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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions




How do you prepare the three main types of resumes, an application letter, a personal statement, and a preparation for a job interview?



Basics of Resumes, Cover Letters, & Personal Statements

Writing the Resume and the Three Types

Preparing for an Interview

Writing an Application or Cover Letter

Writing a Personal Statement

Samples of a Resume, an Application Letter, and a Personal Statement (Separate web page)



This chapter is about applying for work.  It covers the basics of writing application materials, how to develop different types of resumes, how to write the often all-important application letter also called a "cover letter"), how to carefuly prepare for an interview, and how to write the sometimes-required "personal statement."

Basics of Resumes, Cover Letters, and Personal Statements

There are a variety of types of resumes, some of which are typical only to their professions and to no others. However, the great majority of resumes can be divided into three groups. Some people who move from job to job every several years keep two of these types of resumes ready to send:

Chronological Resume

Functional Resume

Targeted Resume

Sometimes a cover letter of substance, called an "application letter," must accompany your resume. Yet another type of presentation similar in nature is the "personal statement" that often is required for admission to academic programs. Before we examine each of these five types of application materials individually, here are some basic pointers that apply to all of them.

LENGTH: Most resumes should not be more than 1-2 pages in length. In unusual cases, however, especially if there is a large body of relevant information to present, a longer resume might be appropriate. However, the longer a resume is, the more graphically simple it should be made--so that it is easy to scan quickly for major headings and subheadings. Application letters usually should be limited to one page. Personal Statements usually are limited to 300-500 words.

PRINTING: Your resume, application letter, and personal statement are your suit of clothes that you wear on paper when you present them to a potential employer or academic program. They should be professionally printed using a laser or ink-jet printer on 20 to 30-lb. cotton bond paper. The paper should be a very clean, attractive white, or it may an off-white shade, usually very light cream, tan, or gray. You should almost never use unusual print styles or colors: doing so is considered tactless and inappropriate.

Try to have your application letter, if one is required, printed on the same type of paper using the same type style as your resume. If your resume is professionally printed but you type your own application letter at home, ask for extra blank sheets of paper when you have your resume printed, and use these blanks at home for application letters.

EDITING: Resumes and application letters are the poetry of the business world, and personal statements the poetry of academic applications: every word should be as perfect as you can get it. Ask for help from friends or a professional unless you're an English major. Your resume should be edited perfectly for spelling, grammatical usage, punctuation, and typing. Many companies and schools receive dozens or even hundreds of applications for any one position, and resumes must be culled quickly: the fastest and one of the first ways to get yours rejected is to have editing errors in it.


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Writing the Resume; Three Types

Writing a resume is a relatively simple but time-consuming process. You need only collect data--information--about yourself. However, you should do so thoroughly and arrange it in an attractive graphic format.


Many resumes start with a title such as "RESUME OF JANE R. SMITH" and add the writer's address and phone number directly under it. Less common is to start with a title only, and to put the address and phone number at the very end of the reusme. Many resumes also open--after the title--with a statement of the applicant's job objective (your short- or long-term employment goal) and/or present position. An application letter usually opens with a statement of interest in the job position.


Many job resumes (but not all) have a final section called "Personal Background"--a short paragraph at the end describing a little of your personal history such as whether or not you have a family, where you live, where you have traveled, and what you do for a hobby or leisure time. Often, too, the very last sentence of a resume will offer a references statement: for example, "References available on request" or "Letters of Recommendation Attached" or "...will arrive separately."


Many resumes, especially if they are short, have subtitles in a column on the left and descriptions in a larger column on the left. This kind of resume is the easiest to read--for the eye to scan--because of all the graphic space:


1999-2003: University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts

      • B.A. degree, English Literature

      • Dean's honors list, Spring 2001-Fall 2002

      • President, Wilson Dormitory Council, 2001-2

1988-1992: Richfield Community High School

  • Finished in Top 10% of Class

  • Lettered in Track, 1991, and 1992


However, other resumes, especially if they are long, place subtitles--underlines or in bold--on a line above the description of them. This allows for the placement of more information on each line under the subtitle. This kind of subtitling can make a resume more difficult to read, so be sure to employ sufficient graphic space:


degree in Information Management Systems with concentration in
small- and medium-business computer information services.
Awarded scholastic honors for high grade-point average and
participation in college activities. Elected student body government
secretary twice (both years attended).

in top 1/3rd of class.  concentrated on technical and professional
development courses in last two years.  Lettered in hockey.  Was
Student of the Month" in October of senior year.


Next brief descriptions of the three types of resumes most commonly found in the marketplace: chronological, functional, and targeted.

Chronological Resume:

The chronological resume offers a history of your work experience, most recent first. This resume is the most common type. It is simple to read, often is used in the earlier years of one's career, and is perhaps the most desired resume in lower-level jobs, smaller companies, and more traditional employers. Your resume often will include traditional categories such as Work Experience, Education, Military Service, and Personal Background. Only include those categories that apply specifically to you.

