Employment is the goal of applying for a position. The applicant has specific tools that should be used to achieve this desired goal. The standard tools in the application process include the cover letter and the resume, as well as, in some cases, a completed application form. To use these tools effectively the applicant must know their purpose, their structure and how to transmit them to the employer with the best possible chance of employment.


Writing the cover letter is a difficult task. It is like an introduction to who you are, what you are seeking, and why you are applying for the position. The cover letter should create an initial impression and communicate skills and abilities—the added value that the applicant will bring to the job. It should be persuasive, showing why you are the right candidate, highlighting key work experience and education from the resume, thus encouraging the employer to read the resume. In general, the cover letter has three or four paragraphs, but it is not stylised to the extent that all cover letters have the same format. The beginning paragraph identifies the position you are seeking and gives a general statement connecting the position with your experience and background. The second paragraph is open to your development of related skills, experiences, education, and personal traits that demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the opening. The third paragraph may continue this area, but it also may illustrate your advantages for the position with special traits, other experiences, or training that strengthen the match between the position listed and you as the most suitable candidate. The information and the style of conveying yourself on paper should lead to a favorable opinion of you as an applicant and a desire to review your resume. The closing paragraph offers information for contact, availability, and desire for further interaction.

The format and content of the cover letter will vary widely depending on the corporate culture. For example, a cover letter to a law firm will be conservative in nature while a letter to an advertising firm will be more creative or unusual. The applicant's name, address, and phone number should be at the top of each page. The cover letter should be addressed to a particular person in the company, or the salutation should be eliminated. Generally it should be brief, direct, preferably one page in length and have ample white space. If there is a strong interest in the job, then follow up with a hard copy of the cover letter and resume. Finally, the candidate should be sure to proof read the letter several times to eliminate grammar and spelling errors. Employers frequently eliminate a candidate due to a careless error in spelling or typing format. The envelope is important because it should be addressed directly to the person listed in the job announcement. If these initial pieces are in good form, the applicant can proceed to develop the resume and transmit these elements of the application process to the prospective employer. In some cases there may be an application form that must carefully be completed and included with the application. Even the most appropriate letter, resume, and completed application do not insure an interview or employment. However, follow up with the prospective employer may benefit the applicant.


In the professional application process, a resume serves to introduce and identify the applicants who apply for openings within an organization. Changes in the resume have occurred over time and the advent of electronic communication has brought new approaches to the process. Delineating the resume structure and function as well as the method of submission is important to today's job seeker. Clearly, there are elements, which are the same and new options open to the applicant such as presenting an online resume to a potential employer.

A resume is typically a one to three page summary of a person's skills, accomplishments, experiences, and education designed to help a person obtain a job. The resume may include a list of references and other data. It is the primary tool of the job search and may take several drafts to prepare effectively.

Before the resume is written, applicant should first identify skills and abilities as well as special needs relating to the work environment, salary, geographic location, and people environment. This will help the person develop a career objective and the types and locations of companies to which the person will apply. It will be helpful to list at least several skills that have been developed in the education, work, and internships, volunteer or extracurricular areas. These skills should be emphasized and any other relevant work talents should be included as well. A list of three great accomplishments and the personal qualities that helped reach the goals should be noted.

Individuals with a varied work history and people in some professions may require extended resumes. For example, college/university teaching, research and service requirements for faculty promotion and tenure means that faculty members applying for a position will submit resumes listing extensive publications and service involvement that may result in resumes in excess of five pages.


Resumes can be divided into two types: chronological and functional or skills resumes. The reverse chronological resume organizes the candidate's work and education experience with the most recent listed first. The reverse chronological resume is mostly preferred by employers and recruiters and is by far the most frequently used resume format. It is especially useful for individuals who have demonstrated continuous progress in their work history and are seeking a position of increased responsibilities.

The functional resume emphasizes transferable skills acquired through formal education and in nonrelated work experiences that would be applicable to the professional position being applied for. The employment history is generally minimized. This type of resume is suitable for the recent graduate with little relevant work experience, individuals with unexplained gaps of employment and others who have been job-hopping. With this type of resume, the applicant exhibits the relevant transferable skills and knowledge that he or she would bring to the position. Another approach is to combine a functional resume with a brief reverse chronological work history.

