When applying for a job you will usually be asked to supply a CV (curriculum vitae) and covering letter, these two documents show how you are qualified for the job and why you would be the ideal candidate for the role. If the employer believes you meet the criteria for the job you may be invited to interview.
What is a CV?
A CV is a short list of facts about you and your work history, skills, qualifications and experience. A good CV is essential when looking for work and it is worth spending time getting it right so it sells you to an employer.
Your CV should:
- Be neat, typed if possible and to the best standard you can achieve in content and layout
- Be short, 2 sides of a sheet of A4 paper is normally enough
- Be positive, it should emphasise your achievements, strengths, successes
- Make a good impression. This means presenting the facts about yourself in a positive way.
Your CV is often how you make a first impression on an employer. It needs to put across the right message, have the right presentation, and have no mistakes.
Employers receive lots of CVs and have to decide quickly who they’re going to interview.
Here are some ways to make your CV stand out for all the right reasons.
List achievements, not duties
Your CV should sell your achievements as an individual.
Phrases like ‘responsible for ordering stock’ can make your CV read like a job description. Instead, describe what you did and what the positive outcome was, like, ‘by closely monitoring sales trends and stock levels, I reduced out of stock instances by 21%’.
Using ‘active’ language instead of ‘passive’ language makes your CV sound more dynamic. An example is changing ‘involved in the promotion of the company at industry events…’ to ‘I promoted the company at industry events…’ This makes you sound like a ‘doer’, rather than someone who was just ‘involved’.
Tailor your CV
Avoid sending out the same CV to hundreds of employers. Mass mailshots are too general and unfocused – and employers can spot them.
Instead, tailor your CV to sell your most relevant skills. Consider what skills the employer might be looking for, and highlight your most relevant experience.
For example, if you’ve got experience in retail and care work, and you’re applying for a job in a shop, make sure your retail experience is easier to see on your CV than the care experience.
Avoid typing errors, poor spelling and grammar mistakes
Mistakes can make it seem like you haven’t put the time in, or you don’t think details are important. A tidy, mistake-free CV shows you’re professional, thorough and care about how you come across.
It’s a good idea to have your CV checked by someone whose English is good, even if yours is good too. Spellcheckers can miss things, like the difference between ‘ceiling’ and ‘sealing’.
Make it easy to read and look good
Don’t include so much information that it makes your CV looks cluttered. Avoid long paragraphs with very little white space.
Bullet pointed lists and short sentences make your CV easier to read and easier for recruiters to scan for key points.
You don’t need to print your CV on bright coloured paper or over a picture. A ‘daring’ visual approach is only really suitable for creative jobs. Also, don’t mix up your fonts for visual effect because it can look messy and disorganised.
The right length
The rule of thumb is that a CV should be no more than 2 pages long. If you’ve a lot of relevant experience at a high level, however, you can go over 2 pages.
If you’re just starting out in your career, 1 page is fine. If your CV goes back a long way into your work history, make sure the information is relevant to the job you’re applying for. A Saturday job you had 20 years ago probably isn’t relevant.
What to include in each section
Here you can find out what to include in each section and what to leave out.
Example CVs can be found here.
Your personal details
Include your name, address and contact details. You don’t need to include your age, marital status or nationality. Recruiters can make a decision about your skills and abilities without this information.
Make sure your email address sounds professional. You could also add a link to a professional social media site like LinkedIn. Make sure your profile shows you in a positive light and doesn’t contain anything you wouldn’t want an employer to see.
Your personal profile
This is a mini-advert for you and should summarise your:
- skills and qualities
- work background and achievements
- career aims
It should only be a few lines and needs to grab the reader’s attention. Try not to use terms like ‘reliable, ‘hard working’, ‘team player’ or ‘good communicator’. These are viewed a lot by employers, and they don’t help to build up an individual picture of you.
If the job involves working with people, try to show your people skills by uses phrases like: ‘negotiating’, ‘effectively dealing with demanding customers’, ‘handling conflict’ or ‘showing empathy’. These help the reader build up a picture of your skills, knowledge and experience. Keep it short – you can go into more detail later.
When describing your career aims, think about the employer you’re sending the CV to. Make your career aims sound just like the kind of opportunities they currently have.
Employment history and work experience
You’ll usually put your employment history first if you’ve been working for a few years. If you don’t have much work experience, focus on your your education and training.
Start with the job you’re doing now, or the last job you had, and work backwards. You need to include your employer’s name, the dates you worked for them, your job title and your main tasks. On the jobs that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, give examples of the skills you used and what you achieved.
Use bullet pointed lists and positive language. Use ‘action’ words to describe what you did in your job like: ‘achieved’, ‘designed’, ‘established’, ‘supervised’, ‘co-ordinated’, ‘created’ or ‘transformed’.
Relate your skills and experience to the job description, person specification or what you think the employer is looking for. Also include any relevant temporary work and volunteering experience.
Try not to have any gaps in your work history. If you had time out travelling, job seeking, volunteering or caring for a relative, include them with details of what you learned and the skills you gained.
Education and training
Start with your most recent qualifications and work back to the ones you got at school. Use bullet points or a table and include:
- the university, college or school you went to
- the dates the qualifications were awarded and any grades
- any work-related courses, if they’re relevant
Interests and achievements
Include hobbies, interests and achievements that are relevant to the job. If you’re involved in any clubs or societies, this can show that you enjoy meeting new people. Interests like sports and physical recreation activities can also show employers that you are fit and healthy.
Don’t just put activities that you would do alone like reading, bird-watching or playing video games, unless they relate directly to the job that you are applying for. They may leave employers wondering how sociable you are. Make your activities specific and varied.
You can include this section if you need to add anything else that’s relevant.
You may need to explain a gap in your employment history, like travelling or family reasons. You could also include other relevant skills here, such as if you have a driving licence or can speak any foreign languages.
At least one referee should be work-related. Or, if you haven’t worked for a while, you could use another responsible person who has known you for some time.
You can list your referees on your CV or just put ‘references available on request’. If you decide to include their details you should explain the relationship of each referee to you – for example ‘Claire Turner, line manager’.
Your CV and covering letter are your chance to sell yourself to employers.
To create a good first impression, make sure your covering letter:
- is well written
- doesn’t contain any spelling mistakes or bad grammar
- supports what’s in your CV
A good covering letter will show that you’ve done your research, you know what the job involves and what the employer’s looking for.
Example of a covering letter can be found here.
Covering letters – the main rules
Your covering letter should be short and to the point. Write it on a computer as it makes it easier to make any changes or corrections before you send it.
Highlight your most relevant skills and achievements, and explain any gaps in your CV, like periods of unemployment, time spent in prison, travelling or being a carer. For each of these explain what you learned from the experience.
Make specific reference to the employer – don’t send out identical covering letters with no organisation details. Use the right language and tone, and the same font and text size as on your CV. Always check for spelling and grammatical errors.
If you mention your disability at the application stage it can give you an opportunity to talk about the transferable skills you’ve developed as a result of dealing with your disability. But you don’t need to mention your disability if you don’t want to.
It’s important to address your letter to the person named in the advert, if there is one. If there isn’t, find out the name of the recruiter or the head of the department you want to work for.
You also need to:
- spell any names correctly and address them with their preferred title, whether it’s Dr, Mr, Mrs, or Ms
- explain why you’re writing
- be clear about what you’re applying for by including the full title of the job, the reference number, and where you saw it advertised
- research the company and the job to find out the main skills the employer is looking for
- give evidence to show that you have the right personal qualities, experience, qualifications, and skills for the role
- include real examples of when you’ve used these skills, and highlight any major achievements, like completing training courses
- present your skills in a way that shows how giving you the job will benefit the organisation
Show your enthusiasm
Show how keen you are to get this job and work for this employer. Many employers skim-read covering letters, so the opening paragraph is your opportunity to impress them with how much you know about their work.
Explain why you believe you’re the right person for the company, and what makes you highly motivated to work for them. Show you’re familiar with their products and services, and recent news about them. You could also explain that you’re enthusiastic about working for them because you share their work values, culture and style.
Take the employer’s point of view
Imagine you’re the employer and ask yourself:
- what would make a candidate stand out?
- what would be my ideal candidate?
- why would I hire the person who sent this covering letter?
Cover all the essential points clearly – remember employers are busy and might not have the time to read a long letter.
Use the same language that the employer uses on their website, in job adverts and any other communications. Use the same tone as the employer, but remember to keep it professional.
Present your skills in a way that shows how giving you the job will benefit their company. You can do this by cutting down on the number of times you use the word ‘I’ and increasing the number of times you use ‘you’ and ‘your organisation’.
Identify your unique selling points
Be positive about who you are and what you have to offer, like your ability to learn quickly, your experience if you’re older, or your ideas, enthusiasm and willingness to learn if you’ve recently finished college. Highlight to the employer what special skills, knowledge or expertise you can bring.
Promote your transferable skills
Think about a job you’ve done before and the job you want to get into, and try to identify the skills you need for both, like working to deadlines, managing budgets and working well with a wide range of people.
Lastly, you should finish your letter by bringing it all together.
