The English/CW Major’s Quick Guide to Resumes and Job Letters

by Prof. John Gallagher, Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A video version of these guidelines is available here.

Questions for Job Call Analysis

  • Identify the verbs and nouns used in the call
  • Identify syntactical structures (orders of words, clauses, and punctuation patterns)
  • Identify the requirements (skills, qualifications, or characteristics)
  • Develop concrete articulations of the requirements in terms of your own work, education, or leadership experiences

Ten Tips to Remember for Resumes

  • Only strategies; there are no rules to the way these documents can look. Be careful about the advice you receive—you must be critical and question it
  • Design the resume in a way that enhances your experiences, background, and strengths (avoid templates)
  • Resumes should not repeat information on job letters. Remember: Job letters are letters: they require inside addresses and a salutation to someone or a committee.
  • Category headings are flexible and need to be altered/adapted to the job call
  • Arrangement of sub-headings should be adjusted to the job call and your strengths
  • Skills generally ought to be integrated into other sub-headings
  • Consistent font and structure
  • All bullet points should begin with a descriptive verb
  • An objective is only necessary if there is no job application letter
  • PDF is the preferred file type, unless otherwise stated

Advice on Visuals

Visuals are always a case-by-case basis. You should be aware of (1) the company’s expectations of a job application, (2) the expectations of an industry, and (3) your own strengths. Some cursory examples of different expectations: Europeans often put their pictures on resumes; graphic artists often include some sort of design in their resume; American academics almost never put their pictures on resumes; and US government jobs often discourage visuals (for discrimination research).

Ten Tips on Layout of a Resume

  • Black colored font
  • A single font
  • While font size can vary, the sub-headings should be a consistent size and the bullet points should be a consistent size
  • Header should be simple, with your name being the largest font size
  • Recommendation: use a standard font type
  • Generally try to stay on one page (references can go on a separate document)
  • If you have bullet points, you should aim for having two (not a single bullet)
  • Never put down false information
  • Write in reverse chronology (starting with most recent first)
  • Scanning documents (assume employers look at a resume for 60 seconds total)

Job Application Letters

*Job application letters are different than cover letters because (a) job application letters apply for a job whereas (b) a cover letter sits as the cover of business documents


  • Address the letter to a person and/or committee, including a salutation and address
  • First paragraph [note that in the presentation itself, Prof. Gallagher stressed that the structure here can be thought of in terms of “ideas” rather than “paragraphs”]: directly state the position for which you are applying. Then summarize the ways you would make an effective fit for the position
  • Second paragraph [idea]: state why your background is suited to the position
  • Third paragraph [idea]: state why your background is suited to the company
  • Fourth paragraph [idea]: articulate you are motivated
  • Exit salutation with a signature (you should have a signature saved as a JPEG file)


  • Use letterhead from your organization/company/university
  • Employ similar strategies you used when writing your resume
  • Specific salutation for a person/committee is crucial
  • Write an exit sentence thanking the audience (and that you’re looking forward to a reply)
  • While the one-page requirement is not as strict with application letters, try to keep it close
  • Don’t be afraid to be concrete, specific, and detailed (one of the most common mistakes)