The information regarding the required skills and qualifications of occupations of interest is an extremely important step. This will help to decide if and how these requirements relate to one's own skills and needs. As the resume is organized, the applicant should keep in mind the specific needs of the employer. The candidate should consider what the employer seeks in a candidate and make it easy for the employer to pick out those skills by selecting appropriate categories—using underlining, boldfacing, or capitalizing, and presenting relevant experience and skill areas higher on the page. It will help to remember that you are selling yourself. Create a good first impression by highlighting skills and abilities appropriate to the position. The candidate should also use active language and articulate marketable skills acquired through one's experience or education.

The candidate should feel free to develop his or her own categories to highlight relevant special experiences and skills. For individuals with relatively little relevant work experience, it is frequently useful to separate professional experiences from other work experiences (e.g., part-time jobs, non-career work) by creating separate categories for these content areas. In this way, more attention can be given to relevant skills by putting them in categories closer to the top of the resume so they are read first. Several categories can be used as guidelines to assist in organizing a resume. In constructing a rough draft, the candidate should not be concerned with length. Categories can be omitted or added in later revisions. There is no absolutely correct way to organize a resume.

The resume should be consistent throughout. It should follow a standard pattern of spacing, formatting, and overall presentation. The candidate should normally present information in reverse chronological order within categories, listing education and work experiences starting with the most recent first. Grammar and spelling should be checked carefully (including looking for things that automatic spell-checking would miss) because misspellings and poorly constructed sentences communicate negative impressions about a candidate. Social security numbers, marital status, race, or date of birth can be excluded from the resume. The candidate should also ensure that the resume is neat and visually appealing. In general, unusual fonts and excess graphics on the resume are not considered professional. The candidate should choose high-quality paper in white, off-white, or other conservative colors and have the final version printed at high resolution (basic laser printer or better).


The candidate's name, address, telephone number and email are typically listed first in the resume. Candidates should present themselves with the name they use in their personal and business life; nicknames should be avoided. If the candidate has a campus address that does not apply during vacations or after graduation, the candidate should present both a current and a permanent address. Candidates should use their permanent home address, a post office box, or someone who will know where to contact them at all times. Also, phone numbers should always include area codes. If the candidate has an e-mail address, he or she might want to include that as well.

The objective is one of the most important parts of a resume and should not be overlooked. It informs potential employers that you are moving in a certain direction, relates your work preference, and serves as a focal point from which to review and analyse the resume. It should be brief, clearly stated, and consistent with the accomplishments and demonstrated skills as documented on the resume. If the candidate is considering more than one professional goal, the person should consider developing more than one resume, each presenting a different objective. The profile is an alternative to an objective statement. It gives the candidates the opportunity to present their strengths at the very beginning of the resume.

In writing the major areas of the resume, it is important to emphasize one's abilities and accomplishments more than past duties. The candidate may also want to indicate how well he or she has performed. This will help infuse personal qualities such as character and personality into the resume. The education category is particularly important if the candidate has not had a great deal of work experience. The highest level of education attained should be listed first. Candidates should include their degrees (A.S., B.S., B.A., etc.), major institutions attended, dates of graduation, minors or concentrations, and any special workshops, seminars, related coursework, or special projects. A G.P.A. of higher than a 3.0 (either overall or in major) should also be noted here.

Many young applicants may have limited paid work experience, but have been involved in volunteer work, internships, practicums, or student-teaching work experiences. The important point to the employer is what the candidate's skills are and what the candidate can do on the job. This type of candidate may want to use a skills or functional format. The candidate should include the title of the position, the name of the organization, location of work, and dates. The work responsibilities should be described with an emphasis on achievements using action words to communicate the candidate's skills. The most important and related responsibilities should be listed first. Candidates should identify the most relevant work experiences and link them to the current position. They should be brief with the irrelevant experiences or not list the information. It is sometimes useful to divide the work experience into two categories, relevant experience and other experience.

