Writing Your Resume, Cover Letters, and Interview Skills - Graduate students
What is a resume?
A resume is a simple, well-organized summary of your personal, educational, and occupational experiences, accomplishments, and skills. It is essential to your job search.
What is the purpose of a resume?
The major purpose is to organize your goals, skills, experience, knowledge, and background in a manner that will interest the reader and help you secure an interview.
- It serves as a written introduction to accompany your letter and/or application
- When your assets are organized on paper, they are easier to discuss and you will be more confident in your skills and background
- It will serve as a visual reminder to the employer of what was covered verbally during the interview or conversation
- Your resume is a tool to secure a job interview. Resumes may be screened for 5 to10 seconds in order for an employer to identify the people they wish to interview
Make sure the reader knows what you have to offer!
Getting Started with a Resume
Before you write your first draft, make a list of all your significant experiences, volunteer positions, and activities.
Write an outline using descriptive phrases to illustrate each significant experience. Start each phrase with action words. Remember employers are interested in the skills used to perform duties and your accomplishments. Include whether you have supervised others and handled decisions about resources and programs. Give specific quantitative information where possible if you think it will strengthen your resume. (e.g. monitored budget, number of individuals you supervised.)
Identify skills you have used (communication, leadership, analytical, problem solving, organizational skills.)
There is no single proper format for a resume. Choose or create a format that will allow you to emphasize your strengths. Click below to review sample resumes.
Resumes for Experienced Professionals and Graduate Students:
A cover letter is a letter that you send to accompany your resume when you apply for job, whether advertised or when you are sending an unsolicited application. It is created separately and individually for each position for which you express an interest. It is an extension of your resume and reflects your knowledge of the employer's needs.
What is the purpose of the cover letter?
To customize your background... It guides the reader by summarizing the skills and experiences relevant to a particular opportunity.
To demonstrating research and writing... It allows you to communicate your knowledge of the employer, industry, and career field.
To convey your motivation... It reflects your personality, enthusiasm and interest in the position.
The intent is to gain the attention of the person reading the letter. Your cover letter and resume usually provide all the information which a prospective employer will use to decide whether or not you will reach the next phase in the application process - the interview
What should be in the letter?
- Name the position for which you are applying and if possible, make reference to someone who may have a relationship with the organization and referred you.
- Make specific references to the company.
- Indicate your knowledge of and interest in the work the company is currently doing
This is an opportunity to highlight your qualifications skills and experience that are relevant to the position. Obtaining job descriptions and the company mission statements can help relate your background to the employer needs.
Tell them why you want to work at that specific company. Is it the industry, culture, new products? You need to do research on the organization to justify you sincere interest. You do not want to come across that you stumbled upon them and thought you'd just apply.
Illustrate how you fit with that company. Again, through your research and getting information about competitors can help you transition your background to meet employer needs.
Keys to a Successful Interview
The interview is your opportunity to evaluate a prospective employer as well as the prospective employer's opportunity to assess you. As the candidate, your goal is to elaborate on your resume, sell yourself and your skills and to obtain firsthand information about the organization and the job. The employer will evaluate your personality, attitudes and aptitudes in relation to the job and the culture of the organization.
It is pertinent to learn as much as possible about the company prior to the interview. Review the company's website, know the mission statement and read through recent press releases and some of the employer's literature and most recent annual report. During the interview, address the qualities you have that are a good match with the company's style. Answers that demonstrate you know something about the organization will convince an employer that you're taking them seriously. Your research will also help you decide how seriously you want to work for them.
Know your resume well!
Review your resume and be able to elaborate on any of the experiences and skills listed. Determine why you are uniquely qualified to work for this organization and why this organization is right for you. Be sure to hone in on those examples and experiences that best relate to the position you are interviewing for.
Practice makes perfect! Preparing ahead of time and learning how to better your interviewing skills will help you to be poised, succinct with your answers and confident. Interviewing is a skill that you can learn and practice. Try a mock interview at the Career Planning Center. Below are some steps that will assist in preparing for your interview.
- Obtain a complete job description.
- Pay attention to your language, grammar, diction, tone of voice and eye contact.
- Be aware of nervous habits such as fiddling with a pen or paper clip.
- Maintain good posture.
- Be aware of your gestures and your facial expressions.
- Dress appropriately.
- Anticipate Questions and formulate responses.
- Remember to think, to gather your thoughts before you answer a question.
There are several ways in which a potential employer may conduct an interview. It is important to be aware of the different interviewing techniques to best be prepared for any interview.
An informational interview is typically an appointment set up with a specific individual for the purpose of gaining current, regional, and/or specialized information from an "insider" point of view. These interviews could be helpful if you are in the process of choosing an academic major, making career choices, changing careers, or conducting a job search. This is not a situation where you are trying to sell yourself, rather gain information and insight.
Many employers use phone interviews as a way to pre-screen candidates prior to an in-person interview. It is important to be just as prepared for a phone interview as with an in-person interview. A few tips include:
- Keep your resume in clear view, on the top of your desk, or tape it to the wall near the phone, so it's at your fingertips when you need to answer questions.
- Have a short list of your accomplishments available to review.
- Have a pen and paper handy for note taking.
- Turn call-waiting off so your call isn't interrupted.
- If the time isn't convenient, ask if you could talk at another time and suggest some alternatives.
