We are going to look at what makes a good CV, and some useful hints and tips to use when writing one. We will also look at the covering letter, and what you should consider before submitting it with any job application.
Preparing an effective CV can be a challenge for anyone or any job. As the job market gets increasingly competitive, it is all the more important to get it right. Writing a clear and concise CV is an important step when applying for any permanent position. It will not get you a job on it’s own, but a good CV will get you closer to the interview that will.
What is a Curriculum Vitae (CV)?
A CV is a summary of your work history, education and training that provides employers with an idea of your abilities, usually to support a job application. Employers decide who they want to interview by comparing what they want, usually contained in a job description, against everyone’s CVs who applies for the position.
As employers will usually accept or reject an initial application based on a CV and maybe a covering letter, it’s vital that you get this right, otherwise you can struggle just to get an interview.
We have prepared the following advice to help ensure your CV is as professional as possible and enable to have the best chance of returning to work.
General hints and tips for a great CV.
Presentation and layout of your CV.
- Use one clear font for all your cv - e.g. calibri or tahoma and keep it size 12 or above. Otherwise it can become difficult to read, and your CV may be quickly discarded.
- Typed is always better than hand-written
- If handing your CV in on paper, ensure it’s printed on clean, good quality white paper.
- Keep it to the point - CVs shouldn’t be over 2 pages long.
- Keep your CV clear to highlight key information. This can be done by using bullet points, headings and similar tools.
- Don’t include photographs, images, coloured paper or bindings unless specifically asked by the hiring company.
- Start with personal contact details so people know how to get a hold of you.
- Use a sensible e-mail address - something like firstname.lastname@example.org
- Don’t include your date of birth or national insurance number, it’s simply not needed.
- Include a short summary of your key strengths and qualities - around 50 words. It’s best to do this after writing your CV so you can pick the important information out. Use the job description to identify the strengths/qualities they are looking for
- Career history - start with most recent employment. Give details of your position, job title, time in most recent role, responsibilities, skills and any notable achievements. Include any long-term volunteer work in this section.
- Amend your CV to the job you’re applying for - highlight skills and experience they’ve specifically asked for.
- List qualifications, education and training without going into too much detail..
- Avoid abbreviations, company or technical jargon.
- Don’t leave gaps in your career history - account for any breaks by describing activities when not employed, e.g. volunteer work, workshops, training, etc.
- Don’t include any pay information - it can exclude you at an early stage. If they ask, include it in a covering letter.
- Unless specified otherwise on the job advert, references aren’t usually looked at until later on in the application process. You can either leave these off, or simply put ‘References available upon request’ at the bottom of your CV.
How to present work history on your CV.
A CV is not just a list of accomplishments; it has to make them relevant to the job you’re applying for, to tempt the employer to bring you in for an interview. This means that each listed position should be followed by examples of the duties it involved and the skills you learnt or improved.
Start with your most recent employment and work backwards. You should provide the following information:
- Name of employer and what the company does.
- Job title and accurate dates of employment
- Responsibilities and duties
- If there are any changes in job roles, (for example you work in a high-street shop as a cashier then become a team leader) list these as a separate entry with the company as a main header and each role a sub-heading.
Make sure all employment/education gaps in your CV are explained, and use the opportunity to discuss any skills you may have been developing in that time.
In these gaps, highlight any skills you may have developed, and bring it back to what the employer is looking for. Make it a positive entry on your CV.
This section can be hardest for graduates as your CV will have more in the education field. This is not a problem, as many people will be in a similar situation to you. There are a few things you can do, however, to boost this section.
Universities will often have departments that can help with arranging either summer internships or placement years - even if they are unpaid, then you can often seek funding either through the government or the university itself to help.
If you have done any volunteer work, or held a position at a society, you can include this in the work history. Talk about the duties you had in the role, and skills you gained which can be linked into the workplace.
Education and qualifications on your CV
If the job description requires you to have any qualifications that you can show from education, you need this to be made very clear in this section. Highlight it in either your personal summary or covering letter, but also include it here.
If you have a long work history covered in your employment section, the education section can be kept very brief:
- List your education from most recent back, with grade and skills gained, giving the name for each education body. For anything in the last 4 years, it can be worth including the dates to show it’s up-to-date. Anything further back than that, the dates are not relevant to the information.
- You only need to list the last one or two qualifications you’ve achieved, along with anything they’ve named as required or desired for the job.
If you have recently left education, or do not have much work history, then you should expand more around your education.
- Explain around the skills you gained in your education - how you developed those skills and give examples from your education where you developed those skills, e.g. group projects you worked on, presentations you made.
- Talk around any extra-curriculum activities you took part in while in your studies, and how this has helped develop you - for example, did the institute have any volunteer opportunities or sports teams?
Interests and personal qualities on a great CV
This section should be short and to the point. While it helps to give the employer a better idea of you, they are more interested in your skills and experiences.
Keep them varied, and include anything a bit different to help you stand out, e.g. climbing a mountain for charity or going skydiving can show how you like to stretch yourself and set ambitious goals.
What is a covering letter?
A covering letter is something you can attach to your CV to support your job application. Creating a good covering letter is vital for making a good first impression and it gives you the opportunity to position your CV and why you should be selected for an interview. Sometimes, a job will ask for this to be included in the application, but it is recommended you use one wherever possible.
Before writing your covering letter, research the organisation and study the job profile to gain an understanding of the role and the company. You can find out about the company on their website - usually under an ‘About Us’ or ‘News/Media’ section. This will tell you how they see themselves, and what they look for in their staff. You can also Google them, and see if there’s been an recent news stories, or use websites such as Wikipedia.
Highlight what you have to offer the prospective employer, be clear and provide a summary of your skills rather than repeat your CV.
A covering letter is exactly that, a letter. Therefore, it should be in a smart format. Start off with your name and contact details, the name and job title of the recipient (if known), company name and address and date your letter.
Start with a greeting, Mr/Mrs X, or Dear Sir or Madam (if you cannot find out the recipients name).
Subject - include the job title and reference number.
If you are sending a speculative CV and Covering Letter, make sure you do your research on the company and direct your CV to the appropriate person.
Express your interest in the position and why you are interested in the role - maybe explain how suitable you are for the role, or what it is about the company that is attractive to you.
Details your strengths - qualifications and/or experience and your suitability for the role - highlighting why your skills match their requirements. Look at the job description or advert, pick out the skills, qualifications or personal traits that they’re looking for, and tell them why you have those.
Your conclusion should be positive, highlight your confidence in applying for the role and indicate that you look forward to hearing that they are taking your application further at interview.
Remember - this could be your only opportunity to make an impression on a potential employer, so customise your CV and covering letter for each job application.
Make sure you carefully check that there are no grammar, spelling and typing errors - ask a friend to take a look for you as they may spot something you have overlooked.
In summary, it’s vital you get the CV and covering letter right as this will likely be the first thing a prospective employer looks at for you, and will decide if you get considered or not. In order to stand out from the crowd, keep them clear and concise, and ensure you update your CV to the jobs you apply for. Listen to any feedback you get; if it works, keep it. If it doesn't, change it.