How to write a CV & Cover Letter to stand out!
Writing a CV that stands out can be a challenge – even if you’re a master of what you do. You may feel like the perfect candidate for a role, but if your CV doesn’t hit the mark there’s a chance you won’t even be given the opportunity to prove yourself.
Getting this all-important aspect of your application right is the key to landing the job you want. To do that, you need to make sure every aspect of your CV is on the money. In this guide we’ll go over the most important aspects of writing the perfect CV, focusing on each of the following areas:
- Structuring your CV
- Adding an introductory paragraph
- Talking about previous employment
- Mentioning your education
- Hobbies and interests
- Including a strong supporting cover letter
- If you want to impress a prospective employer, be sure to read on and find out the best way to write the perfect CV for any role.
How to Structure a CV
You could have the most comprehensive list of achievements in the world to shout about, but it won’t matter much if your CV isn’t structured in a way that makes it easy to read. Here’s how we’d recommend laying out a resume to make it easily
Section 1 – Contact details
While you won’t necessarily need to give details like your age or exact location, start off by providing a name, email address, and potentially even a mobile number at the top of your application.
Section 2 – A short introduction
You’ll have time later (and perhaps in a cover letter) to introduce yourself in full. This section should be no longer than a paragraph, focusing on the role at hand, why you’re applying, and why you think you’d be a good fit. This needs to be personalised for every job you apply for.
Section 3 – Skills and Experience
This is a section that hiring managers tend to scan quickly for relevant examples. Be clear, concise, and try to match up what you’re talking about with what was mentioned in the job listing. Pull out job titles using a header text, and then provide a bullet point list of what this role required of you and the skills you acquired.
Section 4 – Achievements
These can be rolled into the previous section or pulled out and made their own unique area – depending on what you think flows better. It’s best to be as to the point as possible with these, as they should be easy to pull out and absorb.
Section 5 – Education and training
If there are specific training examples that are relevant to the role in question, this would be the time to mention them. You should also include your educational history. This will vary in terms of detail, depending on how much professional experience you have. We’ll cover what you should include in a later part of this article.
Section 6 – Hobbies and interests
Find the time to briefly mention things you like to do or are interested in at the end of your CV. This gives you the chance to show a bit more personality, without taking away from the professionalism of the rest of your resume.
As an additional tool, it might be useful to provide contact details to anyone who’s said they’d be happy to be used as a point of reference.
Adding an introductory profile to a CV
You’ll want to kick off your CV with a short introduction to who you are, and why you think you’d be a good fit for the role. Here are some of the most important factors to keep in mind when thinking about this hard-to-balance aspect of your resume:
Give a picture of who you are
Let the hiring manager know what stage you’re at in the professional journey. Make it clear early that you’re either a student, graduate, or working professional – mentioning your job title and years of experience if it’s the latter.
Talk about what you bring to the table
Assess what the employer is looking for in their job description and highlight how you can help their company achieve its aims. Highlight relevant skills you possess, and then back this up with evidence.
Add any career goals
If you have a specific goal in mind (such as challenging yourself, re-establishing a past career, or simply progressing in the field you’re already in), it would be smart to mention it. This helps a prospective employer understand your motives and drive.
Here’s a good example of an introductory paragraph that makes a clear point
I’m a software developer with 7 years of experience in managing migrations to cloud-based technologies. I possess a wide skill set, with a detailed understanding of cloud infrastructure and networking, Linux expertise, DevOps management, and cloud security knowledge. Having honed my skills, I’m now looking to help guide a business through the migration process. I’m applying for the position of team manager in order to help the next generation of developers progress while making a tangible difference for the company I work for.
Mentioning your professional experience when writing a CV
Once you’ve got the skeleton of your CV sorted, it’s time to start filling it out. The best place to start is with the experience which makes you the right fit for the job you’re applying to. You don’t necessarily need to include every job you’ve ever done, just those which are most recent and relevant.
Think about the following when laying out this section:
Title and company name
Give the full title of your job, as well as the company you are working for or previously worked for. If you think it might help, you could even include a link to the website of your employers, although this is far from a requirement.
Length of employment
The amount of time you spent in each role will give a good indicator of how you approach your professional career. This can work both for and against you, so be sure to prepare answers to interview questions on why you might have left a role early if there are several examples of this on your CV.
