Cover Letter & Resume Tips

When drafting your cover letter and resume, follow these guidelines to create materials that are professional and engaging

Cover Letter Format

  • One (1) page document
  • Create in Microsoft Word (MS Word)
  • Page Size: 8.5” x 11”
  • Font Style: Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, or Tahoma
  • Length: 4 or 5 brief paragraphs
  • Font Size: No less than size 10 and no more than size 12
  • Consistency: Use one Font throughout, no bold or italics

Cover Letter Sections

  • Header: Name, Address, phone number and email
  • Greeting: If possible, write to a specific person. If contact is unknown, “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Human Resources”
  • Paragraph 1—Introduction: What position you're applying for, how you learned about it, why it interests you, and a statement about what you can do for the company.
  • Paragraphs 2 & 3 etc.—Specific example(s) relating to critical responsibilities and competencies listed in the job description that you can speak to. Make sure to explain clear connections between your skills and experience to the position you want, so the employer sees you understand the job, their needs, and how you fit. Note: If you're changing careers, provide a statement about what led you to transition back to school and seek a job opportunity in a new field or industry.
  • Final paragraph—Summation: What you can do for the employer and why you would like to work with them. Finally, ask for an interview. For example: I hope to have an opportunity to speak with you to further discuss my experience and qualifications.
  • Closing: Sincerely, Kind Regards, Best, Respectfully, followed by exact name on your resume

Additional Requirements

  • Always avoid clichés ("I am a hard worker"). Highlight your strengths ("I have advanced technical skills"), but always follow up statements about your competencies with a specific example. Show, don't tell.
  • Avoid common phrases such as “My name is (should not be stated as you are signing this letter with your name” “I am” (Same as My name is), “I am willing to work at your firm”, “I am willing to apply for your position, “Please let me know if I can get this job or a chance to talk to you”
  • Proofread – not just spell/grammar check! Check for tenses! Make sure to set your computer language to U.S. English.
  • Use the job description and company/team description as a guide for what to focus on in your cover letter (everything should be relevant to the job and company).
  • Your cover letter should be tailored for each job you apply for.
  • Remember to include specific information about the company, and why you would be a good fit for the position.
  • Remember your cover letter is not a resume. Use your cover letter as a mechanism to highlight a relevant skills, you think the employer must know about you (in the tens of seconds that you have their attention!)
  • Remember that stories are Context—Action—Results (CAR) (and if the results weren't great, focus on your approach and process and what you gained from the experience).
  • The overall tone of your cover letter should be "this is what I can do for you / this is how I will add value to your company in this role."

Resume Tips

  • Create document in Microsoft Word
  • Single page (8.5 inch x 11 inch paper) - Employers take roughly 1 –minute to scan through a resume. Therefore, it is important to keep your resume to a single one- sided page
  • Font Style should be Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Garamond or Tahoma. Remember to use one font style throughout resume. Font should be at a minimum size 10, maximum size 12
  • Name: Your name should be the largest font on the page
  • Margins: Should be no less than 0.5 inches on each side

Resume Sections


  • Name: Legal First Name followed by Legal Last Name
  • If using a preferred name, the recommended format is: Preferred Name (legal First Name in parentheses) legal Last Name
  • Address: where to mail physical offer letter
  • Phone number in the US with 3 digit area code (do NOT include the country code +1)
  • Email must be professional. We strongly recommend using your Columbia email address.
  • Webpage: (e.g., LinkedIn Profile, GitHub, Personal website etc.) - Make sure your webpage links through your resume


  • Schools and degrees in order of attendance starting with the most recent (do NOT list high school)
  • Clearly indicate name of undergraduate institution, the location, degree program and month and year of graduation
  • Include any additional graduate degrees in the same format as undergraduate institution
  • Academic performance indicators (e.g. GPA, honors, awards). If GPA is not on 4.0 point scale, you can indicate ranking or percentile.


  • You can list titles of relevant courses (do NOT include course numbers)
  • You can briefly summarize projects or thesis. Remember to do this in bullet point form.

Professional and Academic Experience:

  • Name of organization
  • Location of organization
  • Title of position
  • Duration of experience (month and year started to month and year completed). Always include month (e.g. October or Oct), NOT season (e.g. Spring or Summer)
  • Description of experience
  • Use action verbs to start all bullet points (examples of verbs)
  • Past experience should start with a verb in the past tense, and current experience in the present tense.
  • Make resume relevant to the role you're applying for; use 3-5 job descriptions to guide your choice of words and how you prioritize and present your background.
  • Do NOT use personal pronouns, such as “I, me, we, etc.”

Skills and Certifications:

  • Skills: languages, programming, equipment, etc.
  • Certifications/licensure

Interests and Activities:

  • What are your passions outside of school and work?
  • Activities: what activities exemplify your motivations, perseverance, and leadership qualities

Do NOT Include

  • Personal information (Age, gender, marital status, number of children)
  • Repetitious use of words (such as “Responsible for, Duties include etc.”)
  • Your GPA, if it is less than 3.0
  • Long narrations
  • List of references or the phrase “Reference Available Upon Request”
  • JPEGS, TIFFs, or animation

Additional Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Did I quantify my skillset? It is incredibly important that you highlight your accomplishments. This gives the reader a clearer understanding of the work you have done. Did you handle budgets within your various leadership roles? Did you optimize a system/protocol during your research in the lab? If so, add a metric for money or time saved, efficiencies increased etc.
  • Does this resume communicate the message I want to send to employers? Your resume should be a purposeful presentation of yourself, marketing your relevant skills and experience to the employer through your curation, phrasing, and organization of the information on this document. Does your resume clearly illustrate the kind of professional you want to be, or does it leave the employer confused and wondering where you fit?
  • Who can I show my resume to for constructive feedback? Your resume should appeal to individuals from technical and non-technical backgrounds. Therefore, it is important to get feedback from at least three professionals in various fields of work. This will ensure that the content in your resume is understood by all.