The Job Search

Preparing Your Application Materials

Applying to a job rarely includes just completing an application.

Alexa, a job seeker, was well prepared and exceptionally qualified, but she didn’t get the interview. Why not?

A likely reason is that her resume did not demonstrate what the employer needed for the position. Or, the person reading it did not see the qualities the company was looking for in a successful job candidate. A resume is often the first picture an employer has of you unless you were referred by a networking contact. A resume and cover letter must sell you – often in 15-30 seconds.

What Employers Want and Don’t Want

There are many tools to help people write a resume, but first it is useful to learn what employers generally want and don’t want to see.

What Employers Want




  • Present a convincing case that you are the person to solve a problem the company has and/or can help them with the bottom line. Projects or situations encountered in a previous or part-time job, at college, or as a volunteer might be described to illustrate the desired competencies.
  • Highlight relevant qualifications and make them easy to find by putting them in the top half of the page. Employers will stop reading rather than search for them.
  • Create a concisely written, error-free resume to demonstrate good communication skills. There can’t be even one mistake.

What Employers Don’t Want

  • A focus on what you want rather than that of the company. Employers are concerned with what they need to make the business profitable and customer friendly. You should ask yourself, “Am I a person who can help them achieve their goals?”
  • Not having the specific qualifications that were outlined in the job description. There are many qualified people who do have the required degree, a particular computer skill, or fluency in a foreign language. While training is often available to workers once they are on the job, not having essential competencies can disqualify a job candidate.
  • Sending a resume that has not been customized to their needs. Sending out hundreds of resumes and neglecting to target and personalize them will be immediately obvious to hiring managers, and the chances of such a resume being read more than a few seconds are minimal.
  • Strange colors, hard to read fonts, or cutesy graphics that are distracting. There are differing philosophies about what can and should be done to make a resume stand out. Getting advice from career counselors or other professionals before sending out a resume that includes unusual colors, fonts or graphics is recommended.
  • Not following specific instructions about how to submit a resume. If a resume is mailed rather than placed online as was requested, it will likely not be read. Employers want to know that job seekers can follow directions.


There is a lot to know about building a resume. Check out the information below for important tips and techniques.

Resume Presentation Guidelines

Depending on the situation, a resume may be submitted online or in hard copy. In both formats, the presentation of your resume is extremely important.

Hard copies will be used when going to a job fair, when asked for by a networking contact, and when going to an in-person interview. Here are some ways to ensure your hard copy resume isn’t immediately discarded:

  • Use good quality 8.5 by 11-inch paper. An office supply store will have a selection from which to choose.
  • When printing both a resume and cover letter, use the same paper for both documents.
  • Do not pick a fancy or hard to read font. Make it easy for the employer by choosing a commonly used font such as Calibri, Arial, or Times New Roman.

It is also very common for applicants to post their resume online or email it directly to potential employers. Be mindful of the following:

  • Be careful about the e-mail address that is submitted as contact information. Don’t use one from a current employer and make sure it sounds professional.

  • Don’t choose unusual fonts or elaborate graphics as they may not be able to be read if an employer is using an applicant tracking system or resume scanning service.
  • Use a standard file format to increase the chances that the resume can be opened and viewed by your prospective employer. This CNBC article discusses the most common formats and the pros and cons of each. In general, resumes are typically saved as PDF, Word documents, or in some cases, as plain text.

Types of Resumes

When writing a resume, the first step is to determine how best to organize skills and qualifications. There are many formats from which to choose, three of which are described below.

Reverse Chronological

What It Is: Lists jobs held in chronological order, beginning with your current position or most recent employment and working backwards. Job responsibilities at each company are identified.

Benefits: Most commonly used format. Employers are familiar with and accept it. Focuses on jobs a person has had. If professional growth within a company or in subsequent jobs can be demonstrated, it is a good format to use.

Drawbacks: Job seekers without a lot of work experience (such as entry-level workers coming out of college) may decide this format is not the best to choose.


What It Is: Focuses on skills and qualifications and does not tie them to particular jobs. Previous employers are listed at the bottom in this format to place less emphasis on them.

