Professional and Technical Writing

6.1 Preparing Job Materials: Reading Job Ads

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 20754

Getting a job is hard work. Higher than normal unemployment and significant increases in the number of college graduates mean that even well-qualified applicants may find it challenging to land the position they want. This chapter endeavors to help you set yourself apart – in a positive way – by improving the one part of the job search you can control: your application materials.

The sections that follow will help you create and improve your job materials by connecting information gleaned from job ads and corporate websites to experience you already have so that you can position yourself as uniquely qualified for the position you want.

Rhetorically Reading a Job Ad

The first step in getting a job is finding the one you want. This section will provide strategies for scanning job ads for key words and using these keywords and phrases to tailor descriptions of relevant experiences for your resume and cover letter.

Where to Find a Job Ad

When looking for a job ad, it is important to consider reputable job searching sites, as well as the websites for particular companies that you might like to work for. Here are some links for reputable job searching sites:

  • Employ-A-Bull
  • Is there an application deadline?
  • What is the title of the position?
  • Who should the application materials be addressed to?
  • Is this position specific to a particular department within the company?
  • What are the requirements necessary to fill this position? (educational requirements, years of experience, particular knowledge, etc.)
  • What are the responsibilities for this position? In other words, what will you, as an employee, do on a daily basis?
  • Does the position require teamwork?
  • Is this a management position?
  • Does the job ad mention writing or communication skills as a part of the position?
  • Are there any technical proficiencies required for this position?
  • What adjectives does the job ad use to describe the ideal employee?
  • How long has the company been operating?
  • What is the company’s mission statement?
  • What kinds of products or services do they provide?
  • What types of clients does the company serve?

For information about these and other, industry specific job search sites, please visit this gallery of job search websites (

What to Look for in a Job Ad

A job ad is the way companies let potential employees know what they need and what they want in an applicant. The job ad also provides important clues regarding how to talk about your experiences in a way that make them attractive to the employer. Your job as an applicant is to read the job ad critically and to develop a list of key words, phrases, and information related to the position.

Questions to Ask Yourself about Key Information

To answer the remaining questions, you will need to do some external research, such as visiting the company’s website.

Matching Qualifications to Job Ads

After analyzing your ad for key words, use this grid (created by Meredith Johnson) to organize these key words in the “What they want” column according to categories--skills, experiences, education, qualities & values. Then reflect on your own skills, experiences, education, and qualities & values. How do they match up with the keywords you’ve identified? You probably won’t be able to fill in all the blanks in the “What I’ve got” column, but that’s okay.


What they want as outlined in the job ad. List from most important to least important

What I’ve got

Skills(i.e. hardware/software skills, writing skills, building skills, etc.)



Java and database administration

X class at USF that covered Java and X class at USF that covered database administration

Experiences (i.e. jobs, internships, volunteering, co-ops, etc.)



0-2 years experience in  Civil Engineering

A co-op at Nederveld Associates, Inc.

Education (i.e. college, high school, seminars, workshops, etc.)



College education

B.S. from USF

Qualities and values (i.e. hard working, good communicator, etc.)



Someone who is responsible

Worked as a lifeguard

Category: Memos, Proposals & Reports
Hits: 23635

Learn how to improve your problem-solving and persuasive skills. Employ your writing and reasoning skills to make a difference in the world. View samples and write a proposal to conduct research, develop a Web site, solve a problem, or provide a service. Proposals are persuasive texts that articulate ways to solve a problem, conduct needed research, or provide a service.

Proposals may attempt to persuade readers to act or they may seek funding. Writers of proposals support claims with reasoning, library and Internet research, and original research, including questionnaires, interviews, and ethnographers. Ironically, even a proposal that seeks funding to conduct research needs to be firmly grounded in research. In other words, you often have to conduct research in order to craft a proposal, even if your ultimate goal is to secure funding for additional research.

In school, your instructors may ask you to write proposals to solve or improve a problem. For example, you could write a proposal to better meet the needs of students so 50% of them don't fail to complete their degrees. Or you could attempt to solve that age-old problem of parking on overcrowded campuses. Instructors across the disciplines may ask you to write research proposals, outlining a topic, describing its significance, and presenting a schedule for more thoroughly researching the topic. In business classes, your teachers may assign business plans or your teachers may seek proposals to improve the curriculum.

Proposals are arguments that seek particular outcomes from the readers of the proposals. Proposals can offer to trade services for money or goods, proposals can seek funding to conduct research, and proposals might present a call for action.

In general, proposals address three distinct purposes:

  1. Research Proposals: Students and professionals often write research proposals, describing research they'd like to complete in college classes, professional settings, and laboratories. For example, a student might write a proposal to conduct a full-length research report, essentially outlining the topic, describing the significance of the topic, and explaining when and how the research would be conducted.
  2. Essay Proposals: People write proposals as editorials or essays, hoping to influence people about various topics. The proposals go beyond arguing one side of a topic: They present a call for action. For example, a student might write an editorial in the student newspaper calling for a task force to explore ways to create healthier food choices on campus. An activist might write an article for a magazine, advocating particular health care reforms. A terrorism expert might argue for enacting certain policies in airports.
  3. Consulting Proposals: Did you know that billions of dollars are awarded to successful proposals every year? People write proposals seeking funding for necessary services. For example, an environmental consulting business might sell its services to the EPA, offering to conduct a water contamination report, or an accounting firm might sell its services as an independent auditor.

In the U.S. much of the research conducted by university faculty and scientists is funded by government agencies and private foundations. Professional researchers often refer to the Community of Science, a funding source database, which identifies $33 billion in funding opportunities. Another popular funding source database is IRIS.

As suggested by the table below, proposals are a remarkably diverse genre, coming in all shapes and sizes. Proposals can be page length or book length, covering hundreds of pages. Proposals can be presented in essay form and published in trade magazines. Alternatively, proposals can be submitted in an internal memo format or in an external report format. Some large organizations, such as the National Science Foundation, have online submission procedures.

  • Call for a specific action
  • Conduct research
  • Provide services
  • Corporation
  • Foundation
  • Business
  • Newspaper
  • Professional
  • Academic researcher
  • Activist
  • Persuasive
  • Letters
  • Memos
  • External proposal
  • Editorial
  • Email
  • Web sites

Consider the context, audience, purpose, and media invoked by the following readings. Also examine how ideas are developed in these texts. Are assertions grounded in personal experience, interviews with authorities, questionnaires, Internet and library research, or empirical research?

