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Whatever stage of your career you are in, you will probably already know that a CV is an important part of finding a job. You might not really know, however, why you have to write a CV or what it is really for. This is important because understanding this will really help you to understand what it should include. 

CVs Explained

What is a CV?

The term CV (curriculum vitae) literally translates as “story of your life”. This is essentially what a CV is, the story of your working life.

Your CV will change a lot, in format, over time. When you start out, it will mainly comprise of a list of ‘skills’ and academic achievements. Later on, your employment history will make up the main body of the CV.

However, the underlying aim of the CV remains the same, to show your potential employer how your past experiences make you right for a particular job.

Why Write a CV?

Imagine you are looking for a new computer. You would not want to buy one without knowing all the different things it can do. Knowing general things like the colour or size or more specific things like the amount of storage can help you decide which one would suit you best.

This is exactly what it is like for employers. They want to know which candidate would be best for the job and a CV helps them to do this.

What Should it Include?

As previously mentioned, the format and structure of a CV may change over time, as you gain more work experience, but its essential elements do not change.

Every CV should include:

  • Your personal details- name, address, telephone number and email address.
  • A list of your qualifications- This could be anything from GSCE results to professional diplomas.
  • The skills that make you right for the job- These may either be presented as a list of skills, with examples of how you gained them, or within your employment history, as a summary of the skills you learnt from each job.
  • A section on hobbies and interests- all CVs have a small section dedicated to this but as the jobs you apply for become more specialised, so too may the hobbies you include.

What if I Have no Experience or Skills?

Loads of people think that because they have no relevant experience, they have no skills. This is 100% not true. Everyone has some skills, even if they are not learnt in an office environment.

At school you learn how to communicate with others and how to manage your time as well as organisation, reading and writing skills, reliability and confidence. All these things, which are highly prized by employers, can be learnt without even leaving the classroom.

If you take part in any extracurricular activities or have had any work experience at all, you can add even more skills to this list. You can prove that you’re motivated, that you know how to plan your time and that you are interested in something, without even going into the specific skills a hobby or placement taught you.

So you see, you do have skills after all!

How to Format your CV:

It might seem stupid but having a clearly, professionally laid out CV makes a huge difference to employers. If they can’t find all the amazing stuff you’ve done because your CV is too confusing they will not give you the job.

CVs should be formatted with normal page margins, in size 11 or 12 font. Any simple readable font will work, don’t be fooled into using Times New Roman everytime (your teachers might love it but employers think it is old fashioned).

A CV should be between 1 and 2 pages long depending on what stage of your career you are at.

Make sure to split the information into clear sections with headings in bold or underlined. Always put your educational or employment histories in reverse chronological order. This means the most recent things should be at the top. This is because once to have taken your A Levels, employers care much more about these than your GCSE results.

Getting these things right will evidence your attention to detail and the care you take in your work before they even read the CV!

How to Tailor your CV:

Tailor your CV to the job you are applying for. Specifically, this may mean looking at the skills the job description asks for and making sure to include examples of how you have picked up these skills. It also might mean separating general experience from experience relevant to the job for which you are applying.

More generally, it is important to understand the tone of the company and the type of employee they are looking for. If you are applying to a law firm for example, use a more serious font and a very traditional layout for your CV. A graphic design or advertising company, however, might be looking for someone more creative so you could use a younger more edgy font and perhaps a more relaxed format.

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Cover letters can be even more of a mystery. Some companies might not require one but many will, and you may not know what one is, what it is for or what it should include. Even if you do know these things, cover letters can be really difficult to write. Many people find it hard to write about themselves or to boast about their achievements, and a cover letter requires you to do both of these.

Cover Letters Explained

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is exactly what it sounds like. It is a letter to cover your CV.

Alongside your CV it will tell employers why you have applied for a job and why you would be right for it.

 

Why Write a Cover Letter?

When you buy a computer or smartphone online, the website will give you two descriptions of the product. One will be in bullet point format, it will tell you the specific properties of the product (e.g. amount of storage, picture quality etc.), this is like your CV. The other will be a paragraph that really sells the product to you (e.g. “this laptop’s HD screen makes it great for graphic design…”), this is like you cover letter.

The cover letter is almost a written out version of your CV. It sells you to an employer and, if it is done well, helps you to stand out from the crowd.

 

What Should it Include?

Every cover letter should primarily focus on answering the following questions:

  • Why did you choose to apply for this job?
  • Why do you think you would be able to do this job?

In order to answer these questions you should talk about the skills and experience you have that make you well suited to this job.

However, you need to be careful that your cover letter doesn’t just repeat everything from your CV. This is sometimes really hard. The best way to avoid this, is to think of a cover letter as an expansion of your CV. For example in your CV you might write that you have leadership skills from being a school prefect. In your cover letter you could expand on this saying:

“This position as assistant manager would suit me well because, from my experience as a school prefect, I have become comfortable with leadership”.

 

What if I Have no Experience or Skills?

Loads of people think that because they have no relevant experience, they have no skills. This is 100% not true. Everyone has some skills, even if they are not learnt in an office environment.

At school you learn how to communicate with others and how to manage your time as well as organisation, reading and writing skills, reliability and confidence. All these things, which are highly prized by employers, can be learnt without even leaving the classroom.

If you take part in any extracurricular activities or have had any work experience at all, you can add even more skills to this list. You can prove that you’re motivated, that you know how to plan your time and that you are interested in something, without even going into the specific skills a hobby or placement taught you.

So you see, you do have skills after all!

 

How to Format your Cover Letter:

Your cover letter should be no more than a page long. It should begin with your name and personal details, in the top right hand corner. The format may differ slightly depending on whether you are submitting your application online or by post. If you are posting it, the name and address of the company should go in the top left hand corner.

Begin your covering letter Dear Hiring Manager, although if you know the name of the person, include it. Following this should be a one line reference, detailing what the letter is about, just like the subject line in an email (eg. Ref: Social Media Internship Application).

You should use the same font style and size and margin size as in your CV.

Begin with an introduction about yourself, then the paragraph about why you are applying for this job and finally a paragraph showing how your skills fit you for the job. Finish by saying how much you look forward to hearing from them and then sign off yours faithfully, if you do not know the name of the hiring manager, and yours sincerely if you do.

 

How to Tailor your Cover Letter:

The most important thing to remember about cover letters is that you should NEVER use the same one for multiple job applications. Cover letters should be entirely tailored to a specific job. Specifically, when you talk about your skills set, reference the skills they ask for in the job advertisement. Likewise talk about the parts of the job description or company that particularly appealed to you.

Most importantly be enthusiastic about the job, often employers will bypass more experienced candidates for those that are more excited about the job on offer.

 

Example CVs:

 

Example Cover Letters: