Use an appropriate amount of boldface, capitalization, and underlining to draw the reader's attention. Remember, don't overdo it. Do not exceed one page unless you are either a very experienced candidate or you are seeking a job in the fields of education or human services. These employers are usually tolerant of two page resumés.

Before you make copies, bring your resumé to the Center for Career Services and have it critiqued. An objective reader can catch typographical errors, grammatical mistakes, and weak spots will want to fix before sending out your resumé. Be sure to use the spell checking feature of the word processing software you used, but don't rely on it completely since many typographical errors are actually correctly spelled words--just not the words you intended to use.


Always print your resumé on high quality paper- never perforated computer paper. Never send out a resumé that is obviously a photocopy. Use high quality paper of at least 20-pound weight. Conservative white, off-white, light tan, or light gray are generally acceptable colors. The darker the color, the more difficult it is to read. The only time dark or creative colors are acceptable is for artistic resumés, particularly for candidates in graphic design areas. In this case, the resumé becomes a vehicle for illustrating the candidate's talent.

Following up on your resumé is the key to job search success. You must try to get in touch with the employers to whom you have sent your resumé. Below are a sequence of questions that may assist you.

"I sent my resumé to your organization last week. Can you tell me if I am being considered for any openings?"

If the answer is yes:       

"Are there any supportive materials, such as references or a transcript, that I could send to you?"

If the answer is no:

"Do you have any idea when you might be contacting candidates for an interview?"

"I understand that there are no openings right now for which I am qualified, but do you anticipate that there will be any openings in the future? If so, wi ll my resumé be kept in a file to be considered for these positions or should I re apply?"

Since many organizations "clean out" resumé files from time to time, you should ask:

"How long do you keep resumés on file for consideration?"

Secretaries and receptionists are important. They may not be able to get you the job, but in many situations their input on you can help or hurt. They can also provide a wealth of information. Be cordial and considerate. Make friends with the secretary who handles your call and ask:

"I am very interested in employment in your organization. Do you mind if I call every now and then to check on available openings?"

Cover Letters

It's simple. Job search correspondence, e.g., a cover letter, is any type of letter you write and send to a prospective employer when you are looking for a job. It is one way of communicating with the employer, usually in the early stages of your job search. The types of job search correspondence vary.

A business letter is often your first point of contact with an employer. As such, it needs to represent you in a positive light, set the tone for future contacts, and be consistent with standard business practices.

Tips for Presenting Yourself Positively

You will be judged on the format, content and appearance of your letter. Gain the extra "points" this will earn you toward landing the job you want.

  • Use language that is grammatically correct. Have your letter proofread if you have any doubts.
  • Ensure correct spelling. Always spell check your letters; then read them over for words that are spelled correctly, but used inappropriately (i.e. "there" instead of "their").
  • Adopt a businesslike tone. Avoid the use of contractions (i.e. use "she is" instead of "she's"). Avoid slang (i.e. "It would be way cool to work for your company.")
  • In planning your correspondence, it is to your advantage to learn as much as possible about the position and the organization. To do so you should read the organization's recruiting literature, annual reports and job descriptions. Good sources for you to explore in completing your research are your local library (look for newspaper or magazine articles about the organization), employees or former employees of the organization, and the organization's website.
  • Produce a visually appealing business formatted letter that is error-free.
  • Laser print your letter on your original resumé quality paper. Use a matching envelope and type the address.
  • Individually write each cover letter to show a sincere and specific interest in the organization. Your goal is to show the employer that you are the best candidate for the job. A form letter implies a lack of interest.
  • Address your cover letter to a specific person. If you don't know who this person is, find out. Call the switchboard operator or receptionist at the organization and ask for the name, correct spelling, and the title of the appropriate person. Many readers take offense to standardized greetings such as "Dear Sir/Madame."
  • If you are responding to an advertised opening, be sure to use the language and qualifications listed in the advertisement. Comparing the skills you already possess with those that appear in the advertisement can be a persuasive and effective technique for getting the reader's attention.
  • Be optimistic and energetic in your tone and support your claims with specific examples.
  • Use active voice and action verbs. (Check out the list of action words in the CCS resumé webpage.)
  • Keep the reader's interest by varying sentence structure and length.
  • Each paragraph should have a minimum of two sentences.
  • Continually revise your draft until you are satisfied that this is the best statement you can make.
  • Keep a copy of your letters for future reference.

