With #NationalCareersWeek beginning on Monday (7-14th March), we thought it would be the perfect time to share some CV advice with you, to help you on your job search.
Whether you’re a recent university graduate, just left school or looking for a change in career, it can be tough to know how to write an impressive CV that will stand out to an employer among the many hundreds of other applications they will receive. A CV that is well formatted, easy to read and perhaps even a little creative will be a breath of fresh air for any employer to read, and is likely to massively increase your chances of being place in the ‘yes’ pile.
1. Read the job description – and take note!
You might have heard people saying that you need to tailor your CV to the job you are applying for. Sending a CV for a market research position where the first line reads “I’m looking to get experience in hospitality”, isn’t likely to help your chances. Yes, it’s a little more effort to tailor your CV to a specific job than just clicking ‘apply’ with a generic CV, but by tailoring your key skills and experience to what is asked in the job description, you’re far more likely to have your CV considered.
If you read the job advert and see that you don’t quite match the required experience, but do have strong skills in another area, highlight how you feel your skills would be transferable. An extra half an hour of rewriting your CV could be the difference between being invited for an interview or not!
2. Don’t include everything
This may be different if you’ve not had very much experience – in which case, by all means include everything that you think is relevant and miss out any information that won’t be required in the job role (an employer doesn’t need to know that you learnt to swim before you were 10, unless, perhaps, you’re applying for the role of a swim instructor, but even then it’s arguable!).
Ideally you don’t want your CV to be more than 2 pages and it should comfortably fit on 1 if you don’t have much experience. That being said, a CV that consists of 2 lines of irrelevant information won’t get you far – so find a happy medium.
If you’re worried about your lack of experience, find a way of making the skills you do have stand out. Maybe you volunteered at your family’s business in the school holidays, maybe you were chosen to buddy a struggling student at school, or perhaps you keep a blog to help improve your writing skills while you’re looking for work. Although some things are unnecessary information, some can be turned into valuable skills that employers will look on positively.
On the flip side, if you have lots of experience, remove those roles that have no relevance to the job you are applying for and use the space to expand on the relevant roles that will support your application. DO include explanations of gaps in employment history that can set alarm bells ringing for an employer if they aren’t explained.
And don’t be tempted to change your font size to make up space or squeeze more in. Stick with a professional looking font (not Comic Sans!) at a size no smaller than 10 or 11 for the main body text.
3. Avoid cliches
Some people argue that including hobbies and interests is a waste of space. It’s up to you, but it’s only really beneficial to include if you feel those hobbies and interests add something to your employability. Avoid cliches such as ‘I enjoy socialising’, or ‘I like going shopping’ – everyone does, and it doesn’t set you apart.
Maybe you are training to run a marathon, or enjoy travelling by yourself and are capable of being independent in a new city, or maybe you enjoy cooking and have set up a blog to document this. Make it relevant and it’s worth including it, otherwise, cut it out and save yourself some space.
4. Check it over
Spell-check can only take you so far. Get someone you trust to read over your CV and check for any spelling or grammar mistakes, and that the format is all OK. Depending on the programme you use to write your CV, it could look very different on the employer’s computer, especially if you’re using borders or tables. Some CVs can even run onto more than the original number of pages, so check carefully. The best way to get around this is to email the document to someone, as you would email it to the employer. Check on their computer to see that everything is as it is supposed to be. There is no excuse for any spelling mistakes, but it makes a very bad impression if you can’t spell your hometown correctly, or the name of the previous company you worked for.
If you have time, it’s even worth leaving it for a day or two and checking it again – mistakes will be much more apparent then! If there is a deadline listed on the ad then don’t rush – more time to check over your application before sending it off is better than sending a rushed CV full of mistakes.
Finally, save your CV with a suitable name – such as ‘JohnSmithCV’. If you download a template to help you write, it’s likely to be saved as something like ‘GenericCVTemplate’, which will not make a good impression to the employer…
5. Write a cover note and follow it up
CVs that are sent with a short covering note are far more likely to be considered and read properly, rather than being a quick glance to spot the required experience. It doesn’t need to be an essay, but something to highlight your main skills and experience that will immediately start ticking the employer’s boxes will be beneficial. A brief paragraph addressed to the employer is enough, unless you are specifically asked to write a more detailed cover letter detailing your experience as the main part of the application, in which case, take your time on this step.
Take your time to identify who is likely to be reading the CV. The company’s website or LinkedIn can help you here, and if you’re still not sure who exactly it would be, taking an educated guess will be appreciated compared to a generic “Dear Sir or Madam”. If you really want to get specific, ‘Yours sincerely’ should be used when you know the person’s name, and ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t.
Employers can receive hundreds of applications for one job, and technical issues with emails being sent to spam can’t be avoided. If you haven’t heard back from a job within a week, dropping a quick email or phonecall to check the status will be a subtle reminder to the employer, or allow them to uncover your application from the spam box if it’s been sent there! You’re also more likely to stick in their mind, and give them an idea for the kind of person you are if they hear you on the phone. A casual email is good, but persistent phonecalls are not, so judge this one carefully!
Hopefully our tips can help you write a better covering letter. Remember, Google can offer lots of help on CV and cover letter writing, from templates to example letters – just don’t copy anything that isn’t true for your situation!