  1. MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (Sample Student Proposals)
  2. DECA, an association of marketing students, calls for a variety of proposals, which can be entered into a nationwide competition.
  3. Students at Brown University rewrote the Student Code of Conduct because they weren't happy with the university's code.
  4. The Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry publishes Children and TV Violence to warn parents about the effects of violence on TV on their children, as suggested by the research of their members.
  5. The American Psychological Association, the leading professional group of psychologists, has published Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study.
  6. The Union of Concerned Scientists publishes Powerful Solutions: 7 Ways to Switch America to Renewable Electricity, suggesting ways Americans can switch to renewable energy sources.
  7. NSF , the National Science Foundation, offers many sample proposals on its Web site, helping to guide future proposal writers.
  8. NEH, National Endowment for the Humanities, publishes successful proposals (in DOC and HTML and PDF formats) on its Web site; see sample proposals.
  9. EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, provides hundreds of proposals on its site; see sample proposals.
  10. Preventing AIDS: An Investment in the Future by Lawrence H. Summers. Representing the United States government as the Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence H. Summers explains the importance of thinking globally when it comes to infectious

Proposals typically outline a problem, detail solutions to the problem, and define the costs for solving the problem. Proposals provide information about the qualifications of the person or people suggesting the solution. When funds are sought to conduct the promised work, a detailed budget is provided. More formal proposals contain evaluation information--that is, a plan to evaluate the success of the proposal once it's implemented.

A proposal designed to affect readers' opinions about public policies differs from one seeking funding for research or to conduct research. Accordingly, the following analysis of key features is presented as a series of considerations as opposed to a comprehensive blueprint.


Proposal writers bring focus to their proposals by highlighting the urgency of the problem and by providing the evidence readers need to believe the proposed solution can work.


It's true that some proposals are won on appeals to emotion. But ultimately, an argument needs to be based on reason. You need to conduct research to find the facts, opinions, and research that support your proposal.
Reading sample proposals can help you find and adopt an appropriate voice and persona. By reading samples, you can learn how others have prioritized particular criteria. Below are some additional suggestions for developing your proposal.

Define the Problem(s)

Obvious problems can be defined briefly, whereas more subtle problems may need considerable development. For example, Michael McManus details the problems with divorce for over five pages in Why Is It in the Government's Interests to SaveMarriages? Thus, this part of your proposal may be as short as a sentence or many pages long. Occasionally writers will view the problem as so obvious to their audience that they won't even introduce it; see, for example, What You Can Do About Global Warming by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

When they read the introduction to your proposals, readers are likely to ask these two questions:

Who benefits from the proposal? Will the project have significant impact? Who is submitting the proposal? What is their interest in solving the problem? Is this person or organization qualified to solve the problem?

In order to answer these questions, provide specifics including statistics, quotes from authorities, results from past research, interviews, and questionnaires. Notice how the following excerpt stuns readers in its introduction with gruesome statistics. These statistics provide the background information that readers may need to understand the proposal:

Three hundred million people live on less than US$l per day. Life expectancy is 48 years and falling. More than one-third of all children are malnourished; more than 40 per cent have no access to education. Twenty-eight million people live with HIV/AIDS, and for over 100 million people, war is a part of daily life. And yet, in spite of these grim statistics, there are still grounds for optimism. The spread of democracy and the growing strength of African civil society, combined with the efforts by some African leaders to chart a new course, offer a real chance to tackle the root causes of poverty and conflict.

Define Method(s)

How will you gather information (secondary research or primary research)? In the humanities, writers do not explicitly mention their methods, whereas in the sciences and social sciences writers often explicitly mention their methods.

  1. If you are proposing to conduct research, your readers will want information regarding how you propose to conduct the research. Will your research involve Internet and library research? Will you interview authorities?
  2. If your proposal calls for laboratory research, your readers will want to see that you have access to the laboratory and tools needed to carry out the research.
  3. If you are proposing a service, readers will want to ensure you can actually provide the service.

Present Your Solution(s)

Successful proposals are not vague about proposed solutions. Instead, they tend to outline step-by-step activities and objectives, perhaps even associating particular activities and objectives with dollar figures--if money is sought to conduct the proposal.
Critical readers are likely to view proposals skeptically, preferring inaction (which doesn't cost anything) to action (which may involve risk). As they review the solutions you propose, they may ask the following three questions:

  1. Is the solution feasible?
  2. How much time will it take to complete the proposal?
  3. Will other factors resolve the problem over time? In other words, is the problem urgent?

Appeal to Character/Persona

People often imply or explicitly make "appeals to character." In other words, they attempt to suggest they have credibility, that they are good people with the best interests of their readers in mind.

The persona you project as a writer plays a fundamental role in the overall success of your proposal. Your opening sentences generally establish the tone of your text and present to the reader a sense of your persona, both of which play a tremendous role in the overall persuasiveness of your argument. By evaluating how you define the problem, consider counterarguments, or marshal support for your claims, your readers will make inferences about your character.

When reviewing proposals, reviewers are particularly concerned about the credibility of the author. When an author is advocating a course of action, critical readers wonder about how the author(s) benefit from the proposal--or why they are presenting the proposal. Notice, for example, when the Brown American Civil Liberties Union rewrote the Code of Student Conduct, they were quick to agree with doubting readers that they also dislike "hate speech," yet they thought stifling free speech on campus wasn't the best way to counteract hate speech:

We at the Brown American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are proposing the following changes to the Code of Student Conduct in an effort to ensure a consistent, unambiguous, and Constitutionally acceptable disciplinary code that does not consider protected speech a violation or an aggravating factor under any circumstances. We fully support the University's efforts to promote tolerance, understanding, and to prevent discrimination and prejudice. However, we strongly disagree with the assertion that the current Code prohibits only "behavior" and not Constitutionally protected speech. In addition, we believe that although hate speech may be offensive, it should not be censored. The solution to hate speech is more speech, not less. Brown must insure that all opinions, no matter how unpopular, can be freely stated and challenged within a free and open University. The current "behavior" guidelines, no matter how well intentioned, can potentially still be used to punish unpopular, yet Constitutionally protected speech. The potential for the current code to be wrongly interpreted by the University Disciplinary Council (UDC) is great, and has been used in the past to justify harsher penalties for speech-related violations than for actual physical confrontations. We seek to rectify this situation, and we feel our proposals should satisfy both the desire to protect the Brown community and to protect the rights of community members. We urge the timely and respectful consideration of our reform proposals listed below. [Brown University: Revising the Code of Student Conduct]

In less formal circumstances, writers will speak personally about the importance of the proposal. Consider, for example, this excerpt from one of the students' proposals featured at MIT's site on Undergraduate Research Proposals:

I am very enthusiastic to continue working with the multidisciplinary team of researchers involved with this project. As a student, I am excited to be able to supplement my education with out-of-class research. While learning about the organizations that are perceived to be on the "cutting edge," those that have incorporated the best technologies and most innovative organizational approaches into their management structures, I will gain a better understanding of the overall business environments of both our society and of our world. Because the scope of this initiative is greater than what current consulting firms have to offer, this project is particularly attractive. Having an interest in the field of professional consulting, work on this project would allow me to explore in greater depth the subject material that a future career in consulting would involve. In addition, I will have the honor of working with a distinguished group of faculty and staff members that are under the direction of [faculty supervisor's name].

