Job Application 101
This page covers the four most common items a potential employer may ask for in a job application. The guidelines on this page are not meant to be all-encompassing, but rather serve as a good starting place to understand the four main components to a job application. Use the links below to jump to a given section on this page.
2) Curriculum vitae (CVs)
3) Cover letters
4) Writing samples
A resume is the foundation to your job application. In North America, it is the foremost documnet asked for when networking and applying to jobs. As a result, a resume needs to be robust enough to stand on its own. Below are some general guidelines on how to format a resume and what makes for a good resume. Please take note that these guidelines are best applied to private industry or non profit job applications. If applying to a government job, please see these guidelines developed by USA Jobs when crafting a resume.
As a general principle, the length of a resume is not as important as it is to list relevant work experience. As a result, due to an applicant’s lack of experience, entry-level resumes should only take up one page. As relevant experience is garnered, it is normal and expected for resumes to increase in length.
Each section should be laid out in chronological order, starting with most recent experiences. Specific sections may vary per applicant due to what experience the applicant has to offer for the position. However, all resumes should have the following sections:
Use the STAR method when crafting bullet points.
Eliminate pronouns (“I”, “he”, “she”, “they”, etc.).
Start sentences with action verbs.
Section 1: Contact Information
The applicant’s contact information goes at the very top of your resume. Include the following information in this section:
- Name: Use your full name and avoid using nicknames
- Address: Use a permanent address whenever possible
- Telephone number: Make sure to record a formal, neutral voicemail greeting
- E-mail address: If you have multiple email addresses, make sure you choose the address that sounds the most professional. The format of “firstname.lastname@XXXX.yyy” (or something similar) is always a good choice if it is available. Make sure to check frequently whichever email address is on the resume.
section 2. objective or summary (optional)
Having an objective or summary at the top of a resume gives the applicant a chance to communicate with a potential employer what the applicant hopes to do as well as highlight a few key skills. This section should be customized for every position applied to. The objective or summary should be three sentences at most.
section 3. education
For entry-level candidates, the education experience should be listed after the contact informaiton and summary/objective (if applicable).* This sections should flow in chronological order starting with the applicant’s most recent degree. The following is what to include for each degree held or are pursuing:
- School name and location (city, state)
- State the years spent at the given school
- Degree sought/seeking (Bachelor of Arts, etc.)
- Major and minor (if applicable) or concentration
- Include grade point average (G.P.A.) if greater than a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
- List any academic honors as well as research experience and major projects. For projects and research experiences, state what your role was in the endeavor (i.e. team lead, project manager, etc.).
- If you wrote a thesis as a part of the degree, include the title of the thesis.
*Please note: The order at which the education section is placed in relation to the relevant work experience in a resume depends on the applicant’s current level in academic and professional pursuit. If in school or newly graduated, the education section should be placed before work experience on the resume after the contact information and optional summary sections. Once the applicant has been out of school for five or more years, the relevant work experience section should follow the first two sections and the education background should appear fourth. See below for examples:
In school or newly graduated:
Section 1: Contact information
Section 2: Summary or objective (optional)
Section 3: Education
Section 4: Work experience
Out of school five or more years:
Section 1: Contact information
Section 2: Summary or objective (optional)
Section 3: Work experience
Section 4: Education
section 4. work experience
Provide the following information for each work experience listed:
- Name of organization and location (city, state)
- Dates of employment. Either the year or the month and year for the duration of employment.
- Title of position
- In a bulleted list, state work responsibilities with an emphasis on specific skills. Start each bullet with a verb, and do not use pronouns. Make the bullets result-oriented when possible and quote specific numbers and figures to show accomplishments. Use the STAR method when crafting bullet points.
additional sections (optional)
Based on the applicant’s experience, skillsets, and recognition received, potential other sections to add to a resume are as follows:
- Awards and Recognition (not academic related)
- Scholarships and fellowships
- Special skills or competencies – For example, if the applicant knows a specialized computer program that would help accomplish the job being applied to.