Functional Resume:

The functional resume offers functional categories of expertise without regard to a time order. The most important categories should appear closer to the beginning. This kind of resume is not as common as the chronological resume. It is useful, however, if you have an unusually long resume or if there are significant gaps of time, work, or education in your professional life. Your resume might include some of the traditional categories above and perhaps additional categories such as "Additional Training," "Management Experience," "Communications Experience," "Technological" or "Computer Experience," or others that state major functional categories.

Targeted Resume:

The targeted resume offers a job objective and only your qualifications that apply to it. It "targets" a specific job position and your background just for that position. It is the least common of the three types described in this chapter, and this kind of resume may surprise or confuse an employer unless he or she is used to seeing such a resume. The categories you choose are for only those parts of your work history which apply directly to the job for which you are applying or your stated job objective. Categories may include any of the examples mentioned in the descriptions of the other two types of resumes, above. An additional category some people add to a targeted resume is one called "Other Work and Education" or something like that: a section in which you describe parts of your work history that are not directly related to your specific job objective.


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Preparing for an Interview

It also is wise to prepare carefully in written form for your interview. There is, of course, the normal set of guidelines--dress appropriately; prepare to be calm, collected, and yet clearly interested; get rid of most or all body jewelry and weird hair styles; clean well ahead of time; etc., etc. However, one very helpful preparation that few people know about is to write a list of questions ahead of time that you might be asked, then to answer them in writing yourself.

Making your own list of questions and answers not only prepares you for how to answer; it also shows your potential employer that you are well prepared, thoughtful, and quick-witted. In addition, preparing ahead of time in this way can give you quite a bit more confidence. What kinds of questions should you ask and then answer? Here is a rough guide:

1. Obvious questions.
2. "Problem" questions (e.g., "What would you do if. . . . ?").
3. Ethical-decision questions (e.g., "Do you think making bombs for our company is wrong?").
4. "Conflict" questions (e.g., "What if a customer yelled at you?" or "What if one boss said, 'Do
X right away,' and another boss said 'Do Z right away'?").
5. Questions about wages and work time.
6. A final statement of a few sentences, to be used if you are asked for it or if giving it seems

You may never have to answer many of these questions, but it is best to be fully prepared.

It is important for you to not only write the questions, but also your answers, for two reasons. First, writing your answers--not just answering them out loud--will lodge them in your memory much more surely; in fact, it is wise to both write them and speak them aloud. Second, if you have a set of written questions and written answers, you can review them much more easily just before your interview--when you are more likely to be nervous and forgetful.


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Writing an Application Letter

Application letters, also sometimes known as cover letters, usually should be sent with a resume. A resume without a cover letter is like a meeting without a friendly, professional greeting. Your application letter is your way of introducing yourself to your potential employer. Not all companies require or even want it; however, when in doubt, send one. Often you can find out whether such a letter is desirable by calling a secretary or assistant to the person in charge of hiring. You may also ask this person what kinds of questions or subjects in particular should be addressed in the letter of application.

Use a business letter format. Always make a new letter with your original signature on it. You should start by addressing the letter to a specific person if at all possible. You can learn this, too, by calling the secretary or assistant of the person in charge of hiring. Also ask this person whether the hirer wants to be addressed as "Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms."

After the salutation, start your letter by stating the position for which you are applying. You may also want to summarize in brief sentence or two your overall or most important qualifications.

Then, in the body of the letter, you may do one, two, or all three of three things: (1) discuss your qualifications in a little more detail, especially hitting highlights or using explanations that clarify or add to what is in your resume (some repetition is okay, but don't write all of your application letter this way); and/or (2) in some situations, you may make an extended statement of intent about what you would hope to accomplish; and/or (3) in some situations you may also want to make your personal philosophical statement about the meaning or importance of this kind of work.

A fourth and very important element of an application letter is to tell your potential employer why you have picked him or her. In other words, what makes his or her company or place of work special to you as an individual? This is an excellent opportunity not only to show that you have done your homework and understand the differences between her company or place of work and others like it, but also--and especially--to begin establishing a positive personal relationship between you and your potential workplace, a relationship for which your potential employer can value you more highly.

Say what you need to in order to sell yourself; however, say it honestly and firmly. The more you know or can discover about your employer, the more you can target what you say in your application letter. Discussions of your qualifications, statements of intent, and/or statements of philosophy usually either dramatically improve your chance of getting hired, or dramatically narrow it. If you are going to use them at all, be forthright in doing so.

Provide a closing and signature for an application letter just as you would for any formal business letter.

A simple but useful formula for application letters is as follows:

A. Opening:

(1) Letterhead and date (or date and return address). (The date--and if you need it, the return address, should start at the center point of the page.)

