Creating a killer CV and cover letter

The first step to getting a job is having a great CV and cover letter. Together, these can make or break interview opportunities. Read our guide and you'll be panicking about interviews in no time...

Whether you're looking for a part-time job, a summer (temporary) job, or your first graduate job, you need to have a CV and cover letter that employers want to read. You need something that will make employers fall over themselves inviting you for an interview.

Let your cover letter sell your CV

You shouldn’t just send a CV without a covering letter introducing yourself, even if it’s in an email. The letter should cover the job description point by point and explain why and how you meet each and every one of their requirements, with evidence from past experience. Keep it to under a page long, and pick out the things in your CV that apply to this particular job: what roles have you done before where you’ve used the skills they’ve asked for? Apply skills, roles and situations to each requirement.

Make it aesthetically pleasing

Now you’ve got them to read your CV, you need to actually make sure your CV is appealing enough in the first instance, for them to bother reading it. Think about the font you use, the different sections and how you differentiate between them, and any colours you use. It needs to be easy to read, and easy on the eye. You want it to be laid out in a consistent, neat way, so that information isn’t difficult to pick out.

Structure, structure, structure

It’s important to structure your CV into different sections in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand. This is going to be different for everyone, but the basic sections tend to be Contact details, Profile, Skills, Education, Experience. Figure out whichever way works best for you in terms of order. You also might want to add sub-sections like ‘volunteering/paid work/work experience’, a ‘hobbies’ section explaining a little bit more about the kinds of things you like doing, or ‘qualifications’, which contain things like first aid certificates or any other certificates you may have.

Profile and skills sections

Your contact details should be at the top, including your physical address. If you have more than one page, it’s worth putting the page number, your name, phone number and email address into the header or footer, so that if one page gets lost, they know who the CV belongs to!
In the profile section you want to explain where you’re at in life, why you’re looking for a job, and where you want to work. So something like: “I’m 21, a recent graduate from x course at y university, and I’m looking for my first job in a creative and engaging company in this industry”

Skills should be a bullet-point list of the skills you have. You might want to have sub-sections like “software” if you have knowledge of specific software, particularly if it’s industry standard and the kind of thing that an employer would be interested in. You also might want to grade your competencies in this area, so they have an idea of whether your skills in this particular area are basic, or if you have a few years of experience using the software at university. For example, “Adobe Dreamweaver (basic); Adobe Premiere (confident – 3 years of experience)”.

Education and experience sections

Education should be written with your university at the top, your college second, and your school third. If you’re looking to bump your CV up, you can add particular modules in your university course that you excelled at, or are extremely relevant to the job. For some jobs, A-Levels and GCSEs are still important as it shows you’ve got basic ability in the basic subjects, but don’t write out every single one. For your GCSEs particularly, just write something like “10 GCSEs grades A*-C”. For your A-Levels you might want to tell them what subjects you did, as sometimes this can be important.

Again, most people arrange the experience section chronologically, so that the latest role you did is at the top. This makes the most sense until later on in your career, as employers aren’t really interested in things you did when you were 15 or 16. You can divide it up into paid work and work experience, or voluntary work, if you’re a big giver. This section takes quite a lot of work, as you need to make it as accessible as possible for someone who only has thirty seconds to read it. You need to have your job title and the date you worked there, and you need to summarise your role and what you did in a few bullet-points or sentences. What skills did you use? What projects did you work on?

General tips

  • Tailor your CV and your cover letter to the kind of company you are sending it to
  • Go to the effort of finding out who deals with recruitment at the company and address it to them - not ‘sir’ or ‘madam’; this looks lazy!
  • Make sure it’s no more than two pages long
  • If necessary, create several different CVs for part-time work, holiday work, or graduate work
  • Build a really long CV with every single thing you’ve done on it, so that you can use this as a reference for other CVs and you have something to reference in interviews
  • On the long CV, keep a note of projects or events that you can use in an interview when you’re asked to give evidence of, for example, ‘working in a team’
  • Print it out, see how it looks, and get somebody else to have a look at it too
  • Check for spelling and grammatical errors
  • Make sure the dates tally up and that you can account for any time ‘lost’ in between jobs/education
  • Update it often – re-read what you’ve written to make sure it reflects who you are now
  • Create a LinkedIn profile and link employers to it in your cover letter
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