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Make a great first impression (with your resume and cover letter)

Posted on September 8, 2020

Your resume and cover letter are the first pieces of information about you that potential employers will see. Before you apply for any jobs, create a master resume that has all of your relevant professional, volunteer, and extracurricular experiences and accomplishments. When you are ready to apply for a job, customize your master resume based on the job description.

We will cover each of the sections in your resume below: summary of qualifications, education (may include relevant coursework), and professional experience. In each section, we have included links to articles and how-to guides.

Summary of Qualifications

A summary of qualifications is not required. However, they are common for people with varied professional experience because the summary can tie together the common threads between the different positions. The muse has a useful article on how to use the summary to support your personal brand.


List your Degree, College, and University. Include your (expected) graduation date and possibly your GPA and relevant coursework. You don’t need to include your high school information.

Professional Experience

In this section, you will list your jobs, the dates you held each, and your relevant accomplishments. Because people tend to describe their accomplishments in the same way over and over, use action words to help your resume stand out. Instead of saying “tasked with” or “responsible for”, each sentence in your list of responsibilities should begin with an action word and illustrate the results you achieved. For example, “Provided care for three children, ages 18 months to 9 years, including healthy meals and educational activities, resulting in a supportive and enriching afterschool experience.” Career services has a resume guide with this and other examples of this strategy.

After you have completed your master resume, you want to tailor this section of your resume to fit the exact position for which you are applying: cut down to 3-5 relevant accomplishment statements for each job and prioritize the list based on the job description. As you begin editing your resume, study the job description and identify the keywords, which are words and phrases that describe the skills, abilities, and credentials required for the job. The balance careers website has an in-depth article about how to identify and use keywords in your resume.

Tailoring your resume is translating your experience and accomplishments into the language used by the industry or company to which you are applying. Using the industry’s keywords is important for two reasons: 1) shows that you understand the industry and 2) helps your resume get past automated screening systems, which scans your resume for keywords.

Cover Letter

Your cover letter is your opportunity to explain to potential employers why you are the best choice for the position. Cover letters are usually one page and have an introduction, an explanation of why you are the best candidate for the position, and a conclusion. UNM Career services has a guide that walks you through writing each section and includes examples. Your cover letter should say more than I’m interested in this position. Explain how your experience fits the position, why you are excited about the position, and how a particular skill or knowledge that you possess will bring value to the position that no one else can. This article from Harvard Business Review includes case studies that show how other have used their cover letters to demonstrate their understanding of the company and catch a recruiter’s attention.

Note: Ultimately, you are looking for a job where you will be happy. Be yourself in your resume and cover letter. If you need help writing or revising your resume and cover letter UNM Career Services is available to help. Make an appointment with a Career Development Facilitator by calling 277-2531 or email


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