Resume Basics and Writing a Good Cover Letter

Resume basics and writing a good cover letter are both important first steps in your job search.  A resume is an honest, easy to read, and impressive summary of your “occupational self.”

The Importance of an Effective Resume

Your resume tells a potential employer:

  • who you are as an employee
  • employment history
  • personal strengths
  • skills and abilities
  • why a prospective employer should contact you
  • education
  • training (for example, OSHAcademy courses)

The information you choose and how it is presented it in a resume is important. It should build a strong argument as to why an employer should consider you as an employee. You can think of a resume as a screening device for a potential employer. The average resume receives only about 30 seconds of attention in the employer’s initial review process. Therefore, you must represent yourself both briefly and concisely. Every word must count!

Remember, a resume is the best opportunity to be an advocate for yourself. You can keep a “general” resume on hand, but you should always tailor it to a specific job you are applying for.

There are many important aspects to a resume. Everyone has a different way of putting one together and, in most cases, there is no “right way” or “wrong way.” However, there are some common characteristics that appear to be most successful in getting people interviews and jobs.

The strongest, most important, and most effective component of a successful resume is how you describe your skills, abilities, and responsibilities from previous employment.

Think about the jobs you have had… What were your responsibilities? What did you do? What skills and abilities did you utilize? List all of your previous work experiences and what you did on the job. Don’t take anything for granted. Be specific! Whenever possible, incorporate value into your statements by explaining not only what you did, but how well you did it.

Consider the following two situations, for example:

Construction Site Receptionist ABC:

  • Answered phone
  • Greeted plant visitors
  • Made appointments
  • Sorted incoming mail

Construction Site Receptionist XYZ:

  • Received incoming calls on three business lines, determined nature of the call and efficiently transferred caller to destination with 99% accuracy.
    Maintained log of phone calls, time of call, nature of business, and person called upon.
    Customers were directed to appropriate and available personnel.
  • Collected, sorted, and distributed mail and messages to staff members at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Greeted visitors to plant and issued visitor passes when necessary.
    Arranged future appointments for staff upon request.

Which one do you think is more impressive?

Let’s take a look at what you should include in your resume.

Resume Components

1. Personal Data

This section should include:

  • Your first name, middle initial, and last name (remember, this is an important document, so use your legal name and not a nickname)
  • Use a number an employer can reach you during business hours. If the number is something other than your home, such as a cell phone, identify it as “other.”

2. Objective

An objective is a statement of your search intentions and is an opportunity to demonstrate that you know specifically what you want to do.

An objective should be tailored to fit the job listing. Use two or three lines maximum.

Consider these examples:

Bad Examples:

“Desire a job that is more stable than my last job.”
“Seeking a career that offers potential for advancement.”
“I want full time employment allowing me to provide for my family.”

Good Examples:

“Seeking an assembly-line manufacturing position utilizing my technical training and welding experience.”
“Seeking a home-health nursing position utilizing my education, training, and previous nursing experience.”
“Seeking a teaching and research position utilizing my communication skills, classroom management background, and abilities to conceptualize research models.”

3. Work Experience or History

You need to account for your work history for at least the past 10 to 15 years. Start with the most recent first and work back. List the job title, employer’s name, city and state, and dates of employment.

If you have no gaps in your history, you can record the month and year.

4. Education or Training

List the most recent first and work your way back. If you have attended a four-year college or university, or have received a college degree, there’s no need to list your high school.

Begin the entry with the name of the completed degree or certificate. Following that, list the formal name of the school, the city where it is located or branch campus you attended, and the state.

What about the year of your graduation? List it if you think it will work to your advantage or help you in some way. Otherwise, leave it off.

If you do not have a high school diploma or GED but do have extensive work experience, don’t list education unless you are enrolled in GED courses.

5. Activities, Organizations, and Community Service

You should be cautious whether you should list any or not. Some affiliations might not work in your favor. When you do list these, list broad categories rather than specific ones.

