CVs and Cover Letters

Some employers read cover letters first; others look at CVs first. Either way, these documents are some of the most important you will write in your career. 

A CV is a snapshot of your experience, skills, and accomplishments, and a cover letter expands upon your major qualifications in relationship to the job you are seeking. Both documents should be tailored for the specific job and company you seek to join. 

Analyzing a job ad or a company website?

  1. Underline the verbs in the ad/website. Which of these have you done before? Which are new to you? 
  2. What are the essential skills the company is looking for? What are the preferable or desirable skills? 
  3. What personality traits does the company seem to value?  
  4. Using your answers to questions 1-3, write a paragraph-long description of the company’s “ideal” worker, based on their job ad/website.

Making a CV for the first time?

  1. Draft an “education” section. List your undergraduate institution, degree and major, and expected date of graduation. Do you think your audience will be interested in
    • your GPA? 
    • your high school? 
    • your minor? 
    • major courses you’ve taken? 
    • training done in addition to university classes (certifications? LinkedIn Learning?)
    • special projects you’ve worked on?
  2. Draft a “work experience” section. List the employer, your job title or role, and the dates you began and ended the job (or put “-present” if you’re still working at this job). Use bullet points below the entry to describe your work, perhaps including your
    • daily job responsibilities
    • special projects you worked on
    • financial and budgeting responsibilities
    • training for the job, or perhaps your experience training others
    • work you do collaboratively with other employees
    • daily communication practices (documenting, writing, presenting, and other types of communication)
    • conflict resolution or ‘sticky’ situations you’ve handled
  3. So you haven’t worked before, and you haven’t taken an internship yet. What about experience in the following areas? 
    • undergraduate research
    • equipment that might be used in this company
    • software that might be used in this company
    • projects you’ve worked on in your major courses
    • the project you’ve worked on in ENGL 2338!
    • study abroad
    • volunteer experience
  4. List all of your extracurricular activities that you’ve done within the past two years. What about these activities would be interesting to an employer? (Think about interpersonal and communication skills in addition to technical skills.)

Have a previous CV to work with?

  1. Look through your extracurricular activities and try to shape your descriptions for an engineering employer. For example, if you put that you’re on a basketball team, don’t talk about your jump shot. Try emphasizing your teamwork or leadership skills.
  2. Upload the text of your CV into a word cloud generator. What terms come up most often? How do you think an employer will respond to those terms? Compare your CV’s word cloud to a new word cloud you create from the  company’s website or job advertisement. How are these two word clouds similar or different?
  3. Try filling out a profile on LinkedIn or looking at other engineers’ online profiles. Have you done anything similar to what they’ve done?
  4. Some audience members may need a short description of your duties in some categories; for example, your internship at a company could involve anything from giving a presentation to the CEO to staring at a blank computer screen for hours. Try these tips to improve the descriptions of your duties.
    • Mention specific product/project names.
    • Mention the names of industry standard training (such as heath and safety training).
    • Quantify your contribution – how much money did you save the company? How many team members did you work with?
    • Describe your level of expertise instead of just saying you are familiar with X software.
    • Identify problems you solved or challenges you faced at that workplace or in that project.
    • Use keywords from the job advertisement or the company website.


  • Why does typography matter to CVs? Find some practical advice here.
  • Feel like you’re being repetitive on your CV? Try these 52 words to help you stand out from the crowd.
  • This column from Inside Higher Ed is aimed at applying for academic jobs, but it has some helpful advice for all job seekers.
  • This LifeHacker article describes some cover letter mistakes that keep you from getting the interview.
  • Are you worried about interviewing for a job or talking to recruiters at the career fair? Try some advice in this article.
  • If you fear not having an answer for an interview question, this article has some strategies for what to say when you don’t know.
  • Working on a LinkedIn or other online profile? Make sure you answer these three questions.
  • Want to try a new style of cover letter? Think about using the executive briefing, and get a bunch of tips here.