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Resumes and Cover Letters - Module 2 of 3

Your resume and cover letter are often your first introduction to an employer, and they have to impress them enough that they want to meet with you. This module will show you how you can create effective resumes and cover letters.

Top Tips

  • Customize your resume to match job requirements.Provide details of relevant experience, qualifications and education, and use keywords from the job posting, and occupation-specific terminology.
  • Use a simple and professional resume format.Showcase your experience with a two-page resume and avoid using graphics or multiple styles of bullets. Ensure that your formatting is consistent throughout.
  • Resumes are often read in 30-60 seconds, so make it easy to find important information.Employers might miss information in a quick read of your resume, so make sure that your relevant qualifications, skills, etc. are easy to see.
  • Emphasize your education.Review your program and course learning outcomes, and describe labs, assignments, work placements and co-op experiences that you have completed during your studies.
  • Include transferrable or “soft skills”.Describe your communication, problem solving, leadership, and teamwork skills and/or other soft skills..
  • Go beyond what you know, and highlight what you have done.These accomplishments can include awards and formal recognitions as well as contributions you made that had a positive impact on your workplace.
  • Add relevant links.Include links to an online portfolio, a completed professional LinkedIn profile or other relevant links that demonstrate your work.
  • Customize your cover letter for each employer.Research the employer, and demonstrate your knowledge of the company, how you could benefit their team, and why you want to work for them.
  • Use your cover letter expand on key points from your resume.Don’t add new information, but don’t restate your resume word-for-word. Expand on information from your resume that relate to the employer's needs, and highlight your assets.
  • Keep the format of your cover letter consistent with your resume.Use the same font type and size as your resume. The documents should look like they belong together.
  • Keep it error free!Proofread your resume and cover letter; do not rely on spellcheck. Attend a Drop-In session or make an appointment at an employment support centre in your college.

Working With Your Resume and Cover Letter

About Your Resume and Cover Letter

Your resume and cover letter are documents that help you market yourself to prospective employers. They are usually submitted as a package as part of a job application, with the cover letter appearing first, followed by the resume. An effective resume and cover letter should convince the employer that you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job.

A good resume will summarize your education, skills, work, and achievements as they apply to the job. The employer needs to be able to find the essential information quickly. Often, resumes are read or scanned in only 30-60 seconds.

By placing all the most relevant and important information on the first half of the page, you are strategically increasing the chances of having the employer identify the qualifications that you demonstrate that match the requirements of the job. Therefore, resumes with strong profiles and summary of qualifications sections are more likely to be selected for an interview.

A well-planned resume will:

  • Provide an example of your ability to organize and present ideas clearly
  • Demonstrate your attention to detail by being free of grammar and spelling errors
  • Provide details of relevant experience and education credentials
  • Demonstrate your fit with the company culture

There are several types of resume formats, but this module will cover a skills-based resume format (also known as a combination format). This format lets you highlight skills you learned in your program as well as practical experience from jobs, field placements, co-op, applied research and team projects.

Cover letters must be customized for each employer because they are intended to show why you are a good fit for that specific job. The employers want you to demonstrate several things in your cover letter:

  • your knowledge of the company
  • how you could benefit their team
  • compelling reasons why you’d like to work for them

Avoid presenting information not covered in the resume. There are several reasons for this:

  • In some cases, a cover letter is not a requirement. If the employer chooses not to read it, he or she may miss some key information about you.
  • There is more emphasis placed on your resume as it serves as proof of the skills, knowledge and experience you describe in your cover letter.

Your cover letter is opportunity for you to highlight the skills and experience that are covered on your resume and explain how they make you a good candidate for the position for which you are applying.

Follow the steps in the tabs to learn how to build an effective resume and cover letter.

5 Steps to Build Your Resume

Tailor your resume to the requirements of each job to demonstrate that you can perform the essential duties of the role. Use the following resources to research and understand the typical job requirements in your occupation:

A resume is both a marketing tool and summary of your qualifications. Identifying your main skills and strengths is an essential first step in building an effective resume.

Technical or Industry Specific Skills

These skills are specific for your industry and the type of jobs to which you are applying.

Example: Administrative Assistants need to have skills such as the following:

  • How to use Microsoft Office software to prepare and format business documents.
  • How to manage physical and electronic records.
  • How to record day-to-day business transactions.
  • How to use Microsoft Excel to create and manage basic spreadsheets.

To identify your Industry-Specific Skills, review the Learning Outcomes section on your program website as well as your course descriptions.

Essential Employability or Transferrable Skills

Transferable Skills are more general and are essential to succeed in any job. You develop and use these skills in a variety of experiences and everyday tasks.

Here are some examples:

  • verbal and written communication
  • interpersonal skills
  • problem solving
  • time management

To identify these skills, think of what skills helped you to perform effectively in your job or educational experiences.

The resources below provide examples of essential skills sought by employers:

Use your list of skills and the job requirements that you researched in Step 2 to build your resume. You can format your own resume from scratch, or use the resume template.

