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If you truly want to open the doors of career advancement opportunities with your graduate degree, you must take the first step of building your resume and cover letter. Both these job application documents serve as your introduction – who you are, what your qualifications are, and what makes you the best fit for their job openings – and, thus, must be crafted for the best first impression.
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Here are the things that you should remember in this regard.
Key Differences Between an Undergraduate-level and a Graduate-level Resume and Cover Letter
If you’re still using your undergraduate-level master’s resume and cover letter, then it’s high time to change them! Not only do you have a newly minted graduate degree, but you’re also likely to have gained more work experience, conducted more research projects, and established new professional relationships during your graduate school years. Your post-graduate school resume and cover letter should reflect these significant changes in your life.
You must keep these key differences between your undergraduate-level and graduate-level resume and cover letter when making suitable changes.
With an undergraduate resume, your emphasis is on your undergraduate education, including your major and minor, coursework relevant to the job position, and GPA.
Your graduate resume emphasizes your graduate degree achievements, including research work (e.g., thesis or dissertation) and the specialized knowledge and skills learned.
Your undergraduate resume focuses on your volunteer experiences, internships and full-time or part-time jobs held with more emphasis placed on transferable skills learned.
Your graduate resume reflects your more extensive work experience with more focus placed on your industry, research and teaching experiences.
Skills and Achievements
Since your knowledge and skills are general, your undergraduate resume will reflect such a general scope suitable for entry-level positions.
Your graduate resume will be different in that it will highlight your advanced technical skills, as well as your educational and professional achievements.
Research and Publications
With an undergraduate resume and cover letter, there are only a few, if any, research experiences and published research works; it’s rare to see a published thesis as a degree requirement in bachelor’s degree programs.
A graduate resume and cover letter usually include details about research projects (e.g., a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation or a capstone project), as well as peer-reviewed published works, conference presentations, and similar contributions to the knowledge.
The typical undergraduate resume and cover letter typically include academic references, such as from professors, and character references, like from work supervisors.
With a graduate resume and cover letter, the professional references highlight your expertise in your field and, thus, come from your academic advisors, research mentors, and professors.
Most undergraduate resumes are one page long because there’s less information to be highlighted.
In contrast, graduate resumes are usually up to two pages in length because there are more academic and professional achievements to be included.
Cover Letter Content
With less professional work experience, your undergraduate cover letter should ideally demonstrate your willingness to learn and enthusiasm that makes you suitable for entry-level positions.
Your graduate cover letter, however, should emphasize your unique qualifications for the specialized roles and responsibilities of the job you’re applying for.
Pay Attention to the Details
You must emphasize the ways in which your graduate degree, combined with your research experiences and your professional work experiences, contributed to your strong credentials.
In terms of tailoring, your approach in your undergraduate and graduate resume and cover letter will be different, too. Where your undergraduate resume and cover letter can have a more generalized tone, your graduate resume and cover letter must be tailored to the specific job you’re applying for.
You must then read the job posting and its roles and responsibilities so that your resume and cover letter are aligned with what the employer needs and wants for the specific job.
With these things in mind, you can more easily craft a compelling resume and a persuasive cover letter that prospective employers and hiring managers will take the time to read and, thus, consider you for employment.
Building Your Master Resume
Creating a compelling resume as a job-hunting professional with a graduate degree demands time, energy and effort, not to mention careful attention to detail. We suggest starting with a master resume and changing relevant details depending on every job position you’re applying for.
Indeed, the worst mistake in job hunting is sending a master resume – and cover letter, for that matter – to every prospective employer!
Again, the numbers don’t lie. In a Zippia report about resume statistics, 63% of recruiters prefer tailored resumes. Furthermore, the most attractive resumes among recruiters use logical layouts, legible fonts, and clear information, as well as an overview at the top.
Take note, too, that the majority of employers assert that experienced applicants – yourself, for example, with your extensive work experience and academic credentials – shouldn’t submit a single-page resume.
