The Job Application
This page covers the four most common items a potential employer may ask for in a job application. The guidelines on this page are not meant to be all encompassing, but rather as a good starting off place to understand the four main components to a job application. Use the links below to jump to a given section on this page.
As a general principle, the length of a resume is not as important as it is to list relevant work experience. As a result, due to an applicant’s lack of experience, entry-level resumes should only take up one page. As relevant experience is garnered, it is normal and expected for resumes to increase in length.
Each section should be laid out in chronological order, starting with most recent experiences. Specific sections may vary per applicant on account of what experience the applicant has to offer for the position. However, all resumes should have the following sections:
Section 1: Contact Information
- Name: Use your full name and avoid using nicknames
- Address: Use a permanent address whenever possible
- Telephone number: Make sure to record a formal, neutral voicemail greeting
- E-mail address: If you have multiple email addresses, make sure you choose the address that sounds the most professional. The format of “firstname.lastname@XXXX.yyy” (or something similar) is always a good choice if it is available. Make sure you check frequently whichever email address you choose.
Section 2. Objective or Summary (optional)
Section 3. Education
- School name and location (city, state)
- State the years spent at the given school
- Degree sought/seeking (Bachelor of Arts, etc.)
- Major and minor (if applicable) or concentration
- Include your grade point average (G.P.A.) if greater than a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
- List any academic honors as well as research experience and major projects you were or are a part of. For projects and research experiences, state what your role was in the endeavor (i.e. team lead, project manager, etc.).
- If you wrote a thesis as a part of your degree, include the title of the thesis.
*Please note: The order at which your education section is placed in relation to your relevant work experience in your resume depends on your current level in your academic and professional pursuit. If you are in school or newly graduated, your education section should be placed before work experience on your resume after the contact information and optional summary sections. Once you have been out of school for five or more years, your relevant work experience section should follow the first two sections and your education background should appear fourth. See below for examples:
In school or newly graduated:
Section 1: Contact information
Section 2: Summary or objective (optional)
Section 3: Education
Section 4: Work experience
Out of school five or more years:
Section 1: Contact information
Section 2: Summary or objective (optional)
Section 3: Work experience
Section 4: Education
Section 4. Work Experience
- Name of organization and location (city, state)
- Dates of employment. You can state either the year or the month and year for the duration of your employment.
- Title of position
- In a bulleted list, state your work responsibilities with an emphasis on specific skills. Start each bullet with a verb, and do not use pronouns. Make your bullets result-oriented when possible and quote specific numbers and figures to show accomplishments. Use the STAR method when crafting bullet points.
Additional Sections (optional)
- Awards and Recognition (not academic related)
- Scholarships and fellowships
- Special skills or competencies – For example, if you know a specialized computer program that would help you accomplish the job for which you are applying to.
- Key leadership experiences
- Conferences attended and presentations made at conferences
Qualities of a good resume
A good resume will accentuate different the positions, accomplishments, and skills as they relate to each job you apply to.
Resumes are dynamic documents. It is helpful to have multiple versions for different industries or types of positions that can be further customized for each position.
A good resume will use clear strong statement of accomplishments rather than a statement of potentials, talents, or responsibilities.
Strong resumes indicate results of work done and quantify these accomplishments. For example: “Initiated and directed complete automation of the Personnel Department, resulting in time-cost savings of over 25%.”
Good resume formats are consistent throughout the document for ease of reading. See examples of how to format your resume here. Robust resumes are:
Consistent in terms of formatting and design
Curriculum vitae (CV)
CV’s have similar sections to resumes but the important difference is that CV sections are all encompassing where as resume sections only contain relevant information to a specific position.
Each section should be laid out in chronological order, starting with most recent experiences.
CV’s are not customized per position and are only edited when the applicant has new accolades or experience to add.
It is important to acknowledge that these differences between resumes and CVs apply most directly to the North American job markets. Resumes and CVs are used differently world-wide and if you are applying to a position outside North America we advise that you research that country’s job application norms and how that country defines the content for these documents. For instance, in Europe and New Zealand, a CV. is a document identical to the North American resume and is referred to as a CV rather than a resume (source).
To magnify your related and relevant skills as they apply to the job opening.
A cover letter is your opportunity to show the hiring manager that you have a clear understanding of the position and the required qualifications.
Allows you to illustrate why you are the best candidate for the position.
Section 1. Addresses
Your first name and last name
Date (spelled out – example: September 21, 2020)
Hiring manager’s full name or name of organization and department
Office/suite number (if applicable)
Section 2. Opening salutation
Section 3. Opening paragraph
Section 4. Body paragraph(s)
Section 5. Closing paragraph
Section 6. Closing salutation
Qualities of a good cover letter
Personal and professional tone
One of the main characteristics that makes a cover letter different from the resume is the personalized tone that embodies it. Following the language of online templates or replicating words from your resume will not portray your authentic self on the cover letter. Whatever tone and word choice you decide to use, it is advisable to maintain a professional and formal voice.
Interesting and compelling
A well-written cover letter should be able to hold the reader’s attention. Make sure you have transitions between paragraphs and your opening paragraph is strong. Part of an interesting or compelling cover letter is that the stories you share illustrate skill sets and attributes that are directly relevant to the position you are applying for.
If an organization is already asking for a cover letter as part of the application, then why would they also need a writing sample?
A writing sample is a more extensive written document purposefully intended to reveal your unique writing style, tone, and use of grammar. Not every job will ask for a writing sample, but writing samples are commonly requested for if the position’s responsibilities have an emphasis on writing (for example, research, journalism, public relations, communications, marketing, and human resource positions). It is important to follow these guidelines when choosing which writing sample to include in with your application:
Choose the matching piece for the job: One main way to lose an employer’s interest is by submitting a writing sample that is on an unrelated topic to the job you are applying for. For instance, submitting a scientific research paper on epidemiology would be a poor choice if you are applying to a public relations, communications, or marketing job. Not only would the paper bore the hiring manager, but also it would not help the employer evaluate your writing skills and tone for the types of pieces you would likely produce in that job. It is important to study the position itself to narrow down and pick an appropriate writing sample.
Pay attention to the document length: Unless otherwise stated, the general rule is keeping the sample succinct to about 2 – 5 pages in length. It is acceptable to submit only a part or chapter of a longer piece of writing.
Try to avoid controversial subject areas: Your writing sample is supposed to show how well you structure your sentences and convey your ideas. It is not intended to stir debate or share your tightly-held beliefs. Keep in mind that your application serves as your first impression with a potential employer, and using a writing sample which touches on a controversial topic may not leave the first impression you want to leave.
Take time to proofread and edit your writing sample: A writing sample is the worse place to demonstrate carelessness in writing and lack of attention. Employers read these essays with a critical eye so spend adequate time to ensure your grammar is well-constructed and your spellings free from typographical errors.