When applying for an internship, summer employment, or your first position post-graduation, most employers anticipate that you will include in this process a cover letter as well as a professional résumé. Employers will often receive hundreds of applications for a single position, which means it is important that yours are both exceptionally well-written and formatted to help you stand out.

Note that Clarkson University’s Career Center has an approval process of resumes as part of the Knightlink service. Our Writing Center likes to work hand-in-hand with the Career Center personnel and resources.

C O V E R  L E T T E R S

A cover letter should be only one page. It should not be a summary of the information on the resume. The cover letter and the resume work together. The resume is the list of experiences and skills. The cover letter is the place to give a sense of your priorities and talents. The cover letter is where you convince the potential employer that you are the right person for the job. It is a sales letter.

What to cover in a cover letter

  1. In the Intro, indicate why the readers should spend time on your letter. In other words demonstrate that YOU have something to offer THEM.
  2. In two brief body paragraphs, demonstrate how your experience and talents will address the job description. Start with the key elements of the job description.
  3. In the concluding paragraph, make a call for action.

The Introduction

[1] Indicate which position you’re applying for. [2] Give your elevator speech indicating how you are a strong candidate for that job.

Commonly horrible introduction — the focus is on the writer

I am applying for the position of xxxx. I will receive my BS in biology in 2021. This is my dream job!

Good Introduction — the focus is on the reader

I am applying for the position of xxxx. I hope that my experience with lab research, various tools including MatLab, and an internship with your company make me a competitive candidate.

The Body Paragraphs

You have two paragraphs in which you need to demonstrate

  • how you fit the job description
  • a flavor of your priority and values

You can do this with one paragraph about fit and the other about flavor. However, a more efficient and skillful choice is to have each paragraph be about both. You can convey flavor in HOW you write about fit. Use

  1. Formal but personal “voice”
  2. Specific, relevant details
  3. Active, confident tone

The Concluding Paragraph

Make a clear ask for an interview or some type of follow-up. Avoid sounding desperate including desperately polite or pushy.


 Résumés Require Use of the Writing Process, Too!

Points to remember when starting the process:

  • Recruiters read many résumés. Tailor the content to the position (you might need more than one rendition!).
  • A resume can use the same formatting as a CV (Curriculum vitae). The CV includes EVERYTHING you’ve ever done relevant to your professional life. The resume is a summary of the key experiences relevant to a particular position.
  • Use a layout that makes the content easy to read. Better to be plain than too fancy. For electronic scanner processing, do NOT use color, columns, tables or lines. Avoid fancy templates.
  • Length: 1 page for 1st and 2nd years, 2 pages for seniors
  • Use the writing process to explore, analyze and select significant, relevant information. Visit the Writing Center and work with a tutor!

Common Types of Experiences/Headings to Include:

Education – with most recent on top, include any honors, some companies want GPA

Relevant Experience – Items can be pulled from other categories to fill this category which is directly related to a particular application. This could include jobs, course work, team projects in classes, volunteer work, etc.

Publications and Presentations–Do not include class presentations. Use APA or some other stylesheet, so this category would not follow the same format as the rest of the resume.

Leadership and Team Experience–This can include roles in a particular job or club or class.

Other work or volunteer or international experience–You can have 2 or 3 separate headings or a single heading depending on how much and what kinds of experience you have. Remember, you only include what is relevant to the particular position you’re applying for.

Skills–Just list, without dates: computer, language, and other skills.

Awards–This can be a separate category or may be under “Education.”

Editing — Common problems

  • Check that there is no overlap between items under particular headings.
  • Check that dates are in the same format and right justified. Check that the most recent is at the top in each category.
  • Under work experience, the job title should be on the top line and company or location on the next line.  The job title is more important than the company.
  • If there are explanations of responsibilities, make sure that throughout the document they are consistent, e.g.
    • all past tense,
    • all beginning with a verb or all beginning with a noun, i.e. parallelism. 
    • Usually these are not complete sentences so the question is out about whether to use a period of not.  The general wisdom is to use it or not consistently. 
    • These explanations should be short, but not too short. Don’t talk about routine work, but instead highlight special responsibilities or talents or skills that will be of interest to potential employers.