Cover Letters and Resumes

General Information
Customize each of these documents to every job you apply for: seriously. Employers can easily identify a generic cover letter and resume. Submitting such a document sends the message to employers that they need to figure out how your experiences and skills line up with their advertised position. It is not the employer’s job to draw the connection between your skills and experiences and their job posting, it is your job. This requires customizing each document for all the jobs to which you apply.

Moreover, companies are increasingly adopting key-word recognition software. These computer programs scan your application materials for key words. Your best bet of matching these words are to use the same diction the job ad uses. For example, if the job ad calls for the ability to work in a “fast-paced environment,” then use that phrase in your application materials. Even if the company or government agency you are applying to does not use keyword recognition software, those people reviewing your application want to see you match your skills to their job advertisement. This requires customization of each cover letter and resume.

Yes, this is a lot of work. Start the process early.

Before you write anything, do a little research on the company or agency you are applying to. You want to get a general idea about how the company works.

Cover Letters
Cover letters are a way for you to explain to the employer why you are a desirable hire. Put another way, this document gives you the chance to detail what you can bring to the company or state agency. Employers want to learn about you, but they ultimately want to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

Address the letter to a specific person, preferably the head of the search committee. You should be able to find this information on the company website.

A good place to start in any cover letter is describing what position you are applying for and where you found out about the position. This will allow you to mention anybody working at the company you may know and who told you to apply for the position. For example, “I write to apply for the Sales Representative position. Bob Ward, a friend and a Sales Representative already working for Sales On Us, recommended that I apply for this position.” If you don’t have a recommendation from an employee, simply disclose where you found the job: “as listed on your company website.”

Next, write a paragraph or two describing your relevant skills and experience. You need to use this space to either expand upon information mentioned in your resume or to discuss any relevant information that is not on your resume. Use active language here (avoid passive voice) and let your excitement for the opportunity to work for this company come through on the page. Match what you can do to the job advertisement. If you have no direct experience in the field to which you are applying, explain how skills you acquired at other jobs will be an asset to the employer. For example, if you are applying for a fast-paced sales job and you have worked as a waiter/waitress then stress your ability to work quickly and efficiently despite various distractions and to think on your feet.

Finally, you want to have a brief closing statement. Something along the lines of, “Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.” You can be flexible with this last part.

Here are some useful cover letter YouTube videos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8ci7tnlhEo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxOli8laZos

Resumes
What can you do in six seconds?

Not much. However, employers spend mere seconds (possibly as little as six) looking at your resume. Do I have your attention? Good. This document must be polished, streamlined, and powerful. We can help you create such a document.

Here as some categories your resume should or could include.

Contact information.
This needs be on the top of the page. It should include your name (the largest font on the resume), your address, phone number (with area code), and email. Please keep emails professional.

Objective statement. (optional)
This section is no more than two sentences and is designed to be a brief summary of your most relevant skill(s) and what position you are applying for. “I am a senior at the University of Montana Western, double majoring in English and Environmental Science, and looking to work for a wildlife magazine focused on the Northern Rockies.”

Education.
This section needs to contain the school(s) you have attended and earned degrees from, which degree(s) you have earned, and the dates (month and year) in which you earned those degrees. Do not include coursework in this section.

University of Montana Western, B.S. Biology, May 2017.

Work experience.
In this section include your relevant work experience. This section is the most difficult for younger people because their jobs tend to part-time or summer positions. Don’t worry if you don’t have work experience directly related to your desired field of work. A track record of employment (even various summer jobs) demonstrates the ability to work hard.

John Smith Law Firm, Clerk, Summers 2008-2011
  • General paperwork duties, answering phones, greeting clients as they entered the office, note-taker during meetings.

Other sections.
Volunteering/Awards and Achievements/Skills

References.
You can put a Reference section on your resume. If you do, make sure it is the last section. Include the person’s name, position, phone number, and email. Make sure to ask all your references before you put them on your resume. You may also attached a separate sheet entitled “References.”

Resume YouTube videos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWTpUfc3eFI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYaXN8j7rL8

All University of Montana Western students have free access to Optimal Resume.

Interviewing
Research, research, research! Find out as much about the company or state agency as you can before the interview. What is their business structure? Who are their competitors? What does the company actually do? Has the company been in the news recently?


Dress professionally. Be on time. Bring extra copies of your resume and references list.

Have questions for the interviewer. Interviewers will (almost) always ask if you have questions at the end of the interview. Keep the questions focused on the company and position. Ask about expectations, requirements, the company, the specific position, and the atmosphere at the company. Some appropriate questions are as follows: How has this position evolved since it was created? How have past employees succeeded in this position? What have you enjoyed most about working here? What are the top priorities for the person in this position over the next three months? If offered this position, could you describe how I would interact with other people at the company?

Common mistakes made during the interview process:

Arriving late.
  • Dressing inappropriately (flip flops/tee-shirts/shorts/etc.).
  • Talking negatively about past supervisors, co-workers, professors, coaches, etc.
  • Lack of research on the company and position.
  • Failure to ask questions when presented the opportunity.
  • Forgetting to send a thank you note (hand written or email).
Networking
Networking can be the difference between getting hired and not being considered for a position. Networking comes in all shapes and sizes. In an increasingly digital world, sites like LinkedIn and even Twitter can help you snag a job. However, networking can also simply be working different jobs within a given field and slowly meeting people at different companies and in related fields. You do not have to run around throwing business cards at people. But, you do want to make sure to establish relationships with as many people as you can whenever the opportunity presents itself. Networking also works within your own social circles. Ask friends and family to keep their ears open about jobs you are interested in.

“Elevator Pitch”
Your “elevator pitch” is a metaphor for a short speech about who you are, what you have studied (or where you have worked), and why you are interested in a specific position/career path. It also includes specific skills you have that qualify you for a position and questions for a potential employer about what expectations they have of interns/new employees.

The idea is if you ever meet a CEO or another person with the ability to hire you for a position you need to have a short 15-30 second speech prepared as to why you are the perfect candidate for the job. It is unlikely you will ever run into this specific scenario. However, you will have an opportunity to use this speech during interviews. A common request during an interview is “Tell us about yourself.” Interviewers do not want to know if you like cats or dogs or long walks on the beach. What they are often after is a brief (15-60 second) response that reflects your history as it pertains to the open position. If you have practiced your “elevator pitch” you will have a great response ready to go.

Internships/Part-Time and Summer Jobs
Previous work experience in a specific field is a great way to continue to get employment in that field. This is the “catch-22” of the job market. However, summer jobs or internships are a great way to break into your desired field. This will benefit you in multiple ways. First, it will give you a leg up on any future competition when you are applying for jobs in the same field. Second, it will let you know if you really like the field as much as you originally imagined. Third, internships can result in job offers after you graduate. Many internships are unpaid. An alternative is to actually get a part-time job or summer job in the industry/field you want to work in.