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CV and Cover Letters
When you apply for a job, employers will almost always ask you to submit two vital documents: Curriculum Vitae (CV) and a cover letter.
Your CV, or resume, is a listing of applicable and important experiences and accomplishments that demonstrate to the employer that you have the skills and qualifications to be successful in this position.
What's in a CV?
Put your name at the top so it stands out. The contact information must include your current email address, phone number, and mailing address.
- Make sure your email is professional and appropriate; avoid monikers like “getfierce1012 @ aol.com”
- If you are a currently-enrolled student and go to university outside of your home country, but are applying for a position in your home country, include both your current and permanent addresses.
As a college student, your education should be the first section. Include the name of your university, its location, the month and year you anticipate graduating, the degree you are studying for, and your major or intended major.
- Include non-class-related research, such as a senior thesis, as bullet points under your university. Focus on the skills you obtained, rather than the research topic.
- Add study-away experiences, including where you went and when. If the study-away program had a focus that is relevant for the position you are applying for, include that information too.
- If you are not submitting a transcript as a part of your job application (most companies and organizations don’t ask for one) and you have taken courses that are relevant to this position, you can list those as relevant coursework.
- Don’t list your high school education; very few people get a job based on their high school experience, even if you were valedictorian of your class.
This is usually the most important part! Show the employer that you have the skillset to be successful in this job. List jobs, volunteer positions, internships, and other activities—formal and informal—that have given you the skills to do this job.
- This should not be a laundry list of everything you have ever done; if it is not relevant, you should not list it. Employers should be able to see what skills you gained, and how those skills apply to the job they are hiring for.
- Be sure to list the name of the employer or organization, your title, the dates you were involved with it, and the location.
- Describe exactly what you did for that organization using bullet points; see the “Writing a Strong Bullet Point” section below.
This is an optional section in which you can include other activities you have engaged in that demonstrate your interest in and commitment to this job or field. For example, if you are applying for a paralegal job, and you were a member of a pre-law society, you can list that here.
- Don’t list activities if they are not relevant. If you are applying for a paralegal job, they don’t need to know that you were on the volleyball club.
- For each activity, give the same information that you gave in the related experience section. You may not need to use bullet points to explain the activity. If you were just a member of the pre-law society and are applying for a paralegal position, you do not need a bullet point saying “Expressed interest in legal career by being member of pre-law society.” That’s obvious.
Time to brag! This is where you show them how other people have recognized you for being exceptional or outstanding in some way. It’s particularly helpful and important to list those awards and honors that are relevant to the position you are applying for.
- Be sure to give the reader context as to what the award was that you won. If you just list that you won the Super Awesome Award for Excellence, nobody will know why you won it, how selective it was, or what you received for winning this award. Instead, write “Super Awesome Award for Excellence: Only recipient of merit-based $10,000 college scholarship for outstanding basket weaving, out of over 150 submissions.”
- Only list awards and honors that are, at least in part, merit-based; financial aid that is solely based on need should not be listed on a CV.
- Be cautious about listing any awards or honors that you received before college.
This is another optional section. Use it for two main reasons: to convey that you have specific skills and abilities that are needed for this job; and to tell them something interesting about you that might show them a different side of you.
- If you have skills that will be enormously helpful for this job that are not listed elsewhere on your CV, you should list them here.
- Language skills are often a good thing to list in this section, especially if the job you are applying for is in a cross-cultural setting. When you do so, give the reader a parenthetical sense of how strong your skills are, such as “English (fluent), Mandarin (advanced), and Hausa (basic).” Don’t claim language skills that you don’t have; you never know when an employer might ask a question in that language!
- You generally do not need to list basic computer skills such as MS Office, familiarity with iOS, or proficient in social media (#everyonehasthoseskills).
Why Do You Need a Cover Letter?
With a CV, you have told a prospective employer what you have done. Now you need to write a cover letter to argue why that matters.
The biggest mistake we see students make in their cover letter is treating it just as a prose version of their CV: “I went to college at NYU Abu Dhabi, and I took some classes, and that led to an interest in this field, and then I had an internship, and then I did some research, and now I want to work for your company.”
That doesn’t tell the reader anything they don’t already know about you from your CV, and misses the opportunity to make the case as to why you should be hired for this position.
When you are writing your cover letter, imagine that you are handing your CV to the person hiring for the job, and you have less than a minute to present two to three reasons why they should hire you. What would you say? That’s what you should write about in your cover letter.
Before you start writing your cover letter, read the job description carefully, understand what skills and experiences they are looking for, and think of two to three times when you have demonstrated those skills or gained those experiences. Then tell those stories in your cover letter.
This also means you should have a different cover letter for each job you are applying for, tailored to the job and skillset that they need.
Address your letter to a specific person. Do your research on LinkedIn, call the HR department (if that is allowed in the job description), or ask colleagues who work at that company for the name of the person who is leading the search. Use the same header as you used on your CV, with your name and contact information.
The first paragraph should do three things:
- Explain why you are writing (to apply for this job; name it!)
- Tell them how you heard about the position.
- Offer a one-sentence argument — essentially a thesis statement — as to why they should hire you. If you didn't get a full letter, but just one sentence, what would you say?
With two to three body paragraphs, make the case for hiring you by telling stories. People love to hear anecdotes: they provide evidence for the assertions you are making, they are interesting, they make you stand out from everyone else, and they are memorable. You have to tell these stories very briefly, but you can do so by following a very clear formula:
Here's what I did.
Here's what I learned from that experience.
Here's how I can use that skill or experience to do this job for you.
Conclude your letter with a thank you, reiterate how excited you are about this position, and note that you look forward to discussing your qualifications in an interview. Sign off with an appropriate valediction, such as “Sincerely,” followed by a space for your signature (hand-signed and scanned at high-quality, or insert your signature electronically).
- Stick to one page! Just like with the CV, a longer letter does not mean they will spend more time reading it; it means they will read it less thoroughly.
- For both the cover letter and CV, convert the file to a PDF before submitting it electronically. That will guarantee that your formatting and other stylistic choices—like bullet points, spacing, and page breaks—stay consistent across platforms.
- Good writing is good writing. Vary your style and proofread carefully. Remember that you are using this document to show your potential employer what a great addition to the team you will be!
Make your CV Stand Out
- Writing a Strong Bullet Point
- The entries in each section should be in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent activities are higher up on the page.
- Stick to one page. Employers, on average, spend a very short amount of time reviewing each CV.
- Use the full page. Don’t leave excess blank space; it looks empty and lonely. Nobody likes a lonely CV.
- Be consistent in your formatting. Readers will quickly figure out, for example, that your employer is always in bold, and the dates of your employment are always right-justified.
- Use visual tricks to set each section apart. Whether it is a horizontal line, use of ALL CAPS, or some combination of bolding and italics, make it clear to the reader where one section ends and another one starts. Don’t go crazy though! It does not take much to visually set text apart.
Use bullet points to describe what you did and the skills that you gained for each of your experiences. Think about painting a picture of your work; would someone else be able to look at it, and understand what you did and how it relates to the position that they are hiring?
- Start every bullet point with a well-chosen, specific action verb, written in the past tense (for a job you currently have, you can write these in the present tense). There are great lists of action verbs all over the internet; spend time selecting the perfect verb to describe what you did, avoiding generalized words like “worked” or “organized,” that do not specify your exact tasks. Try very hard not to repeat verbs anywhere in your CV.
- Numbers, numbers, numbers! We love numbers in CVs. Numbers add context, size, and scope. Use numbers wherever you can to add significant details to your accomplishments.
- Eliminate all articles, such as a, an, and the, and avoid first-person references to yourself. A sentence like, “I introduced a new product line that was the top-seller for the year,” write “Introduced new product line that became top-seller of year" and then add some numbers to that bullet point to define what you mean.
- Because you are writing in this truncated style, you do not need to end each bullet point with a period.
- More important or relevant jobs can have more bullet points as a way of visually encouraging the reader to spend more time looking at those experiences.