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Resume & Cover Letter Tips

Resume and Cover Letter Writing for ECS Students

by Wincy Li & Ken Lee (Career Education Specialists, Career & Co-op Centre, Toronto Metropolitan University)

Resumes and cover letters are often the first opportunity you will get to make a positive impression on a potential employer. They showcase your professional experiences as well as your written communication skills. The purpose of your resume and cover letter is to get you an interview, where you can further elaborate on why you think you are the perfect candidate for the position and the organization.

Perhaps because the stake is so high, and writing good resumes and cover letters can be time-consuming, many students often do not know where to begin. After all, how do you impress an employer, who generally spends 5 to 30 seconds to scan your resume and cover letter before deciding whether to read on, in the limited space that these documents provide?

I want to reassure you that resume and cover letter writing does not have to be painful - at the very least, it gets easier with time and practice. In fact, what I have learned through the years is that resume and cover letter writing is a great opportunity to increase your self-awareness - a quality that is essential to your success in a community services field of practice like Early Childhood Studies (ECS).

Top 5 Tips:

It is important to remember that one size does not fit all where resume and cover letter writing is concerned - there is not a single, correct format to follow. Still, here are 5 top tips to help get you started:

You have exactly one chance to impress your reader, so make sure your cover letter and resume both speak to what the employer is looking for - not just why you are a great candidate, but why you are great for them.

To get a solid understanding of what the employer wants, you need to do some research into the organization and read the job description carefully. Find out what the role entails, what the culture of the organization is, and how you will fit into it. Sometimes, you need to exercise your critical thinking skills in deciphering what qualities you would need to succeed in that position and highlight them accordingly in your resume and cover letter, because not all employers will articulate their requirements clearly.

Once you have a good idea what the employer is looking for, and how they prioritize these skills, you can order your resume sections and bullet points accordingly - the most important parts or points are always to be highlighted or mentioned first.

Are you one of those students who are juggling several jobs, volunteering engagements, and school projects all at the same time? Maybe you already have a lot of ECS placements and work experiences under your belt?

If you are a high achiever and/or a busy bee, it is very likely that you will struggle with packing all your experiences into a 2-page resume. In these situations, just remember that it is more effective to shine a spotlight on your most relevant experiences, rather than a floodlight on everything.

For example, if you have plenty of employment/volunteer/placement experiences working with children with disabilities, and you are applying for a resource teacher position that works exclusively with this student population, you will definitely want to highlight these experiences first. Sometimes that means omitting less relevant experiences from your resume. Other times, you will need to use creative headings (e.g. “Relevant Professional Experience - Specialized Programming” instead of generic headings such as “Placement Experience” and “Volunteer Experience”) to help you group these experiences together.

Statements or bullet points such as “Facilitated classroom activities” on your resume only serve to generally describe your duties or tasks that - let us be honest - many of your ECS peers can do. A more effective way to describe your experiences is to give concrete examples of your accomplishments, because these will be unique to you and the context in which you work (e.g. “Facilitated recreational activities that increased the narrative skills and literacy of a class of 24 preschoolers”).

An accomplishment statement generally comprises of a carefully chosen action verb that precisely summarizes your task/duty, and it always includes a description of the results of your actions. Where appropriate, quantifying your accomplishments or results will really help your read contextualize your capacity.

While it may not be feasible to write accomplishment statements like this for every single bullet point on your resume due to the space constraint, it is good practice to include 1-2 such accomplishment statements under each experience to distinguish yourself from your peers.

Learn more about articulating your accomplishments by watching a Career & Co-op Centre video (external link, opens in new window) .

Your cover letter is where you can tell your story. It is an opportunity to articulate your interest in the position, as well as the skills that you can bring to the organization. If there is a reason why you feel particularly passionate or connected to the position or the organization, consider mentioning it in the cover letter (e.g. “As a first-generation immigrant, I am particularly drawn to [organization name]’s mandate to serve newcomers to Canada.”).

Clearly identify 2-3 relevant key strengths that make you a great fit for the role in your cover letter, using keywords that your potential employers are familiar with (e.g. communication skills, intercultural competence, knowledge of childhood development, etc.). Make sure to include concrete examples from your past experiences (e.g. school projects, placement responsibilities) to demonstrate that you indeed have each of these key strengths.

Lastly, drive your message home by articulating how you plan on applying these strengths in that position or organization (e.g. “My demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion is a great asset for [organization name], and I look forward to being a part of your team to serve the diverse families in your neighbourhood.”).

Learn 8 things to avoid doing on your cover letter by watching a Career & Co-op Centre video (external link, opens in new window) 

Common mistakes to make on a resume or a cover letter include spelling and grammatical errors, awkward sentence structures or excessive use of run-on sentences, references to the wrong organization or individual, and use of unprofessional language.

Not only do these mistakes distract readers from your key messages, they also convey to potential employers that you are not careful with (or do not care about) your work. Is this really the first impression that you want to make, especially as you embark on your career as an educator or look for advancement opportunities in the field?

When you are editing your resume and cover letter, make sure your ideas are conveyed clearly in sentences that are easy to read. It is also a good idea to ask a trusted individual to proofread your documents one last time with a fresh pair of eyes to catch any minor mistake.