With these basics in mind, here are tips for building your master’s resume as a job applicant with an impressive graduate degree and extensive work experience.
General Tips for Creating Your Resume
1. Use Professional Formatting and Design
These are crucial aspects in building a creative master resume – a clean and professional format will make your resume easy to read, make it stand out from sloppy resumes, and convey your professionalism.
- Be consistent in your use of the same fonts and sizes, as well as formatting styles for the headings, subheadings and body of your resume. Your resume will have a more visual appeal and organized look.
- Choose a professional font. You can use Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri, in 10-12 points font size for the body, but make the headings slightly larger (e.g., 14-16 points).
- Ensure sufficient white space between sections and use bullet points, which enhance your resume’s visual appeal and readability. Accomplishments and work-related responsibilities are best highlighted in bullet points.
- Set one-inch margins on all sides, just as you would with your cover letter. Left-align is the best alignment for your resume and cover letter, too.
- Emphasize important information, such as job titles and achievements, by using bold and italics, but use them as sparingly as possible.
- Stick to the basic black-and-white color scheme for a more professional look, befitting a professional with a graduate degree.
- Use clear and concise headers and subheaders in labeling the sections, such as Professional Summary, Education, and Work Experience.
- Be consistent in your date formatting, too, with the most recommended being “Month/Day/Year” or “Month Year)
Save your resume in PDF form, which will be readable on desktops, laptops and mobile devices across different platforms.
2. Choose the Right Format
We strongly suggest using the reverse chronological format in building your master resume, meaning your most recent work experiences, education and achievements are listed first. This format draws the reader’s attention to your most recent and relevant qualifications, allows for an easy-to-follow timeline of your professional career, and emphasizes your career progression.
This is not just the industry standard but also makes it easier and faster for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to categorize.
3. Use Relevant Keywords
The suitability of your resume to pass through ATS is also influenced by your use of relevant keywords in its body text!
- Read the job posting for the exact keywords that applicants must use (e.g., senior project manager position). Optimize these keywords by mentioning them in various parts of your resume’s body text, particularly in the work experience description and skills sections, but ensure that it still reads coherently.
- Include the keywords in the Professional Summary and Objective section. Be sure to include industry-specific keywords, too, that demonstrate your knowledge of the industry.
- Use action verbs and active sentences when incorporating relevant keywords. For example, the keyword “data analysis” can be incorporated as “Performed data analysis in relation to the strategic decision-making process.”
When it comes to using keywords in your master resume, it’s crucial to balance between relevance and readability – too many keywords and readability are compromised; too little use of keywords and its relevance will be sacrificed.
4. Keep It Concise
As previously mentioned, a two-page resume is preferred, considering your extensive work experience and academic credentials. But it can be a challenge to highlight your extensive qualifications in a two-page document! Fortunately, it’s achievable with these tips.
- List down all your personal and professional information in your master resume. You can then use it as a template to create a tailored resume based on the specific requirements of the job position. You should remove information that neither influences nor contributes to your strong position as a job applicant.
- Edit your master resume for brevity, clarity, and precision, as well as for grammar, spelling and other errors. Ask family and friends for their input.
If necessary, you can create an addendum where additional information can be placed. You will not only provide readers with more details of your qualifications, but your primary resume remains uncluttered.
Filling in the Contents of Your Resume
1. Contact Information
Be sure to provide clear, complete, and accurate details about your contact information to make it fast and easy for prospective employers to get in touch with you. While the personal information will also be in your cover letter, you can still include it in your resume.
- Full name with professional titles, if any (i.e., use a larger font size or bold letters to draw attention to it, if you want)
- Professional and active phone number (i.e., specify if it’s a landline or a mobile number)
- Professional email address, preferably with your name on it
- LinkedIn profile, if applicable, but ensure that it has a professional look and feel as well as relevant, up-to-date information
2. Professional Summary or Objective
Your first opportunity to draw a prospective employer’s attention and make the best first impression possible is through your professional summary or objective. Here, you can achieve it by providing a brief yet persuasive snapshot of your career goals, qualifications for the job, and your possible contributions to the organization.
