Resumes, Cover Letters, and Curricula Vitae

Overview

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

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 this short video, you will:

  • Deepen your understanding of how resumes function,
  • Be able to identify the components of an effective accomplishment statement, and
  • Access a step-by-step guide for creating accomplishment statements that reflect your own skills, abilities and potential.

Consider how you might apply what you learned 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, key elements include:

  • Reviewing your documents for spelling and grammar,
  • Formatting your documents for easy reading (for e.g., paying attention to fonts and white space), and
  • Keeping formatting consistent across your documents (i.e. 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 it 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. Check out these tips (pdf) on how to write a cover letter that will make you stand out from other candidates.

What to put in your cover letter

Contact information + date

  • Include your name, address, telephone, and e-mail. Keep the format of this section consistent with the header of your resume.
  • Include the name of the contact person (or hiring manager), job title, company name, address, and postal code. Try to obtain 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” and omit the name.
  • Add a “RE:” line that includes the title of the job and a job ID if one is listed on the job posting
  • 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 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 “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”
  • Avoid using Mr/Ms/Mrs because using these puts you at risk of misgendering the employer

Opening paragraph

Keep your opening paragraph brief with just a few sentences. Try to:

  • 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. To this role, I bring strengths in communication and detail orientation 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: say why you are interested and briefly mention two or three strengths that make you a strong candidate for the position.

  • Mention if you have a referral from someone internal to the company. Mention the position you are applying for and how you learned about the job (e.g., are you responding to an advertisement, or a referral. For example, “Joe Davis, 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 2-3 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 & skills.

  • Use the next 2-3 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.

Next-to-last paragraph

Depending on the length of your body paragraphs you may or may not be able to include this paragraph. Either is ok 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/or 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 two or three sentences.

  • Thank them 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

Curricula Vitae

Think of the curriculum vitae (CV) as an “academic resume.” It is a document intended to highlight education and accomplishments in order to persuade someone of your academic potential. It can be used to access Research Assistant roles, apply for graduate school or a scholarship, apply for a TAship or Professorship and many other opportunities. Translated from Latin, the term means “the course of one’s life or career.” Unlike a resume, which is short and tailored to include only experiences that are most relevant to the role to which you are applying, the CV has no limit in length and includes information about every element of your academic career. 

Be careful. In some industries and parts of the world such as Quebec and Europe, "CV" is used interchangeably with resume. Research your industry and when in doubt clarify.

How is a CV different from a resume?

Curriculum Vitae Resume
Audience Academics in your field of study Employers hiring you for a specific position
Length Highly flexible 1–2 pages
Focus Represents your academic achievements and your scholarly potential Represents skills, job-related experience, accomplishments, and volunteer efforts
High Priority Content List of publications, presentations, teaching experience, education, honours, and grants Skills and experiences related to the job you’re seeking
Low Priority Content

Activities unrelated to academic discipline, teaching, or research

Technical details unrelated to the field in which you are applying
List of references Include Don’t include
Goal Present a full history of your academic credentials, including teaching, researching, awards, and services Present a brief snapshot of your skills and experiences that communicates your ability to perform the job you’re seeking

Guidelines for CVs

The following categories reflect common CV sections; however, there can be significant variations in the structure  and sequencing of the CV in different disciplines. 

It is important to seek advice from mentors in your academic discipline in regards to their recommendations for structuring your CV.

If you are preparing your CV for a specific opportunity, you will also likely need to consider the following in order to customize it:

  1. The geographic location of the institution where you are applying
  2. The focus of the role (primarily teaching, primarily research, or a combination)
  3. Your own particular strengths and accomplishments

Contact information

List your name, address, email, and phone number.

Education

List degree, school, dates, city, province/country in reverse chronological order. You may include the name of your advisor and thesis title in this section, or include a separate section about your thesis.

Thesis/dissertation

Include the title of your thesis/dissertation and the name of your advisor. In some fields, it is expected to include the names of additional committee members and/or a short summary of the thesis.

Research interests

This section is typically used to show your compatibility with a particular role and should be tailored to align with the position you are applying to. Not all fields include it on the CV.

