CVs and Cover Letters A Short Guide on How to Write

OFFICE OF STUDENT AFFAIRS
CVs and Cover Letters
A Short Guide on How to Write
Effectively to Employers
Guidance & Employability Team (GET)
Introduction
This booklet contains a treasure trove of tips, ideas and information on how to understand two of the most traditional
career-marketing tools (CVs and cover letters) that employers use as a standard screening tool.
The purpose of this booklet is to support your transition from student to graduate by creating CVs and cover letters
in three simple steps, which we’ve termed ‘Relate’, ‘Demonstrate’ and ‘Captivate’. By following these, you will learn
how to change your style and content to meet both your own needs and the needs of employers.
Relate: 90 per cent of undergraduates and graduates do not sufficiently research their targeted employer. This is why
it is crucial to make sure that you really understand what the employer wants; this is the only way that you will be able
to make sure that your CV and cover letter relate to employers’ needs.
Demonstrate: this emphasises the importance of providing specific evidence by quantifying and qualifying your
statements. You will learn not only to tell the employer but show the employer through examples that you have what
it takes for the job at hand. In short, you will demonstrate that you have the skills, experience and traits that the
employer is looking for.
Captivate: you need to sell what makes you stand out from the other candidates. A degree is not enough. You need
to provide evidence of your extracurricular activities.
The bad news is that there is no one perfect CV, in the same way that there isn’t one right way to write your CV and
cover letter. However, there are certain principles that will increase your chances of being invited for interview.
This booklet has a companion website at www.gre.ac.uk/students/get/learningforwork, where you can download
free templates and access more information on learning for work.
Good luck in your job hunting!
The Guidance & Employability Team
CVs and cover letters
Relate – Demonstrate – Captivate
Sell yourself effectively for the position that you are applying for. Learn how to relate to employers, demonstrate your
skills and capture their attention.
Relate
Focus on your target audience and all else will follow. What is it that they (the employer, industry, market, etc.) want?
Then, what are your relevant skills, knowledge, abilities and attitudes that will match these requirements?
Creating the content for your CV and cover letter is therefore about making conscious decisions on inclusion and
exclusion. If anything, it is more about subtraction than addition. Omit all unnecessary words, i.e. any information that
is not relevant to the specific job that you are applying for. This takes time and careful thought about what constitutes
‘relevant information’ – what recruitment consultants call ‘fit’. Do your research and find out exactly what fit means in
your particular instance.
Demonstrate
Once you have your relevant information, you need to provide evidence that you have the skills, knowledge, abilities
and attitudes that the employer is looking for. You must give specific examples, making sure that you quantify all your
statements. Employers will take you seriously if you back up what you write with relevant facts and details.
Write your CV and cover letter in a professional, business-like style. The subtitle of this booklet is ‘A Short Guide on
How to Write Effectively to Employers’ because the best way to get your message across is to understand how to
communicate quickly and accurately in a professional context. Be specific, concrete and consistent in your writing (as
well as in your layout designs). If you are in doubt, err on the side of formality.
Captivate
You need to sell what is unique about you. You need to deliver more than expected. The aim of your CV and cover letter
is to differentiate you from the competition. So you need to add extra ‘oomph’ to both.
A way to capture the attention of a prospective employer is to include an achievements section in your CV. Here you
can talk about your successes, such as voluntary work, awards or positions of responsibility, or any entrepreneurial
projects, mentoring schemes, community projects or fund-raising campaigns that you have been part of, languages
that you are fluent in, or university societies that you have joined.
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Relate
Remember, focus on your target audience and all else will follow. This section will look at how to research not only the
employer but yourself to make sure that you create a powerful CV and cover letter with effective one-to-one marketing.
Relevant information
Essential information you need to be crystal clear about:
n Employer’s requirements
n Your relevant skills, knowledge, abilities and positive attitudes that match the employer’s requirements.
Employer’s requirements
Ideas and pointers about areas you should research
Role
Company
Commercial awareness
Essential skills and attitudes that
the role requires.
In-house literature (for example,
the graduate brochure or annual
report).
Be aware of competitors. What
are they doing that is similar and
dissimilar?
Company website. Pay particular
attention to the company’s vision
and strategy for the future.
Keep an eye on market trends and
link them, where possible, to your
academic knowledge.
The company itself. Don’t be
afraid to contact the company –
it shows you have initiative and
confidence.
Keep track of current affairs. We
live in a globalised economy; you
need to be aware how things are
interconnected.
Desirable skills the role requires.
Qualifications required.
Experience required.
Occupational profiles listing the
key attributes for over 400 jobs
can be found at
www.prospects.ac.uk/links/
occupations.
