Careers advice: How to write a winning CV and cover letter

06 February 2019
Careers Coach, Stephanie Rix shares her top 5 tried and tested tips for writing your CV and cover letter.

The first thing to remember is that your CV and cover letter will only be glanced at briefly, so it needs to immediately stand-out for the right reasons. It’s essentially a marketing tool with the sole purpose of securing you an interview. Check out these top tips to help you secure your next ideal role.

A winning cover letter should:

  1. Be tailored to the job description, use a checklist approach and highlight your key skills/achievements/interests that match that role.
  2. Focus on these three whys.
    • Why do you want the role?
    • Why should they hire you specifically? (You can use specific top achievements from your CV that relate to this).
    • Why do you want to work for that company?
  3. Be simple. Use short sentences and keep language professional, to the point and not overly descriptive.
  4. Be free of generic buzz words. “I’m a team player, passionate, pro-active etc.” It’s ok to show your passion about a certain area of the role but back that up with specific evidence.
  5. Showcase your knowledge of that company as a result of your research.
    • What, if any, are the current issues or strategic challenges?
    • SWOT/annual report, CEO report, and what and where are the future opportunities?

It’s important to make this relevant and ideally linked to what you may bring to the company or what you would enjoy about working for this company. For example, “I know there are current challenges in x, y, z within this sector and in my previous role I took the approach of a, b, c to deal with these similar types of challenges.”

A winning CV should:

  1. Stand out for the right reasons. Language, spelling and a clear professional format are a priority.  General rule is Calibri or Arial font, and it should be written in the 3rd person. It’s your experience, skills and achievements that should catch the eye of the recruiter so it’s best not to use fancy fonts, graphics or colours.
  2. Focus on achievements NOT responsibilities. All points in your career history should be achievement led statements with specifics outcomes. For example, “Devised a strategic plan for expansion into the private healthcare market resulting in over £10m profit into the company within the first year”. There needs to be a certain level of detail but it also needs to tease an employer to want to know more.
  3. Make every sentence count.  Check through your CV with a critical eye and ask yourself ‘so what?’ with every point. Remember an employer needs to know the result or impact of what you did.  If a sentence is not adding any real value then take it out.  Make sure you include key words from the job description, and match roles with the terminology used in the job role (especially as it’s likely that your CV could be screened by a system for matches, prior to being seen by a recruiter).
  4. Have a ‘jargon free’ profile. Your profile or personal statement needs to showcase who you are in terms of specific career background and years of experience. It includes your specific motivations and specific skills/stand-out achievements, what makes you different, attractive, and what you are looking for.  Note the repetition of ‘specific.’ There should be no “I’m proactive” or equivalent generic buzz words.
  5. Be an evolving document.  It is not a case of one size fits all. You will need to tailor your CV for each application, and the format may vary depending on the role. For example, if you are returning to work after a career break, or making a big career change. This is where the support of a qualified career coach can be beneficial in helping articulate your achievements and choosing the right format for you.

Additional resources on CV templates:

You’re Hired! CV: How to Write a Brilliant CV by Corinne Mills