- Key leadership experiences
- Conferences attended and presentations made at conferences
Qualities of a good resume
A good resume will use clear strong statements of accomplishments rather than a statement of potentials, talents, or responsibilities.
Strong resumes indicate results of work done and quantify these accomplishments. For example: “Initiated and directed complete automation of the Personnel Department, resulting in time-cost savings of over 25%.”
Good resume formats are consistent throughout the document for ease of reading. See examples of how to format your resume here. Robust resumes are:
Consistent in terms of formatting and design
No typographical errors.
No spelling errors.
No grammar, syntax, or punctuation errors.
No factual errors.
CV’s have similar sections to resumes, but the important difference is that CV sections are all encompassing where as resume sections only contain relevant information to a specific position.
Each section should be laid out in chronological order, starting with most recent experiences.
CV’s are not customized per position and are only edited when the applicant has new accolades or experience to add.
It is important to acknowledge that these differences between resumes and CVs apply most directly applied to the North American job markets. Resumes and CVs are used differently world-wide and if applying to a position outside North America we advise that reseaerch is done that country’s job application norms and how that country defines the content for these documents. For instance, in Europe and New Zealand, a CV is a document identical to the North American resume and is referred to as a CV rather than a resume (source).
To magnify the applicant’s related and relevant skills as they apply to the job opening.
An opportunity to show the hiring manager that the applicant has a clear understanding of the position and the required qualifications.
Provides a space to articulate why the applicant is the best candidate for the position.
Section 1. Addresses
The top of the cover letter should show the applicant’s address followed by the hiring manager or organization’s address. The addresses should be left-justified in the document and separated by the date. It is better to be as specific as possible with the address. It is important to note that this will take up a sizable amount of the one page allotment. A cover letter should be one page long, including the addresses. See example of correct formatting below:
Applicant’s first name and last name
Date (spelled out – example: September 21, 2020)
Hiring manager’s full name or name of organization and department
Office/suite number (if applicable)
section 2. opening salutation
When addressing a cover letter try to be as specific as possible. If the job application does not list a hiring manager try searching on the organization’s website for either a Human Resources (HR) employee, the head of the office/department being applied to, or the person who would be the direct supervisor for the position. Avoid using generic greetings such as, “To whom it may concern,” “Dear Sir,” “Dear Ma’am.” These are dated and the latter two require the applicant makes assumptions about the reader’s gender which could quickly backfire if the assumption is incorrect.
section 3. opening paragraph
Like every other written document, the purpose of the first paragraph is to introduce the applicant. This brief introduction should contain information that introduces the applicant, details how they learned about the position, and the applicant’s interest in the position. It is absolutely necessary that the first paragraph is ended with a hook — a short statement that intrigues the recruiter to read the following paragraphs of the cover letter.
section 4. body paragraph(s)
The inner paragraphs of a cover letter are meant to elaborate on the hook in the first paragraph: expatiating on the experiences and skills the applicant has garnered and how they make the applicant the perfect candidate. Because of the depth of detail that could be included in the body, it is advisable to expand it to two or three paragraphs (not more than three). It has been noted that sentences written in shorter paragraphs and in simple sentences hold more attention and appear less lengthy to read than sentences fused into one paragraph with compound or complex sentences.
section 5. closing paragraph
The last paragraph should be used to conclude the letter and summarize the key points laid out in th letter. This is an opportunity capture why the details mentioned above makes the applicant the most qualified for the position. End the last paragraph reminding the recruiter of any attached document(s) to the application, contact information for follow-ups, or a polite request for an interview.
section 6. closing salutation
It is important to end yourletter with a closing salutation and the applicant’s name. Common closing salutations used are: “sincerely” and “thank you for your time and consideration.” It is important to use a more formal ending salutation and not something less formal such as “thanks.”
Qualities of a good cover letter
Personal and professional tone
One of the main characteristics that makes a cover letter different from the resume is the personalized tone that embodies it. Following the language of online templates or replicating words from a resume will not portray the applicant’s authentic self on the cover letter. While letting individuality show through, it is crucial to still maintain a professional and formal voice.
