Resumes and Cover Letters
While a lot has changed about the way that we find, apply for, and get jobs, resumes and cover letters are still key tools. Information about resume writing for Writing and Literature majors, however, can be hard to find. Here are some tips and templates that you can use to create reader-centered resumes and cover letters that will help you get that interview.
Before you start, here are some things to keep in mind.
The purpose of a resume is not to get you a job; it's to get you an INTERVIEW. This means that you don't have to put your whole life story in your resume--just the relevant facts. Once you are sitting in the interview chair, you can elaborate on the glory that is you.
The likelihood that the first (or even second) person reading your resume is the person with the authority to offer you the job is approaching zero. The first person to get your resume is mostly likely a low-level assistant in the company's Human Resources (HR) department. This person has limited knowledge of the job and is mostly scanning the resume to see if the candidate has the basic EDUCATION, EXPERIENCE, and SKILLS to advance to the next round. Imagine this person sorting the resumes into two piles--one to go on and one to go into the trash can. Knowing this is going to affect the way that you design your resume.
You do not have one resume that works for every job. You will need to customize your resume for different jobs. This is even more important for cover letters. Plan to have a "working" resume and cover letter that you can easily update. ***Note*** While templates are lovely, they can make customization difficult or impossible. I recommend looking at them for inspiration and then creating your own. It'll make your life much easier when you're looking for jobs.
You need to know what specific qualifications that employers are requesting. Take some time to look at Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com to read some job descriptions. Take notes of key words. Large companies feed resumes to scanners to identify key word matches. Knowing these will help you develop content for your resume and cover letter.
The three basic pillars of resumes are EDUCATION, EXPERIENCE, and SKILLS. On paper, write out lists of the jobs you've had, the tasks you've done in those jobs, the responsibilities you've had, and accomplishments and recognition.
You will notice that the resume below is all on one long page. That is because not everyone will have or need all of the information listed and whether or not you go to a second page will depend on both the content and design.
Your resume should contain CONCRETE, QUANTIFIABLE information. Describing yourself as a "leader," "self-starter," or "enthusiastic" doesn't give employers any information that they can use. Please read "Twenty-five words that can hurt your resume."
Bachelor of Arts in Writing offers three years experience as a copy editor for university newspaper, two years experience as a staff editor for academic journal, proficiency with HTML and Adobe Creative Suite; Bilingual English-Spanish.
Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Rhetoric with a course emphasis in Professional Writing and a minor in Graphic Design. St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas. 2020. GPA: 3.8 Cum Laude
Technical Writing Grammar and Style
British Literature Intro to Professional Writing
Scientific Writing Intro to Creative Writing
Study Abroad: Spring 2018, Angers, France. Studied Art History and French language, literatures, and culture.
Poetry Section Editor, Sorin Oak Review Creative Writing Journal, St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas. Read and edited 52 poetry submissions for publication; provided editorial comments to authors; lead a team of 5 copy editors; oversaw print production; responsible for meeting weekly deadlines. 2018-2019.
Social Media Writing Intern, Local Company, Austin, Texas. Researched social media strategy and prepared recommendation report for emerging tech company; prepared daily posts for multiple social media platforms for marketing, brand identity, and community building; wrote and edited in-house style guide; responsible for weekly reports. 2018.
Adobe Creative Suite; HTML; MLA, APA, Chicago, and AP Style editing; French language (conversational, written translation); Spanish language (reading proficiency)
"Name of Short Story," Sorin Oak Review, Volume, Issue, Year, pages.
"News Story," Hilltop Views, date, pages.
"Academic Paper," Arete, Volume, Issue, Year, pages.
"Theories of Rhetoric," SOURCE (Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression), St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas. 2019.
Spring Leadership Training, Austin, Texas. 2019.
Dean's List 2016-2018
Named Scholarship recipient 2018
Professor Supervisor Other Person
St. Edward's University Internship Organization
Austin, Texas Austin, Texas Location, ST
Note: You've probably heard that hiring managers prefer one-page resumes. This is true, but only by about two percentage points. So, if you have enough relevant content to go to a second page, do so.
Your name should be at least twice the font size of your body text; I recommend more. Go by the name you use to avoid confusion.
Contact information: The trend is away from including a physical address. If you are applying for something out of state, you don't even have to include your current city and state.
Summary: Also called keywords or objective, this should list specific requirements and words directly from the job description. The purpose of this is to tell the low-ranking person in HR that you are qualified for the position. List things that are CONCRETE and QUANTIFIABLE.
Education: Only include your GPA if it is 3.5 or higher. You may also use your major GPA.
Highlighted coursework: List an even number of relevant courses.