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Exercise: Archaeology
Very often we have to do some digging to uncover relevant examples that match the employer’s requirements. Think
hard about what you have done in your life that might provide the most effective examples of the skills or abilities you
are looking to demonstrate. The sentences that follow will help you carry out this detective work. See these as a starting
point for thinking about relevant examples.
Complete the following phrases:
1. My favourite relevant academic topic is … because ….
2. My relevant degree courses, essays and research topics are ….
3. The relevant key skills I developed during my degree are ….
4. The way that I developed my key skills was by ….
5. What I do differently today because of what I learned is ….
6. This is relevant to the job I am applying for because ….
7. My favourite extracurricular activity is …. because ….
8. My favourite magazine related to the sector I’m applying to is ….
9. An interesting article I recently read that is related to this sector is ….
10. I really enjoyed this article because ….
11. My top three favourite companies are …. because ….
12. My significant achievements are …. and the benefits I have gained from them are ….
13. I’d describe myself when I am working at my best as ….
14. People often praise me for ….
15. What motivates me to jump out of bed every morning is ….
16. The last time I contributed an idea to a team project was ….
17. The last time I experienced life in a child-like, fully absorbed way was ….
Headings that employers pay special attention to (Part 1)
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has made a study on how long employers spend looking at a
CV, and the average time is eight seconds! Therefore, it is important to make sure that employers can find the
information they need as soon as possible.
The best way of putting across your message quickly and succinctly is by being shrewd about your use of headings.
There are some headings that employers always expect to see:
n Personal details (name, surname, address, telephone number and e-mail address)
n Education and qualifications (employers look for relevant degrees, courses and grades)
n Work experience (especially relevant work experience).
The other headings you use will depend entirely on what the employer is looking for and what your relevant experience
is. Learn how to use heading flexibly and to your advantage when selling your skills and you will be well ahead of the
competition. See Part 2 for more ideas and different headings you can use.
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Demonstrate
Provide relevant examples
Once you understand what the employer’s requirements are, you need to link these with relevant examples from your
own life. Quantify these to provide enough evidence for the employer to conclude that you have the required skills for
the job. To this end, you must make your examples as explicit and detailed as possible. This will build your credibility
and increase your chances of being invited to interview.
The STAR acronym gives you a structure to provide evidence that you have a particular skill:
S
Situation – when, where, who was involved?
Tip: Quantify!
T
Task – what was the specific challenge?
Try to quantify everything that you say.
Always clarify timelines and numbers.
A
Actions – what did you do, what was your role?
R
Results – what was the outcome, what did you learn?
Writing phrases such as ‘I have great team-working skills’ is not enough; further detail must be supplied. The following
is a STAR example of team-working skills:
S
Situation – when, where, who
was involved?
Throughout the three years of my degree, I was involved in six
different team projects with over 25 different classmates.
T
Task – what was the specific
challenge?
To maintain my 2.1 grade (and, where possible, to exceed it).
A
Actions – what did you do,
what was your role?
I took responsibility for co-ordinating the weekly team meetings,
reviewing goals and progress, identifying weak areas and suggesting
solutions, and motivating the team to achieve a 2.1 or over.
R
Results – what was the
outcome, what did you learn?
I obtained a 2.1 in five of the team projects (over 67 per cent) and a
First (80 per cent) in one of our projects. I learned the importance of
reviewing task management.
Layout example
Don’t forget to link and organise this relevant information and to insert in it appropriate places in your CV. If, for
example, team working is very important, make sure that you do not just write:
2008–11
BA Hons Marketing, University of Greenwich (expected 2.1 grade)
Instead you should use the opportunity to sell your team-working skills:
2008–11
BA Hons Marketing, University of Greenwich (expected 2.1 grade)
In my Global Marketing Management course I worked in six different teams obtaining a 2.1 (over 67
per cent) in five projects and a First (over 80 per cent) in our last project. My contribution lay within
reviewing our task management.
In this case, the new material has been inserted under the ‘Education’ heading, but it could have been placed, equally
appropriately, under other headings.
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Headings that employers pay special attention to (Part 2)
As you have seen, it is crucial to relate to your employer very quickly by providing the facts and examples that will build
your credibility for the role and get you to the interview stage. Therefore, after including the headings that employers
expect to see (see Part 1), you will need to add other headings that will best suit your needs.
The other headings that we recommend are:
n Additional skills (this allows you to provide any other relevant information that does not fit under the Part 1
headings)
n Extracurricular activities and achievements (this is a favourite among employers as it allows you to showcase
those leadership skills most employers want).
