How to Write an Effective Cover Letter and Résumé

Dawn EashDawn Eash is a senior managing consultant in Berkeley Research Group’s Los Angeles Century City office, where she consults on matters in labor and employment, intellectual property, commercial damages, public policy, health care, technology, and securities. She earned her bachelor’s in finance and statistics from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and her master’s in statistics from North Carolina State University.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When it comes to applying for jobs, this adage is gospel.

Your résumé and cover letter may be your only chance to interest a prospective employer. Accordingly, your cover letter should clearly and concisely state why the details included in your résumé make you a good fit for the specific company and position for which you are applying.

Even though the unemployment rate is steadily decreasing, it is safe to assume that many qualified statisticians will apply for any given position (especially for entry-level jobs). Your cover letter and résumé should illustrate your unique qualifications and differentiate you from your competition.

The foundation of your comprehensive application should be a polished résumé or curriculum vitae (CV). The job description or posting will most likely state which is preferred, but if not, contact the hiring manager to clarify. Generally speaking, a résumé is more appropriate for junior-level positions outside academia; a CV is more appropriate for senior-level or academic positions.

A résumé should consist of a single page and accurately itemize the following:

Education

    List the degree(s) obtained, educational institution(s), and major(s). Optionally, include graduation dates, GPA, and honors.

Relevant work experience

    List each position, beginning with the most recent. Include the job title, employer, dates employed, and duties performed.

Relevant skills

    List all skills, including software knowledge.

If you are a new graduate and do not have much relevant experience, consider including Relevant Coursework and/or Exams Passed sections.

Note: Including an Objective is outdated and has been widely replaced with the cover letter.

A CV will typically run at least a few pages. It will include the above-mentioned items and a combination of the following:

  • A short biography describing your areas of interest and expertise
  • Published articles
  • Articles under review
  • Honors and awards
  • Invited presentations
  • Past and previous affiliations and associations, along with positions held

Your résumé or CV should accurately summarize your skills and experience textually, but should also aesthetically convey your ability to organize effective written communication. These tips are a good start:

  • Use margins and spacing to comfortably fit text onto one page.
  • Use a standard font (e.g., Times New Roman or Arial) with font size 11.
  • Allow white space so the page does not feel cluttered, but try to avoid any white gaping holes.

Visually, you should balance simple text and white space in your résumé. Clearly label the sections noted above to allow for simple navigation. Résumé often can be used to weed out applicants who are unqualified; if the hiring manager cannot easily distinguish your qualifications, your résumé may be passed over completely.

Although a complete and well-structured résumé or CV is necessary to be considered for an interview, an exceptional cover letter can move your application to the top of the heap. Your cover letter should follow these basic guidelines:

  • Include your personal information at the top of the page.
  • Include the date.
  • Identify the company to which you are applying, along with the name of the hiring manager, if possible.
    Modify the company name for each application. Although the employer knows cover letters are often recycled, there is no need to highlight this fact.
  • Adhere to formal letter writing etiquette (e.g., “Dear Sir or Madam,” “Sincerely”).
    If you know the name of the hiring manager or their title, be as specific as possible in the greeting (e.g., “Dear Ms. Eash,” “Dear Hiring Manager”).
  • Use correct spelling and proper grammar.
    Spell check, spell check, and spell check. Pay particular attention to words that a spell check will not properly differentiate (e.g., their/there, its/it’s) and for properly spelled, but misplaced, words (e.g., and/hand). Have your friends and colleagues proof not only spelling, but also grammar. Effective communication is an essential part of every statistician’s career, and your cover letter should display that ability. Unfortunately, even a small typo diminishes from the efficacy of your cover letter. If English is your second language, be even more rigorous with this step to ensure your cover letter is effective.
  • Limit the length to one page.

In the text of your cover letter, include a customized section for each application you send out. In these first few sentences, clearly state the position of interest and how your experience makes you a good fit not only for the position, but also for the company. Do some Internet research on the company and address what you find most exciting or attractive about working there. If you apply for a job where your prior experience is not clearly relevant, it is doubly important to address why you are interested in segueing into a new field and what skills you bring. For example, if you apply to the private sector, but currently work at a government agency, you should directly discuss why you are interested in transitioning and which of your skills are transferable. If you have been out of the work force for an extended period of time, address what you did in the interim and why you are looking to re-enter the work force. The first few sentences may be all anyone reads of your cover letter, so they should be a candid statement of why you are the best person for the job. While sample cover letters are amply available online, take the time to be sure this section clearly and concisely articulates your goals instead of relying on generic verbiage (i.e., gobbledygook).

Last, include a paragraph or two to detail your previous experience; highlight important skills you possess, special achievements, and managerial experience. This section should feature a specific project or your most recent position and detail more clearly what makes you a distinctive candidate. If you apply to the same type of position at different companies, this section should be static for the most part for the most part, but scan through before sending out each application to be sure it is relevant for the particular position. For example, if the position requires predominantly client interaction, you shouldn’t highlight your love for debugging code instead of the six-month consulting project you just completed.

Once you finish these steps and have a cover letter and résumé, do not be shy about getting it proofed. It is entirely more preferable for your coworker, career center counselor, or mom to catch your spelling, grammar, or formatting mistake than your potential employer.

Once you are ready to send, follow the job posting instructions for submitting an application. If none exist, it is customary to attach your final cover letter and résumé as PDF or Word documents to an email. Be sure to include a formal greeting and a short sentence stating the position you are applying for and that you have attached your cover letter and résumé. The attachments should be clearly labeled with your name (e.g., “Dawn Eash Resume.pdf” and “Dawn Eash Cover Letter.pdf”).

The time and research you put into your cover letter and résumé will be obvious to the employer and will make your application a great first impression. Now all you have to do is get your suit ready, and don’t forget to send a thank you email after the interview!

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