- invite the employer to get more details about you from your attached or enclosed CV
- say you’re looking forward to hearing from them, if you’re replying to an advertised vacancy
- say you’ll wait for their call, or that you’ll contact them in a week or two, if you’re applying on the off-chance of a job
- explain how you’d like to be contacted, for example by phone, email or post, and make sure your contact details are correct on your covering letter and CV
More information can be found https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/cvs-and-cover-letters/cover-letters
An interview is a discussion in person, by phone or online, between you and an employer.
The employer wants to see if you’re the right person for the job. You’ll get the chance to make a good impression and show the employer what you have to offer. You can also see if the job is one you want.
Types of interview
The most common types of interview are:
- Competency-based – focussing on the skills and personal qualities you need, you’ll have to relate your skills and experience to the job
- Technical – usually for technical jobs in areas like IT or engineering, you’ll have to display your technical knowledge of a certain process or skill
- Face-to-face – in person
- Panel interview – where one person usually leads the interview and other panel members take it in turns to ask you different questions
- Telephone or online – this could be the first stage of the interview or the only stage, and you should prepare in the same way as for a face-to-face interview
- Informal chat – in some job areas like the creative industries you’ll have an informal, work-focussed discussion about your experience and career aims, usually somewhere like a restaurant or a cafe
- Group discussion – in a group with other candidates, you’ll have to show you can get along with people, put your ideas forward and be respectful of others.
Before the interview
To help you prepare, you can:
- Think about which areas of your CV or application form the interviewer might ask you to talk more about, and how you can relate them to the role
- Prepare some answers about why you want the job, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and your relevant work and life experience
- Think of some questions to ask about the role and the company at the end of the interview, but don’t ask about pay yet
- Try to relax the night before the interview – doing lots of last minute work could make you more anxious and reduce your sleep time.
What to wear
When it comes to what to wear:
- Plan what you’re going to wear before the day of the interview
- Find out what the company’s dress code is and wear clothes that suit the company that’s interviewing you
- Don’t wear clothes that you’re uncomfortable in, or shoes that you’ll struggle to walk in
- Don’t wear too much strong perfume or aftershave.
Getting to the venue
Check in advance how to get to the interview venue, and how long it’ll take. On interview day make sure you leave plenty of time to get there and aim to arrive a little early.
Get settled and ready to begin
Just before the interview starts:
- Make sure your phone’s turned off
- Ask for water if you haven’t already been given some
- Don’t let your nerves show too much – use breathing techniques and try to remember a few nerves are normal.
During the interview
When answering the questions:
- Take your time when thinking of your answer – it’s fine to say you need a moment to think
- Look alert and attentive, speak clearly and confidently, and don’t swear or use slang
- Give full answers, don’t just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’
- Give examples of when you’ve used the skills they’re asking for
- If you’re asked about your experience, talk about the Situation you were in, the Task in front of you, the Action you took, and the Result of your action (STAR technique)
- Be positive about your experiences – avoid negativity about yourself or any previous roles you’ve had
- Make sure you fully understand the questions you’re asked – ask for more explanation if you need to
- Avoid mentioning salary or company benefits unless asked
- Don’t lie – the interviewer may see through you and, even if you get the job, your employer can dismiss you if they find out you’ve been dishonest
- If you’re asked about a work skill you don’t have, you could say what you’d do in a certain situation or use an example from your personal life, and also explain that you’re a fast learner
- Don’t be arrogant and assume you’ve got the job – employers don’t like disrespectful or over-confident candidates
- Don’t bring up topics like religion or politics where people can have strongly-held personal beliefs.
If you’re asked about being made redundant from your previous job, try to stress it was a business decision and describe how you’ve responded positively since.
If you were fired for misconduct or poor performance, try to explain why your standards dropped on that occasion but that you have learnt from it and have since improved.
If you’ve been out of work for a long time and get asked about it, describe any positive steps you’ve taken such as voluntary work, courses, networking, industry events, keeping fit, community roles, keeping yourself up to date with your field.
If you left your last job by choice and are asked about it, you could make it clear you were grateful for the opportunity and learnt a lot, but you wanted a fresh challenge.
After the interview
When the employer contacts you after the interview:
- If you’re offered the job, thank them and agree things like start date and what to bring on the first day
- If you’re expected to negotiate salary, find out beforehand what the usual rate is for the job but then start high and meet in the middle if necessary
- Ask for feedback on your performance – if you weren’t successful use their comments to improve for next time
- If you’re offered a job and decide you don’t want it, thank the employer politely, as you may want to work for them in future.
Example interview questions can be found here.
Sourced from National Careers Service website.
Examples sourced from Prospects website.