You never get a second chance to make a first impression

When you apply for a job, most employers want to have 2 important documents from you:

  1. A CV or resume
  2. A covering letter

First impressions are important. Your CV and letter are usually the first impression that an employer has of you. And because an employer may have hundreds of job applications to consider, you have about 15 seconds to make sure that first impression is a good one.

Why you need a good CV

Your CV’s job is to get you an interview.

Your CV or resume is your visiting card, your ambassador, your shop window. It represents you and it has a specific purpose: to get you an interview! To do this, it must:

  • attract
  • inform
  • persuade
  • sell

A good CV is one of your most important tools in the search for employment.

What a CV or resume is not

A CV is not a book.

A CV is not an obstacle.

A CV is not a tombstone.

A CV is not boring or difficult to read.

A CV is not your life story or autobiography.

A CV is not a catalogue of your personal opinions.

A CV is not a list of problems with past employers.

What a CV or resume is

A CV is short.

A CV is seductive.

A CV is an important document.

A CV answers the question ‘Why?’

A CV is interesting and easy to read.

A CV is a list of benefits for the employer.

A CV is as much about the employer as about you.

Why you need a good covering letter

Your covering letter must sell your CV.

Before even looking at your CV, an employer usually reads your covering letter. If it is badly-written, or untidy, or difficult to read, your CV will probably go into the nearest bin. If it is well-written, attractive, easy to read and persuasive, the employer will turn to your CV. It’s that simple!

Your Covering Letter

Your covering letter is a sales letter.

Content

When you send your CV to apply for a position, you should also include a short letter. This letter is called a covering letter or (in American English) a cover letter. A covering letter sent with a CV/resume is also called a letter of application. Your letter of application is a sales letter. The product it is selling is your CV.

The reader of your letter may be busy and unwilling to waste time on unnecessary details. You should therefore design your letter to be easy to read. It should be short, concise and relevant. It should not be too formal or complicated.

Your letter should:

  1. confirm that you are applying for the position
  2. say where you learned about the position
  3. say why you want the position
  4. say why you would be a benefit to the company
  5. request an interview

Format

The layout of a modern business letter in English is very simple. Your address is at the top, on the right or in the middle. The rest of the letter can be in ‘block’ format, with each line starting on the left. Try to keep the whole letter on one single page, with plenty of white space.

Here is the typical format for your covering letter:

1 Your address
telephone – fax – email
Put your address + your telephone number, fax and/or email address at the top in the centre OR on theright

Do NOT put your name here.

1 Your address
telephone
fax
email
2 Date Do not write the date as numbers only, for two reasons: 

  1. It can be considered too official and therefore impolite
  2. All-number dates are written differently in British English (31/12/99) and American English (12/31/99). This can lead to confusion.
3 Destination name and address This is the name of the person to whom you are writing, his/her job title, the company name and address. This should be the same as on the envelope.
4 Reference This is the reference number or code given by the employer in their advertisement or previous letter. You write the employer’s reference in the form: ‘Your ref: 01234’. If you wish to include your own reference, you write: ‘My ref: 56789’.
5 Salutation (Dear…) A letter in English always begins with ‘Dea…’, even if you do not know the person. There are several possibilities: 

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Mr Smith
  • Dear Mrs Smith
  • Dear Miss Smith
  • Dear Ms Smith
6 Subject The subject of your letter, which for a job application is normally the Job Title.
7 Body The letter itself, in 3 to 6 paragraphs.
8 Ending (Yours…)
  • Yours sincerely
  • Yours faithfully
  • Yours truly
9 Your signature Sign in black or blue ink with a fountain pen.
10 Your name Your first name and surname, for example: 

  • Mary Smith
  • James Kennedy
11 (Your title) If you are using company headed paper, write your Job Title here. If you are using personal paper, write nothing here.
12 Enclosures Indicate that one or more documents are enclosed by writing ‘Enc: 2’ (for two documents, for example).

Should your letter of application be hand-written? Probably not. In some cultures employers require candidates to send letters written by hand. But in the English-speaking world, an employer would usually prefer to receive a letter of application that is word-processed (that is, produced on a computer and printed). A hand-written letter could be considered unprofessional. You must judge according to the country, culture and tradition.

