Résumé Writing 101

May 16, 2017

by Zadra Rose Ibañez, Director of Operations

As the head of the HR department, I am usually one of the first gatekeepers in receiving applications for employment.

At IEA, because we work with highly intelligent children and families, we insist on high quality employees.  This means that a successful candidate for ANY position can spell, understands grammar, pays attention to detail, edits their work, and pretty much accepts nothing short of excellence from themselves.

So when we post a job description, we always ask for a cover letter and résumé to be sent to the hiring staff member’s attention.

Here are some “pointers” (aka requirements) for when you are submitting résumés to a workplace, regardless of field.

The Cover Letter

  • If asked for a cover letter and résumé, it’s best to include a COVER LETTER, not a three sentence email message.
  • Be sure to address the letter to the appropriate person. I have received letters addressed to Zadra Ibañez at IEA, only to have the opening line read, “Dear Sally.”
  • In today’s world, unless you KNOW you are writing to men, it is not going to endear you to the hiring committee to write “Dear Sirs.”
  • Be sure the name and mission of the organization you are applying to are what you indicate in your cover letter. For example, IEA is NOT an insurance firm.
  • Likewise, be sure you are applying for the correct job. “Director of Development” at a non-profit is not a software designer’s position.
  • A cover letter should show me three things:
    • You can write and spell and have a command of the English language.
    • You are a real person with personality and experience – I can see if you’re a good fit for the office culture and my organization.
    • Tell me something that doesn’t appear in your résumé, or explain WHY something isn’t in your résumé. For example, use this as an opportunity to address the 3-year gap in your work history.
  • It’s a really small thing, but ask a friend to proofread your cover letter and résumé. Typos, grammar errors, etc., will get your résumé flagged to the “no” pile immediately.

The Résumé

  • Résumés should be one to two pages long. They should be a snapshot of your professional career, allowing the hiring committee to find pertinent sections to ask you about in an interview.  Like a teaser for a television show.
  • If you list an objective, it should not be, “to get a position at your company.” Instead, tell me what securing this position will do for your professional career or what you can accomplish with this position.  Great examples are:
    • “To utilize previous office experience in a non-profit setting.”
    • “To provide support services to the gifted community through coordination of specialized programs.”
    • “To attain on-the-job training in a leadership role that will allow me to develop management skills to grow within the company.”
  • Please don’t spell “detail-oriented” wrong. Please don’t say, “I have great attention detail.”  (Oh! The irony.)
  • If your previous title was Systems Analyst, please don’t tell me you analyzed systems. I most likely figured that out.  Instead, use the space to list accomplishments, achievements or specific responsibilities you had in that role.
  • Likewise, if you told me in your cover letter that you successfully saved a company thousands of dollars, or created an entire system for organization, you don’t need to tell me again in the description of the job.
  • Unless I am hiring a high school student, I don’t care about your GPA. There’s no need to list it on your résumé.  I will assume that you have a 4.0 unless you prove otherwise.
  • Hobbies are nice; they’re a friendly touch at the bottom of your résumé that makes you look like a real person. They should not be the bulk of your résumé.


  • “Pictures of You” – I prefer that you not include them. If you include a picture, it puts me in the position of having to discount the image and try not to let my thoughts of your appearance, dress, choice of pose, setting, etc., interfere with my judgement of your ability and fit.  It just muddies the waters.
  • “M-O-N-E-Y” – Do not include salary history unless it is requested. You are seeking a new position, not a lateral move.  I may think you are worth more than you think you are.  I may see your previous rate and think you are out of my price range, without offering you a chance to meet me and show me how valuable you may be to our organization.  Either way, you have limited your negotiation power.
  • “People You Know” – It is a good idea to bring a list of professional and personal references to the interview. However, it is not necessary to include them with the résumé.

Whether it is for a non-profit, for-profit or government agency, anyone hiring for a position is on your side.  We are rooting for you to succeed, because, the sooner we find the right candidate, the sooner we can all focus on serving our constituents.  If you are able to demonstrate that you have the qualifications needed and are a good fit for our organization, you will be able to provide much needed support for our team and ultimately our mission.  By following the pointers above, you can help bring our search and yours to a fruitful conclusion, and begin a great relationship that could last for years.

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