Whilst 'curriculum vitae' is a Latin term meaning 'the course of your life', it is more useful to think of a good CV as the 'edited highlights'.
In a CV you are not actually telling your life story - you are selling yourself!
If you remember this you will be well on the way to composing a CV that has a realistic chance of getting you an interview (which is what we are all after when we sit down to write one...).
What a CV should contain
Graduate employers have a 'shopping-list' of the knowledge, skills and experience they are seeking in candidates, so your CV is your opportunity to provide evidence of these attributes. (Their recruitment literature as well as your own knowledge of the requirements of the particular career for which you are applying should help you to do this.) Remember that you are not only seeking to inform employers about yourself but also to persuade them that you are worth interviewing.
An employer might well be reading a stack of CVs and will certainly be appraising them quickly (very quickly!) so this means you should work on the presentation as well as the content.
Highlight the most appropriate information and present it in a way that has most impact. Having said all this, some essential details must be in your CV, although the exact order in which you put them depends on you:
Include - your name, address or addresses (if living away from home; telephone and mobile numbers; email address/es). Details such as your date of birth, nationality, gender or place of birth are discretionary and, depending on your circumstances, you may either include these or not.
Education and qualifications:
Only as far back as secondary school and in reverse chronological order with more space devoted to details about qualifications that matter most, normally your degree. If you feel that the content of your degree will not interest an employer, write about the skills that you developed whilst studying it.
This section is increasingly common on CVs. Start by identifying which particular skills the employer is seeking and then give details. Use specific examples from your course, work experience, voluntary work and interests; in short, from any area of your life that seems appropriate.
This can include paid jobs either during vacations or in term-time, paid and unpaid work placements, voluntary work - in fact, any situation in which you were working! They may all be used legitimately to show your suitability for the job in question by virtue of the particular skills and experience you developed.
These can show evidence of suitability through reference to the skills you have learnt. Being involved in sports can demonstrate team working ability, for example, or travel can show your adaptability and independence. Don't give a long list of interests but concentrate on two or three and write about what you have learnt from them.
It is normal to include two of these, unless more are requested. One should be an academic referee, probably your tutor, and the other someone who can comment on you from a different perspective such as an employer or long-standing family acquaintance. Do not use family or people whose relationship to you is not clear and always get their permission first.
Tips on presenting your CV
Two sides of word-processed A4 is normally sufficient.
Use good quality paper and paper clips, not staples.
For your education put your most recent course first.
Summarise qualifications that were achieved some years ago, for example, GCSEs.
For your work experience try and make your most relevant experience stand out. You may want to consider having a separate section for this.
Make your CV clear and consistent and leave plenty of white space.
Make your headings stand out by using bold or italics.
Use a legible font with a minimum size of 11.
Use positive/action words which describe what you did.
Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Use a laser printer for a better quality finish
The following information is designed as a quick test for you to check your CV. The checklist questions are split into the main categories that should be included in your CV. Why not print off this page and check it against a draft copy of your CV?
Will the employer be able to contact you easily at this address?
Do your personal details account for no more than one third of a page?
Is your nationality and work permit situation clearly stated? (international students). Make this stand out if you feel this will work in your favour. However, you do not need to include this information on your CV. Think about the advantages and disadvantages of doing so bearing in mind the employer to whom you are writing and the likelihood of their recruiting an international student. If you are in any doubt about this, seek advice from a careers adviser.
Does this section include more than a listing of qualifications and grades?
Have you listed your most recent or important qualifications first? Have you listed relevant modules/projects? (Law firms like to see all results)
Is there a team project that you could discuss?
Have you stated the equivalence of any internationally obtained qualifications? (international students)
The UK National Recognition Information Centre (UK NARIC) provides information and advice on the authenticity and comparability of international qualifications, courses and even institutions. They provide an advice line for simple queries from students - Tel: 01242 260010.
Have you received any scholarships or awards that would show relevant skills?
Have you included a broad range of relevant experience? What about work in a family business, voluntary work or involvement in university societies?
