Resumes, Cover Letters and Job Applications

Create an Effective Resume

The resume’s primary function is to showcase your talents and skills to an employer - clearly, convincingly and quickly. A resume is:  

  • An individual summary of your background, experience, training and skills
  • A way to tell employers what you have accomplished in the past and what you can do for their company now
  • Your most important job search tool that can get you an interview, and leaves a lasting impression on a potential employer
  • A guide for you and the employer during an interview

It is critical that you invest your time and effort into creating a resume that meets the employer’s needs and highlights your assets. You should target your resume for specific jobs, and edit and update it according to what job you’re applying for.

Types of Resumes

Choosing the best resume format is extremely important because there are many factors to take into account. These include the length of your resume and your accomplishments, as well as possible shortcomings. Whichever resume format you choose, make sure to include examples of accomplishments that benefited your previous employers.

Three common types of resumes are

  • Chronological
  • Functional
  • Combination (skills-based)

Keep in mind that businesses prefer either a chronological resume or a combination resume.

Chronological resumes highlight consistency. This format stresses what you accomplished in each of the positions you held. A chronological resume focuses primarily on the history of your work experience and education. It also shows your progress and advancements in your career. This resume format is popular among businesses.

A functional resume focuses on your skills and experience, without including chronological time and job titles. It presents a profile of your experience based on professional strengths or groups of skills. Your work history usually follows, but in less detail than in a chronological resume. It is used most often by people with gaps in their work history, those who are changing careers and individuals with limited work experience. Employers generally do not prefer to receive functional resumes as they do not show your work history or career progress.

A combination (or combined) resume combines the best features of the traditional chronological (where the dates are in reverse order) and functional (where skills are listed in the beginning) resumes. A combination resume can also be referred to as a skills-based resume.

Information for Your Resume

No matter what type of resume you choose, you will need to gather specific information in order to write your resume.

You will need:

  • Contact Information: The first section of your resume should include information on how the employer can contact you
  • Objective: Job title you’re applying for and reason to hire you.
  • Career Highlights: List key achievements, skills, strengths and experiences that are relevant to the position for which you are applying.
  • Work Experience and Skills: This section of your resume includes your work history. Include the businesses you worked for, the dates of employment, the positions you held, a bulleted list of major responsibilities, accomplishments or achievements and a list of your skills.

Resume Templates

Job Search Challenges

There are several different challenges you could face when re-entering the labor market based on your background and experience. There are ways that you can address these challenges in a positive way to ensure your resume will be noticed by employers.

Gaps in Employment

You might be returning to the workforce after a gap in employment for a variety of reasons. If you do have gaps in your employment a functional or combination resume can be effective. The key is to highlight the positive (required skills) while you minimize the negative (gaps in employment). Using volunteer or short-term positions can help fill in the dates while providing current and important skills. Do not indicate if the job was voluntary, full-time or part-time and use years for dates instead of months. Years of service can be substituted for date ranges. It is often beneficial to indicate when jobs are temporary as it helps reduce the appearance of job-hopping.

Criminal Records

When incarcerated, you might have learned marketable trades and held jobs. Use this to your benefit by creating a combination or functional resume. Focusing on skills and qualifications allows you to highlight “the positive” and focus on strengths while reducing the emphasis on employment gaps. You can list your employer as New York State, the department worked in (such as the Carpentry Department) or the company that holds the prison contract. Don’t forget to include skills learned through volunteer work, hobbies and involvement in teams or organizations.

Perceived Lack of Accomplishments

We all have accomplishments. The challenge is to recognize and present them in a positive way. Highlighting accomplishments, instead of responsibilities, helps your resume stand out among the competition. Think about employment or relevant volunteer experiences, hobbies, teams or organizations in which you have been involved.

Young Workers

If you are a young worker, you should include all work experiences that helped you gain experience and knowledge, including positions as a part-time employee and/or volunteer. If you lack a traditional employment history, organize your resume by qualifying skills instead of by employer.

Experienced Workers

More experienced workers should not include their entire employment history. Include the most recent employment history for about 15 years and remove older dates from the “Education” section. When related experiences go back further than 15 years, include them in the “Summary of Qualifications” section. This allows you to showcase qualifications you may have started developing decades ago. In your resume, don’t promote your age; avoid phrases like “Seasoned Professional” and “Wealth of Experience.” Consider removing your birth year out of your email address (ex. [email protected]) as this could indicate your age to your potential employer. 

Military to Civilian Skills Translators

Use information from the following websites to convert skills acquired in a military career into skills that can be utilized in civilian jobs: Cool Army website and ONET Crosswalk. Transferring your skills will help civilian employers match your skill sets to their needs.

Changing Industries or Careers

Develop a list of transferable skills (skills used in previous jobs that are necessary for your target occupation) and then organize your resume to highlight those skills.

Multiple Career Options

Sending a generic resume to a potential employer is not the best approach for a job search. Minor adjustments to how you describe your skills and qualifications will be needed as your targeted position changes. Begin by ranking targeted occupations according to your priorities, such as job opportunities, salary ranges, your interest and possible ease of entering the potential workplace. Craft a resume and conduct a job search for the occupation you want the most.

Cover Letters

Your cover letter is a letter of introduction, and is usually the first thing the employer will see and read about you.

A cover letter should answer, “Why should the employer hire you?” It should also grab an employer’s attention and point out why you, above all other applicants, should be contacted for a personal interview.

A cover letter:

  • Is usually submitted with a resume but should not duplicate your resume information
  • Includes your good qualities and / or what your supervisors or coworkers value about you
  • Gives you the opportunity to address the person who makes hiring decisions and encourage them to read your resume
  • Helps market your resume

Expect to change the letter so it can contain specific information for each employer’s needs. Just as you will need to tailor your resume for each job you apply to, you will also need to tailor your cover letters to each job you apply to.

Tips for writing an effective cover letter:

  • Always include your contact information
  • Address a specific person who can hire you
  • Make the opening sentence relevant and memorable
  • Research the company and tailor each letter to the specific job
  • Briefly describe your skills as they relate to the job
  • Use professional language. Type and proofread your cover letter
  • Visual impression and formatting must be consistent
  • Be confident, creative and positive
  • Call the employer to make sure your cover letter and resume arrived

Job Applications

You should be prepared to spend anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour completing an online application. The more prepared you are, the less time consuming the process will be.

Whether filling out job applications in person or online, collect the following information before you start filling out applications:

  • Names and addresses of your past employers
  • Dates you worked
  • Names and addresses of at least three other persons who know of your abilities and background and are willing and available to serve as references
  • Names and addresses of all schools you attended and the type of diploma or certificate, if any, that you received
  • Subjects you took in school

Be sure to collect all of this information prior to starting your job application online, or prior to arriving at a job site to request or fill out an application. Using your resume as a guide when filling out applications is helpful because it contains all of the above information needed for most applications.

Tips for Completing Job Applications:

  • Draft a personal data sheet that includes all the information you might need to complete an application, like names of previous employers, employment dates, addresses and telephone numbers
  • Read everything on the application carefully
  • Answer questions honestly
  • Use blue or black ink and print or write clearly
  • List your most recent jobs and education first
  • Answer every question
  • Plan for handling illegal questions like questions about your marital status or how many children you have
  • Describe relevant skills like any licenses you have or specific computer skills
  • Research the company, its products or services and the skills needed for the job
  • Give a range for salary
  • Proofread what you have written on the application to make sure there are no spelling, grammar or punctuation errors
  • Always list your “position desired”


Samples and Templates