Because I am a student majoring in economics, minoring in psychology, and I possess a strong interest in management science, this multidisciplinary research initiative, which draws upon all three of these fields, really feels like a "nice fit" in terms of what it has to offer and by what I can give back. [Sample UROP Proposals]

In circumstances when a service is being proposed or when a research project is being proposed, they want to ensure the author has the resources, skills, and experience necessary to successfully provide the service.

Appeal to Emotion

Proposals are more firmly grounded in appeals to logic and character than appeals to emotion. Often, appeals to emotion would seem unethical or unprofessional. Critical readers tend to emphasize facts and qualifications when assessing proposals. Notice, for example, that:

The AMA doesn't put a face on all of the deaths caused by insufficient organs. [AMA House Supports Studies on Organ Donation Incentives]

The Union of Concerned Scientists doesn't emotionally describe the effects of global warming. [The Union of Concerned Scientists]

However, because of the power of emotional appeals, you may want to slip them into the introduction and conclusion of your proposal. Just be discreet and careful. Most modern, well-educated readers are quick to see through such manipulative attempts and they prefer the bulk of a proposal to be grounded in research and logic.
Additional emotional appeals include:

  • Appeals to authority. (According to the EPA, global warming will raise sea levels.)
  • Appeals to pity. (I should be allowed to take the test again because I had the flu the first time I took it.)
  • Personal attacks on the opposition, which rhetoricians call ad hominem attacks. (I wouldn't vote for that man because he's a womanizer.)

Appeal to Logic

Successful proposals are firmly grounded in logic. You need to provide evidence if you hope to sway educated readers. Your description of the problem must be firmly grounded in research. You can add depth and persuasiveness to your proposal by citing authorities, interviewing experts, and researching past attempts to solve the problem. Trained as critical readers, your teachers and college-educated peers expect you to provide evidence--that is, logical reasoning, personal observations, expert testimony, facts, and statistics.

Consider Counterarguments

Typically, proposal writers are under severe word-length restrictions. In professional contexts, they may be competing with hundreds, perhaps thousands of writers who each have five pages to sell their solution. Accordingly, each word is precious so proposal writers do not want to give significant air time to articulating counterarguments or counter solutions.

Even so, at some point in your proposal, you may need to present counterarguments or consider the wisdom of alternative solutions. Essentially, whenever you think your readers may think your alternative solutions are more feasible, you need to account for their concerns. Elaborating on counterarguments is particularly useful when you have an unusual claim or a skeptical audience.

Consider, for example, Jonathan Trager's "Libertarian Solutions: How Small-government Solutions Can Successfully Stop the Terrorist Threat." Addressing the best ways to protect our airports in light of 9/11, Trager spends the bulk of his proposal critiquing other people's solutions. In particular he critiques these three recommendations:

  1. Have government bureaucrats man x-ray machines in airports.
  2. Regulate immigration more effectively.
  3. Grant more power to law enforcement.

Using an inductive organization, it really isn't until the middle of his proposal that he cites his four solutions:

  1. Stop disarming pilots.
  2. Dismantle the drug war.
  3. Return to a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Prohibit the American government from giving weapons--or money to buy weapons--to foreign nations.

Use Visuals

Readers love visual representations of proposals because they enable readers to see the proposal, engaging readers at a visual level. Consider the effects of the following creative uses of visuals: To augment their proposal on ways to alleviate parking problems at Harvard (see Students Tackle Parking Problems), the students provided video clips, illustrating how robotic garages can best solve Harvard's parking problems.

Chunk Your Contents

Consider "chunking" your proposal. For example, some proposals call for a 50-word abstract and a 500-word executive summary. Many of the proposals linked in this section provide brief and extended examples


Most proposals to conduct research or provide a service are organized as classical arguments: The author briefly presents the problem and then proposes the solutions. Occasionally, writers will employ a more inductive organization, particularly when the proposed solution may seem controversial.


You can make your proposal more persuasive by using unambiguous, concrete language, appealing to the reader's senses and relating the subject or concept to information that the reader already understands, moving from given to new information.information.

16.2 The Art of the Pick-Up: Wooing Your Future Employer in the Cover Letter

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 18053

On Wooing Your Audience (Or Not)

Imagine for a moment that you’re in the market for a new significant other. Well, good news: your friend, Imma MutualFriend, claims that she knows your perfect match and tells you all about this person. From what you’re told about this match, you’re interested too. Imma promises to connect you two soon.

Flash forward, and the time comes for you to meet this supposed match. At a party, Imma points you in their direction. With the goal of wooing this person with all of your wonderful qualifications, you approach your match. 

“Hi,” you say. “I’m Ithink Iwannadateyou.”

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” your respondent shyly replies. “I’m Notsure IfIwantoyet.” Although coy, Notsure is leaning in your direction and smiling, appearing receptive to your initiation of a conversation.

“So, Imma MutualFriend has told me a lot about you,” you say.

Notsure smiles and nods.

Then, you press forward—but not with anything Imma shared with you about Notsure; instead, you lead with information about yourself.

“Let me tell you a little about myself,” you say. You tell Notsure where you’re from, where you went to school, and all your interests. Notsure continues to nod. Then, after your thorough yet exhaustive “about me” statements, you delve into the past experiences and qualifications you think would be relevant to your position as Notsure’s future significant other. This includes details about your past two serious relationships, your full dating history, and then a long list of qualifications you gained from all these experiences that show you have the skills and knowledge to be the perfect date and long-term partner.

Twenty minutes later, you’re still talking about yourself to Notsure, and Notsure really hasn’t gotten out so much as a peep, nor have you specifically discussed what interests you about Notsure from what you already knew. When you finally pause and focus back in to your would-be potential partner, you notice that Notsure is completely zoned out—and looks sleepy and bored! Then, you notice Notsure’s eyes start to gaze beyond your shoulder—to meet another candidate’s stare from across the party!

It appears you’ve lost your “perfect match’s” interest! But how could this be? In this competitive market of date-seekers, don’t people want you to explain all your experiences and qualifications up front? Why didn’t you keep Notsure’s attention with all the amazing information you provided about yourself?

You see, the same principle applies to the composition of your cover letter for employment purposes: while it seems that immediately sharing your experiences and explaining your own qualifications would be the most effective approach, there is much more of a weaving of information about both parties needed in the conversation to truly stimulate interest from your audience. To truly catch the attention of your audience, you should lead with them first. While it may seem counterintuitive, as you are trying to prove yourself quickly, you will likely be much more successful if you learn to truly “woo” your audience by proving the knowledge (and interest) you have about them—rather than focusing solely on all the great things you have to say about yourself.

How is this done in practice? In your cover letter, instead of just talking “at” your reader, as was the case with the failed “pick up” with Notsure above, you want to weave your points into somewhat of a “conversation” in which both parties—yourself and your audience—are acknowledged and discussed. In particular, you want to write in a way that leads with your audience first and then follows with connecting statements about yourself.

