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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links