Resume / JIST Card

Creating your resume and cover letter


When you apply for a job, you need some sort of document to send ahead or bring to an interview that summarizes your skills, accomplishments, work history and education. This is usually in the form of a resume. But for many in reentry who may have gaps in employment, a JIST card may be preferable. 

Types of resumes

There are two types of resumes. A functional resume, which highlights your skills and abilities, will probably work better for you than a chronological resume, which lists your past jobs in the order in which you had them, particularly if there are gaps in employment, or you have often changed jobs.

If you think you can create a resume and cover letter on your own, you can find templates online to use for free. For more tips, search online for “how to write a resume” and “how to write a cover letter.”

To make your resume strong, search online for “resume words,” and you’ll come up with lists of action verbs to use. It’s very important to choose appropriate words, because some companies use electronic screening programs to search the hundreds of resumes they receive.

For free help preparing your resume and cover letter, visit your local American Job Center. The American Job Centers are located in every state and are sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. You can locate your local American Job Center by putting in your zip code at the above mentioned website. You can reach them by phone at 877-348-0502 for those who prefer to talk to someone directly.

At an American Job Center, you can find job leads, and get help with career planning, job training and transition solutions to re-enter the workforce. Most of them have special programs and dedicated counselors to help job seekers who are formerly incarcerated, veterans or disabled.

Once you register at an American Job Center, you can go there as often as you like and take advantage of all they have to offer: academic and career assessment tools, job hunting resources and high-speed Internet access, as well as photocopiers, phones to use and more. They offer a wide variety of workshops on various aspects of job searching, have listings of current job openings and sponsor on-site employer hiring events, and provide links to training and educational funding sources and referrals to community services and resources.

Each American Job Center has an assessment center. There you can take a series of skills and interests assessments to determine what jobs your background might be suitable for and personality inventories to determine what type of jobs might fit your personality. At an American Job Center, you can also find out about training programs and whether you might qualify for any federal or state money available to pay for them.

In addition, job counselors off free individual assistance to help you put a resume together.

Hide the resume game

The resume’s purpose is to be your sales tool. If you’ve had a long period of unemployment, gaps in employment and/or short periods of time at the jobs you’ve held, you’ll have to rely more on your network and other resources to build a relationship with someone who might be able to hire you.

You can say, “I’m working on my resume now, would you mind if I bring it to the interview?” All resumes look better when delivered in person, and having nothing to sell on paper can work against you. And remember, a primary purpose of the resume in the employers’ eyes is to screen applicants out. Many experts believe that a resume is something you should never send ahead but leave behind after the interview.

Dealing with gaps in employment and job hopping

Whether this is your type of job history or not, don’t send a resume. Just send a well-crafted cover letter instead. Your cover letter should summarize everything that a longer resume would cover. You can search online for “cover letters” or visit your local American Job Center for help with your cover letter. also has an excellent article on how to create a cover letter.

Is a JIST Card a better option?

Another way to handle gaps in employment – or even a lack of a solid employment history – is to use a JIST card instead of a resume

Although JIST stands for Job Information and Training, it’s almost always referred to as a JIST card. The cards, usually the size of an index card, just includes basic information:

  • Your name
  • Contact info
  • Summary of your experience in a paragraph

The paragraph can highlight the jobs you’ve done and/or your skills.

A JIST Card is not only a unique way to present yourself, but it’s a concise snapshot of you and your job related experience and skills with nothing negative like employment gaps or unimpressive job titles. Search online for “JIST card examples” to see what one looks like.

Like a resume, it’s just a key to get you in the door to an interview, and for some people in reentry it might prove very effective.