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How to perfect your resumé and cover letter

A perfect resumé and cover letter won’t guarantee that you’ll land your dream job, but it will help you get your foot in the door. According to The Muse, the popular career site, “Your resumé is an incredibly lazy but dependable friend. A pal that can score you interviews—but only when it’s targeted, truthful, and to the point.”

Here are a few tips for perfecting your resumé and cover letter, with insight from employers, designers, and career counselors.

Pass the glance test

Most hiring managers will not spend more than 10 seconds looking at a resumé for the first time, according to Diane Ciarletta, the director of Northeastern University’s Department of Career Development. In order to ensure that your resumé passes the so-called glance-test, she said, “Make sure that your name, education, and most relevant job experience stand out and pop off the page. The first two bullet points should be the most relevant things to the job you are applying for—not the things you spent the most time doing.”

Using Times New Roman on a resumé is like wearing sweatpants to an interview

Using Times New Roman on a resumé is like wearing sweatpants to an interview, according to one designer, who said “it’s telegraphing that you didn’t put any thought into the typeface that you selected.” But Ciarletta sees no problem with Times New Roman so long as your resumé is “organized, spaced well, and easy to read.” Her favorite resumé typefaces: Cambria and Calibri.

Showcase soft skills, relevant class projects

If you’re writing your first resumé, you won’t have much—if any—professional experience to point to. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t impress your hiring manager. According to Ciarletta, students looking for their first co-op position can fill out their resumés with their summer jobs, their extra-curricular activities, and their leadership positions within campus organizations. It’s also smart to highlight relevant class work, particularly if it involved experiential learning. “Maybe you served as a consultant to a company in you organizational behavior class,” Ciarletta said, citing an example. “Substantial projects like that can definitely go on a resumé.”

Your resumé is an incredibly lazy but dependable friend. A pal that can score you interviews—but only when it’s targeted, truthful, and to the point.”
— The Muse

Pretend you’re dating online

Writing a generic cover letter is like emailing a generic message to a love interest on an online dating site, according to Darlene Stokes, the human resources director of QinetiQ North America. “Tailor it to the job,” she said at this fall’s career fair. “If you don’t, I’m going to think, ‘Did you even read my profile?’”

Meghan Kelly, Johnson & Johnson’s customer business manger, agreed. “The most important thing is to tailor your cover letter to the job you are applying for,” she said at the career fair. “Doing research on the company is huge.”

Be brief

Limit your cover letter to four paragraphs—and don’t rehash your resumé. “This is your opportunity to mention the company’s name and show that you have done some research on the organization by explaining what value you bring to the company,” Ciarletta explained.

Before you write your cover letter, she said, “Jot down five things the employer is looking for based on the job description and then outline what you have done on co-op, in class, and during your extra-curricular activities that demonstrate that you have those skills.”

Focus on the facts

Avoid cover letter superlatives like ‘perfect match’ and refrain from using ‘flowery’ adjectives to describe yourself. Instead, Ciarletta said, “Draw attention to your accomplishments by writing results-based statements that qualify and quantify your past success.” Numerical data—maybe you saved your co-op employer $25,000 or helped increase talent recruitment by 50 percent—“is a very good thing to include.”

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