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Submitting your resume

Do what the employer instructs

  • Check the organization website and/or the job posting you're responding to. This might instruct you to submit to an online system, or email.
  • If you are speaking with (listening to) a representative in person (career fair, information session, presentation to your club, chance meeting when traveling, etc.), do what the person instructs. If the person is not clear (e.g. "you can send me your resume"), ask for clarification (e.g. "Do you prefer resumes sent by email or do you have an online system?")
  • The Muse.com: Should You Submit Your Resume as a PDF or Word Docx? 5 Rules to Follow.

Why submitting online is often required

  • This is the only way the organization can effectively and efficiently receive, process, manage and track the large volume it receives.
  • Federal regulations require that applicants be treated and defined the same way; thus all applicants may be required to apply in the same way.
  • Large employers typically have an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that enables them to manage the volume of applicants.
  • Email includes so much spam and virus potential in attachments. Receiving a large volume of resumes by email is impractical and risky.

Hand-delivering?

  • This takes a lot of work. Obviously you cannot hand-deliver a resume in all situations.
  • This might depend on the competitiveness and the culture of the industry you are pursuing. It can make a positive impression to show up in person, well-dressed, and hand-deliver an envelope containing your resume and cover letter, using a friendly demeanor and excellent interpersonal skills with the employees you do encounter. This might be possible if you are visiting a location/city/town in which you want to work and/or have identified specific firms/businesses/organizations to target in your job search.
  • Of course it's possible that you show up in person and the person with whom you should speak is not available or you are told to send email or apply online. Do your research first, and determine if you want to go to this effort.

See the employer's instructions.

Do your research before emailing your resume. Sending a resume that an employer is unable to open or read will put you out of the running. Employers are busy, often receive a large volume of resumes, and will not look at email that looks like spam. Applicants who don't follow instructions are not good job candidates and are easy to screen out.

Check the employer’s job ad / website for instructions.

  • Subject line:
    Note if the employer has instructed you to use a particular subject line. If not, make sure you clearly reference the job or other details. The subject line is for the recipient, who might not know you, not for yourself.
  • If the resume is an attachment, use the format the employer wants (docx; pdf, etc.).
  • Name your resume document something meaningful to the employer (not yourself); such as your name and the word resume.

What if I can't find any instructions from the employer?
Options:

  • You might be able to ask. See if they provide phone or email for basic questions.
  • Search LinkedIn for another employee of the organization to politely ask for advice. But don't do this at the last minute as an urgent request; that's not professional to ask of a networking contact.
  • Use good judgment.

When you need hard copies, even if you submitted online or by email:

  • When you attend a career fair. Even if you submitted your resume online in advance; bring print copies. And expect that employers will ask you to apply online even if they accept a hard copy.
  • When you have an interview scheduled. Even though someone has already seen and screened your resume, bring hard copies. (You might have updated, revised or improved your resume since you applied.) You can offer these to individuals who you meet as part of the interview process.

Print quality and color

  • When you need a print copy, make sure it's clean and easy to read.
  • Don't use dark, bright or pastel paper or ink. This doesn't convey a professional appearance.

Even if the employer doesn't ask for a cover letter, it is to your advantage to write a good, tailored letter to submit with your resume. Even if you just spoke directly with an employer on the phone, at a career fair, or otherwise, and send your resume that same day, a cover letter is essential for several reasons:

  • Don't assume you are the only person to whom the employer has spoken. Busy people need a reminder of why your resume is arriving. At the very least, your email should be written as an introduction of your resume and why you are writing.
  • Don't assume the person with whom you spoke is the one, or only one, who will review your resume. A cover letter explains why your resume is showing up.
  • A cover letter is a basic professional courtesy. You are trying to present yourself as a person who is ready to enter the professional world. You will be evaluated on every detail of your behavior, conduct, presentation, and communication skills. A cover letter exhibits your communication skills and reflects your judgment and maturity.
  • A cover letter is an opportunity to call attention to your strengths, interests and qualifications in a different manner than you do in your resume.
  • A cover letter is personalized to the individual to whom you are writing and the job to which you are applying. The resume should be customized to the job, but it does not include communication about why you are sending the resume and what you know about the organization and your fit with the job.
  • More about cover letters and other job search correspondence.