Cover Letters and Resumes

How to prepare cover letters and resumes

Based on years of experience with employers, ACES Career Services recommends the following guidelines for resumes and cover letters.

If you have questions or would like your resume reviewed, attend drop-in hours or contact ACES Career Services.


Best practices:

  • Keep resume to one page, listing experience, education, and leadership in reverse chronological order. Which means most recent-relevant information is first.
  • Use one color and font throughout the document. To differentiate titles and headers, use different type treatments, but keep these to a minimum. Suggested fonts are Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, Calibri, Arial, or Bookman Old Style. Font size will vary depending on font and size of your margin.
  • Keep indents and tabs to a minimum so your resume will better translate to document readers that employers use for online submissions.
  • Start each bullet with an action verb such as researched, compared, planned, led. Bullet points are not complete sentences, so periods are not needed. If you do choose to use them, be consistent throughout the document.
  • Most likely you should include your GPA. It’s not required, but recruiters often ask for it and will assume it’s not stellar if not included. It is fine to use your cumulative or major GPAs as you wish, but be clear about what the number represents.
  • Quantify your information when you can. Talk about the results of your actions rather than listing tasks. Use numbers, dollar amounts, and concrete examples to illustrate specific accomplishments.
  • Numbers tend to stand out. Generally write out numbers ten and under. Use numerals only for larger numbers.
  • Highlight skills that are critical in the field/position position you are seeking – for example in research it is essential to be able to analyze data.
  • Emphasize your leadership skills. Show how you took initiative or influenced others through work experience or extracurricular activities – events you’ve planned, money you’ve raised, or teammates you’ve motivated.
  • If you are an international student, include your work-authorization status to reduce confusion with prospective employers.
  • Ask several people to proofread your document. Be aware that Microsoft Word spellcheck does not recognize words in all caps.
  • Don’t include content that dates back to high school UNLESS you are a freshman/sophomore or you have earned a distinction such as Eagle Scout.
  • Don’t include an “objective” – instead, consider a summary of qualifications or personal profile. Write in third person and highlight accomplishments that set you apart, for example:
    • Personable and motivated entry-level technical systems management professional with experience in both union and nonunion environments. Skilled in project design and implementation. Efficient presentation and communication skills acquired through student leadership positions.
  • Don’t dedicate too much space for your degrees and honors. Combine where possible. If both degrees are from Illinois, combine as our examples above do. If you have a number of honors, include that under the appropriate degree. It’s more important to show accomplishments than lists of accolades.
  • Don’t use acronyms for terms your reader may not know. If you worked at the ARC, spell out Activities and Recreation Center.
  • Don’t use abbreviations or characters such as “etc.” and “&.” Spell the word instead.
  • Don’t list basic software/technology skills such as Microsoft Office – it is assumed you have these skills.

    If you are stuck and need some help, please visit ACES Career Services. You can make an appointment with ACES Career Services or join us during drop-in hours.

Cover letter

In many cases, you will have the opportunity to submit a cover letter when applying for a position.

  • Write a separate cover letter for each employer, addressing its specific needs, culture, and the position for which you are applying.
  • Don’t use the cover letter as an opportunity to rehash your resume. Highlight your specific competitive advantages relative to what you have learned about the company through your research.
  • Don’t start each paragraph with “I.”
  • Address the letter to a specific person, not “To Whom it May Concern” or “Human Resources Department.” Research or network to find the appropriate contact when possible.
  • If sending a hard copy, match font styles and paper type to your resume.
  • Edit carefully for grammar and punctuation.

This letter is a direct reflection of you and your skills, attitude, personality, and ability. Make it action-oriented and enthusiastic.