A carefully crafted CV, resume, and cover letter are essential for successfully presenting yourself in today’s cutthroat job market. By showcasing your abilities, accomplishments, and credentials, these documents act as your introduction to prospective employers. This article will guide you in creating a standout cover letter, resume, and CV. It will also provide insightful advice on increasing the likelihood of landing the position you want.
CV (Curriculum Vitae, Latin for “course of life”) and resume go side by side with minor differences in their format. A resume is a one- to two-page document highlighting your qualifications, education, and professional past. This is usually preferred in the industry or for non-academic positions. Conversely, a CV is a lengthy document covering your professional history, mainly utilised for academic purposes. The popular “eye-tracking” study (Ladders Inc, 2018) states that the recruiter spends an average of 7.4 seconds on each resume. To catch the recruiter’s attention within this period is difficult, but brevity, clarity, and authenticity of your resume can often help.
The following tips can help you prepare a good resume.
I. Choose a suitable format
It is important to follow a standard format depending on your career history and job requirement. The layout must be clean, well-organised, and easy to read. You can find plenty of templates online but choose them wisely. A format displaying your name, contact information, and email address at the top is preferable. Avoid using fonts smaller than 10 points. Occasionally, use bold text to draw attention to important material or section titles. Photos are generally avoided to save space. Keep the resume to one page unless you have a lot of expertise. A typical resume format includes the following:
- Contact information
- Summary or objective conveying the key career highlights tailored to the job description.
- Professional experience in reverse chronological order (recent at first)
- Education and certification in reverse chronological order. Certifications must be relevant to the applied position.
- Skills in bullet points for easy readability.
II. Use action verbs and numbers to show impact
Complete sentences are not necessary for resumes, and you should refrain from using the first person (I, me, my). Each bullet point statement should begin with a strong action verb (Bedny et al., 2008) (activity like “built”, “managed”, “developed”, etc.) followed by the project description and possible outcome (Indeed, 2023). Use the job description’s keywords, action verbs, and sector-specific terminology as your guide, as employers often use keywords for the initial screening of the submitted resumes. Include tangible criteria like the size of your department, cost reduction, revenue generation, percentage increment in efficiency, etc., to demonstrate the scope of your accomplishments. Recruiters want to see evidence of your accomplishments rather than just hear about your abilities and talents. Quantifying your resume with figures proves your expertise (Belcak, 2021). Look at the following example and decide which sounds more authentic. Example: “Led a team and modified a production process to reduce cost and increase revenue.” Alternatively, “Led a team of 25 people to streamline a production process, reducing costs by 25% and increasing profits by 30%”.
The above-mentioned tips will work for CVs too. Contrary to a resume, it is acceptable to go into great detail about teaching and research experience in a Curriculum Vitae. The introductory part of the CV can be tailored as per the position applied. If it is a research position, research experience must be highlighted, whereas teaching positions call for teaching experience at the beginning. For a young professional, the length of a CV can range from 2-4 pages, while senior scientists can have a 4-7 page CV.
A general format for a CV includes:
- Name and contact information
- Research/Teaching/Industry Experience (in reverse chronological order)
- Educational Qualification (in reverse chronological order)
- Conferences attended/ Presentations
- Publications list in reverse chronological manner with your name in bold and using an acceptable citation style in your field.
- Other Professional Associations (if any): Patents, Memberships, Skills, Managerial Positions, Languages known, Collaborators, References, etc.
Non-academic experiences can also be included in a CV if the skills gained in such work make it relevant to the academic interests. If you are a beginner and have little information to add to your CV, do not worry. Developing a CV is not one-day work. It requires years of experience and work. For a beginner, the best way to develop skills is to join academies providing such skills. Many online platforms (coursera, udemy, futurelearn, edX, udacity, skillshare, etc.) provide quality skill developmental courses for free. You can also join several educational institutes as a trainee to learn new skills. Grab the summer and winter internship opportunities and start networking from the initial stage. These will make your CV stand out amongst your competitors. The format for a beginner includes:
- Name and contact information
- Educational Qualification (in reverse chronological order)
- Research/Training/Internship Experiences
- Fellowships/Awards (if any)
- Conferences attended/ Presentations/ Courses completed
- Publications (if any)
- Other Professional Associations (if any): Memberships, Skills, Languages known, References, etc.
It is always preferable to prepare a master CV or resume including all the achievements, skills and relevant information. Whenever you apply for a position, tailor the CV or resume from the master copy according to the job description. This will save time, and you will never miss any relevant points. Many agencies are helping people to make their CV or resume for a premium fee. You can use those facilities if needed. However, preparing your CV yourself is the best possible method as no one can make it professional except you, working on it.
