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How to write a successful CV and covering letter

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

What is a CV?

CV stands for Curriculum Vitae. It is a Latin expression that loosely translates as the course of your life.

It is a written, concise and interesting overview of your education, qualifications, experience and interests. It is a personal profile that not only shows what qualifications and experience you have but, it also shows the employer that the skills and qualities that you have match the job that you are applying for. Sometimes, when there is a job opportunity, employers prefer that you send in a CV rather than an application form to get an interview.

What should be included in CV?

A CV sets out the main details about you and so should include:

Personal details - your name, address, telephone number, email address and any other details that may be useful to a potential employer. This is so that the employer can contact you if they feel you would be suitable for interview or even the job that you are interested in.

Education, qualifications and training - list your exam passes, qualifications and courses/training attended. Include dates when you achieved these (be accurate) and the institutions that awarded you. This helps the employer see if you have the right and appropriate qualifications for the job.

Work Experience - list all the jobs that you have worked, putting then in order starting with the most recent job. This can include any work experience attended when you were at school (if you are a young person, not long out of school). It should also include job titles and a brief description of your roles and responsibilities in that job. Any voluntary work should be included too. If you have gaps in your employment, which can be for many different reasons, it is useful to include that here also. This information allows the employer to see if you are suitable in your knowledge and experience as the right person for the job.

Skills - describe the skills (I can) and qualities (I am) that you have that make you suitable for the job that you are interested in. This lets the employer see how your specific skills and qualities are useful for the post applied for.

Interests/hobbies - describe what your interests and hobbies are and how these would be relevant to the job that you are applying for. This allows the employer to see the type of person you are and whether or not you would be suitable for the job being applied for.

References and the Referee - the role of the referee is to give a description of the type of person you are and the type of worker you are. You should provide the names of two people to act as your referees. One should be from a previous work place and the other should be someone that can write about your character. You are not, however, allowed to use a family member as your referee. The confidential statements that the employer receives from your referees allows the employer to see if you are a suitable person for the job.

Top tips?

A CV should not exceed 2 sides of A4 paper.

Your CV should be modified according to the job you are applying for.

Your CV should be updated if you have undertaken any extra courses and gained any further qualifications.

Your CV needs to be accurate so check that your home address, phone number, date of birth, dates of qualifications are all correct.

Your CV should provide the job titles, full addresses and telephone numbers of your referees.

Always ask the person's permission to use his/her name as a referee. This is good manners!

What is a covering letter?

A covering letter is a sheet that sits on top of your CV. It should be interesting and encourage the employer to want to read more about you in your CV.

What should be included in a covering letter?

Put your address, telephone number, email details and the date at the top right-hand corner of the page.

If there is a reference number form the job advertisement then include it in your letter. Also mention what job you are actually applying for and how you heard about the vacancy. For example 'With reference to your job advertisement in the Belfast Telegraph on 30 August for .....'

Mention what you are doing currently and explain how this may be relevant for the job you are applying for. You should explain why you want the job and describe how you are a suitable candidate for the position.

At the end of the letter be aware and careful of how you have begun your letter. If you have a contact name, so you have begun your letter: 'Dear Miss Smyth' then you end your letter with 'Yours sincerely'. However, if you have begun your letter with no name and you have written: 'Dear Sir/Madam' then you end your letter with 'Yours faithfully'.

Sign your name clearly at the very end of your letter.

Top tips?

The covering letter really should be no longer than an A4 page.

Don't forget to enclose your CV with the letter.

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