Scholarships, awards, honours and achievements

List these items including: name, grantor (for example, NSERC, NIH etc.), date, and project title if appropriate. In some fields, you may wish to include the dollar amount. As you advance in your scholarly career, you may remove some older awards; so, someone at the PhD level should only include an undergraduate award if it was very prestigious. You may also wish to create subsections in this category to distinguish, for example, "Fellowships" separately from "Awards."

Publications

Include publications you’ve authored or co-authored. Provide title, authors, dates, and publisher using the citation style appropriate to your discipline. If you have different types of publication, you may wish to use subheadings to organize this section: for example, "Book Chapters" "Articles" "Monographs" etc.

It may be strategic to include sections for "Forthcoming" or "In-Progress" publications. Consult with your advisor to determine if it is appropriate to do so.

Presentations

In some fields, you may combine presentations with your "Publications" section, but in many cases, this should be a separate section. Include the title of the presentation, the name of the organization, the location of the meeting or conference, and the date. List the presentations in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

You may use subheadings to distinguish different types of presentation: "Conference Presentation," "Invited Talk" "Public Lecture" etc.

Teaching experience

If the position you are applying to will involve a strong focus teaching responsibilities, you may wish to include this section quite early in your CV. Use subheadings to distinguish between different types of teaching experience: "Teaching Assistant," "Instructor," etc. List the title of the course and the institution and the department where it was taught; including the course number (eg. CHEM 399) is optional.

Since you are writing to other academics who will typically have a good understanding of what is involved in post-secondary teaching, it is often not necessary to include bullet points describing the nature of your responsibilities (eg. "Delivered lectures, graded exams etc." Consult others in your field to determine if you need to describe your teaching responsibilities or simply list the courses.

Research experience

In some fields it is common to include a section describing the projects you have worked on, often with the use of bullet points. This may include your work as a research associate or research assistant. Depending on your field and the position you are targeting, this section may appear considerably earlier in the CV. If you have experience with research outside of a university setting, consult with your mentor to determine if it should be located here or in a separate setting.

Work experience

This section is optional, and should only be used to highlight work that is relevant to your academic discipline. Some fields have a close relationship with industry, and highlighting industry experience in this section can be very useful. You may also use this section to highlight how you are a practitioner as well as a scholar.

List your experience in reverse chronological format. Includes job title, employer, dates, city/country, and possibly a brief statement or series of statements about your accomplishments in the role.

Skills, techniques, languages, etc.

Depending on your field and the nature of your research, it may be useful to include a point form list of the skills and techniques that are relevant to your research interests. This section is most common in STEM and social science fields, but many humanists will want to list  skills related to digital projects and their fluency in relevant languages (indicate written, read, spoken.)

Additional training

This section is optional but it can be a convenient place to list seminars, summer schools and relevant professional development opportunities (for example, a pedagogical training workshop).

Memberships

Membership in related scholarly and/or professional associations attests to your career commitment and professionalization. List the memberships with the dates.

Service

Include any service to the university or discipline in this section, such as participation in committees, organizing conferences, reviewing for journals, or participating in graduate student associations. You may use subheadings to create categories if necessary. You do not typically need to describe the activity (ie no bullet points).

Community involvement/outreach

This section is optional; it may be included if you have community activities relevant to your scholarly interests (e.g., public talks at museums, volunteering with science education programs in local schools.)

References

List the names and titles of three references. Include their email and phone contacts.

 Sample CVs

For the undergraduate level

For the graduate level

Highlighting Graduate Student Experience

Highlighting your thesis/dissertation

The following video follows on from Resumes 101. It is specifically designed for students who want to showcase their research and academic experiences in ways that capture the attention of employers within and beyond the academy.

The following example focuses specifically on how your experience undertaking a thesis or dissertation project can be used to highlight key competencies that employers are looking for when hiring for academic positions.

Highlighting an academic project

This tutorial follows on from Resumes 101. It is specifically designed for students who want to showcase their research and academic experiences in ways that capture the attention of employers within and beyond the academy. The video focuses on how your experience undertaking an academic project can be used to highlight key competencies that employers are looking for.

Highlighting community-based experiential learning

This tutorial follows on from Resumes 101. It is specifically designed for students who want to showcase their research and academic experiences in ways that capture the attention of employers within and beyond the academy.

This example provides guidance on how you can showcase your experiences gained through experiential learning projects.

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