Your CV and Cover Letter are the two ways that an employer gets to know you. Once you've found a position that you think looks suitable for you, you'll need to send these off and impress upon your potential employer that you are the right person for the job. Therefore, it's vital you get them right.
What should your CV include?
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
This includes your name, address, telephone number and email address.
A personal profile
A personal profile is an optional paragraph summarising your career aims, work background and achievements, and your skills and qualities. It's a few lines telling employers what you can do for them and how your skills fit into their organisation, however try not to be vague or too generic as an employer won't be able to distinguish you from the rest of the pack.
Qualifications and training
This could be anything from GSCE results to professional diplomas and you should start with your most recent qualifications and work back to your school ones. If you end up with too much information, you can start to remove anything which you think is irrelevant to the position you're applying for.
Employment history and work experience
What roles you've had, for how long and the responsibilities you've had within them. You can also put your work experience in here if you've not had that many jobs and you've got some career gaps.
You should start with your most recent job and work backwards, and if you've been working a while you might only put your last three positions in and/or those you think are most relevant to the job role.
Especially if your employment history has a few holes, explaining the skills you have to do the job can help employers understand what you can do. You can either write them in a list with examples of how you gained them, or within your employment history, as a summary of the skills you learnt from each job.
Interests and achievements
Your CV can also include hobbies, interests and achievements that are relevant to the job you are applying to. Make you hobbies specific and interesting, and avoid writing those that you would do alone, for example instead of saying that you play for your local five-a-side you can state that you organise match times and venues with other teams.
If you think there's any other information you CV needs you can put it in here. For example, being able to speak a second language might be a benefit for a role or holding a clean driving licence might be a must for your career path. You might also want to explain any gaps in employment history here.
Your references are people that can vouch for your character and capabilities in the workplace. They should preferably be work-related, however if you haven't worked for a while they can include a responsible person you've known for some time.
What if you've been out of work for a while?
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that if they are not in work they have no skills or expertise. This is not the case. Everyone has some skills, even if they are not learnt in an office environment.
In your everyday life you communicate with others, manage your time, organise you and your family's life, and stick to your family budget without having any experience of an office. If you have children you will be good at communicating with people different to you, whether it's other kids or their parents. You might also be involved in their lives, organising things for them and their friends to do on the weekend.
If you are stuck for skills, think about how your friends describe you. They will have a better understanding of you, and can tell you what your skills are!
If you want to update your skills if you think that you aren't going to get a job straight away, you can look at doing some work experience.
How do you format your CV?
It might seem obvious 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 10 or 11 font. Any simple readable font will work, such as Arial, Gill Sans, or Helevetica.
A CV should be between 1 and 2 pages long depending on what stage of your career you are at and you can use template CVs in MSWord or GoogleDocs if you want a stylish look without too much effort.
If you are not using a template, make sure to split your information into clear sections with headings in bold or underlined. Always put your educational and employment histories in reverse chronological order. This means the most recent things should be at the top. This is because once you have taken your A Levels and obtain further qualifications, employers care much more about these than your GCSE results.
Getting these things right and reading through your CV before you send it will evidence your attention to detail and the care you take in your work before they even read the CV!
How do you 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 more edgy font and perhaps a more relaxed format.
Alongside your CV a cover letter is a great opportunity to tell employers why you have applied for the job in question and why you would be the right person for that job.
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 similar to 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 similar you cover letter.
You cover letter is generally read before your CV so it's important that you make an impact and make them itching to read your CV. Those that create a good first impression are well constructed, don’t contain any spelling mistakes or bad grammar, and support what you are saying in your CV. Although you need to be polite and formal, you can write in a voice that's suitable to you, letting people get behind the text and get to see the real you. To make an impact you need to show employers that you have done your research, that you understand their organisation, what the job involves and what they are looking for in an employee. You can then convince them that you are the right person by showing where your skills and experience fits in with their ideal.
What do I need to put in my Cover Letter?
A cover letter should be made up of four components:
- The purpose of your cover letter - which role you are applying to, where did you see the vacancy etc.
- Your current position
- Where you see yourself in the future within the role and the company - this needs to be back up with your skills and experience and show that you've researched the company in question
- Close the letter - thanking them for their time and welcoming the opportunity to meet.