Career Tips

Mid-Career Job Search Part II: The Resume and Cover Letter

By Dave Isbell and Kim Medlock

Take a look at your resume. Does it

  • shout out your accomplishments
  • Paint a vivid picture of your strengths (or competencies) for the reader?
  • Above all else, does it make your value to an employer immediately clear?

If not, it could use an upgrade.

Employers can be swamped with resumes for each opening. You want anyone who holds yours to know THEY WANT YOU! This message can be lost in a sea of dry, bland descriptions and vague wording. Tell them what you’ve done and be clear about what you are good at! This is your opportunity to stand out from a dull pieces of paper.

A few suggestions as you revise

First: Review the basics. It may have been a few years since your last foray into the job market. There is always a new tip or two to improve even the best resumes. Be sure to check out the resumes tab on MSUAA’s web page under “Career Links for Everyone” to find additional detail and tips. This is also a good resource, if you want my (Dave) uncensored opinion on the topic.

And remember…

  • It is crucial to tailor your resume for each position you apply for.
  • Describe accomplishments, responsibilities, and achievements in a way that suggests they are completed (e.g., “monitored,” “managed,” “organized”). Start with this power word list and apply those that relate to your experience.
  • Be mindful of avoiding two common resume mistakes:
  1. Focusing on your needs: Remember that positions are being filled based on competencies of the individual, not specific job tasks or responsibilities. Researching the position and the company will help you discover the major competencies the position requires.
  2. Focusing on responsibilities instead of results: When describing your previous work positions, discuss brief points of achievement and results rather than your routine tasks or duties.

Cover Letters

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?”

One Last Tip

The above is just a general overview, but remember there are so many styles of resumes (including building a web presence, which is rapidly replacing the old Microsoft Word documents we are talking about above) we could fill a book! But, why bother? There are a million of those in every book store already.

Most importantly, it won’t make much of a difference if the document never gets seen! How you deliver it, and who you deliver it to can be much more important than what is on the document itself!


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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