CVs and cover letters
A CV is a document that markets your skills, knowledge, and experience in relation to a job you are interested in. A cover letter introduces you to the person reading your CV and provides a little more detail about how you can do the job you are applying for. Your CV and letter should be a pair of documents that complement each other.
The sole purpose of a CV and cover letter is to make an employer want to meet you. Explore the information on these pages to help you write an effective CV.
Use a CV and covering letter when:
- the employer asks you to apply using a CV
- applying speculatively to an employer
The “perfect” CV
There isn’t one. CVs are subjective – what one person likes another person will dislike. Depending on the sector you are applying to, employers may have individual preferences which you will need to research. If you want to make your CV individual, these 15 fonts can help you to make the right first impression.
Writing an effective CV
A CV is designed to be a record of relevant personal, educational and work details (whether employed or through volunteering). It is a marketing tool that can be used to persuade an employer that you might be the right person for the job or course.
An effective CV is tailored or customised for a specific career objective or job. That means you need to research the company and adhere to the job requirements the employer has set out (often in the Job Description but mainly in the Person Specification). It is important to use examples to reinforce what you are saying and offer evidence for your relevant abilities.
A graduate recruiter spends 10 seconds on average before reaching a decision on your CV, so it is important to get it right.
Be consistent – all your information should be in reverse chronological order (most recent first).
- Your CV should be no more than two pages long.
- Font size should be no smaller than 11.
- Create a CV with impact by using clear bold statements, power words (verbs) and bullet points.
- Avoid using large blocks of text – they are time consuming to read.
- Headings need to stand out – use Bold and headings that are different to the main text.
- Space and positioning of content should be allocated according to the importance of the information on your CV.
- Account for any large gaps in your educational or employment history.
- Proof-read carefully and check grammar and spelling as these mistakes can cost you
Adapt your CV to match every job advert and company that you apply for.
- Tailor your CV (and covering letter) to each role you apply for by matching your skills and experience to the requirements of the job. You can show you have tailored your CV by using the wording of their criteria throughout. Remember to relate your skills to the workplace.
- Use the job description and person specification to structure your CV. Match your skills to those they are looking for.
- Make sure you use clear headings, bullet points and an easily readable font (such as Arial, Calibri) ideally at size 12.
- Break up your CV into clear sections to make it easy to quickly find relevant information.
- Put your major selling points on your first page. Move headings around to showcase your skills/experience such as by putting relevant work experience on your first page and general work experience on the next page.
- Your CV must be a maximum of two sides of A4, so use space wisely. If you have little or no work experience it is fine to just have a one-page CV.
- Avoid dense blocks of text and empty white space. If you’re struggling to fit everything on to two sides, try decreasing your page margins, but don’t make them smaller than 1cm.
- Only include information that the employer needs. In other words don’t include information such as your date of birth, marital status or national insurance number.
- Be consistent and professional. Make sure your layout is consistent in each section and use professional, active language such as managed, led, created and achieved.
Headings for your CV
The following headings are most typical on a CV:
- Personal Details – include your name (in bold and slightly larger font), address, telephone number, professional email address and LinkedIn details (if appropriate). It is not necessary to include DOB, nationality, sex or marital status.
- Profile – this is optional but, if used, should be no more than three to four lines and focus on skills and experience that are relevant to your specific career. Include a career aim.
- Education – start with your most recent qualification/education first. Select 3 to four relevant degree modules and/or give your dissertation title, if this relates to the job/sector you are applying to. Your previous qualifications should be summarised briefly, for example, A level and GCSE subjects and grades on one line, e.g., 9 GCSEs A*-C (including maths and English and science).
- Experience – consider sub-dividing this section into ‘relevant experience’ and ‘other experience’ to highlight these. Volunteering experience could be listed here too.
- Skills – in this section you need to identify the most important skills which are outlined in the person specification. Ensure that you add examples spread across your work and academic experience and interests to demonstrate how you have developed these skills. Use lots of action verbs and quantify your achievements e.g., raised over £2000 in a student union raffle
- Additional Information– you could include further information which relates to the job such as full clean driving licence, fluency in another language, interests which demonstrate qualities/competencies which the employer may be looking for.
- References – this is not always necessary but if you wanted to you could provide contact details of two referees, including their job title and email address. Put them side by side to save space. Check that your referees are willing to provide a reference and keep them up to date with the applications you are making.
Types and examples of CVs
There are different types of CV such as the traditional (chronological) , skills based, academic, part-time job (normally one–sided) or even a creative CV.
Choose a CV type that works best for you and the sector you want to work in. Make sure that your CV sells your knowledge, skills and experience as effectively as possible. We don’t recommend producing one generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ CV as you need to ensure your CV meets the needs of the employer.
Every time you apply for a different vacancy you need to tailor your CV to that role, using the details the employer has included in job advert and/or person specification.
Here are some example CVs:
What is a cover letter?
There are different types of cover letters that have different purposes. This content covers how to write a brief summary letter you would attach when sending a CV to an employer.
An effective cover letter will showcase and highlight the key things you can offer in relation to the vacancy and will demonstrate your enthusiasm and motivation for the role.
You should be aiming to demonstrate the following:
- Why you are interested in the role and the organisation.
- What makes you a strong candidate for the job.
- Why you are a good fit for the organisation.
