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Resumes & Cover Letters

This page provides information on how to write effective cover letters and resumes for internships, fellowships, or jobs. The information on this page was provided by Dr. Alissa Butler in a Historic New England internship professional development workshop. Please see Alissa Butler's Interview Transcript for more information about her and Historic New England. 


Resumes must have easy access to information hiring managers need. They are meant to be informative, not creative or personalized, and should include tangible things (education, experience, qualifications, etc.) that are documented and proven.

In the United States, CV's are intended for academic purposes only. However, it is helpful to keep a master list of every position, experience, certification, etc., and tailor/curate individual resumes to the positions you apply for. 

Resumes should:

  • Be 1-2 pages (front and back)
  • Include lists, summaries, and qualifications
  • Use a clear, professional font, with varied size and gradient throughout
  • Use space strategically 
  • Use action verbs, such as "assisted, created, organized, instituted, planned, etc."
  • Include 3-4 bullet points per position, with the most important bullet point first
  • Include relevant coursework in undergraduate and/or graduate level classes
  • Include your LinkedIn, professional website, or any other external links about your professional qualifications and experiences
  • Include anything you can make happen by the time of an interview
  • Put the most recent experiences first (chronological format)

Resumes should not:

  • Include anything irrelevant to the position you're applying for
  • Use distracting graphics or illegible fonts and colors
  • Use first person language (i.e. "I helped create...")
  • Include a GPA (if in graduate school)
  • Include a personal statement or objective statement (they take up valuable space and a hiring manager may not read them)

Cover Letters

While resumes include the tangible things, cover letters should include the intangible. They are meant to display your knowledge of the field, and use a narrative style to tell a story. Cover letters should serve as an argumentative essay about why a company should interview you, and should speak to why you are a good fit, as well as any direct experience, transferrable skills, or other skills. 

Cover letters should include:

  • What you bring to the table, how you are able to contribute to the organization
  • Why you want the position
  • What you like about the organization
  • Your skills and direct experiences that are proven with data

Cover letters are also the place to highlight any "red flags." For instance, if you are not already living within a commutable distance for the position you are applying to, this may pose a risk for hiring managers (especially at smaller organizations). Therefore, you can demonstrate knowledge of the cost of living in the area and a plan for moving, as early research inspires confidence. 

Cover letters can also address gaps in employment, or acknowledge if you are fresh out of school without having years of experience. These circumstances should be acknowledged, but they can also be turned into something positive. 

Additional Suggestions:

  • If an organization is seriously considering you for a position, they will likely ask for references. These can be professional or academic, as long as they can speak to your ability to do the job. Always let the reference know about the interview, and ask beforehand if you can use them as a reference!
  • For in-person interviews, be sure to show up 5 minutes early. For virtual interviews, be exactly on time.
  • Respond to hiring managers or anyone you are in communication with the same tone they use to write to you. It is best to be more professional at the outset (for example, using "Dr." if you know they have a PhD), but respond with the same tone and formality they use for you. 
  • If applying for a job and not an internship, do not frame it as a learning experience. While you can acknowledge that you are still looking to grow in the field, employers expect that you are able to do the job they are advertising for.
  • Be sure to follow up with a thank you email or letter after an interview! Send out a thank you note the next day or a few hours later to express enthusiasm, but keep it short and to the point. If you have not heard back about a position after 2 weeks, feel free to check in with a polite email inquiring about your status. 

See the American Alliance of Museums for additional resume and cover letter advice. 

*Please note that resumes and cover letters do not follow a "one size fits all" approach and may differ according to industry and level of experience.