This is by far the most important part of this section. It highlights the core skills you regularly used as part of your job, which in turn shows you have the relevant skills to take on this new role. Try to tailor these as much as possible to the responsibilities included in the job you’re applying for.
This is also the section where achievements can be added. These can be included as either an addition to what you’ve already said or as a standalone element of your CV. Some of the successes you might want to mention here are things like:
Challenges you overcame
Work isn’t always a breeze. You’re bound to face challenges – both personal and professional – which make things difficult. This is a good opportunity to mention when that happened, as well as what you did to overcome it.
Did you have a huge effect on how your team, department, or even wider company operated? If you were responsible for something like the total restructuring of a department, being an innovator in a new way of working or changing any other professional or cultural processes at your company, this is a great time to mention them.
While it’s harder to quantifiably demonstrate how you developed as a person in a past role, it’s worth mentioning any kinds of training or courses you’ve taken to help your progress. For example, something like a management course, or any other kind of soft skills training, would show both a determination to improve and a strong skill set.
Rewards and notoriety
Don’t be too modest when it comes to any accolades you’ve received. Mention any awards which were dished out and include what you did to earn them.
Make sure to give evidence when mentioning any successes, you had. It also helps if these are quantifiable – meaning you can put a number to a success, rather than just making a loose point.
For example, it sounds better to say you lead a team who were responsible for “35 new acquisitions in 2 years”, as opposed to saying you “helped to bring in more acquisitions while leading my team”. The number adds credence to your claim.
Mentioning your education when writing a CV
While your educational qualifications are highly relevant earlier in your career, they start to become less of a factor once you have a healthy amount of experience under your belt. Depending on where you’re at in your professional journey, the way you’ll want to talk about education will vary.
Here are some of the key things to keep in mind depending on your experience:
As a current student
If you’re still in school or at university, you should place your education section above any work experience you’ve done. Mention coursework or extracurricular skills relevant to the position you’re applying for.
As a university, college, or high-school graduate
Your education still needs to be a prominent part of your CV if you’ve only just left higher learning. Mention when you left, as well as any honours or achievements you earned as part of your education. It might be briefly worth mentioning any Standard Grades / Intermediates or Highers / National 4-5s you have, but not the grades themselves.
As a more experienced professional
If you have five or more years of experience, education doesn’t need to be mentioned until after your work history. You can also summarise this more succinctly – mentioning just the name of your educational institutions, the year you left, the qualification earned, and the grade or grades.
While your educational qualifications hold less sway the further into your career you are, there’s always sense in including them. They give an employer a more rounded idea of your background, while sometimes even serving to highlight your interests or passions.
Personal details which should be included in every educational profile, regardless of experience, are:
The name of your educational institutions
The amount of time you spent (or will spend) at each
The area of study you are focusing on
Any academic honours or achievements
Your highest level of qualification to date
Hobbies and interests
This can be one of the more challenging aspects of writing a CV. It’s tough to know how much personality to infuse into what you’re saying. Should you present yourself as more of a clinical professional when you talk about personal interests, or show a light-hearted side that could appeal on a human level?
A safe rule of thumb would be to tailor the tone in accordance with the job listing itself. If it’s quite formal, then present your personal life with a stiffer tone. If they’re looking for some personality from their new employee, don’t be afraid to show off a more whimsical nature.
You can mention hobbies which are relevant to the job. While this isn’t always possible, it’s a handy extra way of positioning yourself as the perfect candidate for the hiring manager.
Including a good cover letter to support your CV
Some roles will ask you to include a cover letter. This gives you the chance to build on anything you mentioned in your personal profile – or even serve as a replacement for information that you didn’t find space for or didn’t feel was relevant enough to add.
Here’s how a good cover letter should be laid out:
Just as with a CV, it makes sense to add your contact details to the top of the letter.
A greeting and introduction
Address the hiring manager directly (if you have their name), then grab their attention by explaining why you want to apply to this position. Use concrete examples of what appealed to you about it, and why you would be a good fit.
The main body
Continue to talk about your past expertise, and why you think the role would suit you. This would be a good time to draw on evidence highlighting your specific field capabilities.
A closing statement
Use the final paragraph to bring together everything you’ve said.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of how to master a cover letter, be sure to check out our useful article on templates here.
Examples of good CVs
If you’re still stumped about where to get started, it’s always wise to turn to pre-existing examples for inspiration. Here are some great CV templates that can serve as the springboard for your next application.