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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Query = Resume

I'm a fan of odd analogies, but if you asked me to come up with one, I'd give you a blank stare in return.  But when inspiration strikes, I like to share.

This time is the realization that the query letter is a lot like your resume.

Think about it.  The purpose of a resume is to summarize your skills and capabilities in such a way to garner an interview. The purpose of a query is to summarize your book in such a way to garner a request to read more.

So, then I wondered if resume tips would translate into query tips. There are a LOT of resume advice sites out there, so I grabbed the list off MIT's career office.

Here we go:


  • Proofread to eliminate all spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.
    (So far so good)
  • Use action verbs and strong adjectives
    (This is also a good idea for a query)
  • Make it future or present oriented, suggesting that "I am this kind of person, with these abilities, as my past record demonstrates."
    (I've seen queries done both ways, so this could go either way)
  • Avoid repeating words or phrases.
    (Good advice for ANY writing)
  • Leave out unnecessary words, sentences, and phrases such as "Duties included / Hired to / Project involved."
    (DO write in complete sentences, but do NOT put in too much detail. Stick to what happens -- and at a high level)
  • Avoid stilted or confusing language. Ask yourself, "Would I talk like that?"
    (Translation: use YOUR voice)
  • Don't use the first person I or any pronouns.
    (Unless you're a certified genius don't write the query from your MC's perspective)
  • Be consistent and use the same grammatical style throughout.
    (Does this really need to be said?)
  • Avoid self-flattering terms such as "highly skilled, outstanding, or excellent." Describe your accomplishments effectively and let readers decide for themselves that you are well-qualified.
    (Translation - don't puff up your credits and don't proclaim you've go the next Harry Potter)
  • Be honest and accurate, but not overly modest.
    (Keep it professional -- don't belittle yourself or fawn over the agent.)
  • Convey through the style and content of your resume an understanding of your audience's needs, priorities, hiring criteria, and vocabulary.
    (You are the master of your story.  Let it show.)


  • Stick to 1 page; use 2 pages if you have an advanced degree or extensive experience (10+ years).
    (I'd keep it to one page.)
  • Make the page easy to scan and graphically-pleasing: leave sufficient white space.
    (This goes without saying...)
  • Select a format that suits your qualifications. Don't automatically follow someone else's, which may not suit what you have to say.
    (There's a lot of conflicting query advice out there. At the end of the day, you have to do what you feel works best for YOU)
  • Underline, bold face, and use bullets to emphasize your credentials.
    (I'd skip this. Not great for a query.)

Final Edit

  • Ask a counselor, friend, or someone unfamiliar with your background to review your resume for clarity and effectiveness.
    (DO have someone look over your query)
  • Tailor your cover letter and resume to the specific qualifications of the job for which you are applying and/or to the specific employer.
    (You've heard it before, do your research and customize your query to each agent)
  • Include all important information, such as dates of graduation, major, GPA, etc.
    (hahaha, no, don't include this in your query)
  • Proofread one more time to ensure correct spelling and punctuation

There you have it.  A query letter is just like a resume.  Surprised?


Raquel Byrnes said...

I like your analogy. And your tips are very thorough and helpful. Thanks!
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Dan.Eliot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mary Vaughn said...

Good advice, Vicki, to the job-seeker and the writer.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

It is a pretty good analogy and most of the tips match up for writing a query too. Well Done!

What's not well done: That spam post above mine. What a dingbat. Maybe he should have *read your blog* before slapping his advertisement up there.

Jessica Bell said...

ha! Nice one!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I haven't written a resume in years, but I can guarantee I didn't rewrite it 100 times. Can't say the same about my query.

I definitely wouldn't write my resume in the voice of my current 17 yo. That might get me some odd look. Not so with the query. That might get me some requests.

My query was critted not long ago at a RWA meeting. They told me to rewrite it in first person. I tried to explain why that was soooo wrong, but in the end gave up. They only write in third so what was the point. ;)

Justine Dell said...

Wow. I'll never look at either the same again. ;-)


Angela Felsted said...

I think you've got something here.

Jules said...

Sounds like I need to work on my resume. Perhaps I query my resume :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

aspiring_x said...

ha! so true, so true! tons of GREaT reminders here! love the "no, keep it to one page!" :D

Lindsay said...

Nice. I love the tips :)

Carolyn V said...

I knew it! And so true! Plus you have it so well outlined! =)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is an excellent analogy, Vicki! Probably the best one I've ever seen. You nailed it.

Yaya' s Home said...

Its like selling ourselves. Ungh! I feel so cheap.

~ Yaya

Clarissa Draper said...

This is wonderful advice. Thank you!

Hannah Kincade said...

I'm not at all surprised. You compared it with something else I'm not good at. Hurrah.