Benefits: If work experience is limited, this format takes attention away from past employers and places it on skills. Allows job seekers to stress skills they have gained through volunteer experiences.

Drawbacks: Some employers have reservations about this format, particularly if there are periods of no employment and they don’t know the reasons. Students graduating from college are not expected to have a lengthy work history and the functional resume may be acceptable. This format is not preferred by many employers.

Combination (also known as Chrono-Functional)

What It Is: Combines best elements of the chronological and functional resumes, allowing job seekers to summarize their qualifications first, and then talk about skills they’ve gained and accomplishments demonstrated at the specific positions they’ve held.

Benefits: Shows that qualifications are transferrable to different occupations. Employers are accepting of this format.

Drawbacks: If there is a lack of significant work experience.

When considering the format to use, remember to avoid sending a generic resume to potential employers. Instead, target each resume, highlighting skills that match those mentioned in the job description advertisement.

Writing Your Resume

After selecting a format, you can begin writing your resume. Two of the most common questions related to building a resume are:

  1. How many pages should a resume be?
  2. Should I put “references available upon request” in my resume?

For job seekers who have been in the workplace and have extensive and applicable experience, the length of the resume is not the primary factor. Instead, it is about demonstrating value to the company. This may take two, or as many as five pages, particularly for senior-level executives. For college graduates, it is common to use a one-page resume; however, relevant internship, volunteer or part-time job experience that is compelling and demonstrates skills an employer needs may necessitate a two-page resume. In all incidences, it is preferable to not cram information on one page with a font so small an employer has a hard time reading it.

Some resume experts say employers assume the candidate has references and will ask for them, therefore, the statement “references available upon request” is unnecessary. Others will say it is standard to include it. If there is other important information to include and leaving the statement off frees up that space, there is no requirement to include the statement. However, be sure to line up references and secure their permission to use their names before an interview.

Use Key Words

Today, recruiters/hiring professionals are going online and entering keywords to find job candidates. Keywords are the terms employers search that describe skills and qualifications they are seeking for their available jobs.

But how does a job seeker determine what keywords to use in a resume?
First, read through a job description and notice what skills, qualifications or other requirements are listed. These are the keywords important to employers and they will be looking for candidates who use those words.
Then, you can put those exact keywords in the resume to describe your skills.

Try It Out:

  • Go to and put in a job title, business name, or skills along with a geographic location. Job postings in that area will then be displayed. Read the job descriptions and identify what skills and qualifications an employer has included.
  • To determine which keywords are most important, copy and paste the job description into This free site does the analysis and shows significant keywords. Those would be the words to use in a resume to that company.


Resumes submitted online are often scanned by a computer software program that rejects any without the appropriate keywords. It is important to recognize and then use the terms your prospective employers search for. The more keywords, the greater the odds of a human resource professional reading your resume.

Resume Writing Resources

If you ultimately don’t feel confident creating one on your own, certified resume writers will create a customized resume for job seekers for a fee. To find a professional in a specific geographic location, check:

If you plan to write your resume yourself, check out these links for more useful tips and templates:

Major Mistakes to Avoid

Qualifications are unclear. If you do not succinctly mention skills that the employer is looking for, you will not be considered as a serious candidate, even if you are highly qualified. Short bulleted points that begin with action verbs (rather than the pronoun “I”) show your accomplishments and attract the reader’s eye.

Hard to read. If your resume does not look professional, jumps all over the place and the relevant facts are too hard to find, it will be discarded immediately.

Writing too much. Being concise is key. Employers see many resumes and will only scan them quickly. Strive for short bullet points and edit, edit, edit.

Your salary expectations. This is not the time for you to bring up the amount of money you want to make. You are trying to create interest in the value you offer and your skills, not disqualify yourself because of a monetary figure. However, employers will sometimes ask for salary requirements. In these cases, you may consider saying that your requirements are negotiable based on the position and overall compensation package, including benefits.

Health or other personal information. Perhaps you have asthma or an allergy. This may need to be addressed should you be offered a job, but health and other personal matters do not belong in a resume.

Lying about anything. Don’t fudge on dates of employment, say you have a degree or credential you don’t, or write that you are proficient in a computer skill when you aren’t. You will be discovered, if not in an interview, once on the job. This is a major mistake to make and may affect your future career.

