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Resumes & Cover Letters

Resumes and Cover Letters


Resumes

The best applicant is not always offered an interview, but the applicant with the best resume is.

A well written resume can make or break your entire job search process. It is your first impression and is often read for only seconds by an employer – it needs to be professional, succinct and written for that specific position. Many people cringe at the idea of writing a new resume for each job – but don’t worry, for the most part you need only tweak each resume to make sure it suits the next one you apply for.

There are two key points to remember when writing your resume:

  1. The more information you include on your resume, the more the employer will miss. This is not a history of everything you have ever done, but a tailored account of what that specific employer needs to know you can do.

  2. Don’t rely on spell check. Read your resume from the bottom up to catch any misspellings or incorrect words. It’s likely you’ve read your document so many times you will skim and miss things. It’s even better to have another person review it before you send it off.

Being able to read a job advertisement is an extremely important part of the process. This will make your resume MUCH easier to write! Many people cut out or print the job ad and highlight all of the key words that describe what the employer is looking for. Words like ‘attention to detail’, ‘customer service experience’, ‘work in a fast paced environment’, ‘excellent communication skills’, etc. The employer is telling you what they are looking for! When crafting your resume, include examples of times that you have demonstrated the skills they listed.

Many of your experiences demonstrate a wide variety of skills. Often people sell themselves short on a resume by not highlighting a skill that the employer is looking for. For example, if you have worked as a camp counsellor at a summer camp and you are writing your resume for a job at a local café, you have many relevant skills to list. The café could be looking for someone who is flexible, learns quickly, works well in a team, strong written and verbal communication skills – all of these would have been demonstrated as a camp counsellor. As you will likely not be working with kids at the café, this is not a skill you need to mention. Don’t assume the employer knows what responsibilities you held in previous roles and volunteer opportunities; it is imperative that you spell out the relevant responsibilities you have had in the past, to convince them you have the experience they are looking for.

 

Resume Sections

Heading

Your common name (how people now address you) in a large font size.  The next line usually includes your current city, province, postal code, phone number and professional e-mail.  Make sure whichever contact information you include, someone will be able to reach you at that number/location for the next 3 months.

Career Objective

Early in your career, a well written Career Objective is considered an effective way to catch an employer’s attention and gives the resume direction and purpose. As it sits at the top of your resume, it resides in prime real estate – the spot a reader is most likely to read. A well written Career Objective uses only 2-3 sentences and is specific to the position you are applying for. The further you progress in your career, a Professional Profile can be used instead to list key accomplishments and career successes.

Education 

Include the legal name of any degrees/diplomas/certificates (not BA, instead Bachelor of Arts) with the institution name and address as well the year completed.  You may also list relevant 'things learned' within the program, if they are related to the position.

Relevant Experience

Provide your position title, name of the company, city, start and end dates. Keep this information uniform for each job you list. Then provide bullet point examples of your responsibilities and skills. Include only what is relevant to the position (ie, if you prepped food in your previous role in a restaurant but will not be doing that as a bank clerk, do not include).  Use action words and simple phrases to describe what and/or how you did, not just what you were expected to do.

Other Headings to Consider

  • Volunteer Experience:

If you have a number of volunteer experiences, this can show your interest in community and skills learned.

  • ​​​Additional Skills and Training:

Include info here that doesn’t fit under your Education, ie. black belt in karate, volunteer firefighter, trained in sign language, etc.

  • Awards and Honours:

Keep this section within the last 5 years, otherwise it looks outdated.

  • Further Information:

If you have room on your resume, include information that demonstrates a skill or personal characteristic you want the employer to know about, ie. Travelled around Europe for 10 months solo, a concert pianist for symphony orchestra, rebuilt your vintage motorcycle from the ground up, published a book of poems.

  • References:

Generally references are not included directly on your resume, but on a separate page. This includes your heading with all of your contact details and lists 3 references who acted at a supervisor level. This usually includes volunteer roles as well, although you should clarify with the employer. ALWAYS check first with your references to make sure they will sing your praises and update them on what job you are applying for before listing them.

Still unsure of how to build an effective resume? Check out the University of Toronto Scarborough's Resume Building Tool for a step by step tutorial. Or check out an example of an effective resume layout and wording.


Cover Letters

The best way to understand how to build your cover letter is to first conceptualize it as the abstract of your resume.  Your cover letter should always be written after you have completed your resume and is contained on one page only. Any longer and you have written too much. The cover letter is the document that helps to make the first impression to the potential employer but it also sums up why you are the best candidate for this company and for this role.

To get this right, you need to have already researched the company and job posting, the job description, and any company mission statements, goals, websites, etc.  This is done so that as you write your cover letter, you can demonstrate your seriousness about the role and your understanding of how you would fit in to forward the company mandate.

Often people think a cover letter is unnecessary if they have already prepared a resume. This is incorrect. A resume is a professional business letter written to the employer communicating your interest in the role and describing why you are the best fit. A cover letter is expected as part of the application process. If you choose not to include one, but are competing against applicants who have put the time and effort into a cover letter, you risk looking less interested and underprepared in comparison.

A cover letter should follow a basic set up:

Salutation: An effective technique in creating a cover letter is to include the name of the hiring manager. Studies show people are more likely to read something that contains their name. Making a quick phone call to the organization to find out who to address your cover letter to can be one more way to separate your application from your competitors. If this is not possible, ‘Dear Madam or Sir’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern’ are also acceptable.

Introduction: Indicate what position you are applying for and why you are applying for the position. Review your relevant credentials and indicate your enthusiasm for the role.

Skill Review: This is the ‘meat’ of the sandwich, where you will describe what skills / experiences you have that are specifically relevant for the role. Use key words from the job ad. Show why they should hire you. You are answering the question - Are you qualified for the job?  You must be to the point and choose only the most important examples to entice the employer to read your resume as well. This is typically one to two paragraphs.

Closing: End on a strong, positive note. Do not point out your shortcomings, but reiterate your interest in the role, your good fit and desire to speak further about the position. ​​


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