There are many myths surrounding CVs and cover letters. Joanne Gibson and Melanie Wortham from our Careers & Employability’s Guidance Team give their take on what works well and what to avoid when playing the recruitment game.
1. Take advice from Qualified Careers Staff
From now until late summer, much of our time is spent reviewing CVs, cover letters, or generally just getting students started with the process of putting their thoughts down on paper. Here in Careers, it’s something that we are very well equipped to do. We’ve both worked in Graduate Recruitment and have seen more CVs in our working lifetime than you might think possible. Other colleagues have worked in HR or other relevant professional settings. All of us are qualified in Careers Guidance and are able to give professional advice on what will be the best possible framework and style for every individual we meet. We challenge a surprisingly large number of myths along the way…
One style definitely doesn’t fit all! Just because a template and style has worked particularly well for your housemate doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for you. Different styles are preferred across different industries. The biggest debate for undergraduates can be Chronological vs Skills based. ‘Do I highlight my education and work experience first or do I make my relevant skills the focal point?’ Before you throw yourself in to the process, find out what the sector is generally looking for. Remember that you will hear loads of conflicting advice on content and format from friends, family and recruitment agencies.
2. Make yourself stand out!
By virtue of your (hopefully) strong academic and work experience profile and the professional and careful way in which you meet the needs of the employer. You don’t need gimmicks. Aside from CVs in the creative industries such as architecture, graphic design etc, fancy fonts, photographs and other artwork are generally unnecessary. They may lead the recruiter to scratch their head and ponder over what you are covering up and why you need to embellish your achievements in this way. A carefully constructed CV will speak for itself and shouldn’t need visual tricks.
3. Keep it to 2 pages
The story of my life A CV is indeed this, but in truth, employers have short attention spans. In most cases, you’ll need to keep to keep the document to two pages maximum and this may well mean making some difficult choices over what to omit. Mature students can find this a particular challenge, given their often lengthier work histories. Go back to what you are trying to achieve and with whom. Your CV needs to reflect your experience in the context of the employer and their recruitment wish list. Reviewed it for its relevance, style and content every time you send it out for every job and employer you apply to. What will resonate with them? What has currency in their world? You may need to cut out the superfluous. Be ruthless!
4. Make it easy to read
Don’t make the employer work hard Make it easy for them to find their way around your story. A CV is not an academic essay; you are writing to inform and engage interest. Think carefully about every word that you use and beware of using specialist terminology which may be irrelevant or unintelligible to an employer. Structure is important too, so think about how many sub-sections you are going to include. Generally speaking, a recruiter will be anticipating sections on education, work experience (sometimes split into relevant and other), skills, interests and references. Sometimes candidates add in a Personal Profile. More of that later…
5. Convey interest and enthusiasm
At this stage in your career, it is likely that it is your potential that a recruiter will be keen to discover. The tone of your writing is important here and you need to market yourself by selling your achievements without arrogance. It’s often a difficult line. You don’t want to write a paragraph about your recent work experience and make it sound as if you were the vice president of a multinational financial organisation. From experience, there’s nothing more dispiriting for a recruiter than to get excited about a candidate on paper and then to find that the reality is nothing like the hype! Think about your tone.
6. Use your prime space wisely
The ‘all-essential’ Personal Profile This is almost always optional. Sometimes referred to as Career Objective, Personal Statement or similar, the best of these are short and become the taster that the rest of the CV simply sits upon. Don’t be tempted to cut and paste large chunks of your cover letter; you simply don’t have the room. The Personal Profile sits in a place of considerable prominence in your document, so always consider if this is the best use of eye-catching, prime space and use words which will have resonance and value to the reader.
7. Compliment with a good covering letter
Usually, your CV will be accompanied by a cover letter. As Kirsty Fardell mentioned in her article in April, a good cover letter ‘could be the difference between you and all the other candidates.’ Put simply, this is your statement of motivation and enthusiasm in the format of a business letter. Again, it needs to be concise – a maximum of one side of A4. Many students worry about how to fill the page but it’s really easy. You are writing to market yourself and to persuade the employer to take a closer look in three main ideas, or paragraphs. Start with an introduction, move on to a paragraph where you discuss the sector/the role and your thoughts on why you are suitable and then move on to a paragraph where you discuss the employer and why you are particularly keen to work for them. Many do this badly and make the paragraph sound like the results of a basic internet search. Make more of this opportunity by making the link with what the employer does or has achieved and state why this is important, or of interest, to you. Don’t forget to sign off positively and correctly!
8. Keep working, it’s always a work in progress
You’re going to spend quite a while constructing a winning document. However, as life changes, your career progresses, so your CV needs to develop and accommodate change, encompassing new skills and achievements. CVs require regular review. Getting the basics right now will stand you in good stead for the whole of your professional life.
What next …
All of the above (and more) is available within our CV & Covering Letters booklet, available to pick up at our offices on the top floor of the Student Support Centre, 50 Park Place, or to download at Career Central
Having drafted your own version, why not book a meeting with a member of the guidance team who will then review how well the document works as a recruitment tool. It’s this bespoke nature of the advice that adds the value. Whilst we will never re-write it for you, we will make suggestions for improvement and work in partnership with you. Check the provision for your subject and find out just how easily you can make an appointment via the Intranet.
So, whether you’ve been using your old school CV for a good many years, you’ve just never got around to thinking about it until now or you have a draft but would just like a second opinion, come along for a CV review. It’s free and all years are welcome. Importantly, whereas we are able to offer you some support after graduation, it is a reduced version of what’s available to current students, so it makes good sense for finalists to take advantage whilst you’re still here.
There is no such thing as ‘The Perfect CV’ but there is a perfect CV for you. Why not let Careers & Employability help you to discover it!
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Joanne & Melanie, Career Consultants, Careers & Employability
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