To accompany your resume or CV, a cover letter is used as a personalised introduction. It provides an opportunity to showcase your enthusiasm and suitability for the position. It addresses a particular position or business and provides examples from your experience that show your qualifications for the position. It is important to know about the required qualifications for the job and the type of work being done in that company/institute. This information can be extracted from someone associated with the company/institute. You can easily find information about the company and its associated people via LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media services. Use it to know the position requirements and tailor your cover letter with such keywords. It should be no longer than one page with a font size between 10-12 points. The cover letter includes:
- Heading and Contact information: Include your name and contact information at the top. Mention the reference number or application number, if any. Address the letter directly to the recruiter (e.g. Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. [Last Name]). According to studies, we react favourably when we hear or see our name (Carmody et al., 2006). The recruiters feel as though the application has been tailored only for them.
- Introduction: This should be strong and express your true interest in the position. This should highlight your relevant skills for the position. The first paragraph should grab the recruiter’s attention.
- Body: This paragraph is to present what you can offer. You should cite the examples from your previous experiences that make you perfect to be successful in the applied job. The skills in a resume should not be repeated. Rather, key information about the skill can be stated, and how that connects to the job position should be highlighted. It is important to provide support for all your claims.
- Conclusion: The third paragraph is to prove that you will fit in. Conclude the cover letter by expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to apply. Avoid coming off as needy. Summarise your key strengths and reiterate your interest in the position. Keep in mind that a cover letter is an addition to your resume, not a substitute for it. Include a polite and professional closing, such as “Sincerely” or “Best regards,” followed by your full name and leave space for signature.
- Please create a professional email id to send the cover letter, CV, or Resume. Avoid using the name of your favourite superhero or toy as the id. A professional id should only include your last and first name.
- It is a courtesy not to send any new job application using the current job provider’s email id or current work address.
- Verify that your contact information is the same on your cover letter, CV, and social media platforms.
- The simplest error can undo all your hard work. Remember to proofread your documents thoroughly and tailor them to each specific application, ensuring they present you as a strong and qualified candidate. Sending it to your friend or family for a review can be helpful.
- Keep the font size between 10pt and 12pt and use an easily readable font style (Calibri or Times New Roman). Keep the margins between 0.5 and 1.0 inches (MIT CAPD, 2023).
- Avoid abbreviations for institute or position names, as they might not be universal.
- Mention the scale while writing marks or GPA. (e.g. 8.6/10.0 or 4.5/5.0)
- Build your social media profile (Twitter or Linkedin) in a professional/comprehensive manner, as it enhances the chances of landing the interview (Yang, 2020)
- Keep your resume short and clear. The sweet spot for resume length is between 475 and 600 words (Talent Works, 2018). However, academic/industrial scientists, researchers or teachers are an exception in this case.
- Revise, proofread and review your resume, CV, and cover letter before sending them.
- Bedny, M., Caramazza, A., Grossman, E., Pascual-Leone, A., & Saxe, R. (2008). Concepts Are More than Percepts: The Case of Action Verbs. The Journal Of Neuroscience, 28(44), 11347-11353. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3039-08.2008
- Belcak, A. (2021). Resume Statistics: We analysed 125,000+ resumes, Here’s what we learned. Cultivated Culture. https://cultivatedculture.com/resume-statistics/
- Carmody, D. P., & Lewis, M. (2006). Brain Activation When Hearing One’s Own and Others’ Names. Brain research, 1116(1), 153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2006.07.121
- Indeed carrier guide (2023). Action Verbs List for Resumes and Cover Letters. https://in.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/action-verbs-list
- Ladders Inc. (2018), Eye tracking study, 1-6. https://www.theladders.com/static/images/basicSite/pdfs/TheLadders-EyeTracking-StudyC2.pdf
- Resume checklist resources (2023), Career Advising & Professional Development, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. https://capd.mit.edu/resources/resume-checklist/
- Talent Works (2018). Your Chances of an Interview Plummet If Your Resume Is Too Long. The Science of the Job Search, Part VIII. https://imdiversity.com/diversity-news/your-chances-of-an-interview-plummet-if-your-resume-is-too-long/
- Yang, P. (2020). Resume Study: How LinkedIn affects the Interview Chances of Job Applicants. ResumeGo. https://www.resumego.net/research/linkedin-interview-chances/
About the Author
Rajarshi Sanyal is a PhD Scholar at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research, India and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. He is currently working on investigating plant development in response to environmental signals and optimizing plant developmental features for efficient photosynthesis in crop plants. Besides academic communications, he loves traveling and sports. You can find him on Twitter at @rajarshi_sanyal.