Other stuff you can list under education: Study abroad, special projects (eg, Capstone), research, teaching assistantships, etc.
Experience: In reverse chronological order (most recent first), list your position, department (if one exists), organization, and location. Then list tasks and responsibilities. End with dates--these can be general. Do not align dates with right margin. Use fragments that begin with ACTIVE, PAST-TENSE verbs (even if you are still doing this job; readers don't like shifts in verb tense.)
Skills: Only list CONCRETE, SPECIFIC skills and only if they are RELEVANT.
Professional development means things you've done to improve relevant skills or increase knowledge. This usually means publications, conferences, presentations, and trainings.
Honors: If you only have one, list it under Education. 2+ gets a heading.
References: Many people include a line at the bottom of their resumes saying that reference and/or publications are available upon request. My advice is that you anticipate your readers' needs and have this information easily available to them.
Worried that you don't have much content for your resume? Here are some things that you can do right now, on campus, to get some professional gold stars to add to your career search.
1. Write for Hilltop Views (publications)
2. Submit your creative work to The Sorin Oak (publications)
3. Submit your academic work to Arete (publications)
4. Write funny stuff for B. Hooved (publications)
5. Check out publishing guidelines for New Literati (publications)
6. Submit your research to SOURCE (conference presentation and publication)
7. Work as an editor for any of the above named publications (editing experience)
8. Join Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society (membership, leadership, involvement)
9. Join the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (professional organization)
10. Attend free IT trainings (relevant skills)
Easy-to-use graphic design software has made adding design elements like color, charts, icons, and shape accessible to even the least design savvy resume writers, but just because you can add a graphic element doesn't mean you should. Remember that most recruiters and HR professionals will spend around 7 seconds scanning--not reading, but SCANNING--your resume for relevant information. Many HR departments won't even get resumes into the hands of humans until they've been through Applicant Scanning Technology software. So, your goal in designing your resume is not to show off your design skills with alignment along a central axis or dots and pie charts representing your skill levels; it's to get your resume past the bots and low-level employees and into the hands of people who have some influence over hiring for your position. Do that by
Using simple, readable design formats
Putting the most critical information in the top third
Using no more than two fonts
Keeping graphic elements to a minimum
Using a mixture of bullets and paragraphs
Keeping usage, conventions, and order consistent
Using a summary or keywords section at the top and use the exact terms from the job description
Using white space and alignment to organize information
These days, cover letters are more likely to be cover emails. Pay close attention to the way that employers ask you to submit your resume. Their instructions trump any advice that you get here or elsewhere. If they ask you to add both a resume and a cover letter as attachments, do so. In that case, I recommend that you save them as pdf files so that your text doesn't get scrambled by their email server. Increasingly, however, organizations ask for a resume but don't give any instructions for a cover letter. In that case, I recommend that you use your email as your cover letter.
If you are writing a paper letter, check OWL for a formal business letter template.
Cover letters are basically 5-paragraph essays that serve to (1) get your resume into the correct pile and avoid landing in the trash can, (2) establish that you have the basic education, experience, and skills to get past the HR sorter, (3) highlight and expand on some of your best resume moments, (4) demonstrate your knowledge of their organization, (5) align your values with theirs, and (6) present yourself as a contributor. The challenge is to do all of these things with as few words as possible.
Paragraph 1: Go with the conventional "I am writing to express my interest in the [name position] position as described on/in [name the place you learned of the position, eg, Indeed.com] as of [date; so that they know which posting you are referencing]. With my [name education, experience, and skills required, eg, Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing, two years of copyediting experience, and graphic design skills using Adobe InDesign], I am a [strong, appropriate, qualified] candidate for this position.
Paragraph 2: [Educational spotlight] Start with "During my time at St. Edward's University" and more thoroughly develop something relevant to the position that you've done at SEU. Bonus points for tying this to a specific requirement from the job description at the end of this paragraph.
Paragraph 3: [Experience] Do the same thing with professional experience.
Paragraph 4: [All about them and alignment of values] Show them that you've done some homework on their organization, eg, "According to X website, Awesome Employer values a collaborative workplace. Working for SEU's student paper Hilltop Views, I learned the importance of collaborating with a team in order to produce the highest quality content. This experience has given me a unique appreciation for the value of collaboration and I feel confident that I could contribute to the editorial team at Awesome Employer."
Paragraph 5: Back to the conventional "I have attached a copy of my resume [along with two writing samples, etc, if they've asked for such things]. I will contact you within the next two weeks to confirm that you have received my application materials. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications in person. Please don't hesitate to contact me at [contact info and any time restrictions]. I look forward to talking with you.