Application Materials

Information on this page includes:

Overview

You probably already have some form of a CV, and if you do, this can be useful in creating your resume.  Take care, though, not to get stuck in an academic mindset if your targeted audience for the resume is nonacademic.  You will need to shift your thinking, and doing so may pose some challenges.

A big consideration for you should be your audience.  Who will read your materials?  A group of PhDs?  If you are applying for research positions in industry, you may still want to use a CV (naturally tailoring it to the job).  Pay attention to what the employer asks for.  In contrast, if you suspect that your audience is less academically oriented and the job you want is removed from the academic world, you should use a resume.  Employers often read hundreds of job applications, and each resume is reviewed for an average of 15-30 seconds. Your resume must therefore be concise and clear enough to have a strong impact on the reader.  It must immediately persuade the reader that you have qualifications that directly relate to the job.

CV versus Resume

CV Resume
Audience: other PhDs. Audience: general.
Length: flexible. Length: usually one page—two at the most.
Comprehensive list of academic qualifications and experiences for academic and research-oriented jobs. Focuses on practical skills and results as they directly relate to the job (what you can DO more than what you KNOW).
Includes references. Does not include references.
Does not include an objective or summary statement. May include an objective or summary statement.

If you are applying for a nonacademic research-oriented position (say, for a think tank) or an administrative job in higher education, you may decide to create a sort of hybrid document that is a cross between a CV and resume.  Your audience may be sophisticated and interested in your most significant research/academic achievements.  In this case, aim for a two-page document that selectively presents your qualifications without giving a full history.

Resume

Consider Your Audience

A resume must always be customized to its audience.  Before you begin to construct your resume, do your homework, learn the language of the employer and industry you are targeting, and rethink your skills from that perspective.  What has meaning?  If you are applying for different types of positions, you will probably want to create several versions of your resume—one for each line of work you are pursuing.

For advertised positions, let the job announcement and the employer’s website guide you in creating a resume.  It is only slightly more difficult to create a resume for unsolicited, cold contacts.  Do research to determine what skills are desired by the employer/industry.  Conducting informational interviews is a highly useful approach to gathering information for any job application.  This strategy will enable you to learn valuable information from someone inside the field. 

Consider Possible Employer Anxieties about PhDs

Graduate students possess advanced skills and attributes valued by many employers.  Be aware, though, that some work cultures not heavily populated by PhDs may harbor biases about advanced degree holders that can work against you.  Misperceptions about graduate-level job applicants may include:

    • Inability to speak and think in accessible terms: esoteric.
    • Inability to meet deadlines and work under pressure.
    • Too abstract—focused more on method and theory than outcomes.
    • Preference for autonomy; difficulty working in teams and taking orders.

You can dispel these myths upfront in your resume by writing in everyday language, by stressing your effective time management and teamwork abilities, and so on.

Cut Information (this may hurt, but…)

Because these anxieties and misperceptions sometimes exist, graduate students should be extra careful not to include information on their resumes that is irrelevant to the job or to the employer.  You may feel especially proud of a talk you gave at a national conference, but unless scholarly presentations have meaning to the employer, you should leave the academic citation of that talk off your resume.  This can be painful.  Ask yourself: is paying the price of no job interview worth holding onto that line on your resume?  Probably not.  With every piece of information on your resume, consider what message it sends.  Does that piece of information add anything new, or have you already gotten that message across?

Keep in mind, too, that timing is everything.  Some employers may actually be interested in some of your scholarly achievements—later, when they have gotten to know you—but not when they are trying to work their way through a pile of job applications, and you are a piece of paper.  Exercise good judgment on timing. 

Types of Resumes

There are several resume formats for presenting information, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on the material being presented.  Select a format that best showcases your qualifications in relation to the job you seek.

