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.

1) Resumes
2) Curriculum vitae (CVs)
3) Cover letters
4) Writing samples

Resumes

A resume is the foundation to your job application. In North America it is the foremost documnet asked for when networking and applying to jobs. As a result your resume needs to be robust enough to stand on its own. Below are some general guidelines on how to format a resume and what makes for a good resume. Please take note that these guidelines are best applied to private industry or non profit job applications. If applying to a government job, please see these guidelines developed by USA Jobs when crafting your resume.

Purpose

     Briefly summarize the professional credentials of an applicant.

     Serves as a snap shot of an applicant’s relevant experience in an easily digestible form.

Length

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.

Sections

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:

     Contact information

     Educational background

     Relevant work experience

Writing Style

     Use the STAR method when crafting bullet points.

     Eliminate pronouns (“I”, “he”, “she”, “they”, etc.).

     Start sentences with action verbs.

Section 1: Contact Information

Your contact information goes at the very top of your resume. Include the following information in this section:

  • 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)
Having an objective or summary at the top of your resume gives you a chance to communicate with your potential employer what you hope to do as well as highlight a few key skills. This section should be customized for every position you apply to. Your objective or summary should be three sentences at most.
Section 3. Education
For entry level candidates, your education experience should be listed after your contact informaiton and summary/objective if you have one.* This section should flow in chronological order starting with your most recent degree. The following is what to include for each degree you hold or are pursuing:

  • 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
Provide the following information for each work experience you list:

  • 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)
Based on your experience, skillsets, and recognition received, you may wish to add any of the following sections at the end of your resume:

  1. Awards and Recognition (not academic related)
  2. Scholarships and fellowships
  3. 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.
  4. Publications
  5. Key leadership experiences
  6. Conferences attended and presentations made at conferences

Qualities of a good resume

Customized

     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.

Results-oriented

     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%.”

Consistent

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

     Uncluttered

     Balanced

Error-free

     No typographical errors.

     No spelling errors.

     No grammar, syntax, or punctuation errors.

     No factual errors.

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Curriculum vitae (CV for short) is a Latin word that means “the course of one’s life or career” whereas the word resume comes from the french word résumé, which means “abstract” or “summary.” These word translations highlight the main difference between resumes and CVs A CV is an all-encompassing document whereas a resume only holds information that is relevant to the specific job posting you are applying to. Due to the comprehensive nature of a CV, the document is best used when applying to professional or graduate school, scholarships and fellowships, research or teaching position, and grants. In contrast, a resume is best used when applying to a specific skills-required position. When applying to a position be mindful of what the application asks you to submit. See an example of the CV here. 

Purpose

     A comprehensive summary of professional and academic pursuits, trainings, and achievements. 

Length

There are no length requirements or limitations to a CV As expected, a CV of an entry-level applicant will be shorter than a mid-or senior-level professional. An experienced professional may have a CV longer than 10 pages.

Sections

     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.

Writing Style

     Keep sentences as short and direct as possible.

     Eliminate any extraneous information.

     Use phrases rather than full sentences whenever possible.

     Start sentences with verbs, eliminating pronouns (“I”, “he” or “she”).

     Vary word choice.

***Please note

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).

Cover letter

Purpose

     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.

Length

Regardless of industry, type of position, or seniority and experience, cover letters should always be a maximum of one page single spaced. Cover letters that exceed this one page limit could easily be dismissed or not read.

Writing Style

     Be concise.

     Let your individuality show through without being unprofessional.

     Spell our abbreviations and do not use contractions.

     You are allowed to use pronouns.

Section 1. Addresses

The top of the cover letter should show your address followed by the hiring manager or organization’s address. The addresses should be left-justified in your document and separated by the date. It is better to be as specific as possible with the address. It is important to note that this will take up a sizable amount of your one page allotment. Your cover letter should be one page long, including the addresses. See example of correct formatting below:

Example

Your first name and last name
Street address
City, State
Zipcode

Date (spelled out – example: September 21, 2020)

Hiring manager’s full name or name of organization and department
Street Address
Office/suite number (if applicable)
City, State
Zipcode

Section 2. Opening salutation
When addressing your cover letter try to be as specific as possible. If the job application does not list a hiring manager try searching on the organization’s website for either a  Human Resources (HR) employee, the head of the office/department you are applying to, or the person who would be your direct supervisor if you get the job. Avoid using generic greetings such as, “To whom it may concern,” “Dear Sir,” “Dear Ma’am.” These are dated and the latter two require you to make assumptions about the reader’s gender which could quickly backfire if your assumption is incorrect.
Section 3. Opening paragraph
Like every other written document, the purpose of the first paragraph is to introduce yourself. This brief introduction should contain information that introduces you, details how you learned about the position, and your interest in the position. It is absolutely necessary that you end this paragraph with a hook — a short statement that intrigues the recruiter to read the following paragraphs of your cover letter.
Section 4. Body paragraph(s)
The inner paragraphs of your letter are meant to elaborate on the hook of your first paragraph: expatiating on the experiences and skills you have garnered and how they make you the perfect candidate. Because of the depth of detail that could be included in the body, it is advisable to expand it to two or three paragraphs (not more than three). It has been noted that sentences written in shorter paragraphs and in simple sentences hold more attention and appear less lengthy to read than sentences fused into one paragraph with compound or complex sentences.
Section 5. Closing paragraph
The last paragraph should be used to conclude your letter and summarize your key points. This is an opportunity capture why the details mentioned above make you the most qualified applicant for the position. End your last paragraph reminding the recruiter of any attached document(s) to your application, contact information for follow-ups, or a polite request for an interview.
Section 6. Closing salutation
It is important to end your letter with a closing salutation and your name. Common closing salutations used are: “sincerely” and “thank you for your time and consideration.” It is important to use a more formal ending salutation and not something less formal such as “thanks.”

Qualities of a good cover letter

Error-free

Since your cover letter is one of your first impressions with your potential employer, it is crucial that you spend the time proofreading your piece.

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.

Customized

Each cover letter should be tailored to the specific job opening. DO NOT recycle a cover letter from a previous job application as one of the purposes of a cover letter is that you demonstrate to the reader that you fully understand the job requirements and responsibilities.

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.

Writing sample

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.