Application Letter

Used to apply for an advertised opening; identifies the opening and describes the skills and abilities you possess in relation to the job duties. Sample.

Prospecting Letter

Used to present your qualifications to an employer you would like to work for but who has not advertised an opening; allows you to make your qualifications known to someone who may have a future opening. Sample

Networking Letter

Necessary when using a referral source to introduce yourself to a prospective employer; the type of letter you would use if your uncle suggests you write to his cousin who is a recruiting manager at a company in which you have an interest. Sample.

Interview Confirmation

Confirming in writing the time, date and place of an upcoming interview. Sample

Interview Thank You/Interest

Expresses your appreciation for a recent employment interview and stresses your continued interest.

Interview Thank You/Decline

Expresses your appreciation for a recent employment interview and removes yourself from further consideration. Sample

Acceptance Letter

Confirms in writing that you intend to accept a job offer made to you by an employer; also confirms your start date and salary. Sample.

Rejection Letter

Confirms in writing that you decline to accept a job offer made to you by an employer; often such a letter leaves the door open for future jobs. Sample.

Prompt Letter

There are various types of prompt letters; they are usually used to stimulate action or a decision on the part of the employer after you have in initiated contact. Sample.


Employment interviewing is simply a focused, goal-oriented exchange of information between two people. Impressive resumes and cover letters will get you employment interviews; however, the interview itself will typically be the most important aspect of the employment process. In its most basic form, the employment interview is an opportunity for applicants and employers to mutually evaluate the fit between the applicant's qualifications and the position being offered.

Objectives of the Interview

to expand on information contained in your resume
to supply information that is not contained in your resume (personality, oral communication skills, general style, etc.)
to enable you to gain additional information about the organization and the position you are considering
to provide an opportunity for both parties to discuss the possibility of employment

The success of the interviewing process depends upon how well you present your unique qualifications. Merely to show up at an interview, hoping that your resume or application will do all the talking for you, is not enough. You must be an active participant in the exchange of questions, answers, and impressions.

Types of Interviews

The screening interview is usually rather general and is relatively short (30-45 minutes). For example, when employers recruit on a college campus, they use screening interviews to decide which of the many candidates are best qualified to meet the organization's needs. These candidates are then invited to the employer's office or plant for a second interview, the selection interview.

The selection interview, a longer, more thorough interview, is designed to identify the most qualified candidate for the position. A selection interview will include meetings with several people from the organization and may last for several hours, part of which may be during breakfast or lunch.

What Employers Are Seeking

What are employers looking for in candidates? Not always what you may think. In a recent study, these are the qualities employers listed as most important:

  • oral and written communication skills
  • motivation
  • leadership
  • maturity
  • enthusiasm
  • punctuality
  • appearance

From an employer's perspective, hiring you is a risk. By relating specific experiences and accomplishments, you must show them that you will fit their organization and contribute to its purposes. Ultimately, the decision to hire you reflects the employer's opinion as to whether you can and will do the job.

Doing Your Homework

Thorough preparation for your interview is essential. Most candidates interviewing for a given position will have the basic qualifications necessary to do that job. However, it is typically the candidate who does the best job of presenting him/herself who gets the job offer. Basic interview preparation should include:

Knowing Yourself. Are your interests consistent with the general career area and the specific job? Do your skills correspond to this position? Is this position compatible with your values?

Knowing the Organization. Knowledge of the organization, its products or services, structure, locations, and needs is essential. Be especially conscientious about reading and understanding the organization's "recruiting literature". At times it will be difficult to get much information about an employer. The next best thing is to be knowledgeable of the industry and the organization's competitors. Thorough preparation will strengthen your self-confidence and will demonstrate sincere interest in the job.

Clearly Defining Your Goals Before the Interview. Employers look favorably upon candidates who have specific and well-defined career goals. Many job seekers mistakenly believe that the more general they are about what they want to do, the better their chance of getting a job. Such is not the case. Focus as clearly as possible on your job objective. A clear objective can indicate how well you will fit into a company, as well as demonstrate your maturity. An "I'll do anything" attitude shows enthusiasm but may also be perceived as desperate.

