Career Pathways

Resumes and cover letters


Your resume is your first, and sometimes  the only, opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates, so it’s important to spend time developing a well-tailored resume. Most hiring managers are trying to answer the following three questions while reviewing your documents:

  1. Can you do the job?
  2. Will you do the job?
  3. Will you fit in?

Think of the resume and cover letter as your opportunity to answer these questions while showcasing your different skills and talents. These documents are your first impression to an employer and are crucial elements of securing an interview. While varied experiences (i.e. internships, volunteer work, clubs, etc.) are important, it is equally vital that those experiences are formatted in a way that best illustrates your career journey.

Social Work resume 

Start with the Job Description

Perhaps the most important tip for making your documents stand out is to use industry lingo. Review the position description, highlight key words or phrases, and reflect that same terminology in your resume or cover letter. This shows you have done your research and are familiar with the culture of the industry.

Nonprofit Experience

One of the best methods for getting involved with a nonprofit or social services organization is to start as a volunteer or intern. Highlight these experiences near the top of your resume or create a separate section if you’ve worked with multiple groups. Possible section headers could include “Volunteer Experience”, “Community Involvement”, or “Nonprofit Engagement”.

Academic Coursework/Projects

Don’t forget to highlight courses, group projects, or papers that are related to working at a nonprofit. Perhaps your group assignment was consulting with a local organization on a logo rebrand or to develop a communication strategy. Or maybe you’ve completed a course on counseling skills. These aspects of your academic career are valuable and are certainly worth highlighting on a resume or cover letter.

Cover letters

Part-Time Opportunity Cover Letter Guide

Full-Time Opportunity Cover Letter Guide

Your cover is meant to achieve two goals: to demonstrate your genuine interest in the position and to explain why you are the MOST qualified person for the job. It’s tempting to fill your cover letter with clichés about work, commitment, etc. This will not help you set yourself apart. Instead, use your personality and tell your own story – honestly. Be specific about your skills and show them in action. Follow these general rules for writing a good cover letter.

  • Keep the cover letter short (less than one page) and written in the tone of the organization
  • Tell the organization why their mission connects with the work you hope to do
  • Explain why you are the right person for the job and support it by discussing why you have some of the skills listed in the position description
  • Offer contact information and outline a plan to follow up (if able)
  • If you are sending your files digitally to an employer, make sure to include your name and the words “cover letter” in the file name, it will make it easy for employers to locate your file (i.e. Last Name, First Name Cover Letter)

It’s always a good idea to have someone edit your cover letter before sending. Make a career advising appointment, or visit us during drop-in hours for assistance.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Division of Student Success
907 Floyd Avenue, Room 143
Box 842007
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2007

Phone: (804) 828-1645
Fax: (804) 828-2060
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Created by VCU University Relations

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