Whether you’re thinking about internships, graduate study, full-time employment, or even a summer job, you’ll need to be ready to present your application materials to potential employers or schools. Different types of organizations may ask for different materials, but the function is essentially the same: to demonstrate your best self on paper, so you can take the next step--demonstrating your best self in person, through interviews.
A résumé is a brief document that summarizes your education, employment history, and experiences that are relevant to your qualifications for a particular opportunity (internship, job, or graduate/professional school) for which you are applying. The purpose of a résumé (along with your cover letter) is to get an interview.
Log in to Handshake to get all of our résumé-writing resources, including sample résumés for various industries, tips and tricks, and a comprehensive list of action verbs.
You'll need to write a cover letter for almost every position to which you apply. A good cover letter will use the strong communication skills you developed through your liberal arts education to make your case to employers that you have the skills they are seeking.
Get started by reviewing Cover Letter Basics, Cover Letter Guide, and Sample Cover Letters in Handshake.
Employers are looking for strong writing skills in prospective employees; this is where your writing sample comes in. Writing samples are help employers evaluate your writing skills as they relate to the tasks of the position.
When choosing a writing sample, ask yourself:
- Does it represent my writing style, organization, analytic skills, clarity, and concision?
- Is this my best writing to date?
- Does it have a clear, well-articulated thesis?
- Does it follow a logical structure?
- Can the reader easily understand and follow it?
As a student or recent graduate, it's perfectly acceptable to use a section of a graded assignment from a class. If sending a graded paper, make sure you received a decent grade, but don't necessarily rule out your "B" papers. Some "B" papers may have potential if you revise them.
Unless otherwise stated, a good length is 4-5 pages, double-spaced. If you want to send a sample of a larger document, select a four- or five-page section and introduce it with a paragraph that puts the selection into the proper context. Avoid sending ten or fifteen page research papers - even if you received a good grade!
Provide your own work; if it was a collaborative piece, make sure you state so and indicate which part was your responsibility.
See if you can find a writing sample relevant to the industry or subject matter of the opportunity you're applying for. For example:
- A case study from a political science or law-related course would be an excellent writing sample for a position in a law firm or with an elected official
- For a job in journalism: An article you wrote for the campus newspaper
- For a job that involves research: A research paper
Preparing the Sample
- Put your name on it!
- Do not try font or margin tricks to make a 2-page paper into a 5-page paper.
- Double and triple check for errors. If you wrote the paper for a class, incorporate any suggestions from your professor or peers.
- Submit a clean copy without a professor's grades or marks.
- If you cited works in the sample, include the bibliography.
- Include a brief note about the context of the sample. For example: "This writing sample is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for my Women's Studies class 'Gender and American Society.' I worked with a partner on this assignment, so I have included only the section of the paper on 'Gender and the Family,' which represents my individual work."
- On rare occasions the employer may request a specific kind of writing sample. If you have to create one, stick very closely to the guidelines provided.
It is not uncommon for employers to request writing samples. You may want to start developing a portfolio of well-written pieces so you can quickly refer to them when needed. You might want to select pieces that show your full range of talents. Some samples might include how well you summarize complex ideas, research papers, editorials, critiques (be sure to omit names), articles, journals, and blogs.
Adapted from a document created by the University of California-Davis Internship and Career Center
The majority of employers will ask for just the names of references to contact prior to making you an offer. Typically they will ask for three references. Always ask permission of potential references before providing their name and contact information to an employer.
Employers want references who can attest to you as an employee, so current or previous supervisors/employers are best. However, it's perfectly acceptable to use references other than your past employers. Business acquaintances, professors, academic advisors, customers, and vendors can all make good references. If you volunteer, consider using leaders or other members of the organization as personal references. Be prepared with a list of references, complete with:
- Reference name and title
- Organization they work for
- Address (street, city, state, zip)
- Work phone
- A brief statement telling how they know you
Graduate and professional schools and some types of employers (particularly in areas of education or research,) will request letters of recommendation. Typically, you will request letters of recommendation from faculty for graduate and professional school and from a combination of faculty and previous employers/supervisors for employment. Three letters of recommendation is standard. In general, the following guidelines apply:
- Faculty are the best references for graduate schools.
- Faculty with whom you have studied and supervisors from present and previous employment are the best references to use if you are seeking employment.
- Do not use any personal references, i.e., friends.
Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Ask only those who know you well enough to write a meaningful letter.
- Give them a copy or draft of your résumé. This is not only a courtesy, but also helps them direct their letter to your own plans.
- Be sure you tell the letter writer what it is you are seeking: Employment or graduate school. It is always helpful to share a description of the job or graduate program.
- Agree upon a date by which letters need to be completed and returned.
- When possible, make sure you give your reference a good amount of lead time.
Note: Many law schools prefer that you use the LSAC’s letter of recommendation service. You should consult with the school regarding what works best (usually indicated on the application).
Interfolio allows you to create an electronic portfolio so you can manage your credentials and letters of recommendation online, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Some organizations will ask you to submit a copy of your transcript as part of the application process. They may require an official transcript, or they may request an unofficial copy.
An official transcript must be requested from the Office of the Registrar, and normally takes at least three business days to process, so be sure to plan ahead. For detailed instructions, visit their Transcripts page.
An unofficial transcript can be a scan or photocopy of an official transcript, or may be printed directly from OberView. If you are using OberView, it's a good idea to copy and paste the information into a word processing program so you can tweak the formatting.