Practice Helps

You must be able to communicate information effectively to the employer. Strive to become as articulate and natural in your interview presentation as possible. There will probably be plenty of rough edges at first, but you'll almost surely find that your interviewing skills will improve quickly with practice. Remember, you want your responses to sound intelligent and natural, NOT rehearsed and artificial. Know your best job-related qualities and supporting examples; allow them to come together as the questions are asked. You may also choose to do a videotaped practice interview at the Center for Career Services. You will need to make an appointment in advance. Most students find it extremely useful in honing their interview skills. As an alternative, have someone ask you several of the sample interview questions included in this guide, and tape record your responses. Play back the tape and evaluate your answers.

First Impressions and Interviewing Basics

What to Wear. Present a professional image. The rule of thumb is wear the best outfit you would wear during a typical day at that job. If you aren't sure, it is better to show up overdressed than underdressed, but if you have questions ask a counselor at the Center for Career Services for some advice.

Be Punctual. Never be late for an interview. Try to arrive early enough to allow time to check your appearance and collect your thoughts. If you arrive very early, however, do not introduce yourself to the interviewer or receptionist more than ten minutes before the scheduled time of the interview. If for some reason you will be late, call ahead.

Introductions. Greet your interviewer with a smile, a firm handshake and direct eye contact. Be sure to note your interviewer's name and use it during the interview.

What to Bring. Always carry extra copies of your resume to the interview. In addition, you may want to bring along a copy of your transcript. If appropriate, as in the case of advertising, art, fashion design, or education, bring a portfolio containing sample illustrations of your work. You may also want to bring a copy of your list of references. Place all these things into a professional portfolio that also contains a pen and paper for jotting down important reminders and names of the people you meet. ONLY GIVE MATERIAL TO EMPLOYERS WHEN IT IS REQUESTED.

Responding to Questions

The majority of the interview time is typically devoted to the employer asking questions. Try to discern what the employer is really asking you. What are the underlying questions? For example, if an employer asks what qualities you think are important for someone in the position you are applying for, he or she wants to know whether you have given thoughtful consideration to the skills and abilities necessary to succeed within the organization. Your objectives are to put your candidacy in the best possible light and to alleviate any reservations the employer may have about your suitability for employment. Be yourself and focus on your positive qualities.

If there are periods in your past that are difficult to explain, do not dwell on them. Respond to your interviewer's questions honestly, indicating what you have learned from your mistakes. Take responsibility for past actions, and DO NOT blame others. If something in your past is indicative of poor judgment, try to give examples of recent things you have done that indicate good judgment.

Remember to answer questions by focusing on experiences, accomplishments, and skills you have that relate to the specific job for which you are interviewing. Do not be so general in your responses that the interviewer learns very little about you. An interview is not the time for shyness and modesty. Tell the interviewer about yourself; if you don't, no one will.

Sample Interview Questions

Although no single interviewer will ask you all the questions that follow, this listing is designed to give you an idea of the types of questions you can expect. As you read the list, consider what your responses would be, AND what the interviewer would think of them. (Use the work sheet) Try to detect what the interviewer is really asking you before you respond. Avoid the pitfall of rushing into an answer without thinking first. The questions in bold are those that you are most likely to hear.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your major strengths/weaknesses?
  • Why should I hire you over other candidates?
  • How do you handle pressure?
  • What have you done to show initiative and innovation?
  • What leadership roles have you had?
  • What have been your most satisfying and most disappointing experiences?
  • Why did you decide to interview with us?
  • Why are your grades low? Do they reflect your ability?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What interests you about this specific position?
  • What qualifications do you have that makes you feel you would be successful?
  • What have you learned from some of the jobs you have held?
  • What is not on your resume that you would like to tell me?
  • What have you read recently?
  • Define "management".
  • In what school activities have you participated? Why?
  • If you were starting college all over again, what would you do differently?
  • What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • What do you REALLY want to do in life?
  • Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
  • What major problems have you encountered and how did you deal with them?
  • What criteria are you using to evaluate the organization for which you hope to work?
  • What other employers are you interviewing with?
  • What types of positions are you considering?
  • What would be your ideal job?
  • Why did you select your particular major?
  • If there was one thing that you could change about your past, what would it be?

In addition to these questions, applicants for teaching positions are encouraged to review a special listing of sample questions often asked of teaching candidates. This listing is available upon request in the career library in the Center for Career Services.

FYI - Questions asked during an interview are intended for the potential employer to determine whether or not your skills and abilities may be beneficial to the organization. Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, marital status, disability, etc. Therefore, interviewers are not permitted to ask questions about such subjects prior to making an offer of employment if the information is irrelevant to your ability to perform the job. Once you accept the offer, however, issues such as number of dependents, date of birth, disabilities, etc. become necessary information for medical and retirement benefits, accommodations for disabilities, etc. Though such inappropriate preemployment inquiries are rare, check with CCS if you have have questions about an interviewer's actions. Detailed information about appropriate preemployment inquiries is available in the Center for Career Services.

Behavioral Interviewing

Increasingly, organizations are using the behavioral interviewing approach to identify the best candidate. Behavioral interviewing is based on the idea that a person's past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior in similar situations. Instead of asking the very open ended questions listed above, the interviewer asks questions like:

  • Give me an example of a time when you were a leader.
  • Tell me about a problem you had to solve at your last job and how you solved it.
  • Explain how you proposed implementing a new procedure to your supervisor.

If the interviewer had asked how you would describe yourself and you said you were a leader, a problem solver and a good communicator, these behavioral questions will give you the opportunity to back up those statements.

The answers to these questions become statements filled with details allowing the interviewer to picture you in action and to feel more confident about your abilities.

To give a thorough response, think of a STAR:

  • Describe the Situation or Task to introduce the topic and to let the interviewer know why an action took place.
  • Next, describe the Action steps you took in that situation. As this is the most important part of your response be specific and thorough (but avoid petty details).
  • Then conclude with the Result. The interviewer is most interested in your actions, so positive or negative results are not really the issue--your behavior in that situation is.

Even if an interviewer asks the traditional questions, you can and should answer in a behavioral style to demonstrate your abilities more clearly.

Asking Questions

Interviewers expect candidates to ask pertinent questions during the interview. You will be evaluated not only on your responses to the interviewer's questions, but also on the quality of the questions you pose to the interviewer. Here are some suggestions.

  • What qualities are you looking for in your new hires?
  • Could you describe a typical first-year assignment?
  • Could you tell me about your initial and future training programs?
  • What are some of the typical career paths followed by others who have been in this position?
  • What would be a realistic time frame for advancement?
  • How is an employee evaluated and promoted?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of this position?
  • What is the overall structure of the department where the position is located?
  • How often can I expect to relocate during the initial years of employment with your company?
  • What are the company's plans for future growth?
  • Is it company policy to promote from within?
  • What industry-wide trends are likely to affect your company?
  • How would you describe your corporation's personality and management style?
  • How is the work environment affected by the company's management style?
  • Why did you join and stay with the firm?
  • What do you like about working for your company? What don't you like?

Most important, ask questions that are relevant to the position you are applying for. Always avoid asking questions on information that is adequately covered in the company's recruitment literature. To do so will make you seem ill-prepared.

Concluding the Interview

Most interviewers will conclude the interview by indicating when you can expect to receive further word on your status as an applicant. However, if the interviewer does not volunteer this information, be sure to ask. This will help you follow-up within a reasonable time frame. Be certain that you have the interviewer's full name, title, address, and phone number before you leave. This information is essential to the follow-up process.

The Issue of Salary

The topic of salary will probably come up in your selection interviews. As part of your pre-interview research, examine the sources found at the Center for Career Services such as: The Occupational Outlook Handbook, the National Association of Colleges and Employers Salary Survey, The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries, plus DISCOVER (a computer-based career guidance system). There will be sufficient time to negotiate salary after the employment offer has been made, so try to avoid bringing up the issue in preliminary interviews. See the Salary Negotiations guide at the Center for Career Services.

After the Interview

It is wise to send a thank you letter to your interviewer after the interview for three reasons. First, it will show that you are courteous, and sincerely interested in the position. Second, it will help to keep your name fresh in the interviewer's mind. Third, it provides an opportunity for you to restate your qualifications or to mention something you may have forgotten to say during the interview. Your thank you can be in the form of a business letter or hand-written on a professional quality note card. Mail your letter within 48 hours of the interview so that the interviewer receives it within a week of your meeting. If you would like to see a copy of a thank you letter, inquire at the Center for Career Services.

It is appropriate to call the interviewer if you haven't received a response within the time period they indicated you would hear about your candidacy.

Evaluating Your Interviews

Learn from your mistakes. You will develop new skills in the entire process of interviewing. Beyond being well-prepared, don't underestimate the importance of being enthusiastic. Be confident, and remember to highlight your qualifications and potential.