The following information will assist you in writing effective resumes and cover letters. A prospective employer should be able to quickly and easily view your education, work experience, and other essential elements that help you stand out as a candidate. Resume and cover letter writing is not a one-size-fits-all approach. To ensure your resume and cover letter are the best they can be, meet with a Career Education Coach to ask your questions and receive feedback on your materials. Schedule your appointment online  or call 406-994-4353.

Prospective employers and search committees will look at your documents through the lens of their organization and position for which you are applying. Your resume and cover letter will be compared to other individuals who are applying for the same position. Your goal is to create the most competitive application package that demonstrates your qualifications, knowledge of the organization and position, and why you would be a good fit. Therefore, it is important you know who and what you are addressing with these documents.

Organization Research & Job Descriptions

Research of an organization is a crucial step in tailoring your documents. Some points to consider as you prepare:

  • How does this position contribute to achieving the mission or goals of the organization?
  • What commonalities exist between the position/organization with your current or past work experience?
  • What specifically do you like about the organization?
  • How does the organization’s work and the position align with your career goals?
  • How does your experience, skills, and abilities align with the required qualifications?

Study the position description to determine which skills and qualifications you need to address. This includes selecting “keywords” from the position description to incorporate into your documents. Including keywords is also important as some organizations use applicant tracking systems (see below) to determine which resumes proceed to the next level. If you know someone within the organization, conduct an informational interview, as they may be able to share details about the organization that you may not find online or through other sources. Researching the organization in this manner will also help you determine if position is a good fit.

Applicant Tracking Systems

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is software used by organizations to help manage applications during their hiring process. They are used to evaluate candidate applications, which includes scanning your resume and cover letter before an organization representative sees your document. Thus, it is important that you create your documents with the understanding that a computer will likely read it first. While you may be qualified for a given position, the way you write and format your documents can play a major role in determining whether you are further considered for the job after applying. To ensure your resume is ATS-ready, follow these steps:

  • Create your resume and cover letter in a blank word processing document. Avoid templates.
  • Include keywords and phrases from the job description wherever you are able. DO NOT simply pull words from the position description and put them in your documents. Integrate them thoughtfully and strategically with context.
  • Format your documents without columns, tables, headers, and footers.
  • Use a professional, readable font (e.g. Arial, Times New Roman).
  • Do not use images and graphics.
  • Upload your resume and cover letter in an acceptable format (e.g. PDF, .doc, .docx). Follow the instructions listed by the employer to determine the format.
  • If you met a recruiter at an event such as a career fair, let them know you are applying. This human point of reference can help the recruiter identify your application during the screening process.

Application Instructions

Follow the directions completely and accurately. Missing a step or not submitting your materials in the manner requested will exclude you from the candidate pool in most instances.

Many organizations are requiring electronic submissions for their hiring processes. Meeting a recruiter in person does not exclude you from this process as organizations have established practices for filling a position and need you to follow the same methodology.

Applying for jobs with the federal government: The federal application process through USAJOBS ( requires you to pay attention to detail. Federal resumes are typically longer (2 or more pages) and include additional information, like salary information, that is not usually included on a standard, private sector resume. USAJOBS provides instructions on their website about how to build a resume and what to include (

Your resume provides information about your education, employment history, technical and soft skills, community involvement and service, professional affiliations, and more. However, your resume should not consist of only a list of these items and does not necessarily include everything you have ever done. The resume consists of the most relevant experiences and tells the reader a tailored career story specific to the job, internship, graduate program, scholarship, or other application. There are a few resume types. Use the format that will best represent your skills for the position.

Reverse Chronological

Reverse chronological resumes are the most common resume type. In this format, experiences are listed by date, with the most recent experiences listed first. Bullet points under experiences, like jobs and internships, provide the reader with descriptions of your skills, abilities, and accomplishments associated with that experience.


A functional resume categorizes skills and abilities first and does not associate those with experiences (jobs, internships, etc.) like a reverse chronological resume. Following descriptions of these skills and abilities, sections including employment history, education, and other experiences are listed.


Similar to the reverse chronological formatted resume, a combination resume includes your experiences listed in reverse chronological order and may include bulleted descriptions with those experiences. However, the combination resume places more emphasis on skills, abilities, and qualities, with less detail associated with specific jobs and internships. Combination resumes are most useful for individuals reentering the workforce after a sustained period away and for people making career transitions from one industry or field to another.    

There are many ways to format your resume. Ultimately, the document needs to be neat, professional, and easy to read. Be consistent and format your document in a way that allows the reader to quickly identify all relevant information.

Avoid Resume Templates

Create your own document from a blank word processing document. By using a template, your resume might look very similar to another candidate’s. In addition, templates can be challenging to edit and might not be readable by applicant tracking systems.