A good template for the professional summary or objective section follows:
As an accomplished professional with 15 years of experience in project management, I am committed to the delivery of exceptional results in complex projects with a focus on organizational and environmental sustainability. I possess the knowledge and skills relevant to the senior project manager position, namely, leading cross-functional teams, implementing creative solutions, and keeping within the budget and timeline. I seek to leverage my project management expertise toward optimizing your company’s operational processes, driving revenue growth, and increasing its market presence.
Your academic attainment and achievements demonstrate your commitment to lifelong learning and your willingness to learn from others. Your resume’s Education section must then be highlighted with your newly-minted graduate degree taking center stage – or at least, it’s the first item on the list.
When listing your academic qualifications, you must spell out the degree earned, the institution where you earned it, its general location, and your graduation date. You should also include the title of your graduate thesis and capstone project, your cumulative GPA, honors received, and relevant coursework.
An example would be:
Master of Business Administration – Project Management Concentration
Harvard Business School, Boston, MA
Graduate Date: May 2023
Thesis: “The Use of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence in Project Decision-Making: A Study of Best Practices in Sustainability”
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Graduation Date: May 2018
Honors: Graduated with Distinction (Magna cum laude)
Relevant Coursework: Agile Project Management, IT Project Management, and Strategic Project Management
While this is a standard format, you have a certain level of freedom in changing it to reflect your unique educational attainment and achievements. The primary goal here is to make these aspects stand out in the eyes of prospective employers.
4. Professional Experience
The section on professional experience provides prospective employers with a detailed overview of your qualifications, including your work history and relevant achievements. Your primary goal here is to provide concrete evidence of your specific responsibilities and achievements in each of your previous jobs that will be relevant to your hoped-for position.
You must also showcase your unique skills that differentiate you from the competition, show your upward career progression, and even become a conversation starter during the interviews.
Keep these tips in mind when listing your professional work experiences.
- Quantify your achievements so that prospective employers can understand the scope of your contributions in your previous jobs. For example, you can state, “Resulted in 15% cost reduction in the completion of the farm-to-market road project.”
- Use action verbs to convey leadership, proactivity and dynamism to your achievements. Examples include “developed,” “managed,” and “led.”
Again, tailor the Professional Experience section to align with the job requirements of the position you’re applying for. Here’s an example that you can adapt for this section.
Senior Marketing Manager | ABC Company | January 2020 – Present
- Developed, implemented and evaluated comprehensive marketing programs and related strategies aligned with business objectives
- Managed cross-departmental teams to ensure cohesive marketing plans, including brand messaging
- Optimized traditional and digital marketing campaigns that resulted in 10%-15% reductions in cost per purchase
- Managed high-performing marketing teams that resulted in a 25% increase in gross revenues year-on-year
- Oversaw the creation and implementation of data-driven digital marketing campaigns that increased online sales by 20% and website traffic by 45%
Your resume must have a skills section where you can highlight your technical and transferable skills, even language proficiency skills. Your highlighted skills must obviously align with the job requirements and, thus, emphasize your suitability for the job. Your skills section should also put the spotlight on the diversity of your skills that sets you apart from the other candidates.
Here’s an example of a skills section.
