What You Need in an Interview-Winning Resume and Cover Letter

Updated December 10, 2019
What You Need in an Interview-Winning Resume and Cover Letter
    handing over an interview winning resume
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Raise your hand if you've ever delayed sprucing up your resume, drafting a cover letter, or submitting an in-depth job application. These are daunting tasks that we've all heaved a deep sigh of procrastination over. It's time to step out from the crowd, roll up our sleeves, and write a cover letter and resume that can't be ignored! Landing the right job can mean the difference between a life of joy and one of drudgery.

So, what makes an interview-winning resume and cover letter? A dash of diligence and a cup of confidence. Here's everything you need to know.

A Clearly Formatted Resume

The first step is to invest the time, effort, and attention in a clearly-organized resume. It's worth every ounce of hard work. Although each version of your resume and cover letter will differ according to the job posting, by and large, these two documents will carry you many miles.

In Best Tips for Writing a Professional Resume, we cover the most important elements. They are:

  1. Objective - This clarifies the type of position you're looking for and briefly demonstrates how your skills align.
  2. Summary - This is a short paragraph that appears at the beginning of your resume, indicating your distinct qualifications.
  3. Core Competencies - These refer to your knowledge or expertise in a given area.
  4. Education - This section highlights your degrees, training or certifications.
  5. Professional Experience - Here, you'll list your previous positions (with the most recent at the top).
  6. Skills - This section can indicate what you can do, including language skills, communication skills, software knowledge, and more.

If you're just starting out as a high schooler or you're looking to land your first internship, check out these Tips for Creating a High School Resume. There's even a nice template in there to help you start shaping your future today.

If this isn't your first job application, take some time to review these Resume Writing Examples. Choose the one that stands out the most and use it as a template to create the document for applying to your dream job!


An Orderly Cover Letter

In How to Write a Creative Cover Letter, we discuss the elements of a creative cover letter, particularly for positions in creative fields. If you approach your cover letter in the following order, you'll have a nice layout to follow every time:

  1. A great hook in your opening line
  2. Focus on your related skills
  3. Highlights of your achievements
  4. A smart summary

With this basic formula in mind, you'll be well-positioned to devise a clear, concise cover letter.

Powerful Action Words and Keywords

As you fill in each of the above sections in your resume, be careful with your word selection. Use action words wherever possible. They will make your writing more impactful, portraying you as the ideal candidate for the job.

Best of all, you'll avoid overused words like "achieved," "created," or "led." Better options include:

  • Demonstrated
  • Outperformed
  • Centralized
  • Implemented
  • Spearheaded

To help you choose the right action words, check out these 20 Words to Avoid on Your Resume.

The right action words will catch the right recruiter's eye, but the right keywords will catch the right Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Many employers use this type of software to evaluate resumes based on keywords even before your resume falls on the hiring manager's desk.

Take a close look at the keywords you've added to each section of your resume. Depending on your field, you might consider words like:

  • HTML
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Copywriting
  • Employee Relations
  • Payroll
  • Quality Control

It may sound like a painstaking exercise, but making careful word selections throughout your resume and cover letter may mean the difference between landing a dream job and watching it pass you by.


An Error-Free Document

While we're on the subject of the benefits you'll reap from a careful and discerning eye, it's worth mentioning the need for an error-free document.

None of us are perfect. But, if there's ever a time to pull a document together neatly, it's your resume and cover letter. Ask several people to review it for you. Make sure your grammar is on point. Be sure the layout is clean, not cluttered.

A common resume mistake is to place a period at the end of a bullet point. But, if that bullet point isn't a complete sentence, you don't need a period.

Concision in Your Cover Letter

While your resume will be full of bullet points and short summaries, your cover letter will be your meat and potatoes. Take some time to review these Examples of Cover Letters. You can master the art of the cover letter if you follow this formula:

  • A statement or objective: "In my search for a new challenge where I can leverage my experience in project management, I was pleased to see ABC Software's opening for a Senior Software Developer."
  • A brief review of your professional experience: "Throughout my career, I have been proud of my ability to anticipate, identify, and meet customer needs. At my most recent employer…"
  • A statement of your unique ability to fill the role: "As someone who thrives in an entrepreneurial environment and is driven to exceed revenue targets, I believe I am the perfect candidate for this opportunity."

Prepare to Get That Job

With these documents in your arsenal, you'll be well-equipped to propel your professional life forward. Catch the eye of the right recruiter; interview like a champ; then, watch the rest of your days fall into place. As you prepare for the fateful next step - the interview - check out these Smart Questions to Ask In An Interview.

Then, when all is said and done, don't forget to draft one more well-appointed document: the thank you note. Here are several interview follow-up email examples to help you hit "send" on a bright and promising future.