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Targeted Resume

& Cover Letter Tips

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Most people write resumes wrong.  They make two mistakes: 1. They don't adapt their resumes for different jobs (known as targeting a resume); and 2. They don't explain how good a job they did for an employer (known as being accomplishments oriented).  In this section, you'll learn how to write a better resume. Are you surprised I didn't mention typos--you already know to check for them--I'll emphasize the parts you may not know. 

If you are sending hundreds of resumes and getting no responses, you have to change your resume and cover letter. (I'll talk about cover letters later.)

Let's use the example of seeking a job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic to learn how to craft a description. (The principles are the same whether the job is entry-level or requires advanced training and education).


If you have experience, you could write that you greeted pets and their families and scheduled appointments. But how do you really stand out? You do it by painting more of a picture and showing your accomplishments. On busy days, did you see a lot of animals? Did you have to keep fighting dogs apart? Was it a busy veterinary practice? Did you develop a quicker method of scheduling appointments? What else have you done? You could write, for example, "Effortlessly 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."

The example showed how you made a difference and that you understood the complexity of the job. Also as you can see in this example, I never used the phrase "Responsibilities included." Avoid that phrase if you can.

A Well Done Resume

  • ...Proves that you are qualified for the job.  You show prospective employers that you have the skills, training and/or experience (paid or unpaid) needed.

  • ...Proves that you are unique among candidates.  One way is to list your special and needed skills such as speaking a second language, writing well, etc.).

  • Someone should be able to read your resume and be able to discern the field for which you are applying. That's what it means to have a targeted resume.

  • You want your resume to scream"that's really me."

There are two basic types of resumes--chronological and functional. Employers prefer the chronological format and that is what I will cover. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Functional resumes used to be recommended for those with gaps in their experience. As a rule, they don't work.

The principles of resume writing are the same no matter how advanced or entry-level the position. One exception is that veterinarians, professors and other graduate-degree level researchers may need a CV instead of a resume. 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 am not covering CVs in this section.


  • 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.

  • Where possible, show the difference you made in a job or volunteer position (and, ideally, quantify it). Examples: Take organized--"Organized and inventoried office supplies. Trained staff on system. Cut costs by 15%." Take writing: "Summarized 100-page complex policy reports into clear, one-page memos."

  • Always be honest (don't lie, but don't be beat yourself up either).

  • Don't worry about length when you are writing a draft. The final version will be 1-2 pages, but this isn't the time to limit it. My technique is to help people brainstorm and then edit it down to the correct length.

  • Jobs such as bartender, residence assistant at a dorm 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.

  • Think about the interview you hope you get. Think about what you want to be asked about. Make sure that is in your resume. Do not think that you won't have anything to talk about in the interview if you include it. It doesn't work that way.

  • Use an Experience section (and not an Employment section) if you have relevant volunteer experience but limited job experience. "Experience" includes paid and unpaid work."Employment," connotes only paid jobs.

  • Avoid writing "responsibilities include." Instead use action verbs. For example, "Researched, wrote and analyzed issues" sounds stronger than "Responsibilities included researching, writing and analyzing issues." You can use the present tense if you are still at the job.

  • Most employers prefer reading bullet points (and not paragraphs) under each job (but it's OK to use paragraphs). Avoid having more than 8 bullets under each position (or paragraphs that are too long). Put the most important at the beginning, second and at the end. 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 observed animals. You also assisted with library and internet research and occasionally you exercised the animals, cleaned cages, and fed them. If you are looking for a job in a veterinary clinic, the work you did with animals is important and would be your first bullet points (exercised animals, etc.). If you want a job conducting research, then observing, researching and entering data would be listed first. (You would also want to go into more detail.)

  • If your only relevant experience is from your classwork, consider including papers you wrote. This could be done in the Education or a separate section (Relevant Papers could be your heading). Do not call it Publications unless they were published. You can include the class each was for, the dates, class and professor.

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

How Do You Write A Targeted Resume That Gets Noticed?

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

This section is intended for those whose resume just isn't working for them.