- Clear the room - ask housemates to leave. Turn off the stereo and the TV. Close the door.
- Do not shuffle papers and make unnecessary noise
- Do not eat, drink, smoke, chew while on a phone interview
- Unless you're sure your cell phone service is going to be perfect, consider using a landline rather than your cell phone to avoid a dropped call or static on the line.
Group Interviews serve two purposes. First, employers can provide information to all the candidates in an economical and time-saving manner. Second, it is an opportunity for the interviewers to observe the candidates' behavior and interaction with each other, their communication skills and the impression they make. The interviewees may be asked to participate in a work-simulation activity or a discussion on a work related or non-work related event/problem. The exercises enable interviewers to observe the candidates':
- Communication skills
- Interpersonal ability
- Persuasiveness and the ability to influence others
- Leadership and delegation skills
- Ability to accept and provide feedback
- Organizational and planning skills
- Team work abilities
- Ability to handle stress and multi-task
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Knowledge and experience are also noted
During a situational interview, the candidate is asked to respond to a specific situation that they may face on the job. The purpose of this technique is to draw out more of your analytical and problem solving skills in addition to how you handle issues under pressure and with minimal preparation.
A useful way to prepare for situational interviews is to review your past experiences and analyze how you handled them and what worked vs. what didn't work. Highlighting short examples of how you handled a similar situation in the past would show the potential employer that you have experience with these types of issues.
Interviewers use stress interviews to gain a better understanding of how the candidate would handle stress on the job. Most often, this type of interviewing technique is used when filling a stressful position.
In this case, the interviewer may try to stress you in one of several ways, such as asking four or five questions in a row, acting rude or sarcastic, disagreeing with you, or simply keeping you waiting for a long period. The key to success is to stay focused and remain calm.
Interviewers will ask direct interview questions to get to know you and your background.
Most interviews include behavioral questions. This type of interviewing technique is used by employers to make predictions about a candidate's future success based on actual past behaviors.
The employer is looking for specific examples so it is important to outline in detail a particular event, project or experience and how you dealt with the situation. Do not provide general answers.
How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions:
The "S.T.A.R." technique is a good approach: Describe the Situation you were in or the Task you needed to accomplish; describe the Action you took, and the Results.
If you learned something from this situation, it is a good idea to explain this. For example, if you think you could have behaved different or done something BETTER, explain this.
How to Prepare:
Refresh your memory about your achievements and highlights of your school and work careers over the past few years.
Think about challenging problems or obstacles you faced.
Demonstrate past behaviors by drawing on many experiences; think about internships, classes and projects, activities, team and sports participation, community service, and full or part-time jobs.
Decision making, leadership, organizational skills, problem solving, and team building are among the many topic areas that behavioral questions probe into, so any experiences which involve these areas would be good for use in behavioral examples.
Set up a 1:1 mock interview with a career counselor
Sporadically, employers provide mock interviews on campus. This should be treated as a real interview in that you should dress and prepare appropriately. The employer will offer feedback at the completion of the interview. If interested, please let someone at the Career Planning Center know.
Interviewing Quick Tips
- Assess yourself - know what your strengths and weaknesses are, accomplishments and achievements in previous positions, academic preparation, key decisions you have made, what are your values, short and long term goals, likes/dislikes, interests.
- Be yourself and learn to relax. If you are too nervous you will not be able to concentrate and answer the questions correctly.
- Request a business card from each interviewer.
- Take extra copies of your resume to the interview.
- Dress conservatively. A business suit is always appropriate. Make sure your shoes are shined and don't wear too much make-up. Your personal hygiene should be impeccable.
- Answer questions thoughtfully. Give examples of what you are trying to convey, don't just make empty claims.
- Turn off your cell phone before you meet the interviewer.
- Show up at least 15 minutes early for the interview.
- Find out where the interview will be, obtain good directions and confirm the time.
- Call each of your references and let them know which company and position you are interviewing for.
- Use the S.T.A.R method: Briefly describe the Situation, state the Task, explain the Action you took and tell them the Result.
- Prepare your 30 second "elevator speech" to answer "Tell me about yourself"
- Take notes after your interview.
- Do a mock interview - or practice interviewing by videotaping yourself as the interviewee and someone else as the interviewer. (You will learn a lot from this experience.)
- ALWAYS express enthusiasm for the position and company and thank employer for their time
After an interview, you should always follow up with a thank you e-mail or note.
Follow-up each interview with a thank you note (within 24 hours).
The letter should be brief: no more than 3 paragraphs on one page. The thank you letter should be in business format.
The first paragraph should have the title of the position for which you interviewed, the name of the organization and the date of the interview. Thank the employer for the opportunity to interview and indicate that you remain interested in the position.
You should tell the employer what you discovered about the organization and/or make an important point about your background and/or skills that was not mentioned during the interviews. Reiterate the highlights of your interview that appear to be directly related to the employers needs.
In the third and final paragraph, thank the employer again for interviewing you and express interest in the position and enthusiasm for the potential opportunity to work with this employer. Mention that you are interested in meeting again and/or hearing from the employer so on.
- The CareerJournal - Articles about interviewing and answers to your questions.
- Quintessential Careers - This tutorial will assist you with the informational interviewing process. It has sample questions about what to ask, and helps you to identify people to interview.
- Career Advisor video series