Write a Resume & Cover Letter

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Sections:

 

Write Your Resume

A resume and cover letter are your 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. The USC Career Center believes 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!

To view the Career Center’s Guide to Effective Resumes, Cover Letters and LinkedIn Profiles, log onto your connectSC account. You will find it under the Resources tab.

Resume Format

The most acceptable and readily used format for college students is the chronological resume, in which your most recent experience is listed first. 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.

  • Contact Information: Put your contact information at the top of your resume. It should include your name, address, phone number, and email address. If you plan to relocate soon it is acceptable to list a permanent address.
  • Objective: For most college students seeking internships or entering the professional job market, stating an objective on your resume is not necessary. Instead, bring out your interests in a cover letter that is customized for the specific job.
  • Education: List your degrees in reverse chronological order, with the most recent degree first as well as any study abroad experiences. Include relevant coursework to highlight your specific skills and knowledge. If your GPA is 3.0 or above, you may list it in this section.
  • Experience: List your most recent experience first and do not overlook internships, volunteer positions, and part-time employment. Use action verbs to highlight accomplishments and skills.
  • Leadership and Activities: List leadership positions in university or community organizations. Highlight university and community activities, including community service, athletics (which could be a separate heading) or volunteer experience.
  • Academic Projects: If you have specific academic projects that qualify you for the position, include them in their own section with detail on what you accomplished through the project.
  • Additional Information: This section may stand alone under the “Additional Information” heading and highlight relevant information that may include computer and language skills, professional associations, university and community activities (including any offices held), and interests.
  • Other Headings: Choosing to break out information such as interests and professional associations as separate headings is acceptable if relevant to the position.  Sharing personal information (i.e. birthday), marital status, or attaching a headshot is not acceptable unless relevant to the position.
  • References: Do not list your references on your resume. A prepared list of 2-4 references should be printed on a separate sheet of paper that matches your resume format. Bring a hard copy (or multiple copies, if needed) of your resume and references with you to the interview.
International students: when applying to positions within the U.S., one-page resumes are standard practice. In the U.S., 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 birthdate 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)

My Resume Checklist

  • No spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors
  • Makes clear, concise, and positive impression in 30 seconds or less
  • One page (more if writing a curriculum vitae/CV for an academic or research position)
  • Organized, easy to read, and has a balance between content and white space
  • Uses standard fonts including Times New Roman, Arial, Century, Helvetica, or Verdana in sizes 10, 11 or 12; do not use a font size smaller than size 10.
  • Highlights skills and accomplishments that match keywords found in the job description
  • Quantifies accomplishments, if possible (e.g., how much $ raised, # of people served and % of time saved)
  • Utilizes accomplishment statements
    • Action verb stating what you did
    • How you did it
    • Result (quantify when possible)
  • Cites relevant publications and presentations using the bibliographic style of your field
  • NO GENERIC RESUMES!

Samples

 

ResumeExample

If your school (Marshall, Annenberg, Viterbi) has a career center, please check their website for potential industry-specific resumes.

Create Your Cover Letter

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:

  • Concise: Your cover letter should be three to four paragraphs. Any longer might lose the interest of the reader. We suggest the following format:
    • Opening paragraph: Four or five sentences maximum. Mention the position you are applying to/interested in, briefly introduce yourself, and indicate where you learned of the opportunity.
    • Body of letter: Usually one or two paragraphs. Share detailed examples of your qualifications for the position’s specific requirements. Many students choose to use one paragraph to discuss previous work experiences and another one to discuss academic experiences or leadership experience, etc. Choose whatever combination communicates your most relevant qualifications most effectively.
    • Closing: Three to four sentences maximum. Summarize your qualifications, restate your enthusiasm for the position, and include your preferred contact information for the employer to follow-up with you.
  • Clear: Articulate your qualifications in words that mirror what the employer provided in the job description. Do not try to impress with a long list of accomplishments. This is the executive summary, not the resume.
  • Convincing: An employer will make a decision on your candidacy based on the combined letter and resume package. You have to articulate the connection to the job description and sell your skills. This is a competition. Why should the employer hire you?

My Cover Letter Checklist

  • The words and action verbs in your cover letter should be reflective of the job description.
  • Always be professional.
  • Use proper grammar.
  • Check for spelling and punctuation errors.
  • Know to whom the resume/cover letter package is going. Call the organization to see if they can provide you the correct name and title of the person to whom you should be addressing the letter. Do not use “To Whom It May Concern.” If no name is available, address letter to the Recruiter or Hiring Manager.
  • Use paragraph form, not bullet points.
  • Do not copy and paste content directly from your resume to your cover letter.
  • Do not be forward in requesting an interview.
  • Keep to one page (no more than 3-4 paragraphs).
  • 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 what position you are applying. Include your cover letter and resume as attachments. Do not cut and paste your cover letter into the body of the email.
  • Submit cover letter in PDF format.

CoverLetterExample

Know 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.

List of References and Recommendation Letters

A list of 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 still 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.  This helps ensure the recommendation letter covers what the reader wants to know about you to help make a decision on your candidacy.

A list of references and recommendation letters should NOT be included with applications materials unless requested by the employer.

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