Writing Resumes & Cover Letters

Writing Resumes and Cover Letters

At some point during an academic career, the vast majority of students will have to write a cover letter and resume. As part of a class assignment or a component of your job search, resumes and cover letters need to be written concisely and formatted well in order to be effective. This type of writing utilizes action words and descriptive statements as a way of conveying your qualifications and career objectives. As complimentary pieces of writing, your resume and cover letter function together as an introduction to a potential employer, so it is imperative that you allow enough time for revision.


As with any type of specific, personal writing, do some preparation ahead of time in order to decrease frustration during the writing process itself. Obtain copies of documents such as transcripts, resumes and the application form itself; keeping them in front of you will make your job of writing much easier. Make a list of important information, in particular names and exact titles of former employers and supervisors, titles of jobs you have held, companies you have worked for, dates of appropriate work or volunteer experiences, the duties involved, etc. In this way, you will be able to refer to these materials while writing in order to include as much specific detail as possible.


After you have gathered the necessary materials, the next step is creating a draft of your resume or cover letter. You should begin with your resume because you will be referring to it later within your cover letter. While there are a number of ways to organize these pieces of writing, there are some general items that need to be included and some rules that should be followed (see following samples).


On your resume, your name should be the first thing on the page, centered at the top, with your address and phone number directly underneath. The rest of your resume should be divided into distinct sections with appropriate headings (in capital letters and either boldface or italicized) and should be lined up on the left margin. Skip lines between each entry.

The choice of headings differs from person to person, but it is a good idea to include the following in this order:

  • WORK EXPERIENCE (can be divided into professional and volunteer experience)

For a recent graduate, the PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE section may be rather short, so you should pay close attention to using active words and detail to make the most of what you have. Remember, just listing your job history is not enough; you need to demonstrate your qualifications by describing your responsibilities in detail.

Also include information such as making the Dean’s List, being scholarship chairperson for your fraternity or sorority, or volunteering for the Special Olympics, which could go under HONORS AND ACTIVITIES, while your knowledge of specific computer systems and software packages would fall under the SPECIAL SKILLS heading.

Now you are ready to move on to your cover letter. Your cover letter will, in most cases, utilize a standard business letter format, with block paragraphs lined up on the left margin. It usually does not exceed 200 words. The format for the opening and closing of the letter (date, address, salutation etc.) should follow the sample.

Your opening paragraph should mention how you found out about the position (magazine article, classified ad, contact through a placement office or business acquaintance, etc.) and should illustrate your knowledge of the company and its goals. Subsequent paragraphs should indicate your compatibility with the position; you should also mention your enclosed resume at some point, using it to demonstrate your qualifications. You want your cover letter to answer the question, “What can I do for this company?”

Your closing paragraph needs to invite some action on the part of the employer, usually by requesting an interview. You can also state your intention to follow up with a phone call.


Once you have created drafts, it is essential that you allow adequate time for revision. Be sure to proofread carefully; a confusing format or sentence-level errors will reflect poorly on you. You also want to use a consistent typeface throughout both documents since varied fonts can be fussy looking and hard to follow. You should print your resume and cover letter on nice paper (though not too colorful) and keep it clear, even with multiple copies. The goal is a polished and professional piece of writing, one that will impress a future employer.


The following models are copies of a cover letter and resume for a soon-to-be college graduate who is looking for a position in a major corporation. Notice the use of active words and detail in both the work experience section of the resume and the cover letter.

April 15, 1996

Andrew Baker, Personnel Director
Kendal Financial Corporation
110 Adams St.
Chicago, IL 45708

Dear Mr. Baker:

This letter is in response to your advertisement of an opening in the marketing division of Kendal Financial in the April 2, 1996 Chicago Tribune. This entry-level position matches my career interests and is strongly compatible with my skills and experience.

Your company is well-known for its innovations in the areas of marketing and advertising. In particular, your recent ad campaign for your line of mutual funds was original and creative, and I am extremely interested in joining such a leading organization.

I will be graduating in May with a degree in marketing, and I also have considerable experience in the field as a result of my internship with my family’s business. My enclosed resume further illustrates my employment background, which would allow me to readily fit into your marketing division’s team concept.

I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the position at your earliest convenience. I will call you next week to arrange an interview.


Jane Smith

312 E. 10th, Apt. 8
Bloomington, IN 47401
(812) 555-1212

A position in advertising or marketing that will best utilize my skills.

B.A., Marketing, May 1996 (expected)
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
GPA: 3.4/4.0

Summer 1995: Intern, Marketing Department, Eli Lilly Corp., Indianapolis, IN. Helped create slogans and logos for new product lines. Took part in developing advertising campaigns for a variety of media. Attended forecasting meetings with senior management.

Summers 1993 & 1994: Advertising Executive, Hoosier Precious Metals, Inc., Indianapolis, IN. Planned radio and print advertising, including logo and slogan development. Wrote advertising copy. Recommended and implemented marketing strategies to improve sales. Established contacts in advertising field.

Fall 1995 - present: Staff Coordinator, Student Recreational Sports Center, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. Supervised aquatics staff, planned work schedules, and taught aerobics classes.

Fall 1994 - Fall 1995: Assistant Manager, Showplace 11 Cinema, Bloomington, IN. Arranged work assignments, processed box office receipts, and dealt with the public.

Fall 1993 - Spring 1994: Server, Chili’s Restaurant, Indianapolis, IN. Waited on patrons in a busy restaurant environment.

Dean’s List-four semesters
Volunteer for Indiana Special Olympics
Scholarship Chairperson, Gamma Pi Chapter, Kappa Zeta Sorority

Produced by Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN