Cover Letters and Resumes – Principles


Part 1. Getting A Job

Cover Letters and Resumes – Principles

There is really no mystery about what employees want in an employee. Across

all fields, employers want a person who is honest, hardworking, technically

competent, skilled at solving problems, able to work effectively alone, and in

teams, willing to share information with others, and eager to keep learning.

—Mike Markel p.387

Nothing hurts your credibility with readers more than a text with numerous errors. Many job application letters get tossed in the reject pile because an applicant made a single, glaring error. —Lester Faigley, grammarian, p.35

Applying for employment has its stresses. We can feel inadequate somehow, be dismayed by the number of high-caliber applicants and wonder if we will live up to expectations if appointed. The practical advice that I offer you in these notes will, I hope, demystify some aspects of the application process and increase your confidence going forward.

1. Remind yourself that it’s natural to be a little unsure of oneself when facing the unknown.

2. Feelings of uncertainty can lead us to write multisyllabic words and pedantic turns of phrase to impress the employer. If you sense this in yourself, know that what impresses employers are documents that are clearly and concisely written, nicely presented, read well, appear honest, and give the information they requested. Know this too—a degree from UF is an impressive achievement. So, relax, resist the temptation to put on airs, and be your natural self.

3. When writing for employment, keep your readers in mind. While you might enjoy writing about your achievements, strengths, and aspirations, remember that those reading the applications might have been coerced by their boss into doing it, and by 11pm, they are bored, tired, and grumpy. Don’t irritate them further by:

· Telling them things they know like how important your field is, courses taken in your degree, and responsibilities of jobs like waitress, server, tournament coordinator, lifeguard, secretary, tutor, and assistant manager. This irritates people responsible for screening candidates as they have enough life experience to know or imagine what these jobs involve.

· Also irritating are errors that you would have noticed had you read your documents before sending them. To be competitive, our documents will be flawless wrt spelling grammar, punctuation, mechanics, page layout… This is not neurotic perfectionism, but indicating one’s potential for professional excellence. If you claim expertise in Microsoft, how does it look if you spell its programs incorrectly? Is it Excel or Excell? Power Point or PowerPoint? A part of professional pride is being flawless when we can, but not driving ourselves crazy and everyone else in the pursuit of perfection.

You are an employer reading resumes from 81 applicants for 4 jobs. Will you interview applicants whose one-page resumes have a few spelling mistakes?

Is it spelled Chick-Fil-A, Chick-fil-A, Chic-Fil-A, or Chic-fil-A?

4. If the employer provides instructions for resumes and cover letters, follow them. Only include additional information if it is pertinent and keep it brief.

5. If you can’t say as much about yourself as you would like, it doesn’t always hurt to be a little understated. Your personality will speak volumes for you at the interview and you will have the testimonials of references.

6. Be wise when writing about your strengths. How could a resume emphasizing much leadership experience not necessarily be an advantage? Experience is no guarantee of ability, and the applicant may have assumed leadership by default or attained it by ruthless means. Employers want employees who will do as they are told whether or not they are leaders in the organization. People who entertain notions of being born leaders can be trouble if they’re forever striving to prove it. Employers know this.

7. At the first mention of an institution, give its full name (and abbreviation if necessary), and abbreviate thereafter.

I earned an Associate of Arts degree (AA) from Santa Monica Community College in 2011 and captained the SMCC roller hockey team for 2 years.

8. Redundancy

In your letter, don’t say you gained experience during an internship, as captain of a team, volunteering… Obviously you did. The word “experience” means that.

On your resume, don’t write

Employment Experience

Leadership Experience

prior experience (all experience is prior)

My personal objectives (‘my’ means “personal”)

very proficient

I studied in both Miami and Paris. (“both” means “and”)

My interest in wildlife research only grew during an internship in the Amazon.

9. Overusing key words makes writing repetitive and seem elementary. What word in job applications might we unthinkingly overdo? We are writing about ourselves and want to convey a measure of self-confidence but overusing ‘I’ could indicate an over-confident, self-centered personality and potential troublemaker.

10. Avoid even the appearance of being hoity toity, pretentious…

Is “class of 2010” in this category? Even if “class of” is not, the two words are unnecessary.

11. Give all your professional correspondence a “clean” appearance by using the fewest number of characters. Don’t underline if unnecessary, for example.

12. You must read your documents aloud to yourself and have them peer reviewed.

Your Cover Letter

You are applying for the internship or job of your dreams. The search committee asks you to introduce yourself in a cover letter, so they can determine whether to grant you an interview. They specify two-thirds of a page (2-3 paragraphs), 12pt, TNR, single-spaced personal information and employer’s information, and 1.5 for the rest of the letter.

· Put your address (make it fictitious) and email address on top LHS

· Leave a space, write the date

· Leave a space below the date and write the employer’s name, name and address of company or agency

· Greeting For the greeting, it is fine to start letters with

Dear.……. but not Salutations

Being conventional, pleasant, polite, warm, respectful, sociable… will never go

out of style.

· Introduce yourself – name, age, home town, major, career aspirations, and what you are applying for

· Work and volunteering experience – Don’t despise and thus omit mention of what you consider menial employment as it can indicate reliability, employability, determination to achieve a career goal by persevering in unpleasant circumstances, and honesty if you worked near money.

· Special skills (foreign languages, licenses…)

· Additional information you consider advantageous – optional

· Remember to sign your cover letter.

Show that you are active, cooperative, pleasant, and accomplish things.

Show you’re an adult by distancing yourself from high school achievements. If you are an Olympian, mention that. 20 pts

Show by your accomplishments and qualifications don’t merely tell, that you are active, professional, and accomplish things.

1. Verb choice is significant.

“I participated in a research project” is vastly different from “I conducted a research project.”

2. Employers read cover letters in haste. Longer sentences will speed your reader along. The cover letter is a letter of introduction but not a chatty little monolog by you about you.

3. Use positive words. You could end by promising something that’s true of you.

I will be a reliable, harmonious, and hardworking member of your staff. “will” is a strong word, the language of promise.

4. Be formal. Don’t use slangy colloquialisms. Would you sign off with these sentences?

I’m available for an interview on Wednesday if that works for you.

I bring a lot of experience to the table.

I fit the job description to a tee.

Be formal. Don’t use slangy colloquialisms.

5. Job application correspondence is formal but not hoity toity. Don’t even appear to put on airs.

within the last year

within my course of studies

throughout my life (leave this for the elderly)



6. Would you write this in a cover letter?

I am a 19-year-old and currently studying in the field of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida.

· I am 19 and studying wildlife ecology at the University of Florida.

7. Avoid I trouble by joining some sentences.

8. Write in clear, simple English.

I aspire to practice in the profession of the veterinary surgeon.

· I want to be a veterinarian.

9. Grammar and word choice

both … and (both means and)

Don’t capitalize common nouns.

I am training to be a Wildlife Biologist.

· I am training to be a wildlife biologist.

My passion for nature has only deepened over the years.

hands on experience practical experience

Overall, Mr. Grey organized his resume well.

Your cover letter is an essay of sorts so avoid the back slash and don’t use etc.


Hyphenated full-time employment, long-term research project, bird-watcher

Not hyphenated firsthand, hardworking

overtime (hours worked beyond what’s normal)

over time (over a period of time)

Your Resume (CV)

The word ‘resume’ is French for “summary.”

The words “curriculum vitae” are Latin for “course of life.”

Some people use these terms interchangeably. The UF Dept of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation distinguishes between them.

· A resume is 1-2 pages long.

· CV has no limit. People applying for graduate school put everything in their CV.

While there is no “correct” way to write a resume, we have principles to abide by

1. Adhere strictly to any requirements like word count that employers and graduate schools may stipulate.

2. Tailor it specifically to the position for which you are applying.

3. Resumes present more biographical detail than cover letters, but not in complete sentences.

4. Resumes give employers an instant overview. They may review them in 15-45 seconds, so our information must be obvious at a glance, must jump out of the page at the reader. An employer does not want to hunt for information like dates that we buried in a sentence, so put them to the LHS.

5. Subheadings on resumes don’t need colons (as in Employment:)

6. Abbreviate months to Jan. Feb. Mar. but write June, July

7. Use bullet points in lists only. Don’t use a bullet point to mark one item.

8. Write entries in Education and Employment in reverse chronological order.

9. Resumes are polished documents

10. One line per entry.


There is no correct or universally agreed-upon format for resumes. If an employer gives directions such as word count and what to write about, do what’s asked.

For our assignment, use this format. It’s the one Dr. Dorman, president of Georgia College and State University, recommended to me.

Name (bold, font size 16)

Contact information (not bold, font size 10, not spaced)

(Font size 12 for rest of resume)

Objective (or, Career Goal)

Education (in reverse chronological order i.e. most recent first)

Employment (ditto)

Volunteering (ditto)

Awards and Honors



References Available on request

Don’t use the category “Personal” as it subsumes everything.

Reading resumes is frightfully dull so make yours as reader friendly as possible to avoid aggravating your reader. Organize your information to jump out at readers rather than making them look for information.

· Subheadings (Objective, Education… to LHS; in bold; and a following colon is unnecessary)

· Calibri has a clear and crisp look.

· Putting all dates to the LHS saves space on the RHS margin, is tidier, and helps employers to scan quickly.

· Confine yourself to one entry per line by using abbreviations and not using unnecessary words especially conjunctions, prepositions, adverbs, and adjectives. It’s nonsense that words like “Bachelor of Science” are more impressive to employers.

Education 2018- Bachelor of Science in Wildlife ecology and conservation, minor in

statistics, University of Florida

· Education 2018- B.S. Wildlife ecology and conservation, minor statistics, Univ. Florida

One page only.This may keep you from including all that you want to. This assignment is an exercise in the ruthless conciseness expected of resumes. 20

Evaluation of a resume

Earl Grey

18 Fergusson Street

Albuquerque, NM 72935

Phone: 555-831-1972

Career Objective Wildlife biologist


2017- M.S. candidate, zoology, University of New Mexico

2013-2016 B.S., biology and statistics, Arizona State University

2009-2012 A.S. biology, chemistry, mathematics (statistics), Tucson Community College

Employment (part-time while studying)

2017- Field research assistant – Roadrunner behavioral ecology

2016 summer Assistant trail Guide, Sandia Mountains Wilderness Park

2013-2016 Front desk, Holiday Inn, Tempe, AZ

2011 -2012 Waiter, chef, cash register, Wild west Barbecue, Tucson


2009, 2011 ASU marathon dance fundraisers for forest fire victims

Certifications Certified Trail Guide, Sandia Mountains Wilderness park, NM

Awards and Honors

2014 Guest of Honor, Navajo Arts Annual Exhibition, Phoenix

Skills Microsoft office, fluent in Spanish, GIS, GPS

Interests – Hiking, camping, reading, travel, raptors, Cuculiformes, adaptations of plants to deserts,

References -Available on request

1. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Earl Grey’s resume.

2. Say what you deduce about him personally.

3. Say whether you would or would not hire him and say why.

4. Mark his mistakes on it including every unnecessary character (our resume must have the cleanest possible appearance) and submit it on Canvas with the rest of your assignment.

5. TNR, font size 12, double-spaced, 50-80 words 10

Part 2. Keeping A Job – On Being Professional

Our profession is that field of activity for which we assuredly “profess” competence. Society, for its part, rightly expects that certain standards of technical expertise and conduct will govern the life of professional people. These standards do not change, make no exceptions, extend to many aspects of a professional person’s life, receive recognition and rewards when observed and sanctions when disregarded. We embody them in policies, principles, practices, skills, and values. Their vital importance behooves us to know them and live them out. Some organizations specify their expectations of employers and employees in documents that vary in length from a paragraph to a manual.

Serious as this is, we must not interpret it as harsh and threatening, for we are speaking here of lofty and attainable standards intended for everyone’s well-being. Professionalism has about it always a touch of class—it bears something of graciousness and good taste, is pleasing when encountered, is universally attractive to people of integrity and earns their respect.

With so much expected of us in professional life, it’s helpful to formulate our own code of workplace principles and ethics with which we can occasionally appraise ourselves.

1. List as bullet points five personal qualities that you expect of people in all professions and justify your selection of each quality. 5

2. List as bullet points five technical skills essential for proficiently practicing your profession. 5

3. Write your own workplace code of ethics by listing five principles that must at all times

govern your thought life and conduct and give a reason for your selection of each quality.

Don’t include those listed for question 1. 10

4. Professional life is not without its dangers. We must be vigilant for signs of growing confidence in our ability to deceive, all the while flying below the radar. Jails are full of people who thought like that. Confident that they were smarter than the system, they forgot about radar systems installed at ground level. In a paragraph of 120 words, draw from a real-life example of a careless and complacent person or group of people who made the news for falling into one or more pitfalls like

· Healthy professional pride and self-confidence devolving into arrogance

· Honesty devolving into dishonesty

· Straightforward openness devolving into deviousness

· Planning devolving into scheming

· Diligence devolving into laziness, cutting corners, and carelessness 10

5. Write in a paragraph of 120 words why a particular person is a role model for you with regard to their character, ability, and accomplishments. If you don’t want to disclose the name of the person about whom you are writing, use a fictitious name. The person may or may not be famous, may be a friend, a relative, a coach… 10

6. Read you final draft over for:


Spelling errors including hyphenated words

Slips of the eye

Page layout glitches

Problems with coherence—ideas, sentences, and paragraphs flowing naturally and




Total 100

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