The additional information category is useful for displaying information that doesn't fit into any other category. Although personal interests, computer knowledge, and activities can be separate categories, especially if they are very strong, they can be listed here as well. Language proficiency, or any other relevant information can be placed here. A personal interest category can sometimes be used to evaluate candidate's suitability to a geographic area or to understand their personality type. Social or civic activities, health and fitness or sports activities, or hobbies that indicate how the candidate spends leisure time could be included. If using computers is a necessary skill for the job, the candidate's knowledge should be emphasized. Activities, honors, and leadership are also important categories to include. If the activities involve work responsibility, note it in some detail. The employer is interested in the skills the candidate has developed whether through volunteer or paid experiences. Recognition and demonstration of leadership roles are valuable and should be accentuated.


The candidate should ask individuals if they would be willing to be listed as references, prior to mentioning their names to prospective employers. Names of individuals are not usually listed on the resume unless there is space available at the end, but a typed list of three references should be prepared to provide at the interview. This list should include name, employer, title, address, and business email and phone numbers. References furnished upon request may also be stated at the bottom of the resume.


In the last several years transmittal of the resume and cover letter has changed substantially due to the increased use of the Internet. (Some companies still prefer regular mail to e-mail.) Due to ease of use in a 24/7 environment, rapid response time, and low expense, recruiters and job seekers are increasingly using this mode of transmittal. In the past, the cover letter and resume were mailed to the prospective employer, but more and more mega and niche job boards as well as corporate websites are being used. With few exceptions, the email cover letter and resume will remain very similar to the cover letter and resume that was mailed through the post office.

In the online environment the applicant can incorporate the cover letter as an attachment or as part of the e-mail. The salutation, body and closing of the cover letter should be formatted in the same manner as if it were being sent through the mail. Excessive formatting and the use of HTML should be avoided if the cover letter is part of the e-mail. This could result in line breaks, tabs and other formatting changes. Instead, it is wiser to use plain text or rich text format (rtf) to avoid these issues. The applicant should indicate the name and the position being applied for in the email subject line. Today the point of the resume has become more about getting the interview rather than providing a job history. Since Human Resource (HR) Departments may be reviewing hundreds of resumes for a given position, the traditional objective statement at the beginning of a resume is being replaced by an attention getting headline relating the applicant to the position to entice the HR personnel to continue reading the application.

Today a large majority of all resumes and cover letters are transmitted via the Internet utilizing several formats with various capabilities. It is now described as an E-resume, electronic resume or online resume. Due to the intended needs as well as relative advantages and disadvantages, there are a number of formats used to transmit the documents, including plain text, rich text file, Microsoft Word, image scanned PDF files, web sites, and Macromedia Flash. The list of options for transmitting a resume will change with the introduction of new technologies/methodologies such as web logs or blogs.

The plain text file incorporated into an e-mail message is the simplest method of electronically submitting a resume. (However, formatting capabilities are not available unless rich text formatting is used.) The email recipient can then easily migrate plain text or rich text into Microsoft Word or Word Perfect. Attaching a Word file is widely used for transmitting a resume since the applicant can email the actual formatted resume with the ability to select a wide range of formatting capabilities. However, some organizations are hesitant to open the attached document because of a possible virus. Adobe Acrobat provides a software program to scan the document into a PDF format so that the document will remain unchanged. The employer can then view the document using a free Adobe program.

Web portfolios provide the most flexibility of all the options. It can combine the print and hyperlinks as well as stills, sound, and animation through the use of Macromedia Flash. In other words, it can be equivalent to a small website that can display graphs, charts, project activities, and work samples to showcase the applicant's capabilities. Artists, teachers, architects, and other professionals requiring a multimedia format can use it. Macromedia Flash is rapidly becoming the accepted standard for integrating various mediums in a small file size that leads to a high speed of transfer. However, the software requires a tech savvy user to create the multimedia hyper-linked portfolio or Flash application and requires some skill to access it. The latest Internet innovation has been the use of weblogs or web diaries that, to date, have seen limited use in the application process. The weblog provides the employer with information about the applicants' work experiences, business ideas, thoughts, and testimonials. Recently, sales and marketing personnel have been successfully incorporated web blogs into their resumes.