Tips for Posting a Resume Online

Being visible online is important to being found by recruiters and employers. There are ways for job seekers to increase their visibility:

Check company websites. Many businesses no longer use job boards and post openings directly on their own sites, wanting applicants to apply there instead. If submitting a resume, be sure to follow directions carefully. Be aware that some recruiters have indicated that many of these advertised jobs will be filled internally or through referrals.

Post resumes on free file sharing websites. Job seekers can help hiring professionals find them by putting their resumes on free sites. Be sure to save them as different types including PDF, DOC, or RTF. Two such sites are:

Post resumes on job boards. Job boards are employment websites that advertise job openings and applicants can apply for the jobs at the site. Some recruiters say that the response rate of a resume posted on a job board is as low as one percent. Others recommend putting a resume on well-known job boards. Whether a resume is posted on a job board or not, there is value in looking at the boards to gain other information. Some of the most popular job boards include:

Create a resume web page. There are free websites where job seekers can design a resume and then be given a URL because the site also hosts the document. This URL can be used in e-mail signature lines and included in LinkedIn or other social media site profiles. A good example is:

Demonstrate your knowledge. An excellent way to become visible is to join and participate in groups online. Ask and answer questions to showcase expertise or skills. Recruiters look for potential candidates in these groups. Some of the best are:


Using LinkedIn

Some experts estimate that four out of five recruiters use the professional site LinkedIn to find potential job candidates. Companies do not always post jobs, rather, they are looking for people who have the skills they need. Therefore, it pays to either create or upgrade an existing LinkedIn profile during the job search and beyond. Google “LinkedIn Tutorials” for PDF guides and videos to help set up a profile.

As you write your LinkedIn profile, make certain each of these items has been included:

  • A photo. People will want to see you.
  • Keywords in headline. Use keywords relevant to the skills you possess so that hiring professionals can find you.
  • Your work-related accomplishments and specialties in the Summary section. Recruiters will not continue reading if they are not impressed early on.
  • 3+ recommendations. Ask former bosses, co-workers, or nonprofit organization professionals to write a recommendation for you that demonstrates the value you bring to a job.
  • Links to other sites. Do you have a website, other social media profiles, or a blog? Make sure the links to those sites are listed.
  • Personalized Public Profile URL. In your URL, the default at the end will initially include letters and numbers. Replace those with your first and last name, or if it is already taken, use a middle initial or abbreviation to get as close as you can.
  • Groups and Associations. It is permissible to join up to 50 groups on LinkedIn. “Groups You May Like” helps you identify those that are in your areas of interest. Join and include them in your profile.
  • Demonstrating your personality. In the Additional Information section, there is a place to add “Interests.” Think about what you do in your spare time that might catch the attention of hiring professionals, such as volunteer activities or hobbies.
  • Honors and Awards. Include these accomplishments.
  • 100% complete profile. LinkedIn explains what is needed for your profile to be complete including positions you’ve held, your education, a summary, a photo, your specialties, and three or more recommendations. Strive to present a complete profile. Regularly “Share an Update” so your connections and recruiters see you are active.
  • Error-free profile. Mistakes cause people to wonder about your competency. Proofread again and again.

Cover Letters

Won’t a resume be enough? Is a cover letter really needed too?

The answer is YES, the cover letter is very important. It serves a distinct purpose in that it is an introduction to the resume. Cover letters should be brief, powerfully written and typically limited to one page. Follow the four “S” points to create a strong letter:

  • Stand out from other applicants – explain why you are the perfect fit
  • Show your knowledge of the company and position – demonstrate what you know about their products, services or mission
  • Sell your accomplishments and skills – give an example of how they match what the company is looking for
  • Say you will follow up to schedule an interview – show that you are proactive and truly interested in the position

The cover letter is also a chance to demonstrate good communication skills, which is particularly important in that this correspondence may be the first impression of the job seeker. As with a resume, time and care should be devoted to writing an effective cover letter. It is an additional opportunity to show value to a company, and that the job seeker is worthy of being interviewed.

