Back to Harvard Extension School Blog

How to Write a Great Resume and Cover Letter

Linda Spencer offers helpful tips and resources to help you write your resumé and cover letter.

7/17/2012 | Career Development | 3 minute read

What makes a great résumé and cover letter? Linda Spencer, associate director and coordinator of career advising at Harvard Extension School, shares examples of a few strong résumés and explains what makes them stand out.

Perfect Your Marketing Documents

Spencer stresses it’s important to know that your résumé and cover letter are marketing documents. Also keep in mind that the average employer takes about seven seconds to review these documents. They’re not reading: they’re skimming. So you need to make it clear right off the bat how you can add value.

Strong résumés don’t have to be lengthy. One to two pages that feature your most top accomplishments works well.

Use Action Words and Customize Your Pitch

When highlighting your professional experience, use accomplishment statements rather than descriptions of your role. Start with an action verb. Then detail the impact that action had: Did you increase, decrease, modify, or change anything in your work? Finally, be sure to quantify the accomplishments. Data helps.

Your cover letter should be one page, highly customized to each position you’re applying for. It answers two questions: why are you the right fit for the position? And how will you add value to the organization?


While it’s important to have a strong résumé and cover letter, it’s also important to remember that the number one job search strategy is networking. You don’t want to simply be reactive, applying blindly to job postings. You want to conduct a series of informational meetings so that you build a network of people you can reach out to when it comes time to start your job search.


Any Extension student can attend first-come, first-served 15-minute call-ins (via phone or Skype) with Linda. See Career Services for more information.

Stay Up to Date with Our Blog

Subscribe to receive regular emails with posts about lifelong learning, career development, getting back in the classroom, and more.

You May Also Like

5 Tips for Changing Careers Career Development

5 Tips for Changing Careers

Considering a career change can be daunting. Linda Spencer, associate director of the Office of Career Services, provides fiv...

5/08/2015 | 7 minute read

How to Ace an Interview Career Development

How to Ace an Interview

An interview can be a nerve-wracking experience. In this video, Linda Spencer, associate director the Office of Career Servic...

5/08/2015 | 11 minute read

How to Effectively Curate Your Career Career Development

How to Effectively Curate Your Career

From news to entertainment to social media personas, we are constantly curating the world around us to reflect and refine our...

8/26/2016 | 6 minute read