The art of writing a Resume and Cover letter

So you’re done with school and can’t wait to step into the working world. But before you jump right into the life of a working adult, you should prep yourself up for the tough process of getting that desired job. Here’s a look at how to equip yourself with the proper knowledge of writing a solid resume and cover letter and take your first step into getting your dream job!

By Leona Ang

A resume is your very first step into getting a job. It’s like a marketing tool used to promote yourself to potential employers with the objective of getting an interview. You can think of it as a means of selling your skills and expertise to those who may be interested. Writing an effective resume may just land you that job interview you want.

A cover letter complements your resume, like how a pen cap fits your pen. The importance of a cover letter must not be neglected as it might make the difference between getting your resume read or ignored. A resume without a cover letter shows un-professionalism and might be thought of lacking sincerity. A cover letter creates the vital first impression your potential employer. It shows that you take the special effort to introduce yourself and describe why you are the perfect candidate for the job.

When writing a resume, you must first decide what sort of format to use- chronological, functional or hybrid, which is a combination of chronological and functional. A chronological resume is arranged by date, with job positions that you held most recently listed first. This is a very straightforward type of resume, and employers like this format because it lists down your job experience in an organized manner, starting with your most recent job to your very first.

This type of resume works best for those who have been in the workforce for some time and have collected some solid experience. Fresh graduates might find it hard to follow this resume format as they have limited working experience to list down in a chronological order.

A functional resume is when employment history is categorized into different sections that emphasize different areas of skills and experience. It is sometimes referred to as a “problem solving” format, as it groups together skill sets and job experiences that “explain” your job history that might not be obvious to the employer in the traditional chronological format. However, employers might find this type of resume organization to be messy, and hard to read.

This format is best suited for those with a diverse job history, meaning that there is no clear string of similar positions held.

Also, the functional format is great for people who have gaps in between their jobs, as it helps to play down this fact. The hybrid format can follow the basic structure of the chronological format and yet apply the functional feature of highlighting accomplishments and achievements. Fresh graduates just entering the workforce will find this format to be extremely useful, as they can highlight specific skill sets they possess.

A resume structure is pretty standard, with certain sections that are essential ingredients to an effective resume. For a chronological resume format, the compulsory sections are in the following order: Objective , Experience, Education, Personal details and References.

If your job experience is less than two years, then it might be better to put Education before Experience. If you are creating a functional resume, the sections placement will be something like this: Objective, Accomplishments, Employment, Education and References.

The objective in your resume helps to tell employers that you are clear on what you want. Although it’s optional, a fresh graduate will benefit greatly from having an objective as you create the impression of being focused on what you want.
An objective should be in broad terms, and not too specific, as that may narrow your chances of being considered for other positions that you are willing to undertake. The length varies, depending on the position that you’re applying for, it could be as short as a one liner, or up to a few sentences.

For instance, a short and sweet one could be “Enthusiastic Marketing graduate looking to pursue a career in the Public Relations field.” A longer once can be something like “A keen and motivated IT graduate seeking entry-level position in the IT field. Willing to learn and contribute to the company’s technical division.”

The job experience (chronological) portion is very straightforward. The common consensus is to list your most recent experience first. Essential information to include in this section includes the name of your company, job title, and most importantly, your job description and the duration of employment. Use action verbs, and list down accomplishments in measurable terms, like improvements in sales or reduction in costs and wastage.

In the education section, provide the institutions where you have studied at, beginning with the most recent qualification you obtained, and then work backwards from there. You can include any special projects or assignments that you deem relevant to the position that you are applying for. Also include any outstanding academic achievements or awards that you received.

As for accomplishments, put down all your previous experience in categories, relevant to the position you are applying for. For example:

- Customer service
- Supervision
- Administration

After listing the categories, you can then proceed to elaborate on each job category.For the employment section in a functional resume, you need to list down just the names of your previous companies, job titles and employment duration. There is no need to elaborate on your job description, as this section is to complement the accomplishment section, where you have already listed out all your job functions in relevant categories.

Personal Details would include information like your full name, home address, phone number(s), email address, NRIC number and date of birth. It is often helpful to include a professionally taken photograph. However, it is crucial that you have a good photograph of yourself in a professional attire and you look well-groomed. If not, it will work against you and you will be better off excluding it.

For References, the usual practice is to provide two names, which can be a former lecturer/teacher, and a former work supervisor. Give their company names, job titles, and phone number(s).

Other than the required sections listed above, you can also offer special skill sets you possess that might be handy for the applied position. This will give you an edge over other applicants who did not include this. For instance, if you are applying for a web designer position, then you can include your knowledge of software skills, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Macromedia Flash, Adobe Photoshop and other relevant knowledge.

If you think that your interests are relevant to the job that you are applying for, please feel free to include. For instance, if you are targeting to get into the media industry, then your interest in the entertainment scene would be of relevance in your resume.

It is important that you use appropriate language when writing a resume. Never use slangs, as it shows that you’re not professional. Avoid short forms and abbreviations at all cost; this just shows that you are lazy and insincere in your job application. Grammar errors as well as typos are not tolerated.

Be mindful of the words used in your resume. Action words are best in job descriptions, as it has a dynamic impact on the reader.

A cover letter must be short and succinct, letting potential employers know that you are interested in the job and to summarise your key attributes. Before you write a cover letter, some research must be done. Contents in your cover letter must show that you know what exactly you are looking for. Therefore, make an effort to find out about the company and the position that you are applying to so that you can target specifically what they need.

The first paragraph of the cover letter must clearly state the position that you are applying for, and where you’ve seen the job advertisement. Besides that, you should also stimulate the reader’s interest on why you are writing the letter instead of saying upfront that you are looking for a job. Show that you are interested in the job by putting down the specific reason(s) for your interest in the company.

In the body of the cover letter, you should explain why the employer must hire you with justifications of what you can do for the company. State the skills you have that match what he/she is looking for and give details of your background that might be relevant to the job that you are applying for. Try putting yourself in the employer’s shoes and think of what skills and qualifications he/she might seek in the right candidate.

Avoid beating around the bush and jump right to the point. If the employer is looking for some who can work irregular and long hours, then you can put in relevant information such as you have prior experience with jobs that require shift work. Do not put yourself in a negative light by offering information that you lack the job experience they require.

The last paragraph should be action-oriented. Be polite but direct and ask for a chance to be interviewed, you can even state the times that you are available. You can end the letter by thanking the other part for reading your cover letter, and remember to sign off with the formal salutation, “Yours sincerely”.

Undoubtedly, the contents of your cover letter and resume are important, but do not forget the visual aspect. A resume or cover letter should be neatly arranged and kept conservative. Do not use any motifs, designs or distracting colors unless you are apply for a creative position. Remember, keep the format simple and easy to read. Getting your resume picked up is the first step to landing that dream job, so spend a considerable amount of time on it, and you will be duly rewarded!

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