Cover Letter Format

Whether a job seeker is a new college graduate or a worker in transition, it is helpful to see samples of letters relating to different stages of a person’s career. A sample format for a cover letter is as follows:

Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Last Name,
(if unknown, can use “Hiring Manager” or “Human Resources Director”)

Paragraph 1: Mention name of person who referred you or how you found out about position. Briefly discuss why you are interested in the position.

Paragraph 2-3: How do your qualifications solve a problem or help the company’s bottom line? What makes you uniquely qualified? Show that your skills match those that the company is looking for. Mention a way you can help based on something you learned when researching the company.

Last Paragraph: Express your appreciation and state that you will contact the office to schedule a time to meet. Also include your phone number.


Printed Name

The Balance Careers provides a number of cover letter samples for various industries.

Sending Your Cover Letter

Like resumes, you will want to ensure that your cover letter is saved in an appropriate file format that makes it easy to read for your prospective employer. In some cases, you will upload your resume and cover letter to a company’s applicant tracking system, while in others, you may be asked to email your materials directly to a representative for the company.

If you are directly e-mailing your resume and cover letter to a prospective employer, you may choose to attach the letter and your resume, taking care to write something appropriate into the body of the e-mail, or you may copy and paste your cover letter text into the body of the e-mail.

Regardless of what you choose to do, ensure that you have a clear subject line:

  • If you are referred, mention person’s name in the subject line: “Referred by Jason Jones.”
  • If this is not a referral, include the job title and your name.

Dealing with Salary Issues

Job candidates may be asked to address their salary requirements when responding to an advertised position.

While it is preferable to wait to discuss this issue, if it is specifically requested, you may consider either giving a salary range or indicating that your range is negotiable depending on the position and overall compensation package (including benefits). To find out what a particular position pays, search for “Salary and Compensation Surveys” to learn salary ranges geographically. Job counselors can also provide such assistance.

Job seekers are advised to know what salary range is acceptable to them before applying for a job.

Final Steps

The resume and cover letter are done. But what is as important as the words that have been written?

No errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation!

Proofreading Your Materials

Even one mistake can cause your materials to be discarded because the job seeker has just made a bad impression. The hiring manager may think, “What type of employee would this person be if they can’t even submit an error-free resume?”

The solution is to make sure your resume has been read and re-read multiple times. Don’t depend on spell-checker alone. Each word should be read. Then ask a trusted family member or friend to do the same.

Follow Up

Once a resume has been posted online or handed out at a job fair, what is the next step? There are differing opinions about whether or not to follow up as some hiring managers believe this shows initiative while others feel it interrupts their day.

The deciding factors may be the level of interest you have in a particular position and if you were referred by a networking contact. To follow up, try these strategies:

  • Send an email 1-2 weeks after submitting your application materials. Do not follow up before one week, as human resource professionals need time to review your materials.
  • Mention the job title and your full name so that it is easy for the person receiving the email to find your materials.
  • Recap qualifications and interest in the position.
  • Make certain there are no mistakes in your email.
  • Avoid sounding needy or desperate. Be confident and professional.
  • Emails may be preferred over phone calls. Additional qualifications can be concisely mentioned, and an email may not be perceived as intrusive.

When There Is No Response

Recruiters and hiring managers generally agree that if a job seeker has heard nothing from a follow-up email two weeks later, it may be best to look for other opportunities. When there is a fit and interest from a company, you will likely hear within that time frame.

Remaining Positive

It can be frustrating and discouraging to not hear back from companies. You may wonder what you are doing wrong or why there is no interest in your resumes. Instead of dwelling on what didn’t work, it is important to remain motivated by:

  • Continuing to contact networking partners
  • Remembering your accomplishments
  • Realizing new opportunities may surface at any time

Additional Resources

The following resources will help in writing an effective resume and cover letter.

The Balance Careers

Susan Ireland’s Resume Site

  • Free advice and sample resumes

Quintessential Careers

  • Resources for job seekers of all ages, from teenagers to adult professionals

Career Builder

  • Post resume, free resume review, and tips


  • Free articles, samples and tips

New Grad Life

  • Free webinars and advice from career experts
  • Extensive, free articles about resumes, what employers expect