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CV & Covering Letter Tips

What is a CV?

CV stands for curriculum vitae, which is Latin for ‘the story of your life’. It is a short list of facts about you, your skills, qualifications, experience and career history. When looking for a job, you need a good quality CV.

How long should a CV be?

A regular CV in the UK should ideally be no longer than two sides of A4 paper. Some employers specifically request a shorter or longer CV depending on the experience required for the role.

What should I include in a CV?

Your CV should include relevant and eye catching information to help an employer make the decision to hire you, including:

1) Contact details – your full name, address, phone number and an appropriate email address.

2) Personal Statement – usually found at the beginning of the CV, a personal statement is a short and snappy paragraph that highlights your key skills and reasons for deciding to work in that particular field. Employers are not just looking for qualifications and this is where you have the opportunity to list your good qualities and strengths.

3) Education – list and date your past education and any grades achieved (or predicted grades) in date order with the most recent first. Include any professional qualifications you have achieved since leaving full time education.

4) Referees – Unless you are asked directly in the job advert, stating ‘references are available by request’ is fine. Have two suitable referees available, such as close family friends (but not family members), teachers, career advisers or employers you have worked for. Ask the person for their permission first before offering their details.

5) Key skills – if you’ve never had a job before it’s important to let potential employers know what particular key skills you have, such as the ability to work in a team or alone, customer service skills, IT skills, communication skills and any foreign languages spoken.

6) Past work experience – think about any work you’ve done in the past or are still doing, including part time paid jobs, voluntary work, babysitting, organised an event, performed in a play or band. Add the most recent/relevant positions and examples of work undertaken in each role.

7) Hobbies and interests – mention any hobbies that are relevant to the job you’re applying for, such as volunteering roles or sports coaching in your spare time. Avoid examples like reading, going out, or the types of music you enjoy, unless you are able to expand on the interest through membership of a club or other organization.

What should I not include in a CV?

Top tips for a great CV

1) Maximise readability – Separate your CV into ‘bite-size’ chunks and use bullet points where you can. It should be eye-catching and uncluttered. Use a clear and common font such as Calibri or Arial and avoid ‘informal fonts’ such as Comic Sans MS.

2) Include achievements – Think about everything that you’ve achieved – awards, prizes, club memberships, special responsibilities in or out of school. You are not trying to demonstrate experience; you are trying to show that you have potential, enthusiasm and reliability.

3) Key words and phrases – Employers want to know that you have vital employability skills e.g. communication skills, problem-solving ability, computer software skills, teamwork, planning and organisational skills.

4) Keep it relevant – Incorporate skills asked for in the job description and give examples of how/where you’ve used these skills.

5) Transferable skills – Working out what skills you have can take time. Think about the skills you have gained from all parts of your life including your hobbies, community activities, previous jobs, extra-curricular activities, voluntary roles and family life.

6) Target your CV – Greater success is always achieved by tailoring your CV to the job you’re applying for. Rather than making a recruiter search for the reason why and where you would fit in with their company, you need to tell them why.

7) Spell check – It’s basic but it’s something a lot of people forget to do. Get someone else to double check your CV for spelling mistakes or typos to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Be careful to get your grammar and punctuation correct as spell checking software can miss these errors.

8) Style – Try to stick to a core CV template that you can tweak quickly for different job roles.

Covering letters

How do I write a covering letter?

You should always include a cover letter with an application unless the employer states otherwise. It will enable you to personalise your application for the job and emphasise your suitability for the job. Use a covering letter to expand on your CV, they should complement each other to form the ultimate advertisement of you!

Research the company and job role you are applying for as this will allow you to tailor your letter more effectively (and prove useful should you get an interview).

Always try and address your covering letter directly to the person who will be reading it. You will be more likely to receive a reply if you address your letter to the appropriate hiring manager.

Top tips for a great covering letter

1) Be concise – keep your letter to one side of A4 paper, don’t waffle or deviate!

2) Include a named contact if possible – this shows you have sent it to them personally or made an effort to find the correct contact.

3) Pair your skills to the job advert – push for an interview by highlighting why you fit the job.

4) Show a willingness to learn/expand your skills – it is unlikely that you will have all of the desired skills required by an employer, so it is important to show a strong willingness to learn and improve yourself, be it through training, further education or in-house work shadowing.

5) Proof read – always triple-check your spelling and grammar. Don’t rely on a spell checking application to get things right.

6) Page layout and paper quality – keep the layout concise with short paragraphs and use good quality paper when printing your final CV and covering letter.

7) Emailing covering letters – if you are asked to send your covering letter electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment to avoid it being detected by spam filters.

8) Write in your own words – Don’t use text from the internet or quotes from media, family or friends.


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