How to Write a CV & Cover Letter

Your CV is your first opportunity to shine and stand out from the rest; it must highlight all your skills, qualifications, experience, and indeed anything that will sell yourself to the reader to convince them that you are the candidate they want.  This information has been designed to give you some advice on preparing your CV. There is no such thing as a perfect CV and people will always choose different styles and layouts for it, however the following may provide you with some handy hints to target your CV, to ensure that yours stays at the top of the pile, rather than the bottom of the bin!

PRESENTATION

Spread your CV out, as it comes across as more attractive to read. The average length for a CV should be 2 sides of A4. One side doesn’t give enough opportunity to sell yourself, yet employers do not want to read 7 or 8 pages about your life experiences! Don’t use bright colours or a very small typeface. Small typefaces often become blurred when faxed or photocopied and colours will not show.  A Recruiter does not have time to spend deciphering CV’s so is more likely to pick out CV’s that are clear to read.

PLANNING

Before getting anything down on paper, bear in mind your CV should be targeted to the right industries. Think of the job that you are applying for and adjust your CV accordingly – emphasise aspects of your life that are particularly important for the role – experience, skills and so on. Remember that there is no such thing as an all-purpose CV, and an employer can spot a mass produced CV a mile off! This will come across as lazy and does not put you in a good light. Try to consider the personal attributes the employer may look for – commitment, team-work, initiative etc, and use examples of where and when you may have demonstrated these skills.

WHAT TO INCLUDE ON YOUR CV

Start with your basic details – full name, address, contact telephone numbers, email addresses, date of birth and so on.  You should then follow with the main body of your CV.  The order in which you place this may vary according to the importance you place on each of them.  For example, a college leaver may wish to emphasise their qualifications by detailing them first. On the other hand, a person with many years working experience will want to put their current position first to catch the attention of the reader immediately.

PERSONAL PROFILE

A personal profile at the start of the CV can be useful in explaining your career aims to the reader, but this should not be too long or sound too pompous or contrived.  This section is not essential, but you may find it beneficial to include a few sentences explaining the position you are seeking and the kind of company you would ideally like to work for.  This is also an opportunity to show your personality in a subtle way.

EDUCATION

Reverse chronological order is standard here and enables the reader to focus on your most recent and important achievements.  The detail you provide will depend upon what is likely to be considered important by the reader.  For example, someone with a degree would be better off allocating more space to these details than their GCSE achievements.  Professional qualifications should include the type and level attained and the University attended.

EXPERIENCE

When describing different positions undertaken, you should include the company name, position or job title, job description (duties and responsibilities), reason for leaving (if applicable) and salary (if desired).  Try and list at least your last three positions.  If you have any gaps in your work history, explain them, so that the reader can see what you were doing during that time – i.e. travelling, further education and so on.

INTERESTS

This section should be enough to help the employer understand more about you as a person.  Try not to just list these – tell the reader why you do them and what you get out of them. Bare in mind to keep it professional though, a Recruiter does not want to hear about you dancing on the bar last night!

OTHER

Any additional skills or qualifications should be described here, such as the holding of a driving licence, language skills and so on.

REFERENCES

These tell the reader that you are confident that there are people who will speak highly of you!!  The names and addresses of two references should be provided, either work, personal or academic references.  When including a work reference, try to make this your most recent employer.  If you find you do not have space for this, you may at least like to state that references are available upon request.  Remember to always get your referees’ permission before naming them on your CV.

Remember that the above points are only guidelines.  You should use the space you have available carefully and according to the importance of the information for the particular position.  Decide what is going to impress and give it the most space on your CV.

COVER LETTER

A covering letter should be included whenever you send a copy of your CV to a potential employer.  This enables you to target your CV even more and adds a more human and personal touch.  The idea of a covering letter is to draw attention to the important sections of your CV.

Again, there are many different styles that can be used for a covering letter, and as with your CV it is crucial not to send out a standard covering letter to everyone – vary the content according to who you are sending the letter to.  Like the Personal Profile section in your CV it is an opportunity for you to give your application a more human touch.

PRESENTATION & STYLE

One side of A4 is more than enough for a covering letter – any more than this and the reader will become bored and may switch off.  Be brief and to the point.  Handwritten covering letters are fine if you have good handwriting, however a printed letter is usually preferable and looks more professional

INFORMATION TO INCLUDE

Firstly, explain where you saw the advert for the position, and the position you are applying for, if appropriate.

Follow on by explaining why you want the job and why you feel you are suitable.  Much of this information will already be included in your CV and remember the letter should complement the CV, not reiterate it. Highlight important points detailed in your CV, but try not to use the same phrases.  Personalise your letter by mentioning the company and show that you have done your research and know something about them. Try to include why you would like to work for that particular company.

Finish the covering letter by looking to the future – explain that you look forward to hearing from them, or hope to hear from them soon.