  • Chronological Resume

Lists all experience in reverse chronological order.  This most traditional type of resume highlights a progressive record and best suits job seekers who have moved forward along a particular career path.  This format may be less effective for people changing career pursuits, those who have little work experience, and those who wish to make a case for the transferability of skills to a different line of work.  In addition, someone with old but very relevant experience should not choose this format as it will bury a strength at the end of the resume. 

  • Modified Chronological Resume 

Often an effective format for graduate students.  This format groups experiences into categories based on their function (e.g. research experience, leadership, technical experience, writing and editing, marketing), and lists them in reverse chronological order within each category.  The categories are prioritized according to relevance.  This format can highlight a less recent but highly relevant experience.  Carefully chosen category headings help to give the applicant an immediately recognizable identity, grabbing the reader’s attention.  Sometimes job seekers have to be creative in grouping experiences. 

  • Functional Resume

Actual job titles and dates of experience are simply listed at the top or bottom of the resume without accompanying descriptions.  The bulk of the resume consists of grouped general descriptions of skills used in one or more of the experiences (e.g. project management, communication skills, leadership, organizational skills).  This format is most useful for people changing careers and for those who have little work experience because it emphasizes transferable skills and deemphasizes gaps in employment or a lack of experience.  Beware, though, that many employers dislike this format, preferring instead to see exactly what you did, where you did it, and when.

  • Combination Resume

Another potentially effective format for graduate students.  The combination resume combines the advantages of the chronological and functional resumes by listing past experiences chronologically and categorizing the functional descriptions for each experience by skill sets (e.g. communication skills, leadership, analytical/technical skills).  This format is suited to job seekers with only a few major experiences that employed multiple skills.  It can also help graduate students to showcase the relevance of their teaching and research experiences, and the transferable skills those tasks require.  As with the modified chronological resume, sometimes job seekers have to be creative in grouping their skills for this format. 

Carefully Choose Your Resume Sections

By definition, resumes are individualistic documents whose goals and audiences vary widely.  You should therefore carefully create sections that best highlight your strengths and speak to your audience.  Arrange these sections in order of importance to the reader. 

Mandatory Sections

  • Contact information

List your name (prominently), physical address, telephone number, and email address at the top of your resume.  Use an email address that sounds professional ("wahoogirl@hotmail.com" may be frowned upon).  Provide the address of your personal website only if the site is professional.

Never include personal information, such as your social security number, age or birth date, nationality, citizenship, race, sex, or marital status.  Foreign nationals may include a positive statement of their work authorization status here or at the end of the resume if they wish to do so.

  • Education

For current students and recent graduates, this section usually appears toward the top of the resume.  If your experience is a bigger selling point, however, put that before your education.  List each degree, institution name, city and state, and graduation (or expected graduation) date.  You may include your GPAs if you wish.  Consulting firms and investment banks expressly look for GPA and SAT scores.  Include any widely recognizable honors, such as Phi Beta Kappa or summa cum laude.  Include relevant coursework, if applicable, as well as information on your dissertation or thesis only if relevant.  Keep this section brief.

  • Experience

This section should occupy the greatest amount of space on your resume.  Think in terms of experience, not employment or work history—include internships, volunteer work, leadership roles, and other unpaid positions if relevant.  On the first line of each experience entry, list your position, the organization or employer, the city and state, and the dates.  Relevant accomplishments should be described in concise bullet points.  Steer clear of complicated language and long blocks of text that are difficult to read quickly.  Always consider your audience.  Only list experiences that relate to the job you are seeking.  Be absolutely sure to translate your skills and accomplishments into the language of the employer and the industry.  Avoid such phrases as “Responsibilities included” or “Duties were,” which sound passive. 

Each point in your experience description should begin with an action verb (using past tense for previous experience and present tense for current experience) to make a vivid and powerful impression of you as a productive contributor—avoid personal pronouns altogether. 

