First impressions really do count and nothing leaves as indelible a first impression as your resume and cover letter. Yet most employers spend a minute or less reading them before deciding whether to move to the next step and set up an interview. Some tips to improve your chances for success:
- Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread. One mistake — a typo, spelling error or grammatical glitch — could send your resume sailing into the trash.
- Tailor each resume to the job. Some skills or experiences may be more relevant than others depending on the position description. Be sure to include keywords used in the job listing.
- Avoid jargon and buzzwords. You are writing for a journalist, not a human resources director.
- Don’t oversell yourself or otherwise create a false picture.
- Account for all your time since earning your undergraduate degree — don’t leave any unexplained time gaps. If you took time off for family obligations, explain that in your cover letter.
- Did we mention you should edit and proofread?
Format and Style:
- Keep the resume to ONE PAGE. Write succinctly. In resume writing, less is more.
- Use 10- to 12-point type. Use easy-to-read fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial and Helvetica. Avoid Courier, which went out with typewriters. Don’t get fancy with borders and graphics — unless you are a designer.
- Save your resume in a PDF and personalize it with your name, i.e. LoisLaneResume.
- Set off key information — job titles, organization names and section headings — with boldface, italics or capital letters. Abbreviations, punctuation and spacing should be consistent throughout and everything should follow AP Style rules.
- Use action verbs: created, wrote, produced, built, edited, developed, researched, reported, covered, broke. Avoid “I” and other personal pronouns. Use short, punchy phrases — not complete sentences. Use past tense to describe past experiences and present tense for ongoing activities.
- Omit mission statements or objectives. Save room for information, not self-promotion. One exception: if you are switching careers and want to leverage prior work experience for a job in journalism.
Content (From Top to Bottom):
- CONTACT INFORMATION: Name, cell phone, email, portfolio website, Twitter handle, LinkedIn. Make sure your voice mail and email address are professional, not cute.
- EDUCATION: This comes next, unless you have significant journalism experience. List colleges in reverse chronological order with your degree, major and and date of graduation. For CUNY, write, “M.A. expected [month/year].” Omit your GPA but do include if you’ve graduated with Latin honors or were Phi Beta Kappa.
- EXPERIENCE: List jobs in reverse chronological order. Group journalism jobs — including campus internships and work for media — separately from other experience, such as camp counselor or waiter. Subhead each position using a consistent Who (job title), What (company), Where (city and state ) and When (month and year) format. Provide geographic or other context for little-known publications. Add specific How details about beats, major projects, favorite stories, prizes and ways your work made a difference. Embed links to your best work. If you’ve held several positions at one company, indent each position under the company listing so that it’s clear these were all with the same employer.
- SKILLS: List knowledge (basic, proficient) of web, video, audio and photo equipment and editing tools such as Adobe Premiere, Canon C100 and Audacity. Omit common programs such as Microsoft Word. Include other languages spoken and your skill level (fluent, conversational, etc.).
- HONORS AND AWARDS: List journalism-related awards, scholarships and other relevant honors since college.
- MEMBERSHIPS: If you belong to any journalism organizations, put them here. Be sure to note any leadership positions.
- REFERENCES: Don’t include unless requested and then put them on a separate page that includes all your contact information at the top. Provide three to five names, preferably supervisors, mentors and professors. Include the person’s name, title, phone and email. Always ask permission to use someone as a reference before giving out their name. It’s fine to coach your references, via email, on why you want the job and to suggest what skills and achievements to make sure to mention to the prospective employer. And always stay in touch with your references so you can use them again.
- Keep it to one page — four or five paragraphs, at most.
- Don’t repeat what’s in your resume. Complement and expand upon what’s in your resume.
- Make it concise, clear and conversational. Avoid colloquialisms, cuteness, contractions — and too much alliteration!
- Show confidence. Don’t start sentences with: “I believe” or “I think.”
- Tailor the letter to the position. Include a line or two that shows you are familiar with the media outlet and its coverage.
- Address the letter to a specific person whenever possible. Do not use their first name. Use Mr. or Ms. Never use “To Whom It May Concern.” Call the outlet for the name and email of the hiring manager if you cannot find it online.
- Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread.
- This is your lede. It needs to grab the reader by setting you apart from the pack and motivating them to move on to your resume and work samples.
- Use a personal reference — if you have one — to explain why you are applying to the outlet.
- Say where you are now and why you are applying for the position. [“I am currently a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where I specialize in urban reporting” or “In December, I will receive my masters degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where I specialize in business reporting.”]
MIDDLE PARAGRAPH (s)
- Describe your qualifications and your interest in and knowledge about the outlet.
- Explain why your experience and skills are relevant for the position. Use stories you have covered as examples of why you can do this job.
- Remember: This is about what you can do for the outlet, not what the outlet can do for you.
- Refer in a sentence or two to specific, recent pieces produced by the outlet as examples of why you want to work there.
- Expand or clarify items on your resume, such as gaps in employment or experience, that don’t appear to match the requirement. [“Although most of my experience has been at weeklies, I have met daily — sometimes hourly — deadlines at my internship so I feel ready to take on breaking news stories.”]
- Close the letter by keeping the door open.
- Mention any attachments — resume, clips, requested references.
- Your final sentence should be courteous: “Thank you for your consideration.”
Every writer needs an editor and the Office of Career Services is here to help. Schedule an appointment to go over your resume, cover letter or talk about an upcoming interview.