When responding to advertised jobs, you should research the job advert and job description with person specification to ensure you are writing an effective cover letter. If you are writing speculatively to an organisation, you should consider the kind of work you are looking for and what you could offer them.
The cover letter can also be a good opportunity to flag up any issues – for example, explaining any gaps in your CV, disclosing a disability or explaining as an international student how you can be employed in the UK.
Writing effective cover letters
Cover/ covering letters are normally sent with your CV when applying for a job or when you are writing speculatively about possible opportunities for jobs or work experience. A cover letter should convince the employer that you are motivated, enthusiastic and have the skills and experience required to do the role you are interested in. You need to express why it is that you want to work for them (why you and why them).
In your letter you need to match yourself to the job you are applying for. It is important to say what attracts you to the role and to this particular organisation. Your letter is your chance to say what you know about the role, organisation and industry. For a brief letter you include along with a CV, one side of A4 should be sufficient. Make sure your letter is addressed to a named person within the organisation rather than Sir/Madam. More support on writing an effective cover letter is provided below.
Structuring your cover letter
A good cover letter should usually be no more than one page and normally comprises of around four or five paragraphs. If the job advert states apply by CV and cover letter, ensure you address all the criteria the employer has identified in their advert for example a person specification or job description. If there are lots of details provided by the employer (ie a long person specification) the letter might need to be more than one page long ie letter of application for teaching. You should not produce a letter longer than two sides of A4 however so you will need to write concisely.
Ensure you read any instructions from the employer carefully as you may need to ensure you give examples for much of the criteria being sought.
Example cover letter
Named person if available or HR Manager
Name and Address of organisation
Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms <add surname>,
Subject line such as RE: Graduate Town Planner Vacancy
First paragraph – State why you are writing the letter. Normally you would indicate the job you are applying for or if it is a speculative application saying what opportunities you are seeking. If it’s for an advertised job, you should state which job you are applying for, where it was advertised, and demonstrate your enthusiasm for doing it.
Second paragraph – Here you should say why you are applying for the role and the company and why you would be a good fit for them. This is a good opportunity for you to demonstrate you have done some research about the company, what they do and the role you are applying for. (Why them)
Third (and Fourth) paragraph/s – You should emphasise a few key strengths or selling points of skills and experience you have that are mentioned in the CV and are relevant to the job requirements and the organisation. Use the job advert or post/person specification to help you identify what to emphasise. You may want to use a couple of paragraphs for this. (Why you)
Final paragraph – Make sure you have a positive ending, restate your interest in the job and how you would like it to be followed up. For example, if it is an advertised vacancy, you could say:
“I have a strong interest in this position and your organisation and am available for interview at any time. I have enclosed my CV and look forward to hearing from you soon.”
If it is for a speculative vacancy where you may be asking about possible experience or opportunities, you could write:
“Thank you for considering my application. Should you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me”.
Yours sincerely (if addressed to a named person, yours faithfully if not)
- Always try to ensure your letter is addressed to a named person especially if you’re writing a speculative letter. You normally write the title and surname as in ‘Dear Mr Bloggs’. However, if you’re unable to do this, you can write ‘Dear Sir/ Madam’ or ‘Dear Hiring Manager’.
- Make sure you end the letter appropriately – ‘Yours sincerely’ if you are writing to someone by name, or ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to.
Tailoring your letter
If the vacancy has a long person specification, you might need to write a longer letter to show how you meet the criteria the employer has identified. If this is required, use the specification to structure your letter. Start with the first criteria and write an example to evidence your skills. Then take each following criteria in turn, providing a brief example for each one. You can use up to two sides of A4 if you need to write a longer letter but make sure everything you include is relevant and shows how you meet their criteria.
If there is no person specification provided by the employer, you can create your own by reading their advert in detail or looking at previous adverts for similar roles.
Things to remember
- Don’t copy from your CV but highlight your unique selling points (USPs) or strengths, evidencing what you are saying with clear examples. Use STAR to help with this.
- Ideally keep your letter to one page. Be concise with what you are saying.
- Make sure all your grammar and spellings are correct.
- Tailor each letter to every role and employer. Don’t try and send a generic letter for all applications.
- Presentation is critical – make sure your letter is formatted correctly and you have followed the rules for writing a formal letter.
- Make sure that your CV and letter are formatted as a pair of documents – use the same font, and layout options.
- If you are sending the cover letter as an attachment to an email, make sure you use a sensible file name such as FirstName_LastName_Cover_Letter.docx.
- Do not use informal language in a cover letter – promote yourself as a professional.
Cover letters can also be a good opportunity to highlight things you or the employer may be concerned about or want to be made aware of. This could be around explaining the circumstances behind disappointing grades for example or explaining any gaps in your CV which you may be due to going travelling or because of illness.
You may decide you want to disclose any disabilities – for more advice on whether to disclose these and how to visit: Disability Rights UK.
It’s important to consider how you can write about different issues in a positive way. You may find it useful to discuss these issues with a Careers Adviser.
When you have completed your CV, read it back – would you hire yourself? We can give you feedback on your CV – submit your CV or application via our Ask a Question Tool.
There are lots of helpful resources and more tips and examples on the Prospects website and Target website. These include good examples of speculative letters, examples of disclosing disabilities and letters for international students.