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A well written resume shows that you are uniquely qualified. If you are sending lots of resumes and not getting responses, it's time to change your resume and cover letter.

Most people make two mistakes: 1. They don't adapt their resumes for different jobs (known as targeting a resume); and 2. They don't show how good a job they did (known as being accomplishments-oriented). Instead, jobseekers rewrite their job descriptions. That's not good enough. In this section, you'll learn how to write a better resume. I will primarily be covering the sections related to work/volunteer experience.


Are you surprised I didn't mention to check for typos? You already know that. This is about what you may not know.

Do You Stand Out?

Suppose you are an experienced veterinary receptionist seeking a new job. The principles of resume writing are the same no matter how advanced or entry-level the position (with two exceptions).


You could write on your resume that you greeted pets and their families and scheduled appointments. But you won't stand out. Paint a picture. Show your accomplishments. Did you have to keep fighting dogs apart? Did you develop a quicker method of scheduling appointments? What else have you done? You could write, for example, "Greeted pets and their families, calmed animals on the verge of fighting, and soothed distraught pet parents. At the same time, handled 5 phone lines, scheduled appointments and answered questions." Did you develop a new process that saved time? For example, "Developed streamlined intake form." If it was a very busy practice, you could write, for example, that it served up to 8 patients an hour (or up to 72 patients a day).

This shows that you made a difference and that you understood the complexity of the job.

There are two exceptions: Veterinarians, professors and other graduate-degree level researchers may need a CV instead of a resume (that will be made clear in the job description). In the US and Canada, resumes and CVs are not the same. A CV is a longer document that is organized differently and has fewer descriptions. I will not be covering CVs in this section. The other is that resumes for jobs with the federal government require far greater detail. The principles are otherwise the same. The US Office of Personnel Management has written a thorough guide.

A resume is an opportunity to introduce yourself on your terms.

10 Resume Pointers

  1. Resumes are more flexible than you may think. The headings you use, the order of your bullet points and how you list your skills make a difference.

  2. Think of your accomplishments as you write your resume. Where possible, show the difference you made in a job or volunteer position (and quantify it if you can). Examples: "Organized and inventoried office supplies. Trained 12-member staff on system. Cut costs by 15%."  "Summarized 100-page complex policy reports into clear, one-page memos."

  3. Be honest (don't lie, but don't be beat yourself up either).

  4. Jobs such as bartender, residence assistant at a dorm, restaurant server and sales are more relevant than you may think. They show that you have the ability to work under pressure with a lot of different people and at long hours while showing great judgment. Be proud of those jobs.

  5. Consider an Experience section (rather than an Employment section) especially if you have relevant volunteer experience but limited job experience. "Experience" includes paid and unpaid work. "Employment," connotes only paid jobs.

  6. Avoid writing "responsibilities include(d)." Instead use action verbs. For example, "Researched, wrote and analyzed issues" sounds stronger than "Responsibilities included researching, writing and analyzing issues."

  7. Most employers prefer reading bullet points (and not paragraphs) under each job (but it is acceptable to use paragraphs). Avoid having more than 8 bullets under each position (or paragraphs that are too long).

  8. Put the most important bullets at the beginning, second and end of a list. Put the least relevant in the middle. For example, suppose your experience includes helping a professor of veterinary medicine with his or her research. Most of the time, you enter data; sometimes you observe animals. You also assist with library and internet research and occasionally you walk and feed animals. If you are looking for a job in a veterinary clinic, the work you did with animals is important and would be your top bullet points. If you want a job conducting research, then observing, researching and entering data would be listed first. (You also want to go into more detail.)

  9. If your only relevant experience is from your classes, consider including relevant papers you wrote. This could be done in Education or a separate section (Papers or Research could be your heading). Do not call it Publications unless they were published. You can include the class titles, dates, and professors.

  10. Don't rely solely on spellcheck. It won't catch, for example, an error in your phone number.

Don't feel that you need to pay someone to write your resume (and I'm a Certified Professional Resume Writer). There are free resources. Most colleges offer free resume critiques to students and alumni.

Click here if you would like tips about resume design.

Target the resume to the job. It makes a difference.

Exercise: How To Target a Resume

It is said that the resume gets you the interview; the interview gets you the job.

This section is for those whose resumes aren't working.


  1. Grab a job description of interest. Use an actual job description or make one up. It doesn't have to be in your geographic area--you are using it as a base to craft your resume.

