Resumes and cover letters

Overview

You have more experience than you think. Learn how to identify and articulate employable skills through your resume and cover letter.

This guide is written with all students in mind. However, if you’re a graduate student, review the additional career resources specific to you.

Resumes

Most employers spend less than one minute scanning your resume in their first pass through of job applications. In those few seconds, you need to clearly demonstrate how your skills, experience, education, and characteristics match the employer's needs. Here’s how you can do it.

Customize your resume

Make sure that you have reviewed and tailored your resume to match the job posting and requirements:

  • Develop a “summary” or “highlights” section at the top of your resume that speaks directly to the top skills, experience, and knowledge the role requires.

  • Review the statements under each role on your resume and make them relevant to the job to which you are applying. 

Accomplishment statements

Accomplishment statements are the foundation of an outstanding and competitive resume. By the end of the following video, you will:

  • Deepen your understanding of how resumes function,
  • Be able to identify the components of an effective accomplishment statement, and
  • Know how to create accomplishment statements that reflect your own skills, abilities and potential.

Consider how you might apply what you learn from the video to your resume. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How have you described your experiences in your resume? Where are you already sharing about your results or the quality of your work?
  • What about your experience can be better described with the VERB + TASK + RESULT formula? How might you quantify and qualify your experience even better?
  • How can you apply “fast numbers” (e.g., service to over 250 clients, collaborated with a team of four classmates, raised $4,000 dollars, supervised 10 volunteers) to the statements in your resume? These give the employer a better sense of the scope and complexity of your work.

Formatting and readability

It’s important to ensure that your job application documents are professional, consistent, and error free. While some of this can be subjective, make sure to complete the following:

  • Review your documents for spelling and grammar
  • Format your documents for easy reading. For example, pay attention to fonts and white space.
  • Keep formatting consistent across your job application documents, like your resume and cover letter.

Remember, employers have many resumes to review and they can often look similar. Make sure that key elements of your resume stand out in a quick scan. This includes the key qualifications that you believe are going to be most important for the role and the unique assets you bring to the table.

Resume samples

Get additional tips (pdf) on how to tailor your application to make a strong first impression.

Cover letters

Unless the job posting says otherwise, always write a cover letter to go with your application. It personalizes your application and is a chance to emphasize your most relevant qualifications and make a case for why you're a great candidate.

Ideally, your cover letter should fit on one page. Read these additional tips (pdf) on writing a cover letter that will help you stand out from other candidates.

Things to put in your cover letter

Contact information and date

  • Include your name, telephone, and e-mail. You do not need to include your mailing address. Keep the format of this section consistent with the header of your resume.
  • Include the name of the contact person or hiring manager, as well as their job title, company name, address, and postal code. Try to identify as many of these details as possible by looking at the job posting and the company website. If in doubt, use “Hiring Committee” or “Hiring Manager” in place of the name.
  • Add a “RE:” line at the top of the letter that includes the title of the job and a job ID if it is listed on the job posting (e.g., RE: Social Media Coordinator, 544321).
  • State the month, day, and year (e.g., May 15, 2021).

Salutation

  • Begin with “Dear” or “To”.
  • Address the contact person by their full name (e.g., Santa Ono). If you know that the person holds a professional title such as Dr. or Professor, you may wish to use the full title (e.g., Dr. Santa Ono).
  • If you don’t know the person’s name, address the person by their job title, or address your letter to “Hiring Manager” or "Hiring Committee".
  • Avoid writing “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”.
  • Avoid using Mr/Ms/Mrs because doing so can put you at risk of misgendering the employer.

Opening paragraph

Keep your opening paragraph brief with just a few sentences.

  • Start with a compelling statement about who you are and why you are applying for the role. Like a good story, this should hook your reader into the rest of your letter. For example, “As a current student in Earth and Ocean Sciences with past experience in event planning I am excited to express interest in the role of Event Planner. I bring strengths in communication, research, and commitment to the David Suzuki Foundation’s mission is to protect nature’s diversity and the well-being of all life, now and for the future.”
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the position. Mention why you are interested and briefly mention 2 or 3 strengths that make you a strong candidate for the position.

  • Mention if you have a referral from someone internal to the company. Reference the position you are applying for and how you learned about the job (e.g., through a referral or advertisement). For example, “Jane Chu, Manager of Customer Service, suggested I write you...”.

Follow-up paragraphs

The body paragraphs of your cover letter give the employer more information about just a few skills or experiences that you have listed on the resume. The purpose of this section is to show evidence of your qualifications and convince the employer that you are a good fit for their organization.  

  • Pick 2 to 3 key strengths or past experiences that have equipped you to succeed in this role. They should be the things you can speak in depth to that are also very relevant to the position to which you are applying.

  • These can be from accomplishments from paid work, volunteer roles, academic or community-based experiences that show your strengths and skills.

  • Use the next 2 to 3 paragraphs to explain the strengths or skills you have picked, provide examples of when you have showcased these well, and connect it back to your value to the potential role. Focus on quality, not quantity. One of the most common mistakes we make with cover letters is trying to talk about everything.

Second-to-last paragraph

Depending on the length of your body paragraphs, you may or may not be able to include this paragraph. Either is fine, but make sure you speak to your interest in the employer somewhere in your cover letter. It can be woven into other paragraphs.

  • Showcase your knowledge about this organization and explain why you are interested in working for them in particular. This is a very important element of a tailored cover letter. Not including this information puts you at risk of looking like you sent the same cover letter to many employers.
  • Indicate the organization’s values, culture, or areas of prospective growth, and describe how these are similar and relevant to you, your previous accomplishments, and interests. Reassert your interest in supporting them to reach their goals.

Closing paragraph

This should be a short paragraph with no more than 2 or 3 sentences.

  • Thank the employer for their time.
  • Reassert your interest in the role.
  • Request an opportunity to interview for the role.
  • When appropriate, take a more proactive approach by arranging to call the employer.

Cover letter samples

CareersOnline

Career events

Whether you're looking to improve your job applications or navigate your career, UBC has events and workshops to support you.

Access LinkedIn Learning

As a UBC student, you have full access to the LinkedIn Learning tool. In this tool, you can find short courses and individual videos to help you develop employable skills and learn about career options. 

If you have questions