Project Management Skills:
- Proven experience and success in initiation-to-completion project management
- Strong understanding of Waterfall and Agile, among other project management methodologies
- Excellent skills in the planning, scheduling and allocation of resources
- Efficient risk assessment and mitigation strategies, as well as cost control in project management
Communication and Collaboration Skills:
- Exceptional skills in communicating and collaborating with team members, clients and stakeholders
- Proficient in the creation and presentation of compelling project presentations
Business Administration Skills Skills:
- Strategic planning
- Financial analysis and management
- Market research and data analysis for project management strategies
- Entrepreneurial mindset
- Project Management Professional (PMP)
- Six Sigma Green Belt
- Scrum Master certification
Proficiency in Tools and Software:
- Asana and Microsoft Project
- Microsoft Office Suite
- Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom
6. Awards and Honors
If you have awards and honors, both academic and professional, then you should also include the most distinguished and relevant on your resume. You will not only demonstrate your expertise and commitment to your profession, but you will also enhance your credibility and competence for the job.
When listing your awards and honors, use the reverse chronological order format, too. Be as specific as possible about your accomplishments, but be concise, too.
Dean’s List, Stanford University (AYs 2014-2018)
Employee of the Month, XYZ Corporation (January-December 2018)
Best in Master’s Thesis, Harvard Business School (May 2023)
You may also provide a brief context of your awards and honors with particular emphasis on their significance to your professional qualifications for the job. You must also be prepared to discuss these aspects in detail during the interview.
7. Professional Associations and Memberships
By listing your memberships in industry-relevant professional organizations, you can demonstrate meaningful industry involvement, highlight your industry expertise, and enhance your credibility. Be sure to use the reverse chronological order, too, and list down essential information, namely:
Position, name of organization, membership status, dates of membership
Leadership positions and awards received or contributions made
Board Member, Association of Project Management Professionals, January 2019-Present
Received the award for “Outstanding Project Management Professional” in 2022
8. Publications and Presentations
With a graduate degree comes the possibility of having published articles and research studies in peer-reviewed journals and made presentations at conferences. These achievements can be relevant, too, to the job, meaning you should highlight them in a separate section to enhance your competitiveness for the position.
This is particularly true when applying for academic positions in colleges and universities where research, publication and presentation experiences are desired.
The format in this section is as follows:
Title of the publication, either in bold or italics
Names of co-authors, if applicable
Publication venue (name of the magazine, conference or book)
You may also create an additional section that includes your interests, volunteer work and languages spoken, if necessary.
Crafting a Compelling Cover Letter
The importance of attaching a cover letter with your resume cannot be overemphasized! The numbers don’t lie either – in a LinkedIn report, 83% of hiring managers always or frequently read cover letters and consider them when making their hiring decisions. In fact, 60% of companies require job applicants to submit cover letters.
There are several reasons for including a cover letter when applying for leadership positions with your graduate degree. Your cover letter serves as your professional introduction to your prospective employer and a personalization of your application for the open position.
You can highlight your competitive qualifications, address gaps in your work history due to unique circumstances, and demonstrate your cultural fit, even express your enthusiasm for the opportunity and make a memorable impression.
Your cover letter should be based on your professional resume, too. Your resume provides more details about the unique qualifications highlighted in your cover letter, meaning these job application documents must be in perfect alignment.
1. Formatting Your Cover Letter
The right format for your cover letter contributes to its attractiveness in the eyes of readers, particularly hiring managers and prospective employers. Clutter-free, clear and concise are the keywords that you must remember when formatting your cover letter to achieve professional results.
Use a Professional Font and Size
Your resume and cover letter should have the same easy-to-read, clean and professional font for consistency. Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial are excellent choices.
In terms of font, choose between a 10-point and a 12-point font size for the body of your text. Your name and contact information can be slightly larger than the rest of the cover letter’s contents to call attention to them.
Be Mindful of the Margins, Alignment and Spacing
For a clean and symmetrical appearance, your cover letter should have 1-inch margins on all sides. Most standard business documents are set to “left align” settings, and it’s true for your cover letter.
The spacing between paragraphs will depend on your personal preference. While single spacing is a space-efficient, clean and compact option, for example, a block format (i.e., blank line between every section) makes the cover letter look organized and structured. Whatever your choice, be sure that the spacing between your resume and cover letter is the same for consistency purposes.
