By: Courtney Martin

When faced with the challenge of writing a resume and cover letter, many job-seekers feel overwhelmed or at a loss. However, by breaking these documents down into specific and focused targets, writing becomes much easier because it has purpose and direction.  The first step requires a change of perspective. Before you begin writing, it is imperative to get into the mindset of the employer you will be submitting your resume and cover letter to. To do this, you have to understand that they utilize your professional documents to assess and determine what many human resource professionals call the “K.S.A.E”, or, your applicable knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences. Knowledge encompasses your familiarity with your field and the ability to apply what you know effectively. Skills and abilities refer to the field-specific hard skills you can contribute and the soft-skills you have to support those skills. Experience factors in professional, work, volunteer, and educational experience that has helped you develop the various professional, soft, and transferable skills that you can utilize in the field.  Thus, the next step is to do your research on their website and within the specific job description to determine their position specific “wants” and “needs”, or, the specific K.S.A.E they require or prefer. Once you identify these, you have specific talking points that will help guide what you write and ensure that you are focusing precisely on the content that will sell you.


Next, you have to understand the purpose of each document in comparison to one another and how they support your job search. The resume, in its simplest form, is not a regurgitation of your work history. Rather, it is your own personally branded marketing flyer. Here is an interesting way to think about it: If you go to the pharmacy to purchase medicine to help a cough you more-than-likely would not buy an antacid. That is because antacid does not treat or help the specific symptoms you have and would ultimately be a waste of your time and money. Instead, you would look for a medicine with specific keywords on the label, such as “cough-suppressant”, “decongestant”, “mucus reliever” etc., because those types of medicines will target your symptoms and will meet your needs. Many recent graduates assume that because they have their degree they are automatically qualified for a position, but that is not the case. Just like our example, where not every medicine is the right medicine for the problem, not every candidate is the right one for the job. When looking at candidates, an employer is looking to invest their time and money in the one who best meets their needs.

In conjunction with the resume, the cover letter provides a job-seeker the opportunity to add a more human and personal introduction to who they are as a professional, as a means to entice the employer to refer to their resume and consider you for an interview. It should not repeat what is on your resume; instead, the cover letter expands on it, incorporating additional skills and character traits. Whereas the resume is a streamlined marketing flyer of your K.S.A.E., the cover letter is your means to pitch yourself and why you are qualified for the job.

One of the biggest mistakes that job seekers make is taking a lazy approach in developing their professional documents. This includes “blanket bombing” employers with the exact same resume and cover letter for every single document. This strategy will only lead to disappointment and missed opportunities. Your resume and cover letters are fluid documents that need to adapt to each individual job because each has their own unique criteria, job requirements, and desired K.S.A.E. By tailoring your documents, you will more successfully be able to demonstrate to employers that you are the precise qualified candidate they are seeking. Additionally, it demonstrates that you are willing to put forth effort and critical thinking, two indicators of your potential future success with their organization.

Lastly, get out of the mindset that resumes and cover letters are “one-and-done” documents. You cannot expect to sit and type up a resume and cover letter in one quick sitting. Both take patience and at least two drafting sessions, starting with a “vomit draft” where you brainstorm and get your ideas out and cultivated through careful review and polishing to develop finalized professional documents. It is important to remember that during the job search, perception is reality. What an employer sees is what they assume they will get. Before formally uploading or submitting your final resume and cover letter, be sure to take some time to reflect and consider what impression your documents are making. Do they have purpose and job specific K.S.A.E.? Do they present you as a competent and likable professional in your field? Do they sell you? Remember, a resume and cover letter with direction will allow you to focus on the talking points that will help you stand out and show the employer you are the right person for the job.