Watch the video or read the information below to find out how to create an effective resume. You can also download the How to Build Your Resume video transcript.


Elements of the Resume:

Customize your resume for each job. The following are key sections to include in your resume:

  • Your contact information: name, address (optional), email, and phone number.
  • Qualifications/skills: relevant skills, knowledge, certifications, etc. that you obtained through your experience. This will make it easy for the employer to find and match your qualifications to their requirements.
  • Education: Any diplomas, degrees, or certificates you have earned or are completing. Include your GPA if it is high (3.0/4.0 or higher).
  • Relevant experience: Your relevant work experience, academic projects, work placements, co-op, and volunteer experience. Describe your experience using accomplishment statements (Step 4). When describing your job duties, start with the responsibilities and accomplishments most relevant to the job requirements.
  • Other work experience: work experience that is not related to the job.
  • Volunteer/community involvement:Volunteering positions you have held, with an emphasis on skills or responsibilities that are relevant to the job.
  • Optional additional sections: awards/certifications/extracurricular activities/interests.

Format and Style

A two-page resume is the standard at this stage, and the format should be consistent, simple, and professional. Use the following format guidelines:

You can use a resume template if you need a starting point. Follow these guidelines to make sure your resume is consistent and easy to read:

  • Use white space between sections and headings.
  • Make sure your bullets points use the same style and are aligned to the same place.
  • Dates should be aligned and in a consistent format.
  • Use industry language and keywords to show that you understand the occupation and industry for which you are applying.

You can use the resume checklist (PDF) - opens in a new window when creating your resume to help you remember what to include, what to leave out, and how to structure the document.

Add ‘accomplishment statements’ to your job descriptions. Accomplishment statements explain how your actions accomplished or contributed something.

Read the steps below or watch the video to learn how to write accomplishment statements. You can also read the How to Write Accomplishment Statements video transcript.

Steps to writing accomplishment statements

  1. Brainstorm:Think about the tasks and activities you performed exceptionally well in your past or current experiences. When thinking about each experience, ask yourself the following questions:
    • How was my performance measured in this position?
    • What value did I bring to this workplace or organization?
  2. Use the STAR technique:Make the connection between your actions and a positive result—Describe the Situation or Task, the Action you took, and the Result of your action
  3. Write statements:Use this information to write statements that explain what you have accomplished.
    e.g. “Created the department’s first operations manual [action], which increased the effectiveness of the new employee training, and significantly reduced the expenditure of time and resources. [result]”
  4. Update your resume:Add these accomplishment statements to your job descriptions.

Tip: To make the most impact, accomplishment statements should:

  • Incorporate metrics such as numbers, figures, statistics, percentages when it is possible. E.g. ‘increased sales by 15%’.
  • Describe your actions using strong action verbs, such as completed, raised, achieved, delivered, etc.
  • Be relevant to the employer and the position, and make a connection with the job requirements.

Examples

Below are examples of how transferable skills can be phrased as accomplishment statements.

Written Communication
  • Skill: Skilled at communicating information in a written format with clarity, accuracy and with a proper use of references.
  • Duty: Produce research reports using variety of reliable sources, qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Achievement Statement: Prepared over ten accurate, well-researched, concisely written, and properly cited reports,10+ pages long on average, in a two-month period.
Professionalism/Work Ethic:
  • Skill: Competent in assembling and allocating physical, human, and financial resources, to deliver projects on time.
  • Duty: Coordinated schedules and assigned tasks to the team.
  • Achievement Statement: Led a team of five to deliver a final research project one week ahead of the deadline through careful coordination of tasks and effective resource and time allocation.
Customer Service/Interpersonal Skills
  • Skill: Able to engage others in friendly manner, develop rapport with coworkers and customers, and resolve conflicts
  • Duty: Welcomed customers to the store and engaged them in conversation to understand their product needs and interests.
  • Achievement Statement: Consistently achieved daily sales targets by demonstrating interest in customer needs and actively interacting with them in a friendly, non-invasive manner throughout their visit.

Grammar and spelling mistakes can cost you an interview. Employers may interpret errors as lack of interest in their job and not review your resume further. Here are a few strategies to help you avoid embarrassing errors:

  • Proofread your resume (on screen and a print version). Do not rely solely on spell check. Some words can be spelled correctly, but are out of context, which won’t be caught by spell check.
  • Have a second person proofread your resume.A second set of eyes may see what you have missed.
  • Visit an employment support centre.Attend a Resume Drop-In session or make an appointment.

Use these documents to get started:

5 Steps to Build Your Cover Letter

Cover letters must be customized for each employer because they are intended to show why you are a good fit for that specific job. Research the company to which you are applying, and examine their products, services and culture. There are several places you can look to find relevant information:

  • their website (the About Us page, etc.)
  • their publications
  • their social media channels
  • any other media sources

As part of your research, try to find the name of the hiring manager. Do not be afraid to call the reception or front desk to ask the name of the hiring manager.