Your CV/Resume

Your CV must get you an interview.
Curriculum Vitae (noun): a brief account of one’s education, qualifications and previous occupations. [Latin, = course of life]

CV stands for the Latin words Curriculum Vitae, which mean: the course of one’s life. A CV is also called a résuméresumé or resume (especially in American English). Your CV is a summary of your professional/academic life until now, and it usually concentrates on your personal details, education and work experience.

Your CV’s job is very simple: to get you a job interview. To do this, your CV must be:

  • clear
  • well-organised
  • easy to read
  • concise
  • relevant to the job offered

Content

Your CV is the summary of your professional life. You should include everything that is relevant to your employment or career and nothing that is irrelevant. Exactly what you include depends partly on your type of work. There are usually 5 general headings of information to include:

  • personal details – name, address, email and telephone number (and sometimes nationality, age/date of birth and marital status)
  • objective – a headline that summarises the job opportunity you are seeking
  • work experience – your previous employment in reverse chronological order – with most detail for your present or most recent job
  • education – details of secondary and university education – including the establishments and qualifications (but excluding any that are irrelevant to your career)
  • personal interests – demonstrating that you are a balanced, responsible member of society with an interesting life outside work

Sometimes, you may need to give additional information for a particular job or because you have special qualifications. Here is a list of most of the possible headings.

Format

Word-processed or hand-written?

Your CV should be word-processed, for several reasons. Firstly, in the English-speaking world a hand-written CV would be considered unprofessional. Secondly, many recruitment agencies and some employers like to electronically scan CVs (they cannot do this with hand-written CVs). Thirdly, as we shall see later, it will be much easier for you to update and modify your CV to target it to a specific employer.

How many pages?

Unless you are applying to be Secretary General of the United Nations, it is probably best to limit your CV to a maximum of 2 pages. Remember, your CV is a tool to get you an interview: it is not designed to get you the job. You can usually put everything you need to get an interview on 1 or 2 pages. If you put more than this, the employer has too much to read (and may throw your CV into the nearest bin). In addition, if you put everything in the CV, you will have nothing new to say at the interview. Be kind to employers! Leave them some questions to ask you.

What size paper?

Do not be tempted to demonstrate your individuality by using a non-standard paper size: you will simply irritate the employer. There are basically 2 standard paper sizes, depending on the part of the world:

  • A4 (297 x 210 millimetres) – used largely in Europe, including the United Kingdom
  • US Letter Size (8 1/2 x 11 inches) – used largely in the United States

You must judge for yourself the most appropriate size for the company or companies to which you are applying.

What quality paper?

Remember that your CV may be read and handled by several people. It will also be an important document during the interview that you hope to have. Choose a good quality, fairly heavy paper so that it will remain in good condition at all times. Normal photocopying paper is 80g/m2 in weight. This is a little too light and will soon look creased and dirty. 100g/m2 or 115g/m2 would be better.

What sort of typeface?

Choose an easy-to-read typeface. Typefaces are designed for specific purposes. The standard typefaces Times New Roman or Arial are perfect for your CV. Not too small, not too large! A size of 12 point would be appropriate.

DO NOT USE ALL CAPITALS LIKE THIS! CAPITALS ARE VERY DIFFICULT TO READ AND MAY BE CONSIDERED IMPOLITE IN THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD. Do not use a lot of italic like this. Italic can also be difficult and irritating to read. Do not use a fancy typeface. It is not appropriate for a professional document.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do this…

Do be positive.
Do look forward to the future.
Do emphasize the benefit you will bring to an employer.
Do use active verbs.
Do keep to the point. Be relevant.
Do create an organised layout.
Do be neat.
Do use good quality paper.
Do use a word-processor (computer).
Do use wide margins.
Do use plenty of white space.
Do use a good quality photo (if you use a photo).
Do check your work for spelling errors.
Do check your work for grammatical errors.
Do ask a friend to look at your CV and letter.
Do sign your letter with a fountain pen.

Don’t do this…

Don’t look backward to the past.
Don’t write CV or Resume at the top.
Don’t write Mr, Mrs or Miss in front of your name.
Don’t give personal details (place of birth, age etc) unless necessary.
Don’t give full addresses of past employers.
Don’t give minor or unimportant school qualifications.
Don’t give lots of irrelevant or unimportant hobbies.
Don’t write names in capital letters.
Don’t use lots of different typefaces (fonts) and sizes.
Don’t use lots of capital letters, italics or fancy typefaces.
Don’t use coloured paper.
Don’t make your covering letter more than 1 page.
Don’t make your CV/resume more than 2 pages.