(2) Inside address (reader's name and address)

(3) Salutation ("Dear Mr./Ms. X:," "To the Search Committee:," or "Dear People:")

B. Contents:

(1) a very brief paragraph that states what job you are applying for (and when you were interviewed or most recently in contact), summarizes in a sentence or two how or why you are qualified, and offers a positive message of your interest in this position.

(2) one full paragraph on your background or preparation for the job.

(3) one full paragraph on your philosophy of doing this job.

(4) one full paragraph on the good points of the employer and/or company drawing you to work for him or her.

C. Closing (1-3 below should start at the center point of the page):

(1) Proper closing (usually "Yours truly," or "Yours sincerely,")

(2) Your signature in good dark ink, contained within three blank linespaces

(3) Your typed name

For a sample application letter, go to "Applying for Jobs Samples."


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Writing a Personal Statement

  • Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?
  • Is the personal statement mostly about the applicant, or other people?
  • Could anyone else have written this personal statement, or is it unique to the applicant?
  • Does the personal statement cover too much, or is there real depth?

Introduction: Four points to cover

As you write a rough draft for your personal statement, consider these four major guidelines (given to a student applying to medical school, and passed on for publication in this textbook):

1. Qualities for this discipline: Are you showing how you have the desirable qualities for the particular job, discipline, or area in which you are applying?

2. About you, not about others: Is the personal statement mostly about you, and not mostly about other people? You can and sometimes should use story examples involving others, but these always should come back to you.

3. Original/unique: Is your statement individualized to you? In other words, could several, a dozen, or hundreds of others written much the same statement, or have you personalized it so it is specifically about you as a unique individual?

4. Depth: Is your personal statement too broad? Does it try to cover too much? Or is there real depth?


A personal statement usually consists of a discussion of your own experience and ideas concerning your purpose for seeking admission to an academic program. Most applications guide the contents of your personal statement by asking specific questions. Some personal statements need only be written well enough to show that you are minimally qualified. Others, however, may become the single most important document in your application materials. Often you may access the importance of--and therefore how many hours of time you should spend on--a personal statement by calling the admissions counselor or head secretary of the program to which you are applying. If you have any doubt at all of your statement's relative importance, you probably should plan to spend many hours perfecting it.

One of the biggest mistakes many people make in their personal statements is being too general. It is okay to make general statements; however, the majority of your statement should be concerned with very specific examples, stories, and facts. Use general statements only at the very beginning and very end of paragraphs in which you are explaining yourself. Be as specific as you can (within the limits of the word- or page-count limits). Give specific examples of your experiences and beliefs: don't just tell people; show them. It is in the details that people will find you both knowledgeable and believable.

In fact, so important is this guideline of using specifics that the best personal statements often start with a specific story example that in some way summarizes or highlights the main point or points you want to demonstrate in your statement. Start, for example, with the story of how you first became deeply interested in your future profession; or perhaps with the story of how you first helped someone and enjoyed it--and realized what kinds of skills you needed to continue doing so. Use all of the five W's of journalism--who, what, where, when, and why/how--to help you fully develop your introductory story. Use several of the five senses--sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell--to help it come alive.

Then continue on by telling other stories--narrative examples using the 5 W's of journalism. They don't have to be long; in fact, good personal-statement writing is like good writing of poetry--compact, efficient, and yet very lively. A good personal statement might have three, five, or even as many as ten small story examples in it, making it a delight for the selection committee to read.

Finally, end with some kind of closing story--or perhaps the final half of your beginning story--in order to leave your readers with a strong impression. Once again, this story should someone exemplify the deeper or most central part of you that is applying to the academic program. If possible, make your final sentence or two the most stirring in your entire statement. Move your readers--the selection committee--honestly, forthrightly, and subtly. Make them enjoy accepting you.

Conclusion--Your chance to shine

A personal statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the individuals who are reading you application. You may even want to imagine, as you write, a specific friend, family member (other than a parent), or mentor to whom you are writing. You want to show your soul, the part of it that grows and will have both joy and productive work in your discipline. And you want to show your reader your professionalism and commitment. This means not just showing examples of your professional work and abilities, but also dotting all your "i's" and crossing all your "t's" in your manuscript--in other words, making it perfect in storytelling, organizational principles or writing, and grammar. It is your chance--and expectation of you--to shine.

For a sample personal statement, go to "Applying for Jobs Samples."


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Samples (A separate web page)


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 49. Case Study

 50. IMRaD Science Report

 51. Magazine/Nwsltr. Article

 52. News Article/Release

 53. Story Writing

 54. Applying for Jobs

 55. Process/Instructions

 56. Professional Report

 57. Professional Proposal

 58. Recommendation Report


Related Chapters/Pages:

Details & Images

Creating Websites

Leading Writing Groups



 Related Links in

  16. Research Writing

  17. Citation & Documentation

  18. References & Resources

  19. Visual/Multimodal Design

  20. Major/Work Writing              


Updated 1 May 2020





Writing for College by Richard Jewell is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 CC iconby iconnc iconsa icon also is at and

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.