Resume and Cover Letter Collaborations

Effective career counseling for self-promotion involves knowledge of what resumes and cover letters are “supposed” to look like (in other words, formats/content that has been proven to be effective in gaining jobs) and communicating this to clients effectively while at the same time supporting their autonomy and individuality. I’ve come closer to accomplishing both in my sessions than when I started, much of which has come by way of my own improved understanding of what makes a good resume and cover letter and improved understanding of how to communicate this in such a way that the endeavor becomes a collaborative one rather than a didactic one.

Much of this is accomplished through communicating the parameters within which most effective resumes and cover letters operate, and then giving the client the space to explore exactly how they wish to communicate themselves within (or even outside) of those parameters. It’s also giving them space to consider where that line is between what about themselves they wish to communicate (even if it isn’t directly applicable for the skills and knowledge required for the job) and what they wish to subvert to the demands of the employer. Ideally this would not even be a decision, because the characteristics of the individual and the position would match perfectly, but obviously this is never the case. So to help clients explore what part of themselves they want to declare and have the employer know about because it is central to who they are and they wouldn’t want to work for an employer that wouldn’t accept that, and when and if they simply want to regurgitate what’s in the job ad.

In other words, it’s exploring the question of how much a resume and cover letter and interview should be expressions of who they are as opposed to simply a reflection of the needs of the employers they are hoping to work for. Really much of my improvement has come in the form of better managing the expectations of students, in that I cannot tell them exactly what their materials should look like because like everything else in this world it depends. The same goes for job search strategies and major and job choice.

Really, my job is to tell them what a resume and cover letter shouldn’t be and introduce them to the handful of principles that apply to nearly all effective resumes/cover letters/interviews, and then within those parameters help them think out what exactly they want it to look like to both express who they are and appeal to the employer.


  • To put myself out of business – to help the client to develop tools to solve their own problem, in this case to understand what questions to ask themselves when putting together a resume or cover letter.


Sample questions to ask (focus on what conclusions they came to and how)

  • Is there anything else you feel I should know to better understand your concerns?
  • How do you feel about the resume?
  • Tell me about the process of researching and writing it
  • How did you feel while you were putting it together?
  • If you knew how, what would you change about it?
  • How they think employers might respond to it (look at it through someone else’s eyes)
  • How they could phrase parts differently

Plans and goals

  • What is your long term goal?
  • When they will act on their plan
  • Where they will do it
  • If you were to form an action plan, what would that look like?
  • “What might prevent you from expediting your plan?”
  • “What if you choose to do nothing?”


  • Ask why questions
  • Make suggestions of what to do: implies “you are not capable of finding this out on your own and you couldn’t have done it without me” Robs client  of learning and sense of achievement


  • If they don’t follow through on their plan
    • something in the counseling process that produced the plan left an issue unaddressed
    • find out what that issue is: “what got in the way?” “Maybe you’d rather modify your plan”
    • Clients have a right to not follow through – it is our job to confront that choice.  Remind them they don’t have to.  Make the choice to do or not to do a conscious one.
    • Ask about an ideal picture of what their life could be right now compared to what it is.
      • What’s different?
      • What are the givens?
      • What changes can be made?
      • What fantasies could be realities?
      • What would you have to do to make those changes?
      • What would be the gains for you?
      • What if you could only change some things?


  • What do you feel is different now than when you came in?
  • Was this meeting helpful? What particularly did you find helpful or unhelpful about the discussion?
  • What is it that is most important that you feel that you’re taking away from this?

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