By beginning your cover letter in this manner, you will prove you’ve done your research, engage the interest of your audience, show that this particular conversation/person (or cover letter) is not like any other to you, and, most importantly, hold these feelings within your audience’s mind for the duration of the “conversation.” This method requires a whole lot more work than slapping different names on the same generic cover letter, but it’s worth it when you actually get a phone call for an interview and score a shiny new job rather than being passed up for another candidate who had similar qualifications but instead knew how to engage an audience.

In the next section, we will delve more specifically into how you can accomplish this “art of the pick-up” in your cover letter using other Writing Commons texts, including Megan McIntyre and Cassandra Branham’s Writing a Cover Letter, and Joe Schall’s Writing Cover Letters as complementary resources (you may want to read them first).

The Cover Letter as a Conversation

Especially in the Beginning, It’s Not Really About You

In McIntyre and Branham’s Writing a Cover Letter, the authors explain that you must not begin a cover letter with your own qualifications. Instead, they note, “it’s important to establish what job you’re applying for and that you know something about the company before describing yourself.” Further, the authors explain that you should avoid a “generic letter that includes no specific information about the company or position.”

The natural tendency in a cover letter is to begin by writing about oneself directly. After all, the cover letter is supposed to be about you, right? Partially, but, in a truly strong cover letter (and pick-up attempt)—not really! Here’s the truth: while you need to talk about yourself, it’s not really all about you. It’s about engaging the audience with information about themselves (interests, goals, the future) and explaining how you connect with this information and where you fit in.

Let’s go back to your pick-up quest with Notsure. In your initial moments of the conversation, instead of engaging your audience with information about what you knew about them, you talked solely about yourself and your qualifications for a relationship. This approach didn’t work: by the end of this, Notsure IfIwantoyet had transformed into Surely NotInterested! Your generic and self-centered sort of address with Notsure shows no specific interest in your audience and can leave the them feeling like you say this same thing to all of your potential matches—a tactic which, both in love and cover letters, doesn’t leave your audience feeling known or special in any way.

In order to really interest your audience, you need to say something particular early on in your “conversation” to make it clear that you’re interested in this specific audience. Within the first few lines of your cover letter, then, after writing that you are interested in a specific position with the company, state what excites you about this company. However, don’t just say, “I’m excited about this company and its future”—this is generic and tells your audience nothing about your specific interest and knowledge about them as an individual entity. You must delve deeply into the employer’s public materials to get a full sense of its mission, goals, and future plans and then articulate your connection to this information up front and consistently throughout the cover letter. A good starting idea is to locate information about the company’s “big picture” information, such as a mission statement or vision (more on how to find this later), state it, and describe how you connect with this statement early on in the cover letter.

In Notsure’s case, if you had done your research, as in asked Notsure’s friends about their interests or at least expressed what you did know, you could have led with something specific and more substantial that would have immediately shown your specific interest and engaged your audience. For example, if you knew that Notsure’s favorite hobby was athletic competitions, you might have said, “Imma MutualFriend mentioned you’re training for an Ironman competition. I’ve trained for 5Ks before and so I’m really interested in hearing more about this!” This indicates your interest in Notsure’s future and goals, and it also shows your own connection to the act.

While the company can’t talk back to you the way Notsure could, you can bet that if you show all the things you know about the company and how you fit in, you’ll likely get conversation back in the form of a call for an interview!

Note: Do be careful not to tell the company very basic information about itself if it does nothing to connect with your case for employment. For example, telling a company you know it has 3,000 employees does nothing to make your case for employment unless it has a specific connection to something you do and can offer (for example, it might if you’re a human resources specialist and they have made hiring 2,000 more people a public goal). Your goal is to supply research about the company that you can personally make a connection to yourself with in the beginning of and throughout the cover letter.

After the Beginning, Keep Weaving

To truly “woo” your audience and keep them engaged, the act of leading with your audience must also continue beyond the first paragraph or the initial lines of your cover letter “conversation.”  You must find a way to balance, or weave together, a thread about the company and one about your own qualifications and experiences. Just as with the opening lines, you want the body of your cover letter to read much more like a conversation between two parties than you just talking at your audience about yourself.  In his Writing Commons text, Writing Cover Letters, Joe Schall states: “[t]he best tip that I have heard on cover letter writing is that the letter is for the audience, not for you. Certainly you are selling yourself, but you do that best by molding your skills to what an employer needs and by knowing all that you can about your audience. In sum, know what your audience is interested in and how you might fit into a company’s plans, not the other way around.”

The way you can achieve this task is not by talking about the company once and then giving a laundry list of information about yourself, but rather by spending a generous amount of your time explicitly stating how and where you would fit in this company and its culture/goals/future. You want to intertwine specific, engaging information about the company with your own past experiences and qualifications by stating something specific you learned about the company’s goals and attaching it to a qualification you have that could help meet that goal. For example, you might find from the company’s recent earnings call that this company has the goal to double sales of a specific application within seven years. If you knew this and had applicable skills and background experiences that you feel could help make this goal, you could state: “I learned from your 2015 Quarter 3 earnings call that you plan to double the sales of CoolNewApp by 2022. In my job as a customer service representative at OldJob, I led a small team that helped to quadruple the sales of AddOnProduct over two years . . . (add more about how you could help with CoolNewApp).”

This sort of weaving together of commonalities helps to immediately create connection and stimulate interest in your audience’s mind. It also shows you’ve done your research and have a specific—not a generic—interest in this particular company for very concrete reasons. In the final section of this text, we will discuss how to conduct this research appropriately.

Getting Down to Business: How to Do Your Research So You Can Get to Wooing

Now that you understand the need to continually talk about the company in which you’re interested in your cover letter, how do you find credible information that (a) shows you’ve done thorough research on the company and (b) demonstrates that you truly understand how you fit in and can contribute to the company’s goals and future plans?

First of all, you must press beyond the “Google Trap” and look at the primary sources first: this would be the company’s website and public materials—not Wikipedia or other people’s summations of the company. Do not rely on Wikipedia and secondary sources to tell the company’s story. Go directly to the source first and use what you can from the company’s own telling of its story. Beyond this research, you have many other options to get credible information about a company that take your ability to talk about the company to the next level. Here are some tips to get you started:

Visit the EDGAR Database

If the company is publicly traded, you can find extremely detailed information about a company’s activities, registrations, financial statements, reports, public presentations, and even correspondence via a platform provided by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission called EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval database). Here’s a great guide to the many ways you can use EDGAR to find out how to interpret EDGAR database information. As an example, let’s say you are interested in a marketing position with Annie’s Homegrown, a natural and organic foods company. Using EDGAR, you can find hundreds of documents and presentations made by this company to strategically tailor your cover letter to information about Annie’s own plans. Within the EDGAR database, you can quickly uncover very detailed information about the company you wish to work for, including mission statementsgrowth strategiesinnovation strategies, and even some of the company’s self-proclaimed “big ideas” for the upcoming year. Now, using this research, you can potentially make direct statements about how you see yourself aiding in these growth strategies and big ideas by connecting your own strengths, abilities, and experiences to these goals. When Annie’s reads your cover letter, it will feel as if you are speaking directly to the mind of the reader—probably because you have done your research and have now proven you are well-versed in the direction in which this company hopes to go! This sort of in-depth research is worlds better than stating generically that you are “excited about the company’s future.”

Surf Social Media

Another great way to get information about a company is to surf its social media pages. Look to the company’s public profiles on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and, for some companies, sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr. Read blog posts and announcements. See if the company responds to consumer comments on the page to help assess the “voice” that the company hopes to project. Of particular interest should be new customer engagement initiatives, such as large contests and social media engagement campaigns, or new innovations the company announces it is working on—especially if your skills can help add to these efforts. Find those areas that are of particular interest to the job you’re applying for and that you also (a) can contribute to directly or (b) want to learn more about helping with, and you automatically have yet another way to connect with the company in your cover letter.  

Check the News

Go to a wide-sweeping news search that will find results across many channels. Try Google Newsas a starting point. Search first for the company’s name and see what’s happening with the company now. Look for changes or announcements: Are they changing leadership? Are they introducing a new product soon? Read the company’s recent public statements. Look for information about any new hires, new management, statements about future innovation and growth, potential mergers, and the like. Know everything you can about this company of interest, and state specifically in the cover letter, within the first few lines, what you know and why this excites you. Once again, if you see things that directly connect with your area of expertise, mention them and then discuss how you could aid with this task.

Follow the Leader

Once you have the name of the company leaders (think titles such as CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, etc.), check for their names on LinkedIn and in the news. You may find that they have made recent public statements about or news appearances for their company. If the company is publicly traded, look up recent earnings calls involving these leaders. Read press releases put out via company leadership. If you find that the CEO of the company you’re applying for recently (think within the last 1 to 3 months for a range) made an appearance on a show, podcast, radio show, etc., discussing its newest initiatives, find the clip or transcript, watch it or read it, and potentially use the big takeaways as potential talking points in your cover letter. This will show you are following the major players in the company and that you have a very specific interest in the movements of the leadership.

Make the Pick-Up: Tying It All Together

Ultimately, just like your romantic “pick-up” attempt with Notsure, your goal with the cover letter is to convince your audience that you are a worthy candidate—one that should be pursued just as you are pursuing them. But, instead of spending your time selling yourself by unloading paragraphs of generic information or details that are only really about you, take the time to do your research, lead with the audience, show a genuine interest in this specific audience, and structure your writing in way that plays out much like a conversation involving information about both your audience and how you connect to the goals, mission, and future of your audience. The point is, just like with the “pick-up,” the audience of your cover letter likes to feel special and acknowledged—within in the first few lines of your “conversation” and throughout the duration of it. Instead of hitting your audience over the head with a written list of everything you have done, make connections. Explain how you fit into the puzzle and your audience will begin to see you in its future. If you take the time to woo your audience in this manner, you will demonstrate that you want this opportunity more than any other and you will very much increase the likelihood of scoring that first date—or that big interview and great new job at the company of your dreams.

Works Cited

McIntyre, Megan and Branham, Cassandra. “Writing a Cover Letter.” Writing Commons. Moxley, Joseph M., 15 May 2015. Web. 15 May 2015.

Schall, Joe. “Writing Cover Letters.” Writing Commons. Moxley, Joseph M., 15 May 2015. Web. 15 May 2015.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. EDGAR Database. 15 May 2015. Web. 15 May 2015.

6.3 Writing Cover Letters

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 13780

When reading cover letters, the key benchmark I use is simple: Do I get to know both the person and the professional? As we read a cover letter, we should have a sense that no other candidate could have written this particular document in this particular way. Hence, we respect and honor the individual.

In conversation, the term “cover letter” is used loosely to mean any professional letter that you write in an attempt to get a job, with the term “cover” denoting that the letter is usually a “cover piece” designed to introduce and accompany your resume. Thus, too many writers think of the cover letter as mere mechanical introductory fluff—disposable goods—when in fact it can be more important than your resume.

Tone: Making it Sound Good

  • The proper tone for the cover letter is one of an informed, straightforward, courteous, relaxed, literate writer.
  • Use “I” comfortably as a sentence subject, but avoid being too informal—overusing contractions or jargon could make you appear unprofessional.
  • Avoid being too cocky, aggressive, idealistic, or unrealistic; come off as mature, self-aware, and confident.

Appearance and Mechanics: Making it Look Good

  • Limit cover letters to one page, and type them using single-spaced or 1.5-spaced typing, with about one-inch margins or more on all sides of the page.
  • Skip lines between paragraphs.
  • Favor short paragraphs over long ones.
  • Use highly readable, tight, fonts, such as Helvetica or Times, and point sizes no larger than 12 and no smaller than 10.
  • Spell check, then proofread the hard copy carefully. Present the final version of the letter on durable white or off-white paper.
  • Mail your letter and resume flat in a large envelope rather than folded in a small one.  That way they will be easier to read and Xerox.

The Heading and Greeting: Following the Formats

  • At the top right or left corner of the page, type your address, your phone number, your e-mail address, and the date. Below that, at the left margin, put the name, title, and address of the person receiving the letter.
  • Skip a line or two, then type “Dear,” the person’s title (Dr., Ms., Mr.), name, and a colon.
  • If possible, find out the proper title, spelling, and gender of the receiver of the letter (all it usually takes is a phone call or a little web surfing). If you cannot be certain of the recipient’s gender, it is acceptable to use both the first and last name (i.e., “Dear Jan Morris”). If no name is available, use a logical title such as “Dear Human Resources Representative.” Greetings such as “Dear Sir or Madam” and “To Whom it May Concern” are old-fashioned—some even find them offensive—and should be avoided.

The Opening Paragraph: Showcasing Your Homework

  • Ideally, open with a reference to how you derived knowledge of the company or position.
  • If possible, provide context by some artful name dropping (“Ms. Judith Sowers, a Quality Control Specialist in your Meredith plant, informs me that you are seeking . . .”). Otherwise, simply be forthright about why you are writing the letter (“I am writing to you because . . .”).
  • Include particulars about the company’s activities and vision—prove that you have done your homework and know something about the company’s products and mission. Even quote a mission statement if you can.
  • Establish your own professional context by naming your major and school.

The Body Paragraphs: Selling your Skills

  • One paragraph may suffice here, but use more if necessary, especially if you have several different skills or experiences to sell. Stick to one topic per paragraph.
  • Through concrete examples, provide evidence of your work ethic and success—cite courses, co-ops, papers, projects, theses, or internships you have completed. Make your examples both quantitative and qualitative. Some writers use a bulleted list to introduce narrative examples of their skills. Some even provide URLs for their home pages or other web pages they helped to create.
  • Introduce your resume (“As the enclosed resume shows . . .”) and interpret it for your audience rather than simply repeat its details. Apply your education, work experience, and activities directly to the job, proving that you are a highly capable candidate.

The Closing Paragraph and Signoff: Exiting Gracefully

  • Keep your closing short and simple. Do not waste time. Be gracious and sincere, not falsely flattering nor pushy. Respectfully indicate your desire for further action, reminding the company of your availability.
  • Remembering that a company could try to call you over a break or during the summer, indicate relevant phone numbers right in the text. Provide your e-mail address as well.
  • Under the final paragraph, skip a line or two, then, directly under your heading address, type “Sincerely,” then handwrite and type your name beneath.
  • Indicate that a resume is included along with the letter by typing the word “Enclosure” at the left margin near the bottom of the page.

"Writing Cover Letters" was written by Joe Schall, The Pennsylvania State University, as a part of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' OER initiative and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

6.4 Establishing Your Professional Self: Résumé Writing

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 12832

Compiling a résumé can feel like a daunting task. Just like essay writing, résumé creation works well as a process. Before worrying about the format of the résumé and where to place everything in a document, consider beginning by compiling an informal list of past and present work experience and education. Once you have a first draft, look at résumés in the field you are applying to, since every field has different standards and preferences. Remember: there are no one-size-fits all résumés. The key to constructing a polished résumé is tailoring your experience to the job to which you’re applying.

After you’ve read the job ad(s) and identified key skills and words/phrases (see McIntyre and Branham’s “Reading Job Ads”, you might consider creating an exhaustive list of possible content for each section of the resume. Not all resumes will have all the sections below. In fact, depending on the amount of relevant experience and skills you have, you may eliminate more than one of these sections. However, maintaining a much longer list of possible content will allow you to more easily tailor your resume to various positions.

Creating Your List

To begin, list each of the potential sections (the list of headings below is not exhaustive). The idea is to create headings that allow you to categorize and demonstrate your most relevant qualifications and experiences. For each of these categories, use bullet points with phrases rather than complete sentences to describe your experiences. Action verbs, such as communicated, completed, produced, etc., help to convey your participation. To get started, consider the following questions for each section:




  • What particular position am I seeking?
  • How will my skills be appropriate for this particular position?
  • What key words from the job ad might help me frame my skills for this position?

The key to writing a quality objective statement is specificity. Instead of writing: “To obtain an entry-level marketing position,” try “To obtain an entry-level social media marketing position with a global media conglomerate that will allow me to benefit the company through my knowledge of social media promotions.”

Please note: not all resumes should include an objective. In fact, for many resume writers the extra space taken up by the objective may be better used to expand other sections. Additionally, many employers do not expect to see objectives.


  • What skills or experiences do I have that make me particularly well-suited for this position?
  • If an employer reads no other section of my résumé, what do I want her to know about my qualifications?
  • How can I quantify my experiences?
  • What are my most impressive relevant skills and experiences?


  • What university did I attend, and what degree(s) have I earned or am I pursuing?
  • In what subject is my degree?
  • If I am still pursuing a degree, what is my expected month and year of graduation?
  • What relevant course have I taken?
  • What, if any, academic honors have I received?
  • What relevant projects have I completed during my coursework (i.e., capstone projects, community service project, client-based projects, theses, etc.)?
  • What is my GPA? (Please note: most resume writers only include GPAs of 3.0 or higher.)


  • Where and for how long have I worked?
  • What were my job titles?
  • What were my job duties?
  • How can I frame these duties using keywords from the job ad?
  • What skills did I use and/or develop as part of this position (i.e., communication and writing skills, interpersonal skills, organization skills, etc.)?


  • Am I bilingual?
  • Do I have intermediate proficiency in another language?


  • Am I proficient in any software like Excel, PowerPoint, etc.?
  • Do I know any coding languages?
  • Can I use any field specific software?
  • Do I have experience with collaborative writing spaces like Google Docs?


  • Have I won any academic, athletic, teaching, or volunteering awards?
  • Have I been awarded any notable scholarships?
  • Have I earned a high academic GPA?
  • Have I taken any summer study abroad trips?

ACTIVITIES (i.e., volunteer work, shadowing, leadership/membership in honors societies, etc.)

  • Am I a member of any academic or professional organization(s)?
  • Have I shadowed a professional in my desired profession?
  • Have I volunteered for an organization or project? Have I organized an event?

Narrowing Your List

Once you’ve created your long list of experiences, you’ll have to decide how to narrow that list in order to create a concise, cohesive résumé. While it might be tempting to include all of your educational, employment, and extracurricular experiences on your résumé, including details that are not relevant to the position for which you are applying can often take attention away from your most relevant qualifications. In order to highlight your most impressive experiences, it is important to think critically about what the job you are targeting requires and how your experiences match up with those needs.

Undergraduate résumés are typically one full page in length. However, if you have a significant amount of experience in your field, your résumé might be longer than one full page. The rule of thumb is this: Limit your undergraduate résumé to one full page unless you can fill at least one and a half full pages with relevant experiences. For many of you, this means you will need to eliminate some of your less relevant experiences.

You can narrow your list in three ways: by eliminating sections, by eliminating one or more experience within a section, or by cutting down your descriptions of one or more experiences.

Eliminating Sections: The quickest way to pare down your list is to eliminate sections that have no content. For example, if you only speak English, you don’t need a “Linguistic Skills” section. Additionally, if you have a section that is not relevant to a particular position, you might eliminate that section. For example, if you are applying for a position as a house painter and the job ad makes no mention of office or computer work, you might eliminate your “Technical Skills” section.

Eliminating Experiences: Another way to highlight your most relevant experience is by eliminating some experiences within a section. For example, if you are applying for a position as technical support specialist, and you were previously employed as a technical support specialist, a customer service representative, and a teacher at a daycare center, you might eliminate your position at the daycare from your résumé. Eliminating this experience from your résumé does not mean that this position did not teach you valuable things; however, your work as a technical support specialist and a customer service representative are more relevant to the position for which you are currently applying.

Cutting Down Descriptions: One final way to trim down your list of experiences is by cutting down descriptions. Typically, you will include descriptions in the form of bulleted lists that help you to describe your employment, volunteer, or educational experiences. However, although it is important to make sure that you reader knows how these experiences are relevant to the position for which you are now applying, it is not necessary to tell your reader everything about these experiences. For example, if you’re applying for a position as a customer service technician and you were previously employed as a cashier at a supermarket, rather than highlighting your job duties, such as ringing up groceries, you might focus on the customer service skills that you developed at this position, such as ensuring customer satisfaction. This enables you to trim down your list by focusing on skills rather than duties.  Rather than providing an exhaustive list, you should aim to include 2-4 bullets for each experience that you are describing.

Creating a Draft

Once you have tailored your list to highlight your most relevant experiences for the position to which you applying, you’re ready to take your list and turn it into a draft of your résumé. Joe Schall’s “Writing the Conventional Resume” ( will help you think more about how to organize and format your sections.

6.5 Writing the Conventional Résumé

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 12433

Writing the Conventional Résumé

I learned about résumé writing from my students. The students with the best résumés, I found, were those who understood that a résumé is principally an objective summary of your skills and achievements, secondly a subtly clever argument that you are worth hiring, and finally a reflection of your individuality. The key is to work within the conventions while building a résumé that only you could have written. The best way to begin is to study the conventions, then mimic the qualities of a good model, with an eye for places where your individuality can emerge. Finally, I should note here that employers sometimes use the terms “résumé” and “curriculum vitae” (or CV)  interchangeably, and both terms loosely mean “life summary.”

The conventional résumé is organized according to the sections that follow, moving from the top of the résumé to the bottom.

The Heading

There is no title for this section; it’s simply your name and contact information at the top of the page. This section is always presented at the top of the résumé, taking up anywhere from two to five lines.  Think of this section as highly readable data about yourself, and format and efficiently word accordingly, following these principles:

  • Do not title this section; simply provide your legal name, addresses, and phone numbers as shown in the examples. No matter how attached you are to it, do not use your nickname—use the formal name under which you will be cashing your paychecks.  
  • Either beneath your name or address, provide relevant e-mail addresses.
  • Boldfacing and capitalizing your name is reasonably standard, though not required, and making your name stand out with a larger or fancier font is acceptable, but beware of graphic overkill.
  • Never use titles such as “Résumé” or “Personal Data Sheet” on the top of the page—redundant and silly; your name centered at the top automatically tells readers that the document is a resume.
  • If the phone number you provide for contact information is a cell phone, note that information efficiently as you present the number.  It's useful for readers to know whether or not they're calling a cell phone, because that fact can change their expectations slightly.
  • If you’ve created a personal webpage or online portfolio, you might offer the URL so that readers can visit it for further information. The material at that URL should go beyond the résumé and be professionally presented, of course.


Some résumé writers do not include an objective, either for reasons of space, personal taste, or because they want to hand out a lot of résumés at a career fair and think that an objective might not allow them to cast as wide a net.  But most undergraduate résumés do include an objective, embracing these principles:

  • As a rule of thumb, include a job objective on an undergraduate résumé. Keep it as short as is practical, with the goal of taking up no more than two lines of text.
  • If possible, use an actual job title (“forecaster,” “engineering intern”) and provide the specific type of employer or type of position that you are seeking (“internship at a research facility,” “entry-level position with a consulting firm”).
  • Avoid the overuse of phrases such as “a challenging position,” “a progressive company,” “an established firm”—you need not preach to the employer about its status or sound too picky. Your aim here is to categorize the role that you can fulfill.
  • Your job objective can be tailored a bit to the position that you are applying for, but avoid mentioning a company's actual name in your job objective—the objective is intended to define a role, not a specific job at a specific place.


In this section, be at your most objective on the resume—simply report the facts. The order of information is up to you, but most writers begin by providing the title and address of their school. On the next line, provide your exact degree title, including a minor or program emphasis if relevant. Include your projected graduation date even if it is years away. Other material that might be included under “Education”:

  • GPA. Generally, include if it is a 3.0 or better; include GPA in major if impressive. Recognize that opinions vary about whether or not your GPA. should be included on the resume, and that even if it is excluded you may be expected to reveal it at some point to a potential employer anyway.
  • Dean’s List. Provide actual semesters or years.
  • Relevant Coursework. List actual course titles or offer appropriately worded categories. You could combine courses for efficiency (i.e., Statistical Analysis I and II). Typically, you only include courses that you’ve actually completed or are currently enrolled in, although you might include projected courses followed by their target semester of completion in parentheses.
  • Curriculum Description. This could be included to describe your background concretely. Turn to your school’s descriptions of course curricula to help you with wording.
  • Study Abroad. Always include it and provide the college’s name and location. Most writers include the dates or semesters of attendance as well.
  • Honor’s Program. Always include it as a representation of academic accomplishment.
  • Thesis. Always include it and list it by title. In place of or in addition to the actual title, even a working title or a summary of the thesis contents or objective is useful.
  • Certifications / Training. Consider a subheading under “Education” to reflect formal education that resulted in specialized knowledge or skills. Typical examples include CPR certification, OSHA HAZWOPER training, scuba diving instruction, and the completion of short courses.
  • ROTC / Military Training. Especially if military training involved short courses and took place on college campuses, include it and give vital details such as course names, number of hours involved, times of completion, and certifications earned.

Experience / Work Experience / Employment

This section is the heart of the résumé—the place where readers are likely to spend most of their time. Readers here expect concrete detail, an accessible format, and selective interpretation of detail. Methods used to achieve these goals include the following:

  • Any of the above three titles is acceptable, though “Experience” is the most standard.
  • The convention is to use past tense throughout this section, even to describe jobs that you currently hold. Some writers elect to discuss current jobs in the present tense.
  • As a rule, list your work experience in reverse chronological order—most recent first—and provide the actual dates of employment. Go back several years, even early into high school if necessary. Provide exact job titles (invent them honestly if no actual titles were used), and give the locations of your employers. All jobs need not be directly relevant to the position you are applying for, but be sure that the descriptions of your job duties are worded such that they enhance your accomplishments and responsibilities.
  • Use action words to describe your job skills and make each job description specific and efficient. Especially if you favor the present tense in your descriptions, you might using the “-ing” form of active verbs (“performing” rather than “perform”).
  • Do not feel compelled to describe every job duty (“waitstaff” and “newspaper carrier,” for example, can be self-explanatory).
  • As a rule, do not include your supervisor’s name or phone number, unless you are seeking an internship (where formal applications are rare) and have express permission to do so.
  • Including job salaries is rarely a good idea, but providing the number of hours you worked per week can be helpful.
  • If computer skills were linked to your job duties, connect the work with them directly, even including software package names or describing what you used the computer programs for.
  • Use identical margins and format for parallel items (e.g., line up all of your job titles with each other, and if you boldface one then boldface them all).
  • As you describe your experience, be certain to answer these two fundamental questions: “What was done?” and “How was it valuable?”

Computer Skills

Computer Skills is not a mandatory résumé section, although many students include it, knowing that employers are typically interested in your computer expertise. Present the material efficiently, as follows:

  • Consider an overall approach that suits your skill level. Some students discuss computer skills in narrative form, others simply list their experience with specific hardware and software packages, and others combine computer skills and other types of skills into one section.
  • If relevant, include the version number of software packages, programming languages, and operating systems you’ve used.
  • If you worked on websites as part of your job or as a hobby, consider including the specific URLs so that the reader can access them. If you created an online portfolio that you’re proud of, certainly offer that URL, perhaps even in the heading.
  • Computer skills might be presented in a simple list or in the form of an informal table, depending on your level of expertise and space constraints.

Activities / Honors / Volunteer Work

For this section, choose whichever title or combination of titles above best fits your examples. “Activities” is the most commonly used. Honors could be presented separately if they are impressive enough or if there are simply too many to include within the “Activities” section. In addition, follow these tips:

  • Dates are highly recommended, in that they illustrate your level of participation in activities, but some writers do exclude the dates and favor a simpler approach. Be consistent within the category in relation to whether or not dates are included.
  • List the most noteworthy extracurricular activities and include offices that you have held. Include any honors you have received, especially scholarships, but do not repeat items that were included in other sections of the resume.
  • Choose descriptions of your leisure activities wisely and sparingly, even to the point of presenting them all on one final line for the sake of efficiency.
  • Try to include a conversation piece. I know students who have gotten into great discussions in interviews because they listed beekeeping or piano playing or their golf handicap under “Activities.”
  • Use high school activities if needed, but avoid letting them sound too “high schoolish” as you present them (better to name your school sports team than to simply list “high school basketball”). Where possible, link your activities to a community or business (“Volunteer, Bear Creek Nursing Home”) more so than to a high school, even if those activities took place when you were still in high school.
  • The bottom line in this section: Provide a window into your uniqueness, whatever that uniqueness is. A volunteer firefighter, Eagle Scout, or licensed pilot can stand out as much as a scholarship recipient or professional sorority officer.


Employers generally like to see this section included as a convention and a courtesy, but in truth it is optional because employers already know that you can provide them with references. When you do include a References section, heed this advice:

  • Keep the section highly efficient, perhaps just one line long, i.e., “References available upon request.”
  • As a rule, do not include the actual names of your references on your résumé unless you have their permission to do so and are simply seeking an internship or scholarship; for a full-time permanent position you want your resume to inspire the employer to contact you and specifically request your references. Employers are often looking for specific kinds of references, and you do not want to hurt your chances by listing references who might not be quite right for their needs, or giving an employer the opportunity to call or write one of your references without your knowing about it.
  • When references are formally requested, type up their full contact information, including address, phone, fax, and e-mail, on a page separate from your résumé.


"Writing the Conventional Resume" was written by Joe Schall, The Pennsylvania State University, as a part of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' OER initiative and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

6.6 Quality Checking Your Résumé

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 8887

Quality Checking Your Résumé

Once your résumé is composed, it must be quality checked. Three prominent issues that arise in a quality check are content, format, and computer-related problems.

Reconsidering Content

  • Look over the résumé and be certain you have considered effective wording and strong candidate material within each category, as detailed in the previous page of this manual.
  • Consider accuracy and professionalism. If you simply volunteered at a position two hours per week, make sure your wording reflects this. Do your examples and wording reflect someone with a professional attitude or are they too informal or potentially vague?
  • Look over your job descriptions carefully. You should be reporting exactly what you did and how it was valuable. Make sure we can see that your work was of use to someone and that performance was a concern.
  • Browse for any major time gaps between jobs or other activities. If there are any, fill them in or otherwise eliminate them if possible.
  • Review your Activities section with the idea of choosing an overall picture that reflects you and you alone. It should essentially contain an objective listing of information—data, and perhaps some description—unique to you. Your goal in this section is to make the reader want to meet you—to see you as an interesting and worthwhile person.
  • Ask yourself: Have I only included content that I would feel comfortable discussing in an interview? At an on-site interview, your résumé might be right on the interviewer’s desk. Expect that you could be quizzed specifically about any résumé content, and if you aren’t sure you could pass such a quiz, eliminate the content.

Reviewing Overall Format

  • With few exceptions, an undergraduate résumé should be limited to one page. Those that go beyond one page should seek to fill two pages neatly so that we don’t end up looking at a large block of white space.
  • Maintain at least one-inch margins on all four sides of the page, and spread your information out so that it is visually balanced. Do not be afraid of white space as a formatting tool.
  • Be sure you have used identical margins and format for related information. Keep parallel information parallel in form. For instance, treat all major headings in the same way.
  • Exploit punctuation marks—especially dashes, semicolons, and colons—to present your material efficiently.
  • Be line-conscious, especially horizontally, considering how much material can fit on a single line. If you are fighting for space and you see that just one or two words are gobbling up an entire line unnecessarily, revise accordingly.
  • Remember that readers look at your résumé left-to-right. Where logical, go to a new line for prominent new information. For instance, most writers put their degree name on a different line than their school name. Avoid line breaks that allow a single description of important information (say, your degree name or a course name) to spill onto more than one line.
  • Present the final version of your résumé on durable white or off-white paper. Absolutely avoid odd colors such as purple, green, or pink.

Making the Computer your Ally

  • Change fonts types or sizes if needed to fit the résumé to one page, but use just one or two fonts throughout the résumé—Times, Chicago, and Helvetica are popular résumé fonts—and go no lower than 10-point and no higher than 12-point for the bulk of the résumé text. Many writers do choose a larger or fancier font for their name at the top of the résumé, but be sure it’s readable and attractive.
  • When lining up material, use tabs rather than space bars or even line up like columns by creating a table; otherwise, your output may appear differently than it does on the screen, or print differently from one printer to the next.
  • If you need a bit more space horizontally for just a line or two, see if you can “stretch” the relevant lines by resetting the margin on the ruler at the top of the page just for the lines in question.
  • Absolutely work with a hard copy of your résumé. Do not trust that the way it looks to you on the computer screen will exactly match the output.
  • Proofread with perfection in mind, even having someone else proofread the résumé too. Do not rely just on the spell checker, and certainly not on the grammar checker—neither will ever be capable of proofing a résumé effectively.
  • If you need to submit the résumé by e-mail to an employer, do not count on a Word version of the résumé looking the same on someone else’s computer as it does on yours—fonts may not translate perfectly, tabbed material may be misaligned, and line length may be compromised. The safest bet is to convert the résumé to a pdf, check the resulting pdf to be sure it’s exactly how you want it to look, and then e-mail the pdf file.

As a final quality check, seek collective agreement that your résumé is perfect. Other readers—your peers, professors, parents (gasp!), and the staff at your school’s Career Center—can add fresh perspectives (and even corrections) to your résumé. You get the last word, of course, but be sure that more than one other person agrees that you have presented yourself in the best possible way on paper. It pays off.

"Quality Checking Your Résumé" was written by Joe Schall, The Pennsylvania State University, as a part of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' OER initiative and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

6.7 Common Action Words Used to Describe Job Experience

Category: Employment Documents
Hits: 19023

Common Action Words Used to Describe Job Experience

AdjustedCreated MappedRecorded
Advised FinancedMediatedReorganized
ApprovedDemonstrated MotivatedReviewed
ArrangedDesignedGenerated Revised
AssistedDevised  Served
 DiagnosedHandledObservedSet forth
BudgetedDirected OrderedSimplified
CataloguedDistributedIncreased Strengthened
Clarified InformedPerformedSupplemented
ConfrontedEnlisted Programmed 
ConsultedEstimated ProtectedValidated

Return to top