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Students getting advising and career information at PREPs office

Science students getting advising and career information from a PREPs career counselor.

Resumes and Cover Letters

To help you prepare for your next opportunity, below are career resources for writing resumes and cover letters.

If you are a member of IUPUI's Honors College or the School of Science (either currently enrolled or an alumni), please schedule a free one-on-one career  advising appointment.

Every day hundreds of resumes and cover letters are thrown away before they even make it to the hiring manager's desk. Graduate school applicants are denied admission because their personal statements are deemed "trite" and "cliche." Resumes, cover letters, research statements, and curriculum vitaes are all challenging documents to create, but you do not have to do it on your own. 

Join the School of Science Career/Internship site in Canvas for additional information and resources


Your resume and cover letter are usually the first two things a hiring manager will see when considering you for a position. Therefore, it's important to take the time to perfect your resume, and tailor it to the specific job you are applying for. Schedule a resume writing appointment with a PREPs career advisor.

Writing Your Resume

Use the PREPs Resume & Cover Letter Guide to get started!

What Is a Resume?

A resume is a document that showcases and highlights educational background, experiences, skills, accomplishments, and relevant activities. The length of a resume may vary based on an individual's depth of experience and education or industry. It is typical for undergraduate students and recent graduates to have a one-page resume.

Where Do I Start?

Reflect on your education, experiences, skills, and activities to generate a list of your accomplishments. This could include jobs, campus activities, academic projects, study abroad, volunteerism, honors/awards, etc. Having a clear vision of what you have done will assist you in identifying appropriate resume sections. The PREPs Resume & Cover Letter Guide is helpful for writing a first resume.

Sections of a Resume

Some sections of a resume are traditionally required, some are strongly encouraged, and other sections are discouraged.

  • Required: Contact information (header), education, experience (various forms)
  • Encouraged: Skills (technical/specialized), research, academic projects (relevant to position), leadership, activities, volunteerism, relevant coursework, honors/awards, presentations (outside classroom requirements), publications
  • Discouraged: Photos, personal information (height, weight, birth date, etc.), hobbies/interests unrelated to position

Know Your Audience

It is important to remember who is reviewing your resume. An employer or recruiter? A graduate program? An internship coordinator? A faculty member? Identify the skills, qualities, and experiences that your audience will find most relevant to the opportunity. Your resume should be tailored to the opportunity at hand; you may have multiple versions of your resume for different opportunities.

Showcase Your Skills

The skills section of your resume should be reserved for technical, specialized, and field-specific items or what we refer to as "hard skills." Qualities such as "responsible, team player, respectful, etc." are better illustrated through your experiences and cover letter using examples. Below are some common skill categories. Research your intended industry to identify appropriate skills to showcase.

Formatting Your Resume

The overall structure and organization of your resume is vitally important. A disorganized and mistake-filled resume is unlikely to be considered. See basic formatting tips and a formatting guide in the PREPs Resume & Cover Letter Guide.

Avoid Templates

Templates do not allow you to tailor and format your resume in a way that best illustrates your experiences and skills. In addition, many recruiters can recognize templates right away, which doesn't allow for your materials to stand out. Templates can be difficult to adjust and organize if you attempt to make changes. Identify resume layouts you like and start from scratch to build a resume that is tailored to your experiences.

Use your Space

Justifying your content on the left, indenting bullet points, and justifying dates and/or locations on the right will provide your resume a balanced look. Avoid writing paragraphs of content and instead use bullet points and columns to organize content. This makes your resume more visually appealing and easier to read.

Use appropriate font styles and sizes

We recommend between 10 and 12 point font. Choose a simple, professional font; avoid "creative" or "artsy" fonts as they can be unprofessional and difficult to read. We recommend Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Myriad, Garamond, Calibri, and Book Antique as examples of safe fonts. Bold or italicize headings or information tastefully and consistently.

Submit your resume as a PDF

Be sure to save your resume as a PDF and review it carefully. Sometimes formatting can shift when exported to a PDF document. Additionally, you always want to submit your resume as a PDF to ensure a consistent format on the other individual's screen.

