Resumes & Cover Letters

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Your Resume

A resume and cover letter are your marketing tools to make an impact on a potential employer and secure an interview. There are literally hundreds of books on the market with good advice about how to write effective resumes and cover letters, each with a different opinion on style and content. We believe that writing a quality resume and cover letter for internship and full-time job opportunities begins with a targeted, one-page summary of your skills and experiences that convinces the employer you would be successful in that position. The goal is to make your materials so engaging that the reader cannot wait to meet you. Not sure what experience you have? Check out our list of activities to get you started! 

View our guide on Effective Resumes, Cover Letters and LinkedIn Profiles.

Resume Format Guidelines

The most acceptable and readily used format for college students is the one page, chronological resume in which your most recent experience is first.  Do not use graphics, tables, or columns in your resume as Applicant Tracking System Software (ATS) cannot read them.  How you choose to construct your resume, in terms of style, is up to you. For example, placing dates on the left or right or whether your contact information should be centered or on the left-hand column is your choice. Remember consistency is the name of the game. Always maintain the same style throughout your resume.

  • In today’s employment market, your Resume, CV or Cover Letter may be screened with an Applicant Tracking System software (ATS) by HR professionals. These systems manage high volumes of job applications. For recruiters, it streamlines the recruiting/hiring process and helps to identify quality applicants.  ATS will electronically scan your Resume or CV, score your qualifications based on the description for that position, and rank your application.
International students: In the U.S., one-page resumes are standard practice. A curriculum vitae (CV) refers to a summary of qualifications and education that is usually more than one page and is used when applying to academic/faculty or research-related positions. Employers prefer resume formats which are minimal and easy-to-read. Personal information like your birth date is omitted to protect candidates from age discrimination as prohibited by Federal laws.Resume guidelines that differ from non-U.S. resumes/CVs:

  • Avoid colorful fonts or use of tables
  • Minimal personal info (no birthdate, picture, height, country of origin)
  • Omit pronouns
  • Include industry terms when appropriate
  • Share only relevant information (be able to justify content to an employer)

Looking for 24/7 Resume or CV Assistance?

  • Want to know if your resume or CV has the critical components employers are looking for?
  • Looking for resume templates tailored for your area of interest?
  • Wondering how your resume might compete with other resumes in the industry you are interested in?

Here is your chance!: Receive tailored constructive feedback on your resume through the USC VMock website, under Smart Resume.  Log in with your ten-digit USC Student ID, select the potential industry you might be interested in, upload your resume, and receive customized feedback per your industry of choice within seconds.   Smart Resume is a very specialized resource tailored for USC students that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to support students in a 24/7 customized manner.   The Career Center team collaborated with many career advisors from across campus to help make this a great resource for ALL students!  Take a look and see what you think!

If your school has a career center, please check their website for potential industry-specific resumes.

Cover Letters

Your resume is your marketing brochure. Your cover letter is your introduction or ‘executive summary’ to your resume. The main point of a cover letter is to tie your experience directly to the job description. Look at the description and be sure the words relate directly to those in your cover letter and resume. If the employer is looking for teamwork, highlight a team experience in your resume, and be sure to include a team-related accomplishment in your cover letter.

Your cover letter should be a professional, one page document using proper grammar with no spelling or punctuation errors.  The words and action verbs in your cover letter should be reflective of the job description. Do not copy and paste content directly from your resume to your cover letter. When emailing a recruiter or hiring manager directly, use the body of the email to write two to three sentences that introduce yourself and mention to which position you are applying. Include your cover letter and resume as PDF attachments. Do not cut and paste your cover letter into the body of the email.

When to Use a Curriculum Vitae (CV)

If you are considering positions in academia (teaching and research), you are generally asked to provide a curriculum vitae (CV) in lieu of a resume. Your CV will highlight your scholarly and professional experiences when applying for academic (faculty),  research positions, academic postdoctoral research opportunities, grants, and fellowships. Keep in mind the purpose is also to have the hiring committee interested in interviewing you. Therefore, be selective on your accomplishments that will show you are a strong candidate for the job, department, and institution.

CVs vary from discipline to discipline. It is recommended to reference CV’s of others in your field (fellow grad students, postdocs in your lab, new faculty in your department) and have your advisor review it as well. The CV is focused on expertise and provides a complete summary of your academic achievements. The typical length of a CV is 2-3 pages with additional pages being added as further your career and academic successes.

Standard CV sections include: Education, Teaching Experience, Research Experience, Honors and Awards, Professional/Volunteer Experience, Publications, Presentations, Scholarly/Professional Affiliations, Research Interests, Extracurricular Activities, Licensing/Registration/Certifications, Grants/Fellowships, University Service, Technical Skills, and References.

The organization or layout of your CV should reflect your experience in reverse chronological order (list most recent experience first, and then go back in time) and put the most important information on the first few pages. As a general rule, whatever is most important merits the most space. Make sure your CV is clear and concise. Always keep in mind that every CV should include information about your education and relevant professional experience. Lastly, if you are applying for positions in different types of institutions or departments, you will probably need more than one version of your CV.

References and Recommendation Letters

Employment references should include three to five people who can speak to your education, work, and/or professional background related to the position you are applying to. You should tailor the list according to whom you believe knows your unique qualifications for the position the best.  Please ask potential references if they are comfortable serving as a reference and give them information (including the job description) about the positions you are applying to before you submit their name and information on your reference list.  Your list of references should have the same heading as your resume and cover letter.

A recommendation letter should describe your personal traits, education, work, and/or professional background in relation to the scholarship, graduate school, or position you are applying to. Recommendation letters are generally provided for scholarship and graduate school applications, but some employers will ask on occasion. Usually, the letters are written by people on your reference list.  You will want to send the person writing the letter any important information that should be included in the letter as well as your resume or CV.  This helps ensure the recommendation letter covers what the reader wants to know about you to help make a decision on your candidacy.

Your list of references and/or recommendation letters should NOT be included with application materials unless requested by the employer.

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