Each cover letter should be tailored to the specific job opening. DO NOT recycle a cover letter from a previous job application as one of the purposes of a cover letter is that the applicant demonstrates a clear understanding of the job requirements and responsibilities.
Interesting and compelling
A well-written cover letter should be able to hold the reader’s attention. Make sure there are transitions between paragraphs and that the opening paragraph is strong. Part of an interesting or compelling cover letter is that the stories shared illustrate skill sets and attributes that are directly relevant to the position.
If an organization is already asking for a cover letter as part of the application, then why would they also need a writing sample?
A writing sample is a more extensive written document purposefully intended to reveal your unique writing style, tone, and use of grammar. Not every job will ask for a writing sample, but writing samples are commonly requested for if the position’s responsibilities have an emphasis on writing (for example, research, journalism, public relations, communications, marketing, and human resource positions). It is important to follow these guidelines when choosing which writing sample to include in the application:
Choose the matching piece for the job: One main ways to lose an employer’s interest is by submitting a writing sample that is on an unrelated topic to the job being applied to. For instance, submitting a scientific research paper on epidemiology would be a poor choice if the job is in public relations, communications, or marketing. Not only would the paper bore the hiring manager, but also it would not help the employer evaluate the applicant’s writing skills and tone for the types of pieces they would likely produce in that job. It is important to study the position itself to narrow down and pick an appropriate writing sample.
Pay attention to the document length: Unless otherwise stated, the general rule is to keep the sample succinct to about 2 – 5 pages in length. It is acceptable to submit only a part or chapter of a longer piece of writing.
Try to avoid controversial subject areas: Your writing sample is supposed to show how well the applicant structures sentences and conveys ideas. It is not intended to stir debate or share tightly-held beliefs. Keep in mind that the job application serves as the first impression with a potential employer, and using a writing sample which touches on a controversial topic may not leave a desirable first impression.
Take time to proofread and edit the writing sample: A writing sample is the worse place to demonstrate carelessness in writing and lack of attention. Employers read these essays with a critical eye so spend adequate time to ensure the grammar is well-constructed and it is free from typographical errors.
The following are the sources used to compile this page:
- Career Services, University of Wisconsin. Frequently Asked Questions about Cover Letters. Retrieved September 2019. URL: http://www.uweccareerservices.org/resume_guide/documents/Cover%20Letters.pdf
- Debczak, Michele. Mental Floss. URL: http://mentalfloss.com/article/568300/resume-vs-cv-what-is-difference
- Doyle Alison. How to Sign a Cover Letter with Signature Examples. The balance careers. February 2019. URL: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-sign-a-cover-letter-with-signature-examples-2060309
- Doyle, Alison. The Difference Between a Resume and a Curriculum Vitae. Thebalancecareers. July, 2019. URL: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/cv-vs-resume-2058495
- Guide to Submitting a Writing Sample. Indeed career guide. Retrieved September, 2019. URL: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/guide-to-submitting-a-writing-sample
- Houlis, AnnaMarie. What to do when you need a writing sample for a job. FairyGodboss Retrieved September, 2019. URL: https://fairygodboss.com/career-topics/writing-sample-for-job
- Indeed Career guide. Retrieved September, 2019. URL: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/difference-between-resume-and-cv
- Jackson, Acy and Kathleen Geckeis. How to Prepare Your Curriculum Vitae. 3rd ed. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
- Moore, Emily. Write the Perfect Cover Letter with this Template. September 2018 URL: https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/how-to-write-perfect-cover-letter/
- Tomaszewski, Michael. CV vs. Resume: Difference, Definitions & When to Use Which (Samples), Zety, 2019. URL: https://zety.com/blog/cv-vs-resume-difference
- Undercover Recruiter. CV vs. Resume: The Difference and When to Use Which. Retrieved September, 2019. URL: https://theundercoverrecruiter.com/cv-vs-resume-difference-and-when-use-which/