Resume Action Verbs

Abstracted Consulted Expanded Investigated Recommended
Achieved Contributed Expedited Issued Reconciled
Acted Controlled Experienced Justified Recruited
Adapted Converted Experimented Keynoted Reduced
Addressed Convinced Explained Lectured Referred
Administered Cooperated Extrapolated Led Reorganized
Advised Coordinated Facilitated Licensed Repaired
Aided Correlated Figured Maintained Reported
Allocated Counseled Financed Managed Represented
Analyzed Created Followed Marketed Researched
Approved Critiqued Forecasted Mastered Retrieved
Arbitrated Customized Formed Mediated Reviewed
Arranged Debated Formulated Mentored Revitalized
Assembled Decided Founded Merged Scheduled
Assessed Defined Gathered Met deadlines Served
Assigned Delegated Generated Moderated Set goals
Assisted Delivered Guided Monitored Shaped
Attained Demonstrated Handled Motivated Simplified
Authored Designed Headed Negotiated Solved
Balanced Detailed Helped Observed Sparked
Built Determined Identified Operated Specified
Budgeted Developed Illustrated Organized Spoke
Calculated Devised Imagined Originated Strengthened
Chaired Diagnosed Implemented Overhauled Submitted
Checked Directed Improved Oversaw Succeeded
Clarified Discovered Improvised Participated Summarized
Classified Documented Increased Performed Supervised
Coached Doubled Influenced Persuaded Surveyed
Collaborated Drafted Informed Pioneered Systemized
Collated Drove Initiated Planned Tabulated
Collected Earned Innovated Prepared Tailored
Communicated Educated Inspected Prioritized Tested
Compared Edited Inspired Problem solved Tracked
Compiled Effected Installed Processed Trained
Composed Enabled Instituted Produced Upgraded
Computed Enforced Instructed Programmed Validated
Conceived Engineered Integrated Projected Wrote
Conceptualized Established Interpreted Promoted  
Conducted Evaluated Interviewed Proved  
Consolidated Examined Introduced Provided  
Constructed Executed Invented Publicized  

Wherever possible, use numerals and examples in your descriptions to illustrate accomplishments (e.g. “managed $50,000 budget,” “Rated 4.91/5.0 on teaching evaluations”).  Highlight the role you played and its effect on outcomes.  

If possible, give this section a qualifying label, such as “Research Experience,” “Web Design,” etc.  Use multiple experience sections if relevant.  Refer to any web links if they reflect your contribution in some way.

Optional Sections

  • Objective

This section is outdated and should no longer be inlcuded on the Resume.

  • Qualifications, Profile, or Summary

A statement of qualifications (otherwise referred to as a “Profile” or a “Summary”) can be an effective way for graduate students to make a case for the transferability or potential application of their skills to sectors of the economy beyond academe.  Like the objective, this brief summary can help to give your document an identity and can grab the employer’s attention quickly.   This section, too, should be tailored to your target.  It can go a long way toward helping employers focus on what you have to offer.

Sample “Qualifications” (or “Profile” or “Summary”)

Practiced and effective writer, editor, and public speaker.  Able to present complex material in a clear, concise, and persuasive manner, tailored for a range of audiences.

Focused, self-motivated, analytical, detail-oriented.  Proven abilities to quickly become expert in new subjects/techniques and to problem solve.  Effectively manage time and multiple projects under pressure, set priorities, meet deadlines, and supervise others.

If you choose to use a summary or an objective on your resume, use only one of the two, not both.  Some people create a sort of combination objective and summary, such as:

Position in management consulting.  Knowledge of biotechnology and clinical trials.  Excellent problem-solving and public speaking skills.  Experience working in teams of international researchers. 

  • Honors and Awards

You may want to include a few impressive honors and awards on your resume to show that that you are a competitive, high achiever, but they usually do not merit a separate section (which requires precious space).  If the honors and awards are academic, you can list them in your “Education” section.  If a particular award or honor is unfamiliar to your audience, you should briefly explain it to give it meaning.  As always, consider whether or not the information sends a relevant message or adds something new.  Once you have listed a few awards, adding another does not accomplish much in the way of showing that you have distinguished yourself in your field. 