Have you included greater detail on more relevant experience?
Have you undertaken a period of national service that you could talk about? (international students)
What have you done to integrate yourself into your host community? (international students)
Have you clearly demonstrated evidence of skills outlined in the advert, job specification or employer's promotional material?
Have you used examples to demonstrate these skills? Remember, evidence can be used from any area of your life including home, academic, work, hobbies, university societies, etc. What about fundraising, group projects or societies you are involved with? Have you mentioned the skills you have developed on your course and given examples of how you developed them?
If you are sending your CV speculatively, have you identified the skills that are needed for your chosen area of work?
Can you use this section to demonstrate examples of skills and competencies that the employer is looking for?
Have you concentrated on a few key interests rather than giving a long list?
Have you lived/worked abroad or done some travelling?
If you are including addresses of referees, have you asked them for their permission and explained what sort of opportunities you are applying for?
Can they be contacted easily?
If you have run out of space you may want to add the line: 'The names and addresses of referees can be supplied on request'.
Has your CV been thoroughly checked for spelling, grammar and correct use of language?
Does it follow a consistent layout? Do the dates follow in the same order for your education and employment sections (reverse chronological)?
Is the most relevant information given priority on the page / the most space?
Do your section headings clearly reflect what information the sections contain?
Have you checked that there are no gaps in your history?
Is it clear to read, and fonts are consistent and not too small?
Does it fit on to two pages without looking crowded? Have you checked that you have not split a section over two pages?
Would you want to read it?
Remember: your CV may only be scan read by a busy employer.
This could be for just 20 seconds - would you be impressed?
Useful CV resources can be found from the following websites:
You should always send one to accompany a CV. This can be when an employer specifically asks for a CV or when an advertisement says 'apply in writing'. The covering letter is used in this instance to encourage the employer to read the accompanying CV and also to draw together relevant facts from your CV and shape them to the needs of the employer.
2. 'Speculative' applications
Speculative applications also require covering letters, which are used to explain why you are sending a speculative CV.
3. To accompany an application form
It is sometimes necessary to send a covering letter to accompany an application form. If you have had very little space or opportunity to sell yourself on the form, or there is something that you particularly want to emphasise, the covering letter can help you do this.
4. Letter of application
If you are asked to send a 'letter of application', you might treat this as an extended covering letter.
What should a covering letter include?
It should provide a logical sequence of information designed to capture the reader's attention.
You can also use it to explain special circumstances or draw attention to a particular aspect of your experience.
Tell the employer:
who you are;
what you are applying for and where you saw it advertised if applicable;
why you want the job or opportunity and why you are attracted to the organisation;
how you feel that your qualifications and experience make you a suitable candidate;
what you want them to do for you, e.g. ask about the possibility of arranging an interview or a visit (this will depend on your circumstances and whether you are making a speculative application or responding to an advertised vacancy);
what you hope will happen next, e.g. a polite, positive closing statement, saying you will telephone to follow up your letter or that you look forward to hearing from them.
By the end of the letter the employer should be really impressed by what you have to offer and be encouraged to find out more from your CV or application form.
How should a covering letter be laid out?
Your letter should usually adhere to the following layout:
your address and contact details usually on the right side at the top;
the employer's name and address usually on the left side;
'Dear Mr or Ms Employer' (or, if you don't know who you are writing to, 'Dear Sir or Madam');
a reference number for the job (if you know it) and/or the job title;
'Yours sincerely,' if you know who you are writing to, or 'Yours faithfully' if you don't.
a space for your signature;
Tips to remember
Covering letters are not easy to write. Try brainstorming some ideas first before trying to construct full paragraphs.
It is worth spending some time experimenting with different versions before adopting a style that suits both you and the organisation you are writing to.
Try to keep your letter to one side of A4 word processed text, printed on good quality plain paper, ensuring that the layout looks balanced.
Use a legible font (e.g. Arial, Times) with a minimum size of 11 point.
If you are asked for a handwritten letter, write as clearly and neatly as possible. Presentation is very important so it is a good idea to practise first.