Other headings you can use are:
n Voluntary work (this is suitable if you have lots of voluntary experience)
n Positions of responsibility (if you have a position of responsibility within a society, team, club or other
organisation)
n Awards (if you have been awarded scholarships, medals, etc.)
n Languages (languages that you speak other than English with details of your proficiency level)
n Publications (any articles, reviews, pamphlets, books, etc. that you have published)
n Hobbies and interests (these should be as relevant and interesting as possible)
n IT skills (make sure you include the level and do not misspell packages and software information)
n Personal statement (a short summary of your main relevant skills)
n Career objective (a short sentence demonstrating to employers your aspirations and goals)
n Skills profile (remember to provide relevant examples here to give evidence that you have the skills you state)
n Relevant work experience (to highlight experience listed under ‘Work experience’ – see Part 1).
The main point here is flexibility: identify the employer’s needs, think of good examples, and carefully select the
headings that suit you most.
When you start reading and looking at our next section on CV templates, please bear in mind that these are not set in
stone. They are just ideas on how you can present your relevant key information in order to get you to the interview
stage.
Tip: flexibility of CV headings
Learn how to choose your headings based on your skills and you will be steps ahead of most undergraduates and
graduates.
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CV templates
Chronological CV template
A typical chronological CV starts with your personal details, followed often by education, work experience, other
specific skills and achievements, leisure interests and referees. It emphasises continuity and career development and
highlights names of employers.
Name, surname
Address (home and term)
Telephone (with a professional voicemail message)
E-mail address (with a professional e-mail address)
Personal profile (optional)
(You should present employers with a profile statement that sums up your proposition concisely. Ideally, this should be
three lines that establish your key strengths in relation to the vacancy and give employers a feeling for your
aspirations.)
Education (most recent first)
Date
University, programme, qualification (grade or predicted grade)
Subjects or courses studied, title of dissertation if relevant to the job advert
Date
School/FE college
A-levels (grades if good)/other qualifications
GCSEs (grades if good)/other qualifications
Work experience (most recent first)
Date
Company name, job title
Main responsibilities (quantify your statements)
Skills gained (Give examples. Do not just list ‘communication’, ‘team work’, ‘problem solving’, etc. Make
sure you mention any significant achievements.)
Skills and achievements
Languages (level)
IT skills (be specific)
Other skills relevant to the job
Any community work/extracurricular activity/positions of responsibility
Interests and hobbies
(Not just a list – try to make them relevant to what the employer is looking for, e.g. “Travelling around Europe
helped develop my communication skills through meeting a variety of people.” Think carefully about the mix
of interests and hobbies; ideally include three types: a physical activity, a mental activity and a team-based
activity.)
References available on request
Brief reminders
n Use headings to the best of your advantage
n Keep all your information relevant to the job you are applying for.
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Cover letter template
Tunde Nayim
86 St Marys Road
Gillingham
Kent ME7 1JL
Tel: 0794 660XXXX
E-mail: [email protected]
2 March 2009
Dear Sir/Madam,
Re: job title (job advert reference number)
Introduce yourself in relation to the above job position.
State why you are a great match for the particular job that you are applying for. In particular, discuss skills not covered
in your CV and/or emphasise relevant examples. Remember to use the STAR structure and to quantify your examples
as much as possible. Highlight your main achievements and relevant work experience. Demonstrate your interest and
enthusiasm.
Link yourself to the company by showing your commercial awareness. Say how you will contribute to the company.
Refer to your academic knowledge and to recent press articles, specialist journals and perhaps company reports. Make
sure that you say clearly why you are attracted to that particular company.
In your final paragraph state follow-up action, availability for interview and best time to contact you.
Yours faithfully,
Tunde Nayim
E-mails
Here are a few tips on how to present your e-mail if you are sending your CV and cover letter electronically.
n Take as much care with an e-mail as you would with the rest of your writing.
n Use an appropriate subject title including the job reference for the job you are applying for.
n Use a formal greeting (‘Dear X’) and a formal sign-off (‘Warm regards,’) following standard letter conventions.
End with your name, job title, phone number, etc. (use the automated signature option available in most e-mail
programmes).
n Formality in the text: if in doubt, err on the side of formality.
n When attaching your CV and cover letter, save them under your name in the format ‘CV_Name_Surname_Date’
and ‘CL_Name_Surname_Date’.
Tip: look at some sample cover letters
Visit www.gre.ac.uk/student_information/get/careers/guides/covering_letters.
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Captivate
The aim of your CV and cover letter is to differentiate you from the competition. So you need to add extra impact to
your CV and cover letter – always deliver more than expected! Never forget to be appropriate to your target audience.
Do
Most CVs...
If you have technical skills and a portfolio of work,
consider including this in your contact details at the
top of your CV.
Do not have a personal website or portfolio on their
contact details.
Create a results-orientated CV.
Only state duties and responsibilities. In the worst case
scenario, CVs only provide a list of dates and places,
giving little indication of achievements and skills
learned.
n Be achievement focused. Remember STAR?