Keep to a Short Length
Your cover letter should ideally be a single-page document since it’s an introductory document. The details of your qualifications should be included in your resume instead.
Save in the Right Format
In case you’re submitting your cover letter electronically, you must save it in PDF form, as is your resume. Your cover letter will then have a consistent format that can be read across different software and devices.
2. Contents of Your Cover Letter
While your cover letter must be tailored according to the job opening you’re applying for. You must also follow a standard format that employers prefer. You must also be mindful of the requirements that prospective employers have for cover letters submitted for their consideration, such as stating the specific job position and code for easy reference.
This is usually at the top of the cover letter but can also be reiterated in shortened form at the end of it.
Your full name
Your city, state, ZIP code
Your phone or cellphone number
Your email address
Write the date when you’re writing your cover letter and follow the month, day and year format (e.g., October 16, 2023)
Employer’s Contact Information
You must do your research so that the employer’s contact information is complete and accurate. Doing so demonstrates respect for the organization and the recipient, diligence and credibility.
Recipient’s job title
City, state, ZIP code
Your salutation should be simple and formal, as well as address the recipient by their name (e.g., “Dear Mr. Smith). While a general salutation is acceptable, it isn’t preferred.
Your opening paragraph should contain your expression of enthusiasm for the job and the organization. You must also state the job position you’re applying for and the way in which you knew about it (e.g., job listing or referral).
Your cover letter’s body paragraphs should also be tailored to the job position you’re applying for, but you can refer to your master cover letter and change its contents accordingly. With that said, here are the best aspects that you should consider highlighting in your cover letter’s body paragraphs.
- Highlight your academic and professional qualifications as well as specialist knowledge and skills that make you a strong fit for both the job and the company. Emphasize the ways in which your expertise and experiences align with the job requirements and add value to it.
- Provide specific examples, preferably in quantifiable terms, from your academic performance and work experiences that attest to your abilities and your suitability for the job.
- Explain your interest in the job and the company, such as your research interests aligning with the company’s vision.
Your cover letter’s closing paragraph should express your continued interest in the job and organization, as well as your willingness for an interview where your qualifications can be discussed in more detail. Be sure to thank the recipient for their time and consideration.
Just as your salutation was formal, your closing must also be formal. The best options are “Yours sincerely,” “Sincerely,” or “Best regards.”
Be sure to type your name after the formal closing, but leave sufficient space between the closing and your signature; this only applies if you’re submitting a physical copy of your cover letter. If you’re submitting electronically, there should be sufficient space between these two sections, but there’s no need for your signature.
You can mention the additional documents that you’re attaching to your cover letter in this section. The additional documents can be your professional resume or references.
As with your resume, proofread and edit your cover letter so that it has a polished and professional look and feel to it.
Here’s an example of a compelling cover letter for a senior project manager job.
John H. Smith
123 Side Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
October 16, 2023
Wayne R. Doe
456 Main Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Dear Mr. Doe,
I am writing to express my strong interest in the Senior Project Manager position at Doe Corporation, as advertised on your official website. With extensive experience in successful leadership of complex projects, a passion for effective collaborations, and a commitment to delivering efficient results, I am excited about the opportunity to become part of your organization.
During my 10-year project management-related work, I have developed specialist knowledge and skills that enable effective, efficient and responsive start-to-end management of complex projects. I possess these key strengths in project management:
- Comprehensive project planning
- Expertise in risk management, budgeting and resource allocation
- Proficiency in project management software and tools
- Exceptional leadership, communication and collaboration skills
- Proven ability in the leadership of cross-functional teams
I am particularly impressed by Doe Corporation’s creative approach to sustainability projects that align with my interests in environmental and business sustainability.
I look forward to the opportunity to discuss further my specialist knowledge and skills, as well as my possible contributions to your company’s success. Please find my attached resume for your consideration and review. You can reach me at (718) 555-1234 or via email at email@example.com for an interview.
Thank you for your favorable consideration of my application.
John H. Smith