How to Write a Great Resume and Cover Letter

What makes a great résumé and cover letter? Linda Spencer, assistant director and coordinator of career advising at Harvard Extension School, shares examples of a few strong résumés and explains what makes them standouts.

These are marketing documents

Spencer stresses it’s important to know that your résumé and cover letter are marketing documents. Also keep in mind that the average employer takes about seven seconds to review these documents. They’re not reading: they’re skimming. So you need to make it clear right off the bat how you can add value.

Strong résumés don’t have to be lengthy. One to two pages that feature your most top accomplishments works well.

Use action words and customize your pitch

When highlighting your professional experience, use accomplishment statements rather than descriptions of your role. Start with an action verb. Then detail the impact that action had: Did you increase, decrease, modify, or change anything in your work? Finally, be sure to quantify the accomplishments. Data helps.

Your cover letter should be one page, highly customized to each position you’re applying for. It answers two questions: why are you the right fit for the position? And how will you add value to the organization?

Network

While it’s important to have a strong résumé and cover letter, it’s also important to remember that the number one job search strategy is networking. You don’t want to simply to reactive, applying blindly to job postings. You want to conduct a series of informational meetings so that you build a network of people you can reach out to when it comes time to start your job search.

Resources

You can see the compilation of résumés and cover letters, as well as see the list of action verbs, put together by the Career and Academic Resource Center (CARC). Through CARC, students have access to the reference library and workshops, as well as a wealth of career services.

Any Extension student can attend first-come, first-served 15-minute appointments with Linda. Appointments are available Mondays from 1 to 4 pm, September 10 to May 6. All students have to do is come by the Undergraduate Office at 51 Brattle Street, Room 501, or call (617) 495-9413. If you can’t make it to an in-person appointment, students can e-mail their résumé to carc@dcemail.harvard.edu to receive feedback.

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Anonymous replied:
I am still amazed at how many resume packets I receive that do not contain cover letters. If there is one area that is a must, it's a cover letter. This allows you to get personal and very specific with the hiring official/board. Do yourself a favor and add a cover letter!
Jessica Davis replied:

Sometimes having great qualifications and achievements but a poorly built resume can cost a potential employee an interview. As the comment prior to me mentions, it is the basis of the first impression you create on your potential employer. I have, in my career, seen great talents being disqualified due to a CV that is not well written.

John replied:
An excellent résumé and cover letter is imperative to getting an interview.
careerfreak replied:
Nice! The resume is the first impression for the employer towards your candidature. Hence an impressive resume featuring appropriate resume format for the interview is of utmost importance. The resume should be kept simple, highlighting the accomplishments, experiences, skills and aptitudes of the candidate.