Tell Your Story

Once you have identified job opportunities for which you would like to apply, your next step is to identify yourself to the employer. Your goal is to present yourself in a way that leads to the next step, the interview!

But first, here are tips for developing a cover letter, résumé, references, thank you notes and some additional advice from the CCV.



Best Practices for Cover Letters

  • Much like your résumé, the purpose of the cover letter is to get an interview.
  • The cover letter should accompany and introduce your résumé. It should expand on, but not repeat, items in your résumé. Some items are better suited to your cover letter.
  • Use this space to demonstrate knowledge of the employer and the position.

  • Have one or more trusted and capable individuals read your final version.
  • Ideally, let your cover letter “rest” for a day and then return to it to see if you have done the following:
    • Introduced, but not repeated, your résumé
    • Written (or at least tweaked) a new cover letter for each distinct position or open inquiry
    • Written for the reader
    • Focused on the job description and/or the organization’s mission and your fit with it
    • Highlighted specific experiences, projects and applicable skills
    • Focused on what sets you apart
    • Been honest
    • Shown enthusiasm, passion and energy
    • Made sure that there are no spelling or grammar errors (absolutely none)

  • The cover letter should match your résumé in style and format.
  • One sheet, one side is the preferred length.
  • Use conventional business letter formatting: 
    • Your contact information/address (may be in a header to match résumé)
    • Date
    • Hiring manager’s name and address (Be as specific as possible. If the name is not known, use simply “Human Resources Director” or “Hiring Manager.”)
    • Position identification (example … RE: Entry Level Accounting Position)
    • Salutation (Again, be as specific as possible. If not known, lean toward “Dear Hiring Manager” rather than “To Whom it May Concern.” Never, ever, ever use “Dear Sir.”)
    • Body/content (more about this below)
    • Closing and signature
  • Match the standards of your résumé: typically 1” margins, easy-to-read fonts (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.) in 11-point type.
  • You are S.T.A.R.-ing in your own life’s story. Think about describing your impact by describing the: Situation, Task, Action and Results. How have you gone “above and beyond” and how might that experience benefit your next employer?

Typically three or four paragraphs is best. In general, think about these four areas –

Paragraph 1:
Why you are writing

Grab the reader’s attention. Demonstrate enthusiasm for the opportunity right from the beginning. Describe how and where you learned of the opening. Three or four sentences is usually sufficient.

Paragraph 2:
What you have done
Reference your degree and your most relevant experience. Take the time to describe one or two projects or experiences in some detail. This is the place to hint at what an interview with you will be like (make sure they are left wanting to hear more). Talk about connections between your background and the position. Use some of those key words you highlighted in your search. Write for the reader – what would be important for you to read if you were the HR manager?

Paragraph 3:
What you like about the company

Build on the previous paragraph. Make it clear you have done your research regarding the company and its mission. Ideally, do this without substantive quotations from the web site. This is your opportunity to highlight your fit in the organizational culture.

Paragraph 4:
What you hope will happen next

Thank the reader for his or her time. Indicate your desire for a follow-up conversation and interview. Restate your interest and enthusiasm for the position. You might want to restate your contact information and indicate that you look forward to following up with them about the opportunity. (Note: If you say you will follow up next week, mark it on a calendar – you don’t want to forget this).


best practices for resumes

  • Résumé is related to the French word for summary. Think of it as a summary of your education and experiences, your relevant knowledge and skills.
  • Although you are the subject of the résumé, think primarily of the employer’s needs and tailor the résumé to that audience. Estimates of how long a reader will look at your résumé vary from 7 to 30 seconds. In some circumstances, the résumé receives its initial “reading” by a computerized search process (thus, key words are, well, key).
  • The purpose of a résumé is to get an interview. 

  • Chronological (most recent items listed first) is the most commonly sought format.
  • Use a simple, classic form. Be careful of ready-made templates as they can be difficult to edit in some cases.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency … make sure it is balanced and focused: in font type and size, in section descriptions and color, in margins and bullet points.

  • Ideally, keep both running and targeted résumés. The running résumé is your “parking lot” for items you may or may not include on the résumé you create that is “targeted” for a particular position or kind of position. Running résumés are never sent to a potential employer.
  • Strong action verbs are your very best friends!
  • Be specific whenever you can (shortened wait time by 50 percent; increased productivity by more than 15 percent) but never, ever simply make up statistics.
  • Mirror language from the job description and use field-specific words and phrases but avoid jargon except where expected.
  • Avoid repetition (you have limited space; use it strategically).

  • Three sections are absolutely required:
    • Contact information
    • Education
    • Experience (may be in one or more sections)
  • Other sections to consider:
    • Highlighted qualifications
    • Professional summary
    • Campus and community involvement
    • Leadership and professional development
    • Skills and certifications
    • Languages (note fluency)
    • Honors
    • Research
  • Depending on your field, you may have additional sections
    • Student teaching or classroom / field experience
    • Dietetics internship

  • One sheet, one side is the preferred length for most relatively new workers; those with more experience may decide to use both sides of one sheet, but should always make sure it fills the second page (no partial pages).
  • Standards include: 1” margins, easy-to-read fonts (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.) in 11-point type
  • Unless you are applying for a position in a creative field (the visual arts, graphic design, etc.) you want the employer to notice you rather than your design choices.
  • Keep the formatting the same from one section to another.

  • Have one or more trusted and capable individuals read your final version
  • Use the résumé rubric available from the CCV to do a self-evaluation.
  • Ideally, let your résumé “rest” for a day and then return to it to see if you have done the following:
    • Told the strongest part of your story on the top half
    • Focused on what sets you apart
    • Described your experience by accomplishments rather than responsibilities
    • Referenced transferable skills for past positions
    • Researched keywords and used them appropriately
    • Been honest
    • Shown enthusiasm, passion and energy
    • Used active verbs in the correct tense
    • Made sure that there are no spelling or grammar errors (absolutely none)




  • Your reference list should match your résumé and cover letter in style and format. When placed side by side, they become a part of your job search “brand.” It should be clear that they are a family of documents.
  • One sheet, one side is more than sufficient.
  • Try a centered and a left-justified format to see which looks more visually pleasing.
  • Include for each reference:
    • Name
    • Title
    • Employer
    • How you know the person (if not easily identified from the title and employer); occasionally an employer will ask you to identify how long you have known the person – watch for these kinds of specific requests and follow them exactly.
    • Email address
    • Phone number
    • Mailing address


Thank-you Notes

It is important to send thank you notes to everyone you speak to at a recruiting event or meet with for an interview. Here are some things to do during the event/interview to make it a bit easier: 

  • Ask for business cards so you have the info you need later
  • Keep brief notes of what was discussed so you can remember one person from another
  • Send thank you notes quickly — ideally within 24 hours of the event!

  • Use good handwriting; take you time
  • Spelling and grammar should be correct
  • Use blue or black pen
  • Handwritten notes are almost always appropriate, but sometimes a thank you email may seem more fitting — use your best judgment
  • Bonus if you can hand-deliver the note!
 Thank you note Example:


Dear Mr. Smith

Thank them for the conversation and interaction⇒

Thank you for taking time to speak with me at Education on April 13 and for considering me for a position at ABC School District. 

Reiterate something positive from your conversation with them⇒

I was excited to hear about the LeaderInMe program being incorporated into the curriculum at ABC School District. As I mentioned in our discussion, I believe my experience in the LivingLeaders program during my student teaching would really enable me to bring relevant experience to a teaching role at ABC Schools. 

Reiterate your interest in an opening and be specific about what action you'll take going forward⇒

I am very interested in any teaching opening at ABC School District and will continue to check the website for openings, as you suggested. Please feel free to contact me if you need any additional information to be considered for future openings. 


Best regards,
Amy Smith
Bluffton University, 3rd - 5th Licensure


Some final thoughts...

  • Submitting applications
    • If submitting electronically, use pdf unless requested otherwise
    • If submitting in person or by mail, use simple résumé paper. The Center for Career & Vocation has a limited supply of résumé paper for student use. Typically, we can provide you with 10 or so copies of your résumé and cover letter. For larger projects, check an office supply store.
    • Use a cover letter any time you are not handing your resume directly to someone
  • If color is used on your documents, be sure to print out a black and white version to make sure everything is readable in gray tones
  • If you struggle with Highlighted Skills, consider these:
    • What does a teacher who knows you well think when they see your name on a class list?
       “Oh Chris Jackson…. He always contributes to class discussion and gets everyone involved”
      • Possible Highlighted Skill: “Skilled at facilitating group conversations and soliciting participation”
    • What does a former coach think when they see your name on a team roster?
      “Chris Jackson… I’ve hardly seen a more dedicated player”
      • Possible Highlighted Skill: “Incredible work ethic with dedication to excellent performance”
    • What does a supervisor think when they see your name on the shift schedule?
      “Chris Jackson… I never have to check up on him. He’s great with the customers”
      • Possible Highlighted Skill: “Exceptional customer service skills and ability to self-supervise”
  • If you struggle with resume bullet points:
    • Think past just the tasks of the job and consider outcomes of your work (“Cleaned restrooms and emptied trash” vs. “Maintained safe and clean environment to welcome visitors”)
    • What was the bigger picture to which you contributed
      • Think transferrable skills—Did you…
             → Train or supervise others?
             → Suggest improvements to processes?
             → Manage major programs or projects?
             → Maintain records or documentation?
             → Work independently or self-supervise?