CVs, cover letters and application forms

Your CV and cover letter are most likely the first contact you will have with a prospective employer. Therefore it is vital that you make a strong first impression by tailoring your documents to the individual requirements of the job and the company. Following is some practical information that will enable you to do this.

Key principles of CV writing

Tailoring your CV

Employers receive dozens, if not hundreds of applications from job seekers, so they are looking for individuals that stand out from the crowd. The most effective way to do this is to research the employer’s requirements and match them as closely as possible.

Research each employer and their field carefully: refer to the job advertisement, job description, company website etc. Find out what the employer is looking for. This could include qualifications, experience and skills.

Skills in your CV

  • Identify your skills
  • Give relevant evidence of your skills (i.e. practical examples)
  • Choose action words carefully to provide clear information to the employer
  • Emphasise your achievements

CV formatting

  • Keep it concise: a total of 2-3 pages is optimal
  • Use an easy to read font, such as 10-12 point Arial
  • Use plain white paper (this is easy to photocopy)
  • Put staple/paperclip on top left corner (this makes photocopying easier)
  • Use a consistent layout throughout the document
  • Ensure your spelling and grammar are accurate (this shows attention to detail)
  • Avoid using abbreviations and jargon (these can be misinterpreted)
  • Ensure the most important information is in a prominent position
  • Include points of difference to make yourself stand out (mention awards and scholarships you have received, and any positions of responsibility you have held)

Key principles of cover letter writing

Your cover letter and your CV are two parts of the same application, and should complement each other. This means that both documents should closely target the employer’s requirements, and present a well-researched and professional impression of you as a prospective employee.

Tailor your cover letter

  • Research the job by reading the job description. If the job description is not part of the advertisement, call the employer and ask for a copy.
  • Research the employer by looking at their website, brochures, business directories, annual reports, and news in the media.
  • Think about the particular aspects of your study and work that are relevant to an employer, rather than trying to emphasise the breadth of what you have done.
  • Communicate your enthusiasm and suitability for the role
  • Try and build a connection with the employer in whatever way you can. You could mention any contacts you have in the company or research that you have done – website/media/projects etc.

Cover letter formatting

  • Use the same style of font and quality of paper as you use for your CV
  • Keep your cover letter to one page
  • Use a business letter format
  • Remember to sign the cover letter if you are sending a hard copy
  • Avoid mistakes in your spelling or grammar
  • Get someone to proof-read it for you
  • Provide a confident ending

CV and cover letter examples

There are many ways to write and format CV and cover letters, so it is important for you to look at various examples and then select a style that works well for you.

CVs and cover letter examples 

Application forms

  • Tailor your application information to the company and the job
  • Give evidence and examples, not your opinions
  • Include specifics — numbers and statistics that demonstrate your achievements or responsibilities
  • Check your application for spelling and grammar
  • Some applications will allow you to save your form so you can go back and amend it later before submitting it. If this is not possible, it is a good idea to download the form and handwrite a draft, or you can complete the form online with draft data, going back later to fill in another form with real data.
  • Large employers may use software to help them shortlist candidates. The software scans the CV or form for keywords and ranks applications by number of 'hits'. The job ad and job description will give you clues about keywords to use in your CV and application.

CV and cover letter workshops and checking service

CDES hold CV and cover letter workshops regularly in the Clock Tower (for all students) and in faculties (with specific industry information and examples)

A Career Development Consultant can check your CV and cover letter, but you need to attend a workshop beforehand.


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