Writing Resumes and Cover Letters

When teaching grad students about resumes and cover letters, you can and should use the Hiring Success Stories on Versatile PhD as examples of successful PhD resumes and cover letters. Hiring Success Stories are complete dossiers of winning application documents that got real PhDs real nonacademic jobs.

Each one consists of core documents (resume, cover letter, job description or position announcement), a first-person narrative analysis explaining exactly how the hire took place, and in many cases, the same person’s CV for comparison with the resume. Read through a bunch of them well in advance so you can pick the ones that best illustrate the points you want to get across in your course or workshop.

(If you’re signed in but are blocked from accessing a Hiring Success Story, it means you need to pass through your institution’s authentication portal to reinstate your access upgrade, which will then last for a year. Find your institution’s portal on this list and authenticate yourself as directed. The same applies to students and anyone else in your institution’s service pool.)

Interestingly, you’ll notice that many VPhD resumes do not follow standard CV-to-Resume advice (e.g. “Always put the Education section at the bottom”). The non-conforming ones can be used as discussion-starters, if you have time, or if you prefer, take care to choose examples that do follow standard advice. In any case, definitely read and use the narrative alongside the documents because it provides extremely important contextual information about how the hire took place.

In short workshops, try picking one or two really good Hiring Success Stories and go over them in detail during class, then maybe do an in-class resume-writing exercise where students quickly throw together a basic resume that can be improved later (the goal being to get them started). Students who are more advanced at resume-writing can take their existing resume and customize it for a particular field or type of position, using the VPhD Hiring Success Stories as models. If actual resume writing during class time doesn’t fit your setting, you can use the VPhD Hiring Success Stories as fodder for discussion, or for group exercises. For example, you could provide a hypothetical or anonymized example of somebody else’s CV, put students in groups or pairs and have them turn it into the backbone of a resume, using the VPhD materials for inspiration.

In longer modules or courses, students can be assigned to read all of the Hiring Success Stories associated with a specific career that interests them, then write their own resume for that particular career. This will lead to good discoveries such as strengths they weren’t aware of or ideas for how to become more qualified. As with short workshops, if it’s their first resume, aim for a basic resume that can be customized later when they apply for real jobs. If they are more advanced or are actually applying for jobs in the very near future, have them gear their resume to a specific position or field, hewing more closely to the examples provided by VPhD.

Bottom line: VPhD Hiring Success Stories provide real-world examples of resumes, cover letters, and successful hires that can and should be used with students!