Cover letters

The purpose of your cover letter is to persuade your reader that you are a good fit for the job before they even glance at your resume. The cover letter will help them get a feel for who you are, and whether or not you may be a good fit with their organization. It's also a way to connect with the search committee or employer on a more personal level then just sending in a list of your accomplishments (i.e. your resume). 

Writing Your Cover Letter

You'll refer to your resume as the source of "data" and in your cover letter you'll expand on (but not repeat) the information in your resume. 

Research the company. It is essential for you to learn as much as possible about the company and the job. Make sure you have read the job advertisement carefully. Research the corporate website, read the mission statement, and look up employees on LinkedIn. Hiring managers want candidates who know about their company. Try to include a current event, or mention a project that you have the expertise to be of assistance.

Address your letter with care. You may be a perfect fit for the job, but if your salutation is offensive (example "Dear Sirs") it is less likely that anyone will read it. Try to find the name of the person who will be your boss, and address the letter to them personally (Dear Ms. Smith or Dear Mr. Davidson). If you can't find this information use a non-offensive generic greeting such as "Dear Hiring Professionals" or "Dear Selection Committee."

Tone matters. The tone of your letter will project your attitude to the reader. Although you can't hear it, the tone in your letter will have the same effect as it has when you speak to someone. If the tone of your letter is cold or unprofessional readers will probably put down the letter. Maintain an upbeat, personable, and professional tone.

Err on the side of formality. Nowadays, cover letters are almost always electronic and are often simply the body of your email to which you attached your resume. Just because you are emailing your cover letter does not mean that it should be any less formal. Print your resume in black ink on regular, white paper. Spell out contractions. Avoid the passive voice. Do not switch verb tenses. Avoid beginning sentences with "there is" or "there are" whenever possible. Do not split infinitives. Spell out acronyms the first time you use them. Refrain from using jargon. 

Briefly summarize your career in one to two sentences. Avoid giving the employer a history lesson of your work experience. The letter should be more focused on the future and what you can offer this new employer. Definitely include a few sentences, but be brief with your past. 

Tell a story if you can. This part is a little tricky, but the best cover letters lead the reader through an interesting narrative. Explain your experiences in a story-like format that works with the information provided in your resume.

Show (don't just tell) your reader that you possess the most important skills he seeks. Go in-depth about important experiences/skills and relate them to job requirements. Convince your reader that the company will benefit from hiring you. Illustrate your qualifications with examples. 

Include in each paragraph a strong reason why your employer should hire you and how they will benefit from the relationship. This only has to be a sentence, but your letter should make it very clear that the employer would benefit from having you as an employee. 

Conclude by saying when and how you'll get in touch.

Formatting and Organizing Your Cover Letter

Formatting Your Cover Letter

Because your cover letter is a formal, professional document, the following traditional approach is appropriate:

  • Single-space your text and leave a space between each paragraph
  • Leave three spaces between your closing (such as "Sincerely" or "Sincerely Yours") and typed name
  • Leave one space between your heading (contact information) and greeting (such as, "Dear Mrs. Robertson")
  • Justify your paragraphs for a clean look
  • Use one-inch margins on all sides
  • Center your letter in the middle of the page; in other words, make sure the space at the top & bottom of the page is the same
  • Sign your name in ink between your salutation and typed name
Here are two cover letter examples:
In addition, you can also utilize the T-Style cover letter format. This design includes a two-column table in the center of the letter. The left column is titled "Position Requirements" and the right column is titled "My Qualifications." The advantages of the T-Style cover letter is that it is visually arresting, and gets the point across quickly: you are the perfect candidate for the job.

Organizing Your Cover Letter

There are four basic parts to a cover letter:

1. Heading

  • Provide your contact information:
    • Name
    • Email
    • Address
    • Phone number
    • Customized LinkedIn URL (optional)
  • Include the date you are writing the letter
  • Include the address of the company
    • Make the extra effort to look up this information, even though you will probably be emailing the company

2. Introduction

  • Greet the specific person with whom you are corresponding.
    • Again, make the effort to look up who will most likely be reading your cover letter. Don't just give a generic greeting like "Dear Sirs and Madams" or "Dear Search Committee" unless you absolutely cannot get a specific person.
  • State the position you are applying for and where you heard about it.
  • If you have a good connection with the company, be sure to name that connection.
  • State why you believe you are a good match for the position and the organization, including 2-3 key qualifications that you will address in the rest of the letter (these items should match up with your resume).