The applicant has a number of options when looking for a position. The resume can be submitted to the company website doing the hiring or posted on massive job boards such as Monster ( ) or Workopolis ( ). Due to identity theft on some job banks, individual job seekers submit resumes directly to individual corporate websites. There are a few safety guidelines that should be adhered to when posting your resume to searchable databases: omit personal information such as your social security number; never pay a fee up front for use of a resume bank; never agree to a pre-screening background check online; and be wary of companies located outside the United States. In addition the applicant should use standard fonts such as Times New Roman , Helvetica , or Arial ; avoid elaborate stylising and graphics; always maintain a professional e-mail address; and do not password protect your attached resume document.

Online resumes and job applications are exploding on the Internet. In 2002, there were 36 million resumes transmitted online. This online traffic results from applicants to individual corporate websites; to the three mega job board online portals such as Monster, HotJobs ( ) and CareerBuilder ( ) and niche job boards such as association and college alumni sites; to federal government positions via the U. S. Office of Personnel Management's USA Jobs website (which posted 600,000 new online resumes and logged more than 66 million visits in the 9 months prior to June 2004) which can also post applicants of future jobs; to the 40,000 employment-related sites such as CA Source ( ) for chartered accountants. Gerry Crispin, co-author of CareerXRoads, estimates that in 15 percent of new hires are coming from the fast growing niche boards. In addition to identifying key websites for certain job openings, valuable information can be gleaned from e-networking through profession-related discussion boards, listservs, and instant messaging, as well as researching companies online.

Online resume banks will either be form-based or allow the applicant to paste the resume into a plaintext field. When the applicant enters the resume in either of these formats, it is critical that the applicant use words from the job posting as well as variations of the term in the resume. For example, if the applicant is a personnel officer, then personnel and human resources should both be used. If the applicant is an administrator, then use director, administrator or supervisor also. Because of the large number of applications, employers are now using applicant-tracking systems (ATS) to screen applications for identifying the top applicants for a job. Therefore, it can be important for the applicant to use key words from the job description and his or her qualifications to ensure that the applicant tracking system retrieves the application.

In the highly competitive environment of the workplace, the resume and the cover letter are the first steps to gaining an interview and ultimately the position. Being aware of effective cover letters and resume construction is highly important to all job seekers. Knowing the impact of the electronic medium is essential because it shows that an applicant is knowledgeable of the web and its impact on job advertising and applications. Evaluators of applications are seeking the most qualified and capable person for their organization. A well-developed resume and cover letter shows a savvy candidate with the potential to contribute to the organization of interest.

SEE ALSO: Employee Recruitment Planning ; Employee Screening and Selection ; Human Resource Management

Bill Prince and

Nancy Ryan Prince


Brinkmeyer, Jessalyn. "Beyond the Resume: Use Weblogs to Differentiate Yourself in the Eyes of the Recruiters." Sales and Marketing Management, March 2005, 47.

Buck, Joseph. "Writing Winning Resumes." NAPM Insights, December 1995, 9.

"CA Source Online Database a Hit with CAs and Employers." CA Magazine, October 2002.

Casalino, Christie. "PR Technique: Recruitment—Creating a First Impression that Lasts." PR Week, 14 February 2005.

Chyna Julie T. "Crafting an Electronic Resume." Healthcare Executive, November/December 2003.

Crispin, Gerry, and Mark Mehler. CareerXRoads. 8th ed. Kendall Park, NJ: MMC Group, 2003.

Noble, David F. Gallery of Best Cover Letters. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Jist Works, 2004.

"Resume Styles: Chronological versus Functional? Best Selling Author Richard H. Beatty Joins in the Resume Discussion." Internet Wire, 5 November 2002.

Whitcomb, Susan B., and Pat Kendall. eResumes. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002.

Other articles you might like:

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: