Below is the basic information you need if you're a high school senior and want to create your 'personal marketing materials'

Creating a cover letter and résumé

for high school seniors


Remember these three numbers: 1, O, 1O

  • “1” is the number of chances you have to make a good first impression.
  • “O” represents the trash can, where your cover letter and résumé will go if they don’t impress the first person who reviews them.
  • “1O” is the number of seconds that the first person who reviews your cover letter and résumé will spend looking at them the first time.

Hard fact: The person who reviews your cover letter and résumé knows you only by the two sheets of paper that he or she is holding. So you must make a great first impression!


Cover letter/résumé “dos”

  • Use common sense: If you spill soda on your cover letter or résumé, re-print it.
  • Use proper grammar: Terms such as “awesome,” “stunning,” “man up” and other meaningless verbiage portray you as someone with little intellect.
  • Stress your ability to multi-task.
  • Keep it simple: easy-to-read, size 12 font; black ink; high-quality white paper (if you’re submitting a hard copy).
  • Proofread for typographical errors; ensure that phone number and e-mail address are correct (and professional; e.g., no “”).
  • When sending your cover letter/résumé package, follow the directions for submitting it.
  • The cover letter is the first page; the résumé is the second; paper-clip them together.
  • In short: Be professional.


Cover letter/résumé “don’ts”

  • Don’t forget to remove offensive social-networking postings from the Internet before sending out your “personal marketing materials” – that’s what a cover letter and résumé are.
  • Don’t brag about yourself: Promoting yourself is one thing; after all, you have many qualities that will benefit an employer, and you must stress those. However, bragging about yourself is another issue entirely; you’ll come across as cocky and, most likely, alienate a potential employer.


Stress accomplishments and skills, not merely duties and/or responsibilities

You’re a high school senior, so your employment history, if any, is limited. Nevertheless, you still can let a potential employer know your skills and accomplishments. In fact, you must do this!


Do not stress your lack of experience; instead, focus on positive traits, such as "fast learner" or "great at multitasking" or "excellent leadership skills." (Of course, you need to provide examples of those traits.)


If your employment history has gaps, list relevant and beneficial courses you took (for example, Spanish) – or volunteering that you did – while unemployed.


Here are some other accomplishments and skills you should include:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes you’ve taken
  • Tutoring that you’ve done for fellow students
  • Membership in an honor society (and/or other academic societies)
  • School-related awards and/or honors (for example, Senior Standout, or being named valedictorian or salutatorian)
  • Participation in Boys or Girls State, leadership seminars, etc.
  • Grade-point average (if high)
  • Scholarships you’ve won for college
  • Foreign languages you speak
  • Leadership positions you’ve held; e.g., vice president of Student Government, president of the Chess Club, captain of the football team
  • Computer skills: List the programs you know well
  • How many words per minute you type accurately (if the number is high)
  • Volunteer work and/or community service, especially if that experience relates to the job you’re applying for
  • If you trained an employee or employees, list that
  • Specialized training that an employer has provided for you (this indicates that an employer thought enough of you to invest in such training)


Other advice: Before your senior year begins, subscribe to "Florida Trend's 'Next'" magazine. Written specifically for Florida students in ninth through 12th grades, "Next" provides a wide variety of advice – about job opportunities, college choices and career options, for example – in a teen-friendly format.

(Note: J.D. Vivian has no financial or other connection to "Florida Trend" or "Next" – other than subscribing to "Florida Trend.")