3. Argument/Body

  • Tailor your cover letter for each job application. Yes, it requires extra work, but this is absolutely necessary. 
  • Focus each paragraph on one qualification that shows you are a good match for the job and organization.
  • Give specific examples to prove where you got these skills and how you have used them before.
  • This one is tricky, but if you can, tell a story; do not just list your skills.
  • Refer to your resume as a "data source"; do not repeat it, elaborate on it!
  • If you are using a T-Style, this is where it would belong.

4. Closing

  • Close with a strong reminder of why you are a good match for the job and the organization.
  • Request an interview by being proactive, but not pushy. For example, state that you will contact the organization within the next week, then follow up with a polite phone call. 
  • Thank the person for reading your material.
  • Sign your name and print it underneath. 

Writing Tips

Try to avoid ambiguous references.

When speaking with friends, it's common to overuse ambiguous words like "this", "these", "his", "it", "they", etc. These words have no meaning in themselves, but in conversation the meaning is usually clear from the context. In written text, however, the intended meaning is often not evident to the reader, because there are many possible interpretations of "it" and "this". Even if the item to which you refer is explicitly mentioned in your paper, ask yourself whether there is any chance that the reader might not know to which of several items you might be referring. E.g. for the word "he", were there two or three people being discussed? If so then state the actual name of each; "he" would be ambiguous.

Watch out for homonyms.

Spell checker is awesome, but it rarely catches homonyms. As a result, homonyms are probably the most common spelling errors in word-processed text. Even if you are lazy and let the spell check fix all of your other words, make certain that you know the differences between words like:


throughoutthrough out


"But" and "however" are not interchangeable.

The words "but" and "however" have similar meanings, but they are not interchangeable. If you take a grammatically correct sentence containing "but" and replace it with "however", or vice versa, the result will almost always be incorrect, mainly because of comma punctuation. Here are correct examples of how to use but and however:

  • "I like oranges, but I do not like tangerines."
  • "I like oranges. However, I do not like tangerines."
  • "I like oranges; however, I do not like tangerines."
  • "I, however, do not like grapefruits."
  • "I like oranges however they have been prepared."

Use caution with capitalization.

Capitalization is appropriate only for specific, named, individual items or people. For example, capitalize school subjects only when you are referring to a specific course at a specific school: math is a general subject, but Math 301 is a particular course. Similarly: Department of Computer Sciences vs. a computer science department, the president vs. President Bush. When in doubt, use lower case.

The above Writing Guidelines were excerpts taken from Dr. James A. Bednar's article, Tips for Academic Writing and Other Formal Writing.

Keywords and skills

Many companies use recruiting management software to screen candidates for job openings. Instead of a person reviewing your resume, the software screens resumes based on the terms included in the resume. 

Why are keywords important?

  • Resume keywords are the words that hiring managers and management software search for when going through their database of resumes.
  • In order to be found, your resume needs to contain keywords that directly target the jobs you are interested in
  • The keywords in your resume should reference specific job requirements, as well as your hard skills and adaptive/transferable skills
  • Use the information below to help you brainstorm and build keywords into your resume

Adaptive Skills

Adaptive skills define you as a person and describe your value to the company. Here are a few examples of adaptive skills: 

Able to coordinate Energetic Mature Responsible
Ambitious Expressive Mentor others Results oriented
Assertive Friendly Methodical Self-confident
Capable Helpful Motivated Sense of humor
Cheerful Imaginative Multitasking Tactful
Competent Independent Open-minded Take pride in work
Conscientious Industrious Optimistic Tenacious
Creative Integritous Original Thrifty
Decision making Intelligent Patient Trustworthy
Dependable Intuitive Problem solver Versatile
Eager Learn Quickly Reliable Well-organized
Efficient Loyal Resourceful