  • Technical/Computer Skills

Include a separate section for technical or computer skills if you are applying for a technical position.  If the job you seek is not technical, you may wish to include these skills anyway in your “Experience” section/s, as they are likely to impress—unless you prefer not to use them in the future.  Pay close attention to what your target employers look for and what they value.  Knowledge of computer languages such as SAS and C++ is often particularly desirable, as is proficiency in Excel, PowerPoint, Access, HTML, Dreamweaver, and so on.

  • Language Skills

You may include your knowledge of foreign languages on your resume, indicating your level of proficiency, especially if relevant to the job or line of work you seek.  Many employers are impressed by foreign language skills, even when they are not required on the job, because they demonstrate one’s ability to master a system.  Indicate your level of proficiency in brief terms (e.g. fluent in Swahili, proficient in Spanish and French, basic knowledge of Farsi).  Especially if relevant to the job you seek, you may also wish to include information on international travel here, or in your “Education” section for study abroad programs. 

  • Special Activities (Labeled as “Leadership,” Community Service,” etc.)

If you have engaged in particular activities that have meaning to your audience but that do not logically fit into your “Experience” section/s, you may create separate sections for them.  It is best to avoid such overly generic section labels as “Activities,” though.  Instead think of a more descriptive label (e.g. “Leadership,” “Community Service,” “Volunteer Work”).  If you have been affiliated with an organization whose name would disclose personal information (such as religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, or sexual orientation), you need to make the call as to whether this information would help your candidacy.  If the skills you gained from these activities make you a better candidate, then including this information may be a good idea.  Generally speaking, only in those cases or in situations where advocacy and/or personal information have a direct bearing on a line of work or opportunity is it appropriate to mention your age, ethnicity, marital status, sexual preference, health, race, or religion on your resume.

Unnecessary Sections

  • References

Do not list references on your resume.  If a job announcement requires you to submit references, list them in a separate document with your name and "References" in the heading.  Do not include the obsolete expression "References available upon request" on your resume.  It wastes space, and everyone assumes that job candidates will produce references if asked. 

  • Dissertation/Thesis and Publications

Include dissertation/thesis information and scholarly publications, presentations, and posters only if they aredirectly relevant to the job you seek.  Remember that a good sense of timing is an important asset on the job market, and cutting this information from your resume does not preclude it from having value later.  You may more generally wish to indicate in your experience section/s that you "co-authored and published 3 articles in professional journals," "delivered presentations at 2 national conferences," etc., or indicate that a list of publications is available upon request.

  • Immaterial Information

Exclude immaterial information from your resume, such as outdated and irrelevant experiences, and unrelated hobbies and interests.  While it is sometimes fine for undergraduates to list hobbies and interests on their resumes, graduate students usually have a hard enough time trimming their information to size without reserving room for what some employers consider as unprofessional “filler” content.  Of course there are always exceptions.  If you are applying for a position as a wilderness camp counselor with an MA in British Literature, and your hobbies include rattlesnake wrestling and survival training excursions, you would obviously want to share that information.  Exercise good judgment.

Follow General Resume Guidelines

Resumes are initially scanned for an average of 15-30 seconds.  You have a tiny window of opportunity for selling what you have to offer to an employer.  Your resume must be very clear and easy to follow, with attention-grabbing content.
In the US resumes are scanned from top to bottom and from left to right.  Be strategic in designing the physical layout of your information, with the most important information placed at or near the top of the page, and to the left of each entry (i.e. positions and titles first, dates to the right).  Following are additional general guidelines:

  • Get started early; experiment with style.
  • Remember that presentation is key!
  • Be concise; use clear, simple language, and the language of the employer.
  • Be very literal with word choice—do not expect employers to translate your language into their languages. 
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread—there is no excuse for error.  Spelling and grammar checking word-processing tools will not always catch mistakes.
  • Have others review your resume, especially someone in your target field.
  • Use a 10- to 12-point font size with approximately 1”-inch margins.
  • Keep in mind that white space is important, too. 
  • Choose an attractive, easy-to-read font.
  • Enlarge/bold name at top.
  • Dates to the right as opposed to first in entries (left).
  • Use reverse chronological order within sections.
  • Avoid underlining (though sectional break lines are fine).
  • Use caps/bolding/italics selectively.
  • Be consistent with formatting.
  • Avoid personal pronouns.
  • Use action verbs, measurable results.
  • Do not assume that people outside of academe know what teaching and research involve. 
  • Eliminate excess words.
  • Use parallel grammar and minimal punctuation.
  • Include name and page number in header/footer if you must have a second page.
  • Avoid resume templates; make your documents your own.
  • There is no exhaustive list of section headings; follow examples but do not confine yourself to them.
  • Be honest; do not exaggerate. 
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your audience.
  • Use white or light-colored high quality 8.5" x 11" paper for hard copies.
  • Do not fold or staple your materials.  Send them in a 9” x 12” envelope.

Give Your Resume an Identity

  • By using an objective statement or qualifications/summary section.
  • By heading your sections with attention-grabbing labels (e.g. “Editing Experience”).
  • By using the language of the job announcement and employer’s website in describing your accomplishments.

Creating a Scannable Resume

Many large organizations increasingly rely on computers to scan resumes into their databases, categorizing them by keywords.  The guidelines for resumes that will be scanned into a computer system differ somewhat from basic resume-writing guidelines.  If you suspect that your resume may be scanned by computer, you may wish to follow these additional guidelines:  

  • Use white or light-colored 8.5" x 11" paper, printed on one side only, for hard copies.
  • Use a standard, non-decorative font.
  • Use boldface or all capital letters for section headings only if the letters do not touch each other.
  • Avoid decorative features such as italics or shadowing.
  • Avoid vertical and horizontal lines, boxes, and graphics.
  • Avoid column formatting.
  • Your name should appear at the top of each page on its own line.
  • Use keywords to facilitate scanning:
    • Correctly use buzzwords that pertain to the position or industry. 
    • Look at the job announcement as well as the employer’s website for keywords.
    • Use different forms of your keywords (e.g. manage and management) to increase the chances of the computer picking up your keywords.
  • Consider including a “Skills” section:
    • List all of your skills and techniques, separated by commas or periods.
    • Include “soft skills” if relevant (e.g. communication skills, team leadership).
    • Use nouns in this section.
    • List all programs and software you know, highlighting special capabilities.

Cover Letter

A cover letter usually accompanies a job application beyond academe.  If no cover letter is requested, send one anyway unless the employer explicitly instructs you not to do so.  The role of the cover letter (a.k.a. “letter of interest” or “letter of application”) is to interpret your qualifications for the reader to convince him or her of your suitability for an advertised position or a potential employment opportunity.  Your cover letter is not analogous to a fax cover sheet.  Instead think of it as a mini-thesis in the sense that it allows you to make an argument for your fit for the job or line of work.  Written in the first person, the cover letter also gives you the opportunity to express your voice and to show your interest, professionalism, and gift for the written word.  GSAS Career Services offers programs every semester on preparing cover letters.  Check our Current Events for a schedule of upcoming programs.

General Cover Letter Tips

Customize and Organize Your Cover Letter

Even though good cover letters follow a similar structure, you should tailor each letter to the particular employer that will receive it.  Review the job announcement carefully and design your letter according to the information it contains as well as other information you gain by researching the employer.  Pay close attention to language.  Are there key words, phrases, or concepts that recur?  If so, you should use them, too.  Often employers will scan applications for key words, so it is imperative that you identify those words and use them. 

  • Cover Letter Salutation

Address your letter to a named individual, if possible, using the person’s formal title (e.g. Janet Jones, Vice President; John Smith, Director).   If you are sending an unsolicited letter of interest and resume, contact the employer and ask for the name, title, and correct spelling of the head of the division in which you seek employment.  Avoid using the generic "Dear Sir or Madam" or “To Whom It May Concern.”  If you do not have the name of an addressee, it is acceptable to leave off the salutation altogether.