  2. Read the description and highlight or underline the qualifications that you have. (You don't need to be an expert.)

  3. Incorporate those qualifications into your resume (for example, under Relevant Experience or Skills). You may need to change the language so it isn't verbatim (if you are applying for that position). This is still a draft, so the text will change.

  4. Go back to that job description. Note the qualifications you do NOT have. Use your best judgment to determine which ones might be essential (without which candidates won't be considered). See if there is a way to include those items that isn't a stretch. Don't include them if it is too much of a stretch or you feel uncomfortable--otherwise you will lose credibility.

For example, suppose Spanish was a requirement. You aren't a native speaker; you studied it for three years in high school and haven't spoken it since you graduated several years ago. You can't say you are fluent, proficient or even conversational.


But you might say "coursework in,"studied," or "rusty." A former student once used "taxicab fluent." You can learn foreign languages online for free on and other sites. One could then write, "Currently learning Spanish." This won't help if the employer wants fluency, but it may be useful for other jobs. Again, if you are uncomfortable writing that, don't do it. And, don't embellish or lie. That will come back and bite you.

Another example: Suppose you are a career changer seeking a paid job working with pets. You have no paid experience working with animals. You might have a pet or volunteer at a shelter walking dogs. A job of interest asks for experience handling animals being boarded, maintaining feeding schedules and administering medication. Things you can consider on a resume include: 1) Under Skills and/or in a Summary, list that you have experience taking care of pets, including feeding and administering medications (if true with your own pet). Under those headings, you do not have to say where you use the skill. You can even say, for example, "5 years experience caring for dogs. Includes..." Include your volunteer experience on your resume using a choice of headings such as Relevant Experience (Experience can be paid or unpaid; Employment is paid only); Animal Experience; and Volunteer. Under those headings, you would list the dates, employer and the work you did (include your title if it is not evident from the heading.) I discuss free online training as a resume builder in my August 2023 blog post.

Now you have just written a targeted draft.

Example: Applying a Job Description

I picked an entry-level job as an example, but I could have selected a job requiring graduate training or one between the two. The concepts are the same.  You want to show that you are qualified and that you will be an excellent employee.

For a customer service position, a veterinary practice sought:

  •   Veterinary animal experience: 1 year

  •   Customer service: 1 year

  •   Veterinary receptionist: 1 year

That's all they listed. What might those criteria mean? Let's take an educated guess.
Veterinary animal experience: Hold animals, assist vets and vet techs, clean cages and messes, get meds, trim nails and express anal glands. What animals? Cats, dogs, exotics; perhaps it is a large animal practice with horses and cattle. (Research the practice to learn about it.)

Customer service: Answer the phones, follow-up to ensure patient needs are met, get answers to pet parents' questions from vets and others, stay calm, go the extra mile...schedule appointments, do ten things at once, work well under pressure. You can assume the practice will have moments of chaos. While working with animals is ideal, the key is whether you can deal with the public.

Veterinary receptionist: Warmly greet patients and their parents/handlers/owners. Always be calm, pleasant and make people feel welcome. Have at least basic computer skills. Order supplies, handle billing and answer questions about the practice. Work as part of a team. Triage emergencies. Stay late when needed.


Do you have those skills? Are those skills evident from your resume? Add anything of which you are particularly proud--an hysterical pet parent you calmed; a cat whose lived you saved; a training manual you wrote; that you hadn't missed a day of work for three years (this works for front-line jobs where punctuality is critical.)

Other: Research the employer. What might be important to him/her? For example, the practice might only work with cats. Perhaps they might have a mission statement hinting as to the qualities they seek in employees. You can also mention a detail about the practice in your cover letter.

What if you don't have experience in a veterinary setting?  Show that you have relevant experience although it may not have been paid or with animals. For example, bartending includes many of the same skills. (It may be tempting to write about working with drunken "animals" at the bar, but don't do it.) Having a sense of humor is always good, but it's risky on a resume--make sure it is funny and also not discriminatory. I am all for originality, but if so tempted, sleep on it first and show it to someone you trust before including.


In addition, discuss your interest in an animal-related position in a cover letter and on a resume. You are positioning yourself: You may not have the animal expertise that other candidates have, BUT you excel at working with humans under all conditions. Consider including in a description or as a skill (if true), "Ability to hit the ground running." It sounds cliche, but employers like seeing this--it means that you learn fast.

What additional skills might set you apart and be helpful to an employer? Here's a few: Foreign languages; writing; social media (to help market the practice); computer skills--and the ability to handle multiple priorities (that shows you understand the job).

Are You Changing Careers?
Consider a Profile or Summary section after your contact information especially if you have relevant experience--even if it isn't with animals. For the above job, you can list that you have experience in customer service and animal care, eg, if you have pets. For example, "Strong customer service orientation"; "5 years of experience working with pets." You'll elaborate on your customer service under your applicable jobs and can include more information about pets under a Skills section (if you have no other relevant animal-related work or volunteer experience), for example, "Walk, feed and administer medication."

Think about including an objective only if you have scant relevant experience or transferable skills. The objective would be the job you are applying to, plus you can add, for example, "...that uses my customer service background, ability to work under pressure and experience in animal care. (Note: That would be an objective for an entry-level position only.) If you are unsure whether to include an objective, omit it. Objectives are generally considered outdated.

Cover letters and resumes are more flexible than you might think.

You got this.

Cover Letters

A bad cover letter (especially one with typos) can rule you out. A great one can help. However, you still might not be considered--even with a great letter--if you don't have the qualifications. Do your best and control what you can control (the quality of the document).

Cover letters are 3-4 paragraphs in length and on one page (letters for academic research positions can be longer).

  • Paragraph 1: Overview of what you bring to the job (mention the specific job you are applying for). If you have a compelling reason for applying, add it (but don't worry if you don't have one). Never write, "because you are a fine company." To a career counselor, that's nails on a blackboard (that and "I like people.")

  • Section 2: Elaborate on your qualifications (can be divided into two paragraphs).

  • Last paragraph: Thank the reader, "in advance for your consideration and welcome the opportunity to join your team." You can be more assertive if you prefer. For example, "I will follow up with you in two weeks." Some books say you must do this. In my experience, it will not matter. Write what is comfortable for you.

A Cover Letter Example
The protocol for including addresses in cover letters has evolved depending on whether the letter is sent via snail mail or electronically. In a traditional snail-mailed cover letter, your home address and the employer's would be at the top (yours first). Your address would also include your phone number and email address and could include your LinkedIn address. These days, cover letters are usually sent electronically. You could then start with "Dear"and list your email address and phone (and LinkedIn profile if you like and if you have one) under your name at the bottom. There is more than one way to do this.

Dear Hiring Manager, (use the contact name listed in the job ad if there is one; you could also send it to the head of the practice). Or phone and ask to whom to direct the cover letter (they may tell you).

First paragraph: Opening with a one line summary of your qualifications works well UNLESS you know someone who works at that employer and he/she recommended you. If so, open with that; for example, "Dana Smith suggested that I apply for the position of customer service representative." I do not recommend opening that you love pets. Why? Most people will do that and you want to stand out. In my experience, you can say it in the letter--if you elaborate in a serious way--just don't open with it.

Second paragraph (which can be divided into two paragraphs): There are several ways to write this. A common way: Think about two or three examples of the qualities and experiences you want to tell an employer. For example, you could write (if accurate) that you have excellent customer service skills or "I have the skills you seek." Next, you could give an example--"For example, "..." and briefly relay something you are proud of having done. At the end of this section, you can also add other relevant criteria that set you apart. "In addition, I am fluent in Spanish," for example. Suppose you created a special manual or implemented a new policy at an old job--you can put that in.

Last paragraph: If you didn't summarize your background in the first paragraph, you can do so in the last. For example,"In summary, I offer you excellent customer service, veterinary assistance, computer and team skills. I welcome the opportunity to interview for the position."Or, "I would greatly welcome the opportunity to join your organization and look forward to hearing from you." As I wrote earlier, other books may advise you to be more aggressive in your last paragraph. For example, "I will phone you in two weeks..." In my experience that has not made any difference. Do what you are comfortable with.

End it with "Sincerely," and your name. Add your email address and phone if you did not do that at the top.

I hope you find this page helpful. I have long worked with students, PhDs, executives, career changers, job-seekers, public policy managers and just about everyone else. There are guidelines that apply to writing resumes and cover letters, but everyone will have special circumstances. I hope this page gives you the skills and confidence to trust your judgment and write a resume that is genuinely you and that sets you apart from other candidates. I will be adding more topics in the future.

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