Use positive and active words where possible, e.g. achieved, organised, negotiated.
Sell yourself and emphasise your enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the opportunity or profession.
Example covering letters
The following examples are given for guidance only and you will need to write your covering letter based on your own particular circumstances and experiences.
EXAMPLE 1 389 Mile End Street
Leicester LE1 6RJ
Ms Sarah Miles
Graduate Recruitment Manager
Smith, Jones & Coopers
12-15 Regent Street
London EC1 6PY
10th August 2008
RE: Graduate Accountancy Training Scheme Dear Ms Miles
I am writing to apply for the Graduate Accountancy Training Scheme as advertised on my Careers Services’ website and in its current vacancy bulletin.
I first became interested in a career in finance through attending a series of careers presentations by employers at my university. The talk on accountancy by your colleague David Rome impressed me most and led me to feel that training as an accountant would combine my skills and interest in business, problem-solving, and working with people. The work experience I obtained last summer at XYZ Bank was extremely useful and I greatly enjoyed being in a financial environment. I am now particularly excited about fulfilling my potential in accountancy and my choice of career has been confirmed by wide reading of careers literature on the profession.
I feel I have a range of relevant skills that I can bring to Smith, Jones and Coopers. My communication skills have greatly developed both through my work experience at the bank and through my degree. During my course I have not only written essays but frequently presented papers and arguments orally in seminars, occasionally employing the use of visual aids. One assignment involved small groups of four students working as a team to co-research and co-present a topic. This taught me a lot about working in a team as well as further practising my presentation skills. I feel I have presented to a high standard and have learnt many of the principles behind effective presentations. Additionally on my course I have developed a high level of IT skills: I have regularly used Word, Excel and the Internet and I am comfortable in sourcing and handling data electronically. As you can see on my CV I lead a busy life through my various sporting activities, which has meant that I have very quickly learnt the importance of time management. I have always handed my work in on time and never missed a deadline.
Smith, Jones and Coopers attract me because of the variety of your training scheme and the emphasis on early responsibility together with all necessary support. Your position as one of the top 20 firms attracts me and as a leading firm I feel Smith, Jones and Coopers offers the opportunity to work with the type of businesses and clients that I am seeking. I hope my CV shows that I have the skills and potential to join Smith, Jones and Coopers’ training programme. I am available for interview at any time and look forward to hearing from you.
EXAMPLE 2 49 Dorchester Street
Leicester LE3 9FU
Tel: 0116 299 4675
Smythe and Robinson Associates
38 Newhaven Road
August 14th 2008
Dear Mrs Smythe,
I would like to apply for a position of HR Assistant, as advertised in The University of Leicester Careers Service bulletin on 07/11/02. I am currently in the final year of my English degree at the University of Leicester. I enclose a copy of my CV for your attention.
I have been interested in HR for many years and have strengthened this interest and gained some useful insight by choosing to study organisational structures last year. I have acquired hands-on experience of working in HR at a local company last summer, and have supported an HR consultant in organising training for a multinational company.
I was impressed by your company in your graduate recruitment literature and by talking to recent recruits at the careers fair held at my University. These graduates expressed a commitment to your company and described the in-depth training.
In addition to my growing knowledge of HR, I can offer many skills gained from my studies, work and other activities, for example:
• analysing complex numerical and verbal information;
• clear, concise writing for different contexts;
• working enthusiastically and productively under pressure;
• dealing professionally with a wide range of people;
• working in a variety of teams and on my own initiative;
• overcoming obstacles and negotiating for the support I need.
I am available for any of the interview dates specified in your graduate recruitment brochure.
Purpose of a personal statement
The purpose of a personal statement is to help an organisation find out about you and your suitability for the job or course they have to offer.
It is an opportunity for you to present your goals, experiences and qualifications in the best possible light as well as to demonstrate your writing ability.
A personal statement provides scope for you to distinguish yourself from the other applicants.
Questions to ask yourself when writing a personal statement
Your answers to these questions may help you to