When you apply for a job, most employers ask for 2 important documents:
- A CV or resume
- A covering letter
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 do you need a good CV?
Your CV’s job is to get you an interview. To do this, it must:
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 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.
2 YOUR COVERING LETTER
Your covering letter is a sales letter.
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 cover letter. A covering letter sent with a CV/resume is known as 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 does not want 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:
- confirm that you are applying for the job
- say where you learned about the job
- say why you want the job
- say why you would be a benefit to the company
- request an interview
Here is the typical format for your covering letter:
- Your address – telephone – fax – email
Put your address and telephone number, fax and/or email address at the top in the centre OR on the right.
- 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.
Any reference number or code given by the employer in their advertisement or previous letter.
- Salutation (Dear . . .)
A letter in English always begins with “Dear…”, even if you do not know the person.
The subject of your letter, which for a job application is normally the Job Title (for example “Sales Manager”).
The letter itself, in 3 to 6 paragraphs
- Ending (Yours . . .)
Yours sincerely, Yours faithfully, Yours truly
- Your signature
- Your name
Your first name and surname, for example: Mary Smith, James Kennedy
- (Your title)
If you are using company headed paper, write your Job Title here. If you are using personal paper, write nothing here.
Indicate that one or more documents are enclosed by writing “Enc: 2” for two documents, for example.
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.
3 YOUR CV OR RESUME
Your CV must get you an interview.
CV stands for the Latin words Curriculum Vitae, which mean: the course of one’s life. A CV is also called a résumé, resumé 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:
- easy to read
- relevant to the job offered
You should include everything that is relevant to your employment or career and nothing that is irrelevant. 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
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.
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. Thirdly, it will be much easier for you to update and modify your CV to target it to a specific employer.
How many pages?
It is usually best to limit your CV to a maximum of 2 pages. 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. In addition, if you put everything in the CV, you will have nothing new to say at the interview.
What size paper?
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
What quality paper?
Remember that several people may read and handle your CV. It will also be an important document during your interview. Choose a good quality, fairly heavy paper so that it will remain in good condition at all times.
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 10 or 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.
SIMPLICITY AND CLARITY
If you want people to read your CV, your language must be simple and clear:
Use short words and short sentences.
Do not use technical vocabulary, unless you are sure that the reader will understand it.
Talk about concrete facts (“I increased sales by 50%”), not abstract ideas (“I was responsible for a considerable improvement in our market position”).
Use verbs in the active voice (“I organised this exhibition”), not passive voice (“This exhibition was organised by me”).
Certain words are used frequently by recruiters in their job descriptions. You can study recruiters’ advertisements and job descriptions and try to use these words in your CV and covering letter.
The most powerful words are verbs. And the most powerful verbs are action verbs. (Action verbs describe dynamic activity, not state).
So you should use plenty of action verbs matched to your skills, and use them in the active form, not the passive form. Which of these two sentences do you think is the more powerful?
Active form: I increased sales by 100%.
Passive form: Sales were increased by 100%.
Here is a list of typical action verbs categorised by skills:
Communication skills: address, arbitrate, correspond, draft, edit, lecture, mediate, motivate, negotiate, persuade, present, publicise, reconcile, speak, write
Management skills: assign, attain, chair, co- ordinate, delegate, direct, execute, organise, oversee, plan, recommend, review, strengthen, supervise, train
Research skills: collect, critique, define, detect, diagnose, evaluate, examine, explore, extract, identify, inspect, interpret, investigate, summarise, survey
Technical skills: assemble, build, calculate, devise, engineer, fabricate, maintain, operate, overhaul, program, remodel, repair, solve, upgrade
Creative skills: conceptualise, create, design, fashion, form, illustrate, institute, integrate, invent, originate, perform, revitalise, shape
Financial skills: administer, allocate, analyse, appraise, audit, balance, budget, calculate, control, compute, develop, forecast, project
Sales skills: sell, convert, close, deal, persuade, highlight, satisfy, win over, sign
Teaching skills: advise, clarify, coach, elicit, enable, encourage, explain, facilitate, guide, inform, instruct, persuade, stimulate, train,
BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH
There are sometimes differences between British and American English and conventions. Here are some of the most important differences for your CV/resume and covering letter.