Emphasise the results, talk with conviction about
what you achieved and what you learned along
the way.
n Demonstrate your solutions to challenges and
note the results you generated for your
organisation.
Begin each bullet point in your CV with the strongest
action verb that accurately conveys your contribution.
Are written in the passive voice.
Verbs like initiated, solved, created, liaised, led,
volunteered,
organised,
planned,
influenced,
persuaded, analysed, presented, recorded, coordinated, collaborated, devised, designed, scheduled,
reviewed, budgeted.
Get involved in extracurricular
demonstrate your leadership skills.
activities
that
For example, get involved in voluntary and community
work and in university societies, teams, clubs, etc.
Only talk about the applicant’s education and work
experience, with little evidence of extracurricular
activities.
Sell your achievements: scholarships, awards,
publications, conference presentations, languages.
Make your hobbies and interests interesting and
relevant.
Tell a story in your personal profile. Tell the employer in
three lines who you are. Give the employer an insight
into where you come from and where you are heading.
Have personal profiles that are boring and full of
clichés.
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Final checklist
Your name and contact details are at the top of the page. (There is no need to write ‘Curriculum
Vitae’, it should be obvious what the document is. Do not include your date of birth.)
Yes
The information is accurate and truthful and follows the ‘Relate-Demonstrate-Captivate’
principles.
Yes
The CV and cover letter is targeted at the job or sector that you want a job in.
Yes
The important facts are prioritised through your use of headings, and the most important
supporting evidence is made prominent using a STAR structure.
Yes
The CV fits on two pages. (This is the length that most employers prefer.)
Yes
It is clear and easy to read and pleasing to the eye. (There are no fancy typefaces, and the size of
font is ideally between 10 and 12 points.)
Yes
Your CV creates the right impression. (Use good-quality paper that is a neutral colour. Do not fold
or staple your CV.)
Yes
It only includes relevant information that supports your application.
Yes
You have demonstrated all your relevant skills, both transferable and subject related.
Yes
You have given evidence for every claim you have made about yourself.
Yes
The CV is interesting to read and flows in a logical order. It captivates the employer and is always
relevant to the job.
Yes
Proof read. Ensure someone else has checked for errors and that the spelling and grammar are
correct and have been checked and double checked. Make certain that there are no typos.
Yes
You have included a covering letter that draws attention to the impressive and relevant information
in your CV. (Be aware, however, that some companies will circulate your CV but not your covering
letter, so ensure everything appears there.)
Yes
You have asked permission from your referees and given them a copy of your CV and told them
about the type of work or job for which you are applying.
Yes
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Further help
Books
There are many books on CV writing if you feel you need some more information and examples of CVs. The books
listed below are available for reference from the Employability Centres at Greenwich, Avery Hill and Medway.
Making Applications, AGCAS Information Booklet. This is available free from the Careers Centre. This has a detailed
section on applying for jobs using the Internet.
High-Impact CVs: Make Your Resume Sensational (52 Brilliant Ideas) by John Middleton.
Brilliant CV: What Employers Want to See And How To Say It by Jim Bright and Joanne Earl.
DVDs and videos
Looking Good on Paper, AGCAS. This is available to watch in our Employability Centres.
CV agencies
Producing a good CV takes a lot of time and thought. You might be tempted to use an agency or company which
specialises in CV writing. However, a CV agency can only use the information that you give them, so you must still carry
out the initial research and preparation yourself (see ‘Relate’). A company will usually produce a CV that looks attractive
and includes the main points. However, while some firms have a lot of expertise, others do not, and you may be
disappointed by the results. Companies also tend to produce CVs that fit their standard format. This is particularly the
case if they also act as recruitment agencies or offer job-matching searches on the Internet.
If you decide to use a company to produce your CV:
n Check the cost
n Make sure the company writes it and sets it out in the way you want it to be
n Decide what information you want to include
n Check the CV for mistakes and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Computer packages
There are various software packages on the market that can help you to write your CV. Bear in mind, however, that they
can help to structure your thoughts, but they won’t tell you what information you need to include or the best way of
expressing it. They may also not be able to process information that does not fit into their pre-defined templates.
Computer-generated CVs can look wooden, and an employer may already have seen 50 CVs produced using the same
software. If you use a computer package, make sure your CV is the one you want, not the one that the computer
package says you should have. In short, use them as a guide, not as a straightjacket.
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For information on the University of Greenwich,
please contact:
UK students
Enquiry Unit
Freephone: 0800 005 006
Fax: 020 8331 8145
E-mail: [email protected]
International/EU students
International Office
Telephone: +44 20 8331 8136
Fax: +44 20 8331 8625
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.greenwich.ac.uk
2008
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