Your job search: Preparing your résumé and cover letter

Regardless of your occupation, work history, or objective, you need a résumé in order to get a job.

The handwritten application, in which you had to squeeze the required information into very small boxes, is largely out of use. Applying for a job today means submitting an electronic résumé via the Internet or completing an application form via a company’s Web site or at a kiosk in the employer’s offices.

A résumé is mandatory if part of your job-search plan is to place your application on file at an employer’s career site or a job-posting board. Think of your résumé as a personal advertisement and request for an interview.

General Portrayal of Age
Write your résumé to reflect a strongly positive and proud portrayal of your depth of capabilities and talents. Make no attempt to mislead or misinform the reader about your age. Most résumés require no more than 10 to 20 years of recent and relevant work history. Include earlier positions if they show qualifications for the position of interest. Generally avoid or minimize use of the word, “experience.” Instead, emphasize capabilities, qualifications, and achievements-not previous titles, duties, and length of service.

General Format and Appearance
Résumés should not exceed two pages for most occupations, though educators and some professionals may require longer curricula vitae. Prepare your résumé in a standard word-processing application, such as Microsoft Word, using a traditional, easily read font, such as Arial or Times New Roman. Keep the text in a uniform font size of 10 or 11. Your name, section headings, and employers’ names can be in a bold and in a somewhat larger font, perhaps 12 or 13. Avoid multiple fonts and excessive bolding, italics, and underlining.


The preferred résumé style for age-50+ workers combines a functional, qualification-based format and a traditional, chronological work history.

It is common for employers to scan résumés electronically to locate “keywords” that are specific to the job in question. While a single, standard résumé is better than none, you should be prepared to revise yours to the specific job of interest. Insert keywords taken from the employer’s job ad or position description, including job titles, qualifications, knowledge, and skills.

Choose language and words that convey activity, energy, and achievement. This is critical for age-50+ job seekers. Active verbs and a clear depiction of contributions and achievements will bring vitality and strength to your résumé. Use contemporary expressions and technical wording, particularly language related to computer skills and knowledge.

OK, let’s construct a résumé…

Heading and Contact Information
Place your full name at the top center of the first page in a somewhat larger, bold font. Contact information should include your residential address (city and state at a minimum); preferred phone number (a mobile phone is strongly advised, so that you can respond immediately to inquiries); and an e-mail address (select an e-mail address that sounds businesslike-your full name or a variation on it would be best). If your résumé has multiple pages, put your name and the page number at the top of each page.

Separate the heading section and all subsequent sections with a page-width horizontal line to aid the reader.


Occupational or Career Objective
The first section of the résumé is a statement of occupational or career objectives, specifying the industrial sector, profession, or occupation, and the level of responsibility (individual contributor or supervisory/managerial). You can begin this section with a general title of your occupation written in bold font, such as “Senior Computer Support Specialist,” “Pharmacist,” “Grocery Produce Department Manager” or “General Accountant.” If you are pursuing an occupational or professional change, or if you’re returning to the workforce following an absence, explicitly state that fact in the objectives section.

Skills, Capabilities, and Qualifications
Present your critical or (especially for career changers) transferable skills, capabilities, and qualifications in a bulleted format, limited to the 10 to 12 most important factors. You can tailor these factors to the position sought. Cite specific knowledge, certifications, and credentials (degrees, workshops, or seminars), technical capabilities (for example, computer skills), personal attributes (leadership, organization, and interpersonal skills, an orientation toward results, or the like), and industry-specific items. For example:

Staff Supervision – Effectively supervised groups of five to 15 employees in varied environments

This specific example of work history is vital to the person scanning your résumé. You can briefly expand on each qualification or simply list the bulleted items.

Work History
In reverse-chronological order, list each employer (accounting for the most recent 10 to 20 years) including the employer’s name, a description of the enterprise, the city and state where you had the job, calendar years of employment (you don’t need to include months), the most senior job title achieved, accountabilities, primary activities, and achievements or notable results. You can place the achievements and notable results in a bulleted list, but limit the bulleted items to two or three.

You can consolidate other previous experience into a brief, general paragraph, such as “Previous positions in (insert your occupation and industry).


Education, Training and Affiliations
Enter formal education, including the name of your school, its location, and your course of study. You don’t need to put a graduation date unless it has been within the past 20 years. If you did not complete a degree program from the school, note either “attended” or “completed coursework.” Formal education is often checked during background inquiries, and any misrepresentation is likely to be discovered.

List any meaningful training in a bulleted list. This includes recognized, rigorous, and relevant programs with a direct bearing on your occupational objective and qualifications. For example, if you completed a bookkeeping course from an accredited institution, such as a community college, or if you took a Microsoft Office certification classes. Don’t use this space for webinars or seminars.

Finally, list certifications and occupational affiliations in a bulleted list. List memberships in any associations relevant to your employment. These include, but are not limited to, organizations like the Society of Human Resources Management, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and Society of Professional Journalists.

What Not to Put In
Do not include personal or family information. Include social and recreational activities only if they have a bearing on the position of interest (for instance, a leadership position if you are seeking a supervisory role, or if you have a hobby like camping, which would help you sell outdoor gear). Do not include references or even mention their availability; that step comes much later in the process. Do not include photos, colors, or insert graphic art.

Submitting Your Résumé
In general, you can submit your résumé by placing it on the prospective employer’s career Web page. It may be necessary to cut and paste it to match their format. It may be necessary to convert your Word-format document into plain-text format. Plain text is often required when pasting résumé content into online forms and databases. Just copy the text from the Word document and paste it into the notepad feature on your computer. Save the document as a “.txt,” or “text,” file.

Cover Letters
Cover letters are often overdone. Their primary purpose is to provide a sample of your best business writing skills and not to summarize your work history. Make every effort to address your cover letter to an actual person. Try to get the correct name and title of the employer’s contact. Your cover letter should not be longer one-half of one typed page.


If you were referred to the employer, be certain to mention the name of the person referring you. This could be a current employee or a person the recruiter may know. Even if it is only word of mouth, most recruiters will be favorably impressed to know you were inquiring about the organization and that it enjoys a positive reputation.

A bad cover letter, one that is too lengthy, too boastful, or too desperate, will hurt you every time.

Your cover letter should briefly but firmly state your interest in the employer and the position. Highlight two or three items from your background that may catch the recruiter’s eye. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t be reluctant to sell yourself. Show your enthusiasm for the job while maintaining a businesslike tone in the cover letter. Display confidence in your capabilities and in your belief that you are an ideal candidate for the position. The cover letter is an ideal way to begin displaying your self-confidence.

When submitting online, make sure you upload or attach your résumé and cover letter as one file. You can easily do this by pasting your résumé below your brief cover letter. Most application-tracking systems only allow for a single document per applicant.

Before submitting or sending any material, proofread your résumé and cover letter several times. Ask a friend or colleague to double-check them. Even one or two errors or typos can derail your application.
If you still feel hesitant to attempt a cover letter, don’t worry. If you write a strong objective at the top of your résumé, that should stand on its own merit. Most recruiters tell me they would rather prefer a thoughtful, put-together résumé to an overdone cover letter.

– Courtesy of AARP.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.