Transferable Skills

Transferable Skills - skills that you have obtained through a variety of activities that you have participated in - jobs, classes, clubs, hobbies, parenting, sports, projects, volunteerism, almost any experience can contribute to transferable skills. Here are some examples of transferable skills:

 Communication & People Skills

Address Condense Document Illustrate Negotiate Recruit Speak
Advertise Confer Draft Influence Outline Reinforce Specify
Arbitrate Convince Edit Interact Perform Relate Suggest
Arrange Convey Elicit Interview Persuade Relay Summarize
Articulate Correspond Enlist Judge Plan Report Survey
Author Debate Entertain Lecture Present Respond Translate
Collaborate Demonstrate Explain Mediate Proofread Review Write
Communicate Direct Express Moderate Read Revise Verify
Compose Discuss Furnish Motivate Reconcile Solicit Transcribe
Compile Deliberate Format  Model Rewrite Screen Tranverse

Creating & Generating

Act Conserve Draft Expand Launch Reconstruct Synthesize
Activate Construct Draw Generate Modify Redesign Transform
Complete Create Engineer Inaugurate Mold Remodel Unite
Compose Discover Execute Landscape Produce Shape Utilize


Adjust Customize Englarge Innovate Function Operate Repair
Assemble Develop Format Install Make Propose Restore
Build Design Implement Invent Manufacture Refinish Update
Compose Devise Improve Fix Navigate Renovate Upgrade

Healthcare & Helping Skills

Adapt Assist Cooperate Ensure Insure Provide Supply
Advocate Care Counsel Expedite Intervene Refer Sympathize
Aid Clarify Demonstrate Facilitate Listen Rehabilitate Treat
Answer Charge Diagnose Familiarize Monitor Represent Volunteer
Arrange Coach Educate Further Motivate Secure  
Assess Collaborate Empathize Guide Nurse Simplify  
Assign Contribute Encourage Help Prevent Support  

Interpersonal Relations

Acclimate Care Converse Foster Intervene Recommend Treat
Accommodate Coach Critique Fulfill Join Rehabilitate Understand
Adapt Collaborate Decide Gain Listen Represent  
Antitipcate Confer Develop Handle Litigate Resolve  
Assist Confront Encourage Implement Model Respond  
Assure Consult Familiarize Inform Participate Share  
Bargain Contribute Form Interact Provide Suggest  

Leadership Skills/Management

Accelerate Chair Enforce Improvise Navigate Recommend Start
Accomplish Commend Enhance Incorporate Officiate Refer Streamline
Achieve Compromise Entrust Increase Order Regulate Strengthen
Act Consider Establish Initiate Organize Reorganize Supervise
Administer Consolidate Execute Inspect Overhaul Replace Terminate
Allocate Contact Expedite Institute Oversee Restore Train
Appoint Control Generate Judge Plan Review  
Approve Coordinate Govern Lead Prescreen Run  
Assign Decide Handle Maintain Preside Schedule  
Assess Delegate Head Manage Prioritize Secure  
Attain Direct Hire Monitor Produce Select  
Benchmark Eliminate Improve Motivate Prohibit Set-up  

Numeric Skills

Abstract Audit Decrease File Inventory Multiply Record
Account Budget Determine Finance Invest Process Reduce
Add Calculate Divide Formulate Market Project Solve
Analyze Collect Enter data Increase Maximize Purchase  
Appraise Compute Estimate Insure Minimize Quantify  


Approve Connect File Monitor Process Review Systematize
Appriase Coordinate Generate Obtain Provide Review Tabulate
Apply Coorespond Group Operate Purchase Route Update
Arrange Define Implement Orchestrate Qualify Schedule Validate
Balance Dispatch Incoporate Order Record Set Verify
Catalog Distribute Inspect Organize Register Screen  
Categorize Edit Issue Overhaul Reorganize Sort  
Classify Establish Log Place Reserve Specify  
Collect Execute Maintain Prepare Respond Submit  
Compile Facilitate Modify Program Retrieve Supply  

 Physical Skills

Accuracy Coordination Flexibility Keen hearing Speed    
Agility Dexterity Hand-eye coordination  Physical fitness Stamina    
Balance Endurance Keen eyesight Power Strength    
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