  • Introduction

Your opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of your letter.  It should be brief and should pique the reader’s interest.  Begin with a statement of purpose, mentioning the position for which you are applying by title.  (Employers often conduct multiple searches simultaneously.)  Tell how you learned of the opening.  If someone referred you, mention the person’s name.  Identify yourself briefly and indicate when you expect to complete your degree at U.Va., or when you will be available to begin work.  You may also introduce your interest in the position or make a claim for your candidacy (which you will elaborate on in the body of your letter).

  • Body

The next one or two paragraphs should be meaty discussions of your qualifications as they directly match the position.  Use the language of the announcement and the employer’s website to guide you.  The cover letter allows you to elaborate on information in your resume (e.g. you took the lead on your research team, you implemented a new program).  Be sure to emphasize outcomes and the role you played in achieving results.  If you can quantify those results, all the better (e.g. your marketing initiatives led to a 200% increase in attendance).  Reassess your skills and ask yourself what contributions you have made that are relevant to the job you seek.  If applying for a research position, discuss your research and research interests first.  Provide context for your work and show that you are forward-thinking. 

Avoid jargon unless it is the employer’s jargon.  Use crisp, clear prose that will make your audience want to know more.  Do not neglect to discuss any “soft skills” the employer expresses interest in, such as problem solving, leadership and project management, teamwork, communication skills, working under pressure, and so on.

Nor should you shy away from self-promotion.  Draw attention to the strengths and qualifications that make you distinctly suited to perform the job (doing so is crucial, not repetitive).  As the saying goes, there is a time and place for everything, and your job search is no time to be modest.  You can avoid sounding (and feeling) arrogant by making objective, verifiable statements (e.g. “I have fully defined the first complete model…,” “I have won nationally competitive awards for my work”) rather than subjective statements (e.g. “I have been successful.”).

Address any other requirements or particulars that may support your candidacy.  If you anticipate the employer raising a certain question, address that question upfront in your cover letter.  Discuss your fit with the position/employer and any special reasons for your interest.

  • Conclusion

Conclude your letter by restating you interest in the position and in an interview.  You may indicate that you will contact the employer by a particular date to follow up on your letter.  In this case, allow time for your application to make its way through the proper channels.  As applicable, indicate how other required materials will be submitted under separate cover (e.g. transcripts, references—only if required), and direct readers to any supporting material online.  Mention any specifics about your availability for an interview.  For example, if you are seeking a job in San Francisco and you plan to spend a few weeks there in the summer, be sure to provide the specific dates.  Thank the employer for considering your application.  Sign your letter, with your name typed below, followed by “Enclosure” or “Enclosures” on the next line.

Generally speaking, sending unsolicited materials is discouraged.  In your conclusion you can offer to send additional materials if the employer would like to see them.

Length and Format

Cover letters for jobs beyond academe are typically no longer than one page.  The length of cover letters for advertised positions may vary slightly, depending on the job announcements and what you are asked to address in your letter.  For example, cover letters for independent school teaching positions usually exceed one page.   It is difficult to discuss thoroughly your academic background, teaching experience, service/community involvement, and interest in private school teaching in one page, so the specifics of the position impact the length of your letter—but not by more than a paragraph or two. 

The text of your letter should be single-spaced with 2 spaces between paragraphs.   If submitting hard copies, use the same high-quality paper you use for your resume or CV.  Using the same heading for your resume and cover letter to create a stationery effect can help to unify your documents in an attractive way.  Use the same font throughout. 

Writing Style

Keep in mind that employers consider the cover letter to be a sample of a job candidate's communication skills, so be sure that it is written well.  Also express your voice; a cover letter is not a scholarly article.  Have others proofread your letter for any errors or other problems.  Be positive—say nothing ne