6. References Available Upon Request

Always put this phrase at the bottom of the last page of your resume. This line says “this is the end of my resume.” Each time you send out or hand out a resume, attach a reference page using no less than three and no more than five references. It should include the name, contact and their relationship to you.

Use someone who can talk directly about your work ethic, production capabilities, and personal commitment to your employment. Contact this person and ask their permission before using them as a reference. Here are some examples of who to ask:

  • Supervisor or Foreman
  • Plant Superintendent
  • Assistant Manager or Manager
  • Pastor, Banker, or Lawyer
  • Co-worker or Civic Contact
  • Life-long Family Friend

The purpose of a resume is to get an interview for the job you want and the salary or wage you need to make. You should look at your resume frequently to see if it is working. If it is not working, then do not hesitate to change it. And, if it does work, think in terms of “how can I make it even better?”

Click here for sample resume for a safety manager position.

Writing a Good Cover Letter

Whenever you send a resume to a potential employer, you need to include a cover letter. The cover letter should accomplish three things, including:

  • Explain the purpose of sending your resume.
  • Get the employer interested in your resume.
  • Target the resume to a specific job or career field.

Good cover letters are clear, to the point, and brief. It should consist of three to four paragraphs, including the greeting, the opening, the body, and the closing.

a. Greeting:

You should always address the letter to a particular person. Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” If you do not know whom to address the letter to, you can always contact the business to find out the name of who is hiring for a specific job. If the job posting says “no calls, please,” you can either use “RE:” or address it to the position, as in, “Dear Director of Manufacturing” or “Dear Safety Director.”
b. Opening: Begin your cover letter by stating why you are writing to the employer. For example, if you are applying for a specific job, indicate the desired position and how you learned of the opening.
Example: I would like to apply for the safety manager position advertised in the July 20th edition of “Occupational Safety and Health.”

If you are writing to inquire about job openings, simply state why you are writing and give the employer an idea of the position in which you are interested.

Example: I am interested in a job as a contractor.

An effective opening would also get the employer’s interest by touching on your qualifications or skills.

Example: I would like to apply for a safety manager position advertised in the July 20th edition “Occupational Safety and Health.” I believe my experience in safety and training qualify me for further consideration.

c. Body:

In this section, make sure you do not repeat all the information in your resume. Direct the employer’s attention to the skills, characteristics, and experience that make you right for the job. Point out how you can contribute to the company.

Example: As indicated in my enclosed resume, I have 20 years of experience in safety and have recently completed OSHAcademy’s online safety training. In addition, as a community leader, I am experienced in serving the public and working as a team. I believe my skills and experience would enable me to be an immediate asset to your organization.

d. Closing:

Indicate that you would like to meet with the employer. Take the initiative and let the employer know how and when you will contact him or her to set up an appointment. Use phrases like “get together” or “meet with you” instead of “interview” in the closing.

Example: I would like to meet with you to discuss my qualifications. I will call you next week to find out when we might get together. Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Cover Letter Components

Here are some final points about cover letters:

  • Keep your letter short, clear, and business-like.
  • Type the cover letter using paper that matches your resume. Check carefully for typographical errors, punctuation, and spelling errors.
  • Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
  • Put the cover letter, the resume, and the reference page altogether. Place them in a large letter-size envelope–do not fold or staple them and type the label. Mail with first-class postage to the same person and address as is on the cover letter.
  • Be sure to follow-up as indicated in your letter. If you said, “I’ll call your office next week,” call the office next week!
  • There should be NO errors on your resume or cover letter. Have a friend or relative proofread both documents to look for clarity and errors.

Utilize the cover letter to highlight the matches between what you have to offer and what the employer is seeking. The cover letter is an opportunity to describe your skills, abilities, and personal qualities and how they would benefit the employer.

Click here for sample cover letter for a health and safety coordinator.