1. Grab a job description of interest. Use an actual job description or make one up. You can use and other sites to find it. 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 in those areas.)

3. Incorporate those qualifications into your resume. You may need to change the language so it isn't verbatim (especially if you are applying for that job). Include them (adapting as needed) under appropriate headings, such as, but not limited to, Related Experience, Volunteer, Education, or Skills. If it doesn't fit in anywhere, add it under a new category, "Additional." You can include each one more than once, but you will need to change the language (so it doesn't sound repetitive). This is still a draft, so things 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.

For example, suppose Spanish was a requirement. You studied it for three years in high school and haven't practiced since you graduated 8 years ago. You can't say you are fluent, proficient or even conversational. But you might say "coursework in,"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 you if the employer wants fluency, but it may be useful for other jobs. All that said, if you are uncomfortable writing that, don't do it. And, don't embellish. That will come back and bite you.

Another example: Suppose you are a career changer seeking a paid job working with pets for the first time. You might have a pet or you volunteer at a shelter walking dogs. A job of interest asks for experience handling animals being boarded, maintaining feeding schedules and administering prescribed medication. Things you can consider on a resume: 1) Under Skills, list that you have experience taking care of dogs, including feeding and administering medications (if true with your own dog). If it's under skills, you don't have to say where you use the skill. To build your resume, ask if you can take on added responsibilities at the shelter where you volunteer or at the least, talk to those already doing that task. If you have more substantial experience, you could list it in the experience section.

With that, you have just written a 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 in-between the two. The concepts are the same.  You want to show you are qualified and that you will be a good employee.

For our example, let's take part of an actual job description at a private veterinary practice. For a customer service position, they sought:

  •   Veterinary animal experience: 1 year

  •   Customer service: 1 year

  •   Veterinary receptionist: 1 year

That's All They Listed. What do those criteria mean?
Veterinary animal experience: Hold animals, assist vets and vet techs, clean cages and messes, get meds. 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 from vets and others, stay calm, go the extra mile...schedule appointments, do ten things at once, work well under pressure.

Veterinary receptionist: Greet patients and their parents/handlers. 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.

How does your experience match up? Do you have those skills? Are they evident from your resume? It's fine if you acquired them from having volunteered or having your own pets. You can mix paid and unpaid experiences in a section called "Experience." Now, add anything that you are particularly proud--an hysterical pet parent you calmed, 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.)

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. You will have to make the connection in your description as to why it is relevant. 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 not discriminatory. If you are tempted to attempt humor, sleep on it first and show it to someone you trust before including.

What additional skills might set you apart and be helpful to an employer? Here's a few: Foreign languages, writing, skillful with social media (to help market the practice) and computer skills. Also, the abilities to multi-task and hit the ground running are essential.

Basics: For Those Without A Draft


1-2 pages depending on the amount of your experience. The guideline is two pages after ten years of experience, but that is not a hard-and-fast rule. Don't pad your resume.

What's an Easy, Professional Layout?

This isn't the only way to do it, but it is easy, clean and fast.

  • Name/Contact info: Center. Put your name in bold. It can be in all capital letters or upper and lower case.

  • Font size: 10-12. Headings (Education, Experience, etc.) can be size 12 and your name at the top can be 12 or 14 (headings in 10 look small).

  • Headings may be centered or on the left.

  • Don't indent: Align text on the left side ("left justify").

  • Use bullet points: Bullets are more effective than writing paragraphs under specific jobs. You do not need bullets in your Summary or in Education. A Summary, Profile, Qualifications or similar is optional and can be written as a list or as a paragraph. When used, the Summary or Profile section is at the top after your name. In case you are wondering,  Objectives" are considered outdated and almost never used with one possible exception discussed later.

  • Heading titles are flexible."Experience," "Education" and "Additional" are  basic ones to build around (not necessarily in that order). "Key Words" can be an effective section for some people.

  • Education: If you are a student or recent graduate, Education is usually the first section (after a Summary, Profile or Qualifications section, if you use one). After two years of work experience, Education goes at or near the end.

