Along with practicing interviewing skills, another set of skills that high school juniors and seniors should hone are writing personal resumes and cover letters. The skill of self-promotion is one that students will need for many years to come and can be the difference between gaining or losing a golden opportunity. Written below are a few quick tips to help students make the best first impression to potential employers on paper.
The Cover Letter
Much like the dozens of essays students have written across their high school career, a cover letter should make a clear and concise point, namely, why the writer deserves and would be a good fit for the position he or she is applying for. For this reason, students need to write a cover letter for every position they apply for that is written specifically for the position advertised. They can’t and shouldn’t make an all-purpose cover letter that generally describes how the writer is a “good worker.” Such cover letters tend to be too vague and gives the employer no concrete evidence that the applier is qualified for the position. The best way to write a cover letter is to constantly refer back to the advertisement for the job. The writer should note the skills the employer is looking for and give specific examples of how they have honed and used such skills in their daily lives.
Fortunately for students, a cover letter should never be very long. A good length is usually only one or two strong paragraphs that do not exceed a page. Employers, much like English teachers, have to read a lot of paperwork that is turned into them, except they don’t have the same patience we teachers do. Employers want to be able to skim a letter quickly and glean the evidence of whether the applier could potentially be a match for the position and then move on. As such, every word counts and should not be wasted on anecdotes or experiences that have little to no relevance to the job.
Students will likely find formatting resumes much easier with the use of templates which is why I recommend using a website like My Perfect Resume which offers free, editable resume examples. Although formats can vary, resumes should never exceed a page and students should always place their name in bold at the top followed by their mailing address, phone number, and email address. Students should be very wary of what email address they list on their resumes because an employer will never write to the address of email@example.com. Email addresses should simply be the student’s first and last name, possibly with an underscore in between.
Every resume should have a skills section where the student lists their proficiencies. Emphasize that students should edit this section for each application so that only skills applicable to the applied position are listed. If the student is trying to get a job as a newspaper editor, the employer will likely not care if the student is skilled in installing drywall.
The education section should list the institutions or education programs the student has attended in chronological order and should include their grade point average. The experience section should also be written with the most recent experiences first and can include any relevant internships, clubs, and jobs. Each experience should have within the heading the company’s/club’s/ internship’s name followed by dates the student held the position. Underneath the heading, the student should describe the position, specifically how they contributed to the association. The job descriptions should be listed in such a way as to promote the student’s skills. For example, instead of stating that for a job you, “Serviced frequent customers,” you should state, “Provided excellent customer experience and was valued by frequent customers.” I also like to provide my students with a single sheet of (affiliate link) resume paper so they can print out one copy of their resume. By doing so, students can really see the difference in the paper quality.