UK: CV/curriculum vitae
US: resumé, resume
UK: covering letter
US: cover letter, covering letter
UK: A4 (210 x 297 millimetres)
US: Letter (8 1/2 x 11 inches)
UK: Mrs, Miss
UK: Dear Sirs
UK: Yours faithfully
US: Yours truly
UK: Yours sincerely
US: Sincerely, Sincerely yours, Yours truly
UK: Managing Director (MD)
US: Chief Executive Officer (CEO), General Manager
UK: DD/MM/YY example: 30/12/99 30 December 1999
US: MM/DD/YY example: 12/30/99 December 31st, 1999
When you send your CV by email, you can send it either as inline text (that is, written in the body of the email) or as a file attached to the email (or as a combination of these). In all cases, make sure that the subject line is clear, and relevant. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to sort a hundred or more emails with meaningless subject lines like: “CV”, “Job Application” or “John Brown”. If your name is “John Brown”, a good subject line would be:
- Resume: John Brown
- CV & Covering Letter: John Brown
- Job Application: John Brown
- Application for Post of Sales Manager: John Brown
It is best to use “plain text”. Yes, you can write your email in “HTML” or “Rich Text”, but will your prospective employer be able to read it? Will it arrive correctly formatted? Will colours, typefaces, tabs and spacing, and any special characters like fancy accents be correctly presented? Unless you are certain that what you write will be seen as you intended, don not take the chance. With plain text, on the other hand, you can be confident that what you send is what arrives at the other end. However, even with plain text it is advisable to:
- Keep the line-length short.
Use hard carriage returns (the “Enter” key) every 65 characters maximum.
- Avoid fancy spacing and tabulation.
A CV/resume that is beautifully formatted in MS Word cannot be reproduced with the same layout in plain text. You should not even attempt it. Instead, you will need a different, simpler approach.
Be very careful about sending your CV as an attachment. Many people are cautious about opening attachments, largely because they can contain viruses, and your email with an uninvited CV attachment may well be deleted before it ever sees the light of day. If you are sure that your prospective employer will accept attachments, then this can be a good way to submit your CV and covering letter.
Be careful too that your documents are properly laid out with a file format that can be read by your prospective employer. An MS Word document (.doc) can be read by most people, on PC or Mac. Better still, convert it to the universal Rich Text Format (.rtf).
Like the subject line for your email, be sure to give your attached files meaningful names. Do not simply attach a file called “CV.doc” or “coveringletter.doc”. Once it has been saved to your prospective employer’s hard disk, the name will be meaningless. Call your attachments something like:
- Resume – John Brown.doc
- CV and Covering Letter – John Brown.doc
- John Brown_Application for Post of Sales Manager.rtf
Placing your CV on the Web makes access to your CV easy and rapid world-wide. If you wish to retain confidentiality, you can password protect it. Don’t become overly artistic when creating your CV webpage. The rules for paper pages about good, clear layout and legibility still apply to the Web. Remember that contrast between text and background increases legibility (readability). In general, black text on a plain white background is the easiest text to read. Remember, too, that a prospective employer may wish to print out your CV.
tip 1: Use design that attracts attention
Employers don’t have time to read through each of your job descriptions to see if you have the skills they need. The design of your CV must do it for them.
tip 2: Match your headings to the job
Use a job title and skill headings that match the job you want. If you use unrelated job titles or skills, employers will automatically think that you are not right for the job in question.
tip 3: Write convincing content
Good design will get an employer’s attention. But after that, you must concentrate on the content of your CV, the actual descriptions of your skills and abilities.
tip 4: Use “power words”
To control the image that an employer has of you, use power words that match the position you want. If, for example, you are applying for a financial post, you should use as many financial skills power words as possible.
tip 5: Use 0123456789
People react to numbers! Numbers are dynamic and powerful. They create vivid images in our minds. General statements are easy to ignore. Be specific and use numbers when describing your duties and achievements. Don’t talk about “managing a major turnover”. Talk about “managing a $27,000,000 turnover”.
tip 6: Put important information first
List important information at the beginning of your job description. Put statements in your CV in order of importance, impressiveness and relevance to the job you want. A powerful statement with numbers and power words influences every statement that follows.
tip 7: Find key words from the job description
Let an employer do your work for you! Employers spend much time and money writing job advertisements and descriptions that contain key words for the position offered. Read these descriptions carefully to find the key words. Then use the same key words in your CV and cover letter.
tip 8: Sell benefits, not skills
Holiday companies do not sell holidays. They sell relaxation, adventure, sun, sea and sand (the benefits of a holiday)! You should not sell your skills (many other people have the same skills). You should sell the benefits of your skills. When you write your skills and past duties, be careful to explain their benefits to the employer.
tip 9: Create the right image for the salary
Use language that creates the right image for the level of job and salary you want. Position yourself at the appropriate level. The language you use will immediately influence an employer’s perception of you.
tip 10: Target the job
You will have more success if you adjust your CV and cover letter for the specific skills an employer is seeking. This means that you would write one CV for one particular job and a different, modified, CV for another job. You “re-package” yourself. In that way, an employer will see immediately that you correspond to the job description. It is not dishonest to “re-package” yourself. You are simply presenting yourself and your skills in the best light for a particular employer.
tip 11: Solve your employer’s (hidden) needs
Your CV and cover letter should show how you can solve the employer’s problems and needs. And in addition to the skills or needs shown in a job advertisement, an employer may have other needs. You should identify these additional needs and show how you can satisfy them too. But concentrate first on the needs listed in the job description.