Young Alumni Job Search Part IV: The Resume & Cover Letter

By Dave Isbell and Kim Medlock

Resumes provide the employer with quick, easily scanned information as to who you are and what you can do for the company.

This is often your first opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd. Resumes must be concise, to-the-point, and complete (all within two pages of text, at most, during this stage of your career!)

Luckily, resume content is relatively standardized. While it is important to develop and format your own to best shape your career ambitions and competencies, make sure your resume provides the reader with a sense of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can do for the company.

It’s not about what you write; it’s about how you deliver the information.

Review other resume templates and examples before you write your own. You want to become familiar with what solid, effective resumes look like. You could ask

  • § Former advisors or department heads at MSU
  • § Professionals in the career you are interested in (can be found online, through informational interviews, or from peers and fellow alumni)
  • § Resources targeted to your field

Review the basics of format, style, and arrangement. We suggest reading one of the resume resources below or reviewing Work Tree and reminding yourself of the basic resume rules

Competency-Based Resumes by Robin Kessler

Resume Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Resume Writer by Susan Britton Whitcomb

The Princeton Review’s Trashproof Resumes

Each professional category has its own expectations for resumes, so it is important to have someone in the field you’re interested in examine your resume. They will ultimately be your best resource.

Don’t forget – every resume that goes out must have a cover letter attached to it! Whether or not the job post asks for one, it is a crucial component. One thing to keep in mind as you compose your cover letter is that this is the one place where you are able to tell them why you want to work there and what you know about the company. Check out a few resources:

A general overview on navigating through the composition of the “dreaded” cover letter

Tips and basics on the cover letter format and contents

“Ask a Manager: What does a good cover letter look like?”

Don’t forget that your main goal with a resume and cover letter is to summarize why you are the right fit for the company you are sending it to, and to get an interview. Like any other tool, the finest tool in the hands of someone who is not using it correctly will not result in the product you are trying to create! So, don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you do everything “right” when writing these documents that they will work to get you a job interview! In fact, as mentioned in one of the posted links above, a person who has mastery over his/her employment documents knows that these tools function much better as a follow up tool than they do as an introduction! In short, you should take the time to gather the right tools for the job, but using them masterfully is what is going to get you the results you are looking for.  

Next Week: Interviews

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Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU.  When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.

Kim Medlock is a Michigan State University alumnae with degrees in Professional Writing and English. She works as a marketing writer by day, but fancies herself a creative writer by weekend. As a Lansing native who has always preferred writing as an artistic medium — she remains passionately in love with both of these things. 

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