Tip: Researching a potential employer is also good preparation for common interview questions, such as “What do you know about our company/organization and why do you want to work for us?”

Use the information from your research and from your resume to write your cover letter. It should be one page, and the font style and size should match your resume. You can use the cover letter template or start from scratch.

Watch the video or read the information below to find out how to write your cover letter. You can also download the How to Write a Cover Letter video transcript.


At the beginning of the cover letter, you should include the following information:

  • Your name and contact information. Use the same format as on your resume.
  • The date of submission
  • The company contact information (the employer name and title, and the company name and address.)
  • The job title and reference number (if applicable)
  • The recipient of the letter. Address the letter to the hiring manager or contact person. If you don’t know their name, write ‘Dear Hiring Manager.’

Introduce yourself to the employer using the 4 W’s:

  • Who: Introduce yourself.
  • Why: Explain why you are applying and are interested in the company.
  • What: Include the job title or the type of job that interest you.
  • Where: Include where you heard about the job.

In the body of the cover letter, describe your skills, knowledge and experience that match the key requirements of the job, or that will allow you to add value to the job and the company. Relate your skills and knowledge to specific academic, volunteer, or work experience. This is your opportunity to elaborate on the experience that you included on your resume.

Emphasize how you contributed by phrasing your experience as ‘accomplishment statements’ to demonstrate how you contributed to your workplace or project. Read Step 4 in the Building Your Resume tab to learn how to write Accomplishment Statements. This adds credibility and makes a stronger impression on employers.

Your cover letter is also a place to explain gaps in your resume or highlight asset points, such as willingness to relocate, etc.

Describe why you want to work for the company. The information you discovered in your earlier research will come in handy at this stage. Provide a few reasons as to why you are passionate about your occupation/industry and what interests you about working for this specific company.

Employers may interpret errors as lack of interest in their job and use it as a reason not to read your resume. Here are a few strategies to help you avoid embarrassing errors:

  • Proofread your cover letter (on screen and a print version). Do not rely solely on spell check. Some words can be spelled correctly, but are out of context, which won’t be caught by spell check.
  • Have a second person proofread your cover letter.A second set of eyes may see what you have missed.
  • Visit an employment support centre.Attend a resume and cover letter drop-in session or make an appointment.

Use these documents to get started:

Checklist

Resume - What to include

  • Your contact information: name, address (optional), email, and phone number.
  • Your qualifications/skills: relevant skills, knowledge, certifications, etc. that you obtain through your experience. This should show that you would be able to do the job for which you are applying.
  • Your education: Any diplomas, degrees, or certificates you have earned or are completing. Include your GPA if it is high (3.0/4.0 or higher).
  • Your experience: Your work experience, along with relevant academic projects work placements.
  • Volunteer/community involvement: Volunteering positions you have held, with an emphasis on skills or responsibilities that are relevant to the job.
  • Awards / Certifications / Extracurricular Activities / Interests.

Cover Letter - What to include

  • Your contact information: Your name, address (optional), email, and phone number in the same format as your resume.
  • The date of submission.
  • The company contact information: the employer name and title, and the company name and address.
  • The job title and reference number (if applicable).
  • The recipient of the letter: Address the letter to the hiring manager or contact person. If you don’t know their name, write ‘Dear Hiring Manager.’
  • An introduction using the 4 Ws:
    • Who: Introduce yourself
    • Why: Explain why you are applying for this job.
    • What: Include the job title or the type of job that interest you.
    • Where: Include where you heard about the job.
  • Your qualifications and accomplishments: Expand on the knowledge and experience in your resume. Make sure to use Accomplishment Statements.
  • Why you want to work for the company: Target that employer and show that you know something about them.

Format and Proofreading

Resume
  • White space: Add space between sections and headings to make the resume clear and easy to read.
  • Consistent bullet points: All Bullets use the same style and are aligned to the same place.
  • Consistent dates: Dates appear in a consistent format (e.g. all written out or all included as numbers)
Cover Letter
  • 1 page, concise and well-written.
  • Limited number of sentences starting with “I”.
  • No run-on sentences.
  • Plain paper; no graphics if applying electronically.
General
  • Web-friendly font (such as Arial or Times New Roman, size 11 or 12).
  • A simple and professional format. No graphics to highlight information.
  • Action words and accomplishment statements: Use strong action words such as ‘increased’ when describing your experience and include accomplishment statements.
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Employer Perspective

Watch this video to hear the employer perspective of Helen Huang, Human Resources Officer at Algonquin College. You can also download the Algonquin College Employer Perspective video transcript.

Watch this video to hear the employer perspective of Hélène Thibault, the Manager of Recruitment and Selection at Bruyère Continuing Care. You can also download the Bruyère Continuing Care Employer Perspective video transcript.

Watch this video to hear the employer perspective of Torie Billings, HR Manager, and Adam Laderoute, HR Coordinator at Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. You can also download the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group Employer Perspective video transcript.

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