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.
Before you begin, test how much you know about creating resumes and cover letters. Once you’ve competed the module, come back and take this quiz again to see how much you have learned. opens in new window
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:
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:
Avoid presenting information not covered in the resume. There are several reasons for this:
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.
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.
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:
To identify your Industry-Specific Skills, review the Learning Outcomes section on your program website as well as your course descriptions.
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:
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.
Customize your resume for each job. The following are key sections to include in your resume:
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:
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.
Tip: To make the most impact, accomplishment statements should:
Below are examples of how transferable skills can be phrased as accomplishment statements.
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:
Use these documents to get started:
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:
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:
Introduce yourself to the employer using the 4 W’s:
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:
Use these documents to get started:
Even in resumes and cover letters, it's important to use your own words. Watch the video below to learn about how to avoid plagiarism in your resume and cover letters.
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.