Use consistent margin sizes on all sides (0.5 to 1.0 inches). Avoid borders that go around the page – they take up space and can make the resume look cluttered.


Consistently utilize one font style that is easily read. Recommended professional font styles include Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Constantia, Book Antiqua, Garamond, Tahoma, and Veranda. Font sizing will depend on the font style, as some font styles are larger than others. We recommend using 11-12 point font for body text and larger font sizes for your name and section headings. You can also use bolding where appropriate for significant information.


The length of your resume is dependent upon your education, experience, and the position for which you are applying. Resumes are either one page or two complete pages (except federal resumes, which can be longer). If you choose to make a two-page resume, be sure all information is relevant to the position, and include a page number on the top of the second page.

Color, Images, & Graphics

If you choose to use color, we recommend using it sparingly. Avoid especially bright and fluorescent colors. Do not include images and graphics on your resume, including a picture of yourself. Images and graphics may hinder your document’s readability by applicant tracking systems.

Note: In certain career fields, like graphic design, more creativity and color may be more acceptable. When writing your resume, use your knowledge of the standards and norms of the industry or career field to determine what you will and will not include. ePortfolios are not resumes, so not all these same guidelines apply.

A Note About “Experience”

To tailor your resume, prioritize the information that best demonstrates your qualities, skills, and abilities relevant to the position. While this will include directly relevant work and internship experiences, it might also include relevant coursework and projects, community service and volunteering, participation in student groups or professional associations, and/or other employment that is not directly related. When choosing which content to include and prioritize, consider the transferrable skills  (e.g. communication, problem solving) you have demonstrated and acquired throughout all your experiences.

Section Titles

Once you know which experiences you want to include, consider how you want that information organized. Sections provide the reader an easy way to identify information. Be intentional about naming these and make them uniform in formatting (bolding/capping/justification, etc.). Prioritize sections by relevance or importance to the position you are seeking. Within all sections, list information in reverse chronological order, listing the most recent first. Below are typical resume section titles. Your resume may not include all of these, and you may customize the naming relevant to the job or your experience.

  • Masthead/Heading
  • Professional Profile
  • Education
  • Technical Skills
  • Relevant Experience
  • Relevant Coursework/Projects
  • Research (related to major or potential employment)
  • Military Service (can be listed separately or under another relevant section)
  • Additional Experience
  • Professional Affiliations
  • Leadership Experience
  • Community Service/Volunteering
  • Honors/Awards


This section of the resume should include your name, phone number, email address, and current city and state of residence.

  • Use the same masthead/heading for your resume, cover letter, and references page. This will allow a professional presentation of uniform documents.
  • Your name should stand out and be larger than the rest of the text.
  • Provide your primary phone number – remember to set-up a professional voicemail greeting and make sure your voice mailbox isn’t full!
  • Provide a professional email address. A version of your first and last name or initials is best. Avoid complicated combinations of letters, periods, numbers, etc. Popular email services like Gmail and Outlook are recommended.
  • You may also include links to your LinkedIn account and/or personal website in your masthead.

Professional Profiles

Instead of providing an objective statement, use this space to summarize your qualities, qualifications, skills, and notable accomplishments relevant to the position. Context is key. Avoid general statements (e.g. hard worker, motivated) without providing context. Avoid using pronouns.

Example WITHOUT context and specific skills:

  • Mechanical engineering student seeking professional role where I can grow my skills. Problem solver with strong communication skills. Hardworking, dependable, and punctual. Experience leading teams and working with others to complete projects.

Example WITH context and specific skills:

  • Highly motivated Mechanical Engineering student with experience applying problem solving and interpersonal skills in a corporate professional setting. Skilled in using SolidWorks, MatLab, MathCAD, AutoCAD, Pro-E CREO, LabVIEW, ANSYS, and NI modules. Demonstrated ability to delegate work, lead teams, and oversee projects. 

Note: Professional Profiles are not required. For instance, if you are submitting a cover letter, you may choose to omit the profile section and use the space for other content.

How to Write Bullet Points

Bullet points on your resume provide the reader with concise, yet detailed, descriptions of your experience. Tailor the bullets to each job or internship, including keywords and phrases from the job descriptions.

  • Start each bullet with a strong action verb or qualifier (see “Descriptive Words & Phrases” on pages 7-10 of this guide).
  • Provide concrete examples of relevant experiences.
  • Use present tense verbs when describing functions in current jobs. Use past tense verbs when you no longer hold the position.
  • Quantify details where possible to illustrate workload, accomplishments, and impact of your work.


Needs Improvement

  • Oversaw work of landscape crew to complete work on time
    • Bullet lacks strong, descriptive action verbs, omits context of work, and misses an opportunity to quantify work and level of responsibility.

Strong Bullet

  • Supervised and delegated daily assignments to 7-10 landscape crew members to ensure safety of all workers and timely completion of work
    • Bullet uses strong action verbs to indicate to the reader the nature of work and skills demonstrated. Additionally, it includes context to show nature of work and shows the level of responsibility held by the person.

Cover letters provide an opportunity to entice the hiring authority to review your resume with interest. They are not written to restate the resume but to elaborate upon and provide context for experience listed in your resume. Cover letters must be well crafted and specific to each position and organization to which you apply. Effective cover letters:

  • tell your unique story,
  • set you apart from the competition,
  • and describe why you would be a good fit for the organization and the contributions you will make.

Letter of Application

This type of cover letter is written to accompany a resume for a known position. You are writing to the hiring authority regarding the position posted, explaining why you are a good fit for the organization. You should integrate information, including keywords from the position description, as well as your own research about the organization. Doing so will reflect your understanding of the position and organization.

Letter of Inquiry

This type of cover letter generally accompanies a resume sent to an organization for which there is no known opening. This type of letter can also be used when someone refers you to an organization, recommending you apply for a position that may not be advertised. In certain situations, you may submit this inquiry within the body of an email with your resume attached.


This section of the cover letter should include your name, phone number, email address, and current city and state of residence.

  • Use the same masthead/heading for your resume, cover letter, and references page. This will allow a professional presentation of uniform documents.
  • Your name should stand out and be larger than the rest of the text.
  • Provide your primary phone number – remember to set-up a professional voicemail greeting and make sure your voice mailbox isn’t full!
  • Provide a professional email address. A version of your first and last name or initials is best. Avoid complicated combinations of letters, periods, numbers, etc. Popular email services like Gmail and Outlook are recommended.
  • You may also include links to your LinkedIn account and/or personal websites in your masthead.


Include the date you are submitting your application after your masthead.

Employer/Organization Information

Address your letter to the hiring authority, using correct name, official title, and business address. If no name is listed, contact the organization’s human resources office to inquire about who you should address on your cover letter. You may also address the letter to the “Search Committee,” “Hiring Committee,” “Hiring Manager,” or similar title.


A salutation is the phrase you use to greet the reader before beginning your introduction. When writing your salutation, confirm and properly write the correct spelling of the person’s name and how the individual prefers to be addressed (Dr., Ms., Mr., etc.).


The goal of the introduction is to connect with the reader, and to persuade them to continue reading.

  • Begin by indicating why you are writing.
  • Integrate your research of the organization, topics of commonality between you and the reader/organization, and how you will make a positive contribution to the organization.
  • State clearly the specific position or type of work you seek.
  • Indicate if someone referred you, as networks are important!


Describe your qualifications for the position, tying in keywords used in the position description. Make the reader aware you have completed your research and highlight how your experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities meet or exceed their requirements for the position. Expand on the most relevant skills from your resume, but do not simply repeat your resume. Emphasize skills on which other employers or professors have commended you. Describe one or two brief examples where you have added value to an organization, team, or group project.


Close with a brief paragraph that expresses your appreciation for their consideration, makes clear that you look forward to hearing from them, and reiterates your enthusiasm and interest.

For most jobs, internships, graduate schools, and professional programs, references will be required. Cultivate at least four (4) references that you can use when applying for employment, internships, graduate school, grants, or scholarships. Usually three references are requested, but follow the instructions as written. The best references will be from those who have supervised your work or learning. These will ideally be university instructors/professors, internship supervisors, and current or former employers. In addition, character references from volunteer or community service organizations or long-time acquaintances can be useful if you do not have professional references.

List the most relevant references for the position to which you are applying. That is, different references might be able to speak more to a certain set of skills or qualities than others.  Important: Always ask your references in advance if they can provide you with a strong reference for each position to which you apply. Also, provide your resume and job descriptions to your references. This will help prepare them to speak about your experience, skills, and fit for the role.

References Page

References should be listed on a separate document. Use the same masthead from your cover letter and resume, in addition to formatting the page using the same margins, font size and style, and spacing.

Listing References

List your strongest reference first as employers may only contact one or two of your references. Include their full name, job title, full mailing address, and preferred phone number and email address.

Submitting References

While references may not be requested as part of your initial application, always have them prepared. If you are unsure about whether to submit your references as part of your application because they are not requested in the instructions, contact the organization’s human resources office. Submit the reference list with your resume and cover letter (assuming your conversation with the human resources office supports this approach). Yield to an employer’s preference: If the human resources department indicates it is best to wait, do not send references.

Ensuring your resume and cover letter are error free and well written is a crucial step in the application process. Some employers will filter candidates out of a search if they find an (one) error in grammar or spelling.

  • Perform your own spell check! Remember that automatic spell check does not always catch errors.
  • Save and submit in an acceptable format (e.g. PDF, .doc, .docx) to ensure the reader will be able to open your documents.
  • Have your resume “critiqued” by a Career Education Coach.