  • Reverse chronological order: List most recent items first in the Education and Experience sections.

  • Avoid using a Functional resume (see below). Instead use a reverse chronological resume.

Styles of resumes. The most commonly accepted style is the reverse chronological resume where jobs and education are organized with the most recent first. You may hear about functional resumes, the second most commonly used format. As I mentioned employers do not like functional resumes. It is harder for them to find key information. Functional resumes were originally created to help those returning to work after huge gaps of time, for example, a parent taking time off to raise a child. In a functional resume, employers, job titles and dates of employment are listed separately from the descriptions of the work. You have less credibility with this type of resume. That's not good.

How Do You Put it Together on a Resume?

The order of your sections (or headings) depends on your level of experience. For example, if you have all the qualifications, start off with an Experience section (after your contact information and Summary/Profile if you use one). Then use bullet points to elaborate on your qualifications under each employer. Employers are listed in reverse chronological order under each heading.

  • List the bullets in the order of their relevance for the job to which you are applying--not in terms of how much time you spent on each task. Put the least relevant bullets in the middle (so you start and end strong).

  • What to put in a bullet? Think of your accomplishments: A resume is not a job description. Think of particular events that you are proud of and put them in.

No Experience: Are You Changing Careers?

In this case, consider a Profile or Summary section after your contact information especially if you have relevant experience, but it may not be with animals. You can list that you have experience in customer service and animal care, eg, if you have pets. For example, "Strong customer service orientation"; More than 10 years of experience working with pets, including walking, bathing and feeding."

Think about an objective only if you have absolutely no relevant experience or transferable skills. If you are unsure whether to include an objective, omit it. It is estimated that people read resumes for less than a minute. Objectives are passé.

In future posts, we'll include specific ways of writing your resume and CV, how to use headings to your advantage and adding a LinkedIn profile.

Cover Letters

Let's use the same job in the example above, but this approach can be easily applied to jobs in any field. You can plug in examples from your own background.

There are different ways to write cover letters and I'm going to start with one technique. Cover letters can seem scary but they are not.

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

  • Paragraph 1: Overview of what you bring to the job (mention the specific job you are applying for).

  • 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 the team. You can be more assertive if you like. 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. Be honest and write what is comfortable for you.

Start by looking at the job description, then decide how your experience matches.

Here's the description again:

  • Veterinary experience (1 year): Did your take care of your own animals, volunteer, work in a clinic, etc.?

  • Customer service (1 year): Was it in- or outside an animal setting? While working with animals is ideal, the key is whether you can deal with the public--that is, stay calm, provide information, answer phones; work under pressure, etc.

  • Veterinary receptionist (1 year): When people and/or their pets arrive, did you greet them warmly, schedule appointments, bill them? Can you answer phones and calmly and enthusiastically handle lots of people in the waiting room. Can you calmly handle emergencies? Did you often stay late or fill in when needed?

Other: Research the employer. What might be important to them? For example, the practice might only work with cats. They might even have a mission statement hinting as to the qualities they seek in candidates.

A Cover Letter Example

Addresses are at the top--yours first (with your phone number) and then that of the employer with a space between. It is also fine to include your LinkedIn address or just your email address. Your email address is the most important part.

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 if they will 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 it, eg, Maria Smith suggested that I apply for the position of customer service representative. I don't 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, just don't open with it.

Second paragraph (which can be divided into two paragraphs): There are several ways to do this. A common way is to think about two or three examples of what you want to tell an employer. For example, you could write (if accurate) that you have excellent customer service skills. Next, you could give an example--"For example, "..." and briefly relay something you are proud of. At the end of this section, you can also add the other criteria that set you apart. "In addition, I am fluent in Spanish," for example. Suppose you have worked long hours at other jobs or can be available on quick notice to sub--you can put that in. Suppose you created a special manual or implemented a new policy at an old job--you can put that in. You could also have started that section with, "I have the credentials you seek."

Third (or fourth if you divided the second into two paragraphs): 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."

End it with "Sincerely," and your name.

Resume Pointers
Resume Example
Resume Basics
Cover Letters
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