Careers Advice

How to Write a CV and a Cover Letter

Writing your application when you haven’t got much experience can be daunting. But don’t worry: the people looking at your application were in the same position too once. Include all the important things and you’ll be fine.


The CV

What to Include

There are no set rules on what to include, but you should normally include the following:

  • Contact details: Email and mobile number (no need for your address). Some jobs require the applicant to be of a certain nationality so include this as well as your eligibility to work in the country.
  • Education: The name of each institution, your qualifications, and the dates you attended.
  • Experience: This includes jobs, internships, work experience, university projects and positions of responsibility like being head of your science club.
  • Prizes and scholarships: If you’ve received awards it can look impressive if you list them in a separate section. Alternatively, you can just include them in the details of your education.
  • Skills: This covers relevant skills such as proficiency in programming languages and software packages, knowledge of foreign languages, and even first aid training. Break these down based on how experienced you are, such as ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’.
  • Interests and hobbies: If you have space, mention some of your hobbies and interests as these show the recruiters you’re a well-rounded candidate and not just obsessed with work. If it's possible, mention hobbies which are relevant to the role: you might be a keen cyclist and have hands-on skills from working on your bike.

It can be tempting to write as much as you can possibly fit on the pages but this isn’t always advisable. Only include relevant things and make sure you’re customising your CV to the role - don’t just use the same one for everything.

Writing Style and Layout

Keep it simple and keep it short. Your CV will be one of dozens that get looked at, so make sure the most important points are clearly highlighted. Organisation and structure are key. Don’t bother with flowery language or long sentences, clear bullet points will do fine. Remember that the recruiters reading your CV probably won’t be experts in what you’re applying to do so make technical descriptions understandable to non-specialists. Include keywords to make your application stand out.

There are many CV templates online, though many will need adjusting to make them more relevant to students. You can always make your own layout. Just don’t be too creative (avoid bright colours and pictures) - the CV has to look professional.

Writing About Your Experience

For each item give two or three bullet points. Describe what you did, what you learnt and how it’s relevant to the job you’re applying to. Back up statements with evidence like ‘Redesigned pipe flow software improving efficiency by 60%’ or ‘Organised a committee of 10 and handled a budget of £1000’. It isn’t always immediately apparent how work experience is relevant to the role you’re applying to, so be explicit and remember that all work experience teaches you transferable skills: something like stacking supermarket shelves might have taught you about time management and teamwork, as well as how to deal with customers.

Whatever you do, don’t lie!

The Cover Letter

The role of your cover letter is to highlight, in a quickly digestible fashion, why you are the ideal candidate for the role by drawing the recruiter’s attention to the most relevant aspects of your experience. It’s the one chance you have to address them directly instead of simply listing your achievements and experience as you have in your CV. Think of it as a quick chat you might have with a professional you’ve met at a conference in which you try to convince them they should consider you for a job. 

Some jobs will require a cover letter and others will not. However it is almost always advisable to provide one wherever possible as it will give you a huge advantage over applicants submitting just a CV.

What to Include

Before you start writing, bear in mind that it shouldn’t exceed one side of A4 and should ideally include no more than 3 or 4 succinct paragraphs. Any more and you risk overwhelming a busy recruiter.

Addresses: 

The cover letter has to look like - you guessed it - a letter, so put your own address in the top right hand corner and the company’s address and the date below it on the left. Try to find a specific person in the company to address your letter to but if you can’t, use “Dear Sir/Madam”, “Dear Recruitment Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern”.

Paragraph No.1: 

Mention which position you are applying for and your motivation for doing so. Don’t just focus on why you think the role and the work involved will be interesting but also why the company’s culture and values appeal to you.

Paragraph No. 2: 

Outline your relevant experience and qualifications. This should be a short summary of the most important parts of your CV - a highlight reel, if you like. It should tell the recruiter what to pay particular attention to when they read your CV and serve as a reminder as to why you should be interviewed when they do the final review of applications. Address each of the required skills mentioned in the job advertisement. Don’t just copy and paste from your CV. Try to tie the relevant experience to the job and the company as much as you truthfully can and remember to use keywords.

Final Paragraph: 

Let the recruiter know you’d like to hear back from them, and if applicable, tell them your availability for an interview. If you’ve attached further documents you want them to consider, remind them! Thank the recruiter for considering your application. Finally, if your letter is addressed to a specific person it should end with “Yours sincerely”, but otherwise use ‘Yours faithfully”.

Before Sending Anything

Double check all your spelling and grammar. Get a friend to read over it to check for mistakes and also to see whether you've clearly highlighted all the important skills mentioned in the job description.

The original CV guide article was written by Joseph Dudley.

Author

Thomas Woelker-Darley

Thomas is a graduate of the University of Bath (MEng in Mechanical Engineering).

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