Below are words and phrases that you can use when writing your documents. Select words that best describe what you have accomplished or plan to accomplish.

Action Verbs

accelerated deliver insure rehabilitate
accommodated demonstrate integrate related
accompanied describe intensify remodel
accomplished design interpret removed
achieved detailed interview renewed
acquainted determine introduced reorganize
acquired develop invented repair
adapt devise inventory replaced
addressed diagnose invest replied
adjust direct investigate reported
administer discharged involved represented
advanced disclosed issue research
advise discontinued joined resolve
advocate discovered justify responded
aid discussed keep restore
allocate dispatch keynoted restructure
alter dispense launched retain
analyze display learned retrained
answer disseminate lease retrieved
appeared distinguished lecture revamped
apply distribute led reversed
appointed diversified licensed review
appraise document listed revised
approve donated locate revitalized
arrange doubled log satisfied
assemble draft make saved
assess earned maintain scheduled
assign economized manage schooled
assist edit manufacture screened
assume educate market secured
assure eliminated mastered select
attached employ matched serve
attained emulate maximized serviced
audit enable measure set
augmented enact mediate shaped
authored encourage merge simplified
authorize endorsed met skilled
automated engineered minimize sold
awarded enlarge modified solidified
balance enlist moderated solve
began ensure modernize sort
boosted enter modified sought
bought entrusted monitor sparked
briefed established motivate spearheaded
brought estimate moved specified
budget examine named spoke
built evaluate negotiate sponsored
calculate exchanged netted stabilized
canceled execute nominated started
catalogue exhibit notify stimulated
caused expanded observe streamlined
chaired expedited obtain strengthened
changed experienced officiate structured
clarified experimented opened studied
classified explain operate submitted
cleared explore ordered substitute
closed expressed organize succeeded
coach extend originated suggest
collect extract outsold summarize
combined fabricate overcame supervise
command facilitate overhauled supplement
commended familiarize oversee supply
commented fashion participate surpassed
communicate file perceived survey
compared filled perfected synthesize
compile finalize perform systemized
compose finance persuaded tabulate
compute focused piloted tackled
computerized forecast pioneered targeted
conceived formalize placed taught
conceptualized formed plan teach
concluded formulate played terminated
condense rounded prepare test
conduct gather prescribe toured
confer generate present track
conserve governed preside train
considered grade prioritize translate
consign graduated process transfer
consolidate granted procure transform
construct grossed produce transmit
consult grouped programmed transport
contain guaranteed prohibited traveled
continued guide projected treated
contract halved promote trebled
contrived handled propose trim
control headed (up) proved turned
convert help provide uncovered
conveyed honed publicize unified
coordinate identify purchase update
corrected illustrate pursue upgrade
correlate implement qualified used
correspond improved quantified utilize
corroborated improvise questioned validate
counsel incorporate ran valued
counted increased rank verified
create indexed rate vetoed
credited induce received visited
critique influenced recommend widened
curtailed informed reconcile won
cut initiate record work
dealt innovate recruit wrote
decided inspect redeemed wrought
decreased inspire reduce  
define install reference  
delegate instruct regulate  


ably continually gainfully relentlessly
actively continuously handily resourcefully
adeptly conveniently influentially responsibly
advantageously cooperatively instructively responsively
aggressively decisively masterfully routinely
ambitiously diligently meaningfully satisfactorily
appropriately easily notably securely
artfully effectively practically serviceably
authoritatively effectually principally significantly
avidly efficiently professionally skillfully
beneficially effortlessly proficiently strategically
capably expertly profitably substantially
competently faultlessly progressively tactfully
conclusively favorably rapidly uniformly
consistently functionally readily usefully

Skills/Skill Areas

account management evaluation policy making
administration expense reduction presentation
advertising family counseling printing
advocacy field research product development
analysis film and video production
audio-visual presentation financial planning program design
bookkeeping food preparation project development
budgeting forecasting promotion and publicity
business communications fund raising public relations
business management grant writing public service
career development graphic design and layout public speaking
case management group benefits publishing
classroom management human service skills purchasing
client services inspection and maintenance quality control
communications interviewing qualitative skills
community organizing inventory control quantitative skills
community relations investigation/research real estate
computer programming laboratory/field skills records management
computer skills labor relations recruiting
contracts and agreements language interpreting reporting
coordination leadership  report writing
corporate administration management analysis resource development
cost analysis market research retailing
counseling marketing sales
creativity math modeling statistical analysis
curriculum development media supervision
customer relations mediation systems analysis
customer service merchandising teaching
data processing modeling technical skills
decorating negotiation technical writing
decision-making office management telecommunications 
display operations research testing
drafting organizational skills training
editing outreach visual aids
employee relations performing arts word processing
environmental planning personnel training  
equipment maintenance photography