Writing a killer CV and cover letter is the key to getting a new job. We all want to stand out from the competition and get that call to interview, but what should we be doing to maximise the chances of success?
We are lucky to have our guest blogger Gemma Bartlett, Life Coach, Career Coach and Head-Hunter share her advice. Gemma has worked with a number of companies both in the UK and Internationally, to interview and deliver talent of all levels to their business. Gemma also runs her own businesses working with her coaching clients around mindset & confidence coaching, defining life & career goals and giving practical interview and CV advice. So she knows a thing or two about creating a great CV and cover letter. Read on for her top tips. Or if you don't tend to learn best through reading text (and many people don't) why not watch this video instead.
Writing your CV
Writing a CV can be an overwhelming experience. What format should it take? Should you include images or artwork? How long should it be? What are employers looking for? How far back should your experience go? We'll answer all your questions.
Two pages is ideal for a CV and three maximum. Any longer than that and the person reading may switch off!
Unless you work in the creative industries where it's standard to have a visually designed CV keep your design simple. No fancy images or fonts. Go for a single, clean, professional font throughout and use bolded text to make headings stand out, and a slightly larger bolded font for section headings. Avoid underlining words as this can look cluttered.
An Employer wants to see a professional, chronological layout and a CV that is easy to read. Remember they are busy and have a lot of CV’s to go through – make it as easy as possible for them!
A CV should ideally follow this format;
1. Name, Address, Email, Phone Number
This should be clearly set out at the top of the page – it’s surprising how many people forget to include a contact number!
2. Personal Profile
This should be around 4-5 sentences, outlining your key skills & strengths in relation to the specific job you are applying to. You should also include the amount of work experience you have in that field and what industry / position you want to work in now. This should be different if you're applying for different roles or for the same role but in a different industry. It should really speak to the person hiring for that role.
List experience from your most recent job backwards in date. Head up each role with the dates from and to (including month), job title and Company name. Detail your job duties in bullet point format ideally. Business owners like detail but they also like a CV to be easily readable! Be sure to include all achievements & successes – people like substance! An average of 5-6 bullet points for each job is ideal.
List all Education from most recent backwards. Always include the subjects studied and the grades if they are strong. Be sure to include even short, one day courses if they are relevant to the industry you want to work in!
5. Skills & Achievements
This is optional and is a summary of your key strengths & successes (ideally make the majority of these points transferrable skills to any industry and role).
6. Hobbies & Interests
List 3-5 hobbies / interests that are genuine to you. This could include sports, arts & crafts, charity work, socialising. This can help back up your skills and sometimes be a good talking point in an interview. Make sure your hobbies add value of some kind!
7. The last line should read “References Available Upon Request”
What to include
Remember your CV is a sales tool to showcase your professional self in your best light. So include all your strengths and skills to convince someone why they should hire you. You should have one great CV but your personal statement should be tailored to each role, so ensure that you include your top strengths, skills and your passion for that employer or role in that section, as it's the first thing someone will read. This is your your chance to grab their attention.
If you’ve stayed in one job for a long time, clearly show your promotions as this will work in your favour. It shows you work hard, strive to better yourself and are loyal to a company.
If you've taken a significant career break for whatever reason then explain this so it's clear why you have a gap in your experience section, or the person reading it will wonder what you were doing between key missing dates. Show this on your CV to account for that time but do it in one word or line. Lots of detail isn’t needed.
Show any significant employment gap on your CV, for example, your maternity leave, to account for that time but do it in one word or line. Lots of detail isn’t needed.
What to leave out
There are some things you shouldn't include:
- The reasons for leaving each role - it could end up putting someone off and they can talk through this with you in the interview if needed.
- Every job from 20 years ago that isn’t relevant to the one you are applying to. Potential employers favour candidates that haven’t jumped around too much, so consider taking out any job you have held for 3 months or less. Yes, there will be a gap on your CV but not enough for anyone to worry about at this stage.
- All your references - they will ask for these when needed, at the final stages.
Tackling specific challenges
The most common challenges here include:
- Applying for a job after being out of the workplace for a significant period of time - for example after a career break.
- Applying for a role that you've never done before.
- Applying for a similar role but in a new/different industry.
If you're struggling with 1 and 2 it's a great idea to firstly, identify a transferrable skillset. Brainstorm with someone who knows you well and come up with all the skills and personality traits you have, from both your professional and personal background including charity/voluntary work. These should be skills that any business or job would benefit from. It could be relationship building skills from previous jobs or good organisational skills from scheduling the kid’s activities!
Other examples of transferrable skills/traits;
· Time management
As well as listing skills/key words, you need to be able to back them up with genuine successes. List these under your experience and/or the “Skills & Achievements” section. Next, look at the Job Spec of the role you are applying for - look at the essential skills needed and include the main transferrable skills you have, in your CV profile and CV body. Highlight anything that fits the role you want and emphasise the skills and strengths you have that are outlined in the Job Spec, in your personal statement and CV overall. If you are changing role it's also a great idea to include some context on why. What is it about the new role that you're passionate about? How does the change make sense for you?
If you are REALLY struggling and still getting turned away it can be useful to get some voluntary experience in a similar role as when the job market is competitive. It can be difficult to be hired for a role you haven't done before or one that you haven't done for a long time.
If you are looking for a role in a new or different industry it's useful to ensure your skills come across as highly relevant to this new industry, but also to include some context on why you are interested in that specific industry. Add this to your profile and Cover Letter. Potential Employers will buy into you if you sound sure about the why and how of a new industry.
Writing your cover letter
Firstly, always include a cover letter. Just sending a CV off makes you look lazy and gives the impression you don't care about that particular job and are just sending your CV out willy-nilly.
In terms of the letter itself, it should be punchy, to the point and specific to the company. This will impress the reader, show you’ve done your research and confirm you haven’t sent the same generic letter a hundred times!
- Try to find a named person to address the letter to - make it personable.
- Include the company name< and why you want to work there specifically. For example, “I would love to be considered for the (job title) role at (company name) because (list specific points you buy into based on your research e.g. their website).
- Include why you think you would be good at the job – match your skills to the Job Spec but in summary.
- Don’t make it too long. 2 paragraphs is perfect - they probably won’t read it if it’s any longer.
And one final tip
Before sending off your CV and cover letter for a role make sure you read through it with the mindset of the person hiring. Would you invite this person to interview? Does the CV tell you everything you want to know about them at this stage? Is it too long? Too short? Can you see their successes? Does the cover letter convince you of the passion they would bring to the job? The answer must be yes to all these!
If you enjoyed this blog why not read our others in this series:
To find out more about the awesome Gemma Bartlett check out her website and socials below.