Interviews are an important part of the hiring process, but your application is what ultimately wins you the position. And to assemble a strong job application, you must know how to write a great resume and cover letter. These professional documents are a dynamic team, and together give you the best chance of impressing hiring managers and landing work.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a professional document used to introduce yourself to an employer and explain why you want a specific job. Unlike a resume, which is an objective overview of your qualifications, the purpose of a cover letter is to give you space to prove your qualifications make you the best fit for a job opening.
The normal cover letter length is 300 to 500 words, giving you plenty of room to show why you’re the ideal candidate. Your cover letter can be broken into six parts:
List your contact details (name, phone number, email address) in your cover letter header.
The best cover letter opening is Dear [Mr./Ms./Mx] [Hiring Manager’s Name]. Using the hiring manager’s name is an easy way to make a good immediate first impression and ensure that they remember you.
Dear Hiring Manager is also acceptable. However, don’t write To Whom It May Concern because it sounds overly formal and generic.
C. Introduction Paragraph
Your introduction paragraph is where you introduce who you are to the hiring manager. Use this space to highlight:
- your years of relevant work experience
- where you found the job opening
- why you want to apply for this specific job
D. Body Paragraph/s
Your second paragraph (and third if you have lots of experience) is used to address the responsibilities listed in the job description. How can your skills and experience help you handle those responsibilities?
You can also use bullet points in the middle of your cover letter if you want to highlight major career achievements and/or awards.
E. Conclusion Paragraph
Your cover letter closing paragraph is where you make a final case for yourself as a candidate. Start by expressing your enthusiasm for the opportunity, and provide your preferred contact details and when you’re usually available. Then, thank the hiring manager for their time.
No need to get creative here. Simply writing “Sincerely” followed by your name is the perfect way to sign off on your cover letter.
What is a resume?
A resume is a document providing a concise, neatly formatted overview of your professional qualifications. This includes your relevant work experience, education history, skills, and notable accomplishments.
All jobs require candidates to submit a resume. A resume paired with a cover letter makes up a complete job application.
On a basic level, a resume is made up of six parts:
- Contact details
- Educational background
- Work history
- Relevant skills
A. Contact Details
Your contact details are included in your resume header.
At a minimum, your contact details should include your:
- First and last name
- Current job title
- Email address
- Phone number
Additionally, add your LinkedIn profile if it’s up to date, and your mailing address if you want to prove you live within commuting distance of the company you’re applying to.
Your resume introduction follows your contact details, and provides a brief overview of your key qualifications and skills. Your introduction should entice the hiring manager to continue reading your resume.
Depending on what qualities or skills you want to highlight, your introduction can be written in any of the following formats:
C. Work Experience Section
The work experience section is the core of your resume. This is where you list your previous job titles or any positions you’ve held that are relevant to the job you want to fill.
Your work history should be listed with the most recent at the top, and include the following information for each position:
- Job title
- Company name
- Location (city and state)
- Dates of employment (month and year)
Then, list three to five bullet points under each entry describing your key accomplishments and responsibilities.
D. Skills Section
Your resume skills section is where you list relevant job skills. Include a diverse mix of hard skills and soft skills to demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded candidate and can handle a variety of challenges.
E. Education Section
Your resume education section is where you mention the basics of your education history. This includes at least your school names, highest degree earned, and majors and minors.
If you lack work experience, you can also include your GPA (if it’s greater than 3.8), any academic honors or awards, and any relevant coursework that you feel makes you more qualified for the job.
F. Awards Section (Optional)
If you have any impressive awards, you can add an additional section on your resume to highlight them.
Consider listing any of the following items:
- Academic Honors
- Volunteer positions
- Professional Affiliations
Four differences between a cover letter and a resume
There are four key differences between a cover letter and a resume:
Resumes are a requirement when you apply for work. On the other hand, cover letters are often necessary, but sometimes optional. It depends on the job requirements of the position you want to fill. When in doubt, include a cover letter with your resume.
The standard cover letter format is similar to a business letter. It includes a heading, an introduction paragraph, body content, a conclusion paragraph, and a sign-off. A postscript (P.S.) is an optional flourish.
Meanwhile, there are three resume formats, each with their own unique, clearly marked sections. Those sections include your header and introduction, as well as an education section, experience section, and skills section.
Unlike a cover letter which is mostly paragraphs, a resume is largely broken up into bullets.
The purpose of your resume is to showcase your job qualifications. The purpose of your cover letter is to explain why those qualifications make you the ideal candidate for that particular role. Together, your cover letter and resume give you the best chance of landing the job you want.
The tone of a resume is objective and neutral. The tone of a cover letter varies depending on the job, but should have a little personality. Just make sure that personality matches the formality of your target company and industry.
Examples of a cover letter and resume
As a reference, here are two professional examples of a resume and a cover letter to use as inspiration when writing your own application.
Cover letter for a customer service representative
Hannah.firstname.lastname@example.org | (895) 555-555
4397 Aaron Smith Drive Harrisburg, PA 17101
531 Roosevelt Ave.
Philadelphia, PA, 19019
Dear Mrs. Jardine,
I’m excited to submit my enclosed application for the Call Center Representative position at Phone Sales Inc. With over 3 years of experience in sales and customer service, I’m confident that my skillset and passion for customer satisfaction make me an ideal fit for the role.
As a call center representative at Gibby Sales, I spent two years honing my upselling techniques, conflict resolution skills, and phone etiquette. In just five months on the job, my managers had me onboarding and training new employees. By the end of my employment at Gibby, I had achieved the following results:
• A consistent customer service rating of over 90%.
• Regularly upsold products, generating a total of $25,000 in additional revenue for the company.
• Resolved 96% of customer issues given to me while maintaining one of the highest satisfaction rates in the company.
It would be a fantastic opportunity to put my skills to the test as a member of the Phone Sales Inc. customer service team. Your company is one of the best in the industry at employee development, and I’m confident I could quickly become a contributing member of the team.
I am looking forward to discussing the position with you in more detail and am available by phone or email at any time most convenient for you. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Resume for a customer service representative
Call Center Representative
Phone: 895 555 555
Address: 4397 Aaron Smith Drive Harrisburg, PA 17101
• Experienced: Customer service professional with 3+ years in call centers and the hospitality industry
• Efficient: Proficient at handling numerous calls simultaneously and reliably resolving client issues in a timely manner
• Bilingual: English – Native ; French – Fluent. Capable of providing excellent customer service in both languages
CALL CENTER REPRESENTATIVE
Gibby Sales, Philadelphia, PA / September 2018 – Present
• Handle 60+ customer interactions per day, providing personalized and helpful service to ensure satisfaction.
• Memorize details of over 220 company products, and able to answer customer questions about them quickly and thoroughly.
• Regularly generate an excess of $2,00 each month in additional revenue by successfully upselling customers
• Maintain and update sales spreadsheets
• Close at least 5 sales per day in both English and French
• Onboarded and trained 4 new employees in customer interaction, upselling, and conflict resolution
Fat Larry’s Canoli House, Swarthmore, PA / June 2016– August 2017
• Greeted an average of 200 guests per day and escorted them to their tables
• Organized and scheduled reservations for 20+ customers daily over the phone and online
• Presented the restaurant’s weekly specials and upsold customers on drink options
English – Native
French – Fluent
Microsoft Office Suite
Google Drive Suite
70 WPM Typist
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA