Introduction to Resumes & Cover Letters

Key Elements of Effective Resumes and Cover Letters


Your resume is your personal marketing tool that outlines your skills, experiences and areas of expertise so employers can see how you can contribute to the workplace. It references promises you can deliver. A good resume alone won’t get you a job, but it can help open doors and get you an interview. Because readers might only quickly skim a resume to see if you've got what they're seeking, a well-written resume must do its work quickly and in an easy-to-read format. Refer to the checklist below for the elements of a successful resume.

Elements of Effective Resumes

  • Usually 1-2 pages in length.
  • Main sections typically include Header, Summary or Profile, Experience, Education, Additional
  • Use reverse chronological order with current experience first. Alumni will probably want to list experience before education.
  • While dates should flow and career progression should be logically displayed, don’t get caught up in trying to describe your every move and decision — save those details for conversations and interviews!
  • Strive to show impact. Use bullets to show results and outcomes, instead of simply describing your overall responsibilities and tasks. Readers want to see evidence of how your work has made an impact, so keep bullets tight and focused on data-driven results as much as possible. Bullets that are too dense or contain too much “background information” likely will not be read.
  • Focus on action-orientation. Using a variety of strong action words — implemented, drove, led, collaborated, etc. — draws the reader’s attention while displaying breadth and depth of your skills and competencies.

Alumni can register for the Kellogg Alumni Resume Database (alumni password required) by completing a profile and uploading a resume. There is no charge for this service. More than 1,300 alumni have already registered.

Cover Letters/Emails

Preparing an interesting and effective cover letter is not easy, but a well-written letter or introductory email can make the difference between your resume being reviewed or not. Most cover letters you’ll submit will be electronic, either as an email that introduces your attached resume, or as part of an online application. It’s quite rare these days to need hard copies of your resume. A word of caution with email: take care to use good, clear language, proper punctuation, and don’t forget to spell-check. Don’t assume that “no one will read” your cover document, and remember that first impressions do count.

The more you can tailor your cover document to illustrate that you’ve got the experience and skills the employer is looking for, the better. This doesn't mean simply restating what's already in your resume; it's a matter of trying to speak directly to the requirements of the role and pulling out the relevant highlights of your background and experience so the reader can see right away that you are a good candidate for the position.

Great cover letters create maximum impact within minimum space, so keep your letter tight and focused, never longer than a couple of paragraphs or one full page. Remember, this letter is accompanied by your resume, so aim to simply provide an introduction and a "taste" of why you are a good candidate.

To start, take a look at the qualifications listed on the position description. What are the top five or six skills or experiences mentioned? Highlight briefly those that you have and don't mention any areas where you are not a fit. If you're not responding to a specific opening, ask yourself what core skills the company seeks. These are the areas you want to be sure to mention in your cover letter.

You might also briefly mention why you're interested in that specific company. For example, "With more than five years’ equity research experience, I am particularly interested in Morgan Stanley’s telecommunications team, which has been rated the No. 1 telecom research group by Institutional Investor for the last three years.” Mentioning a relevant connection or a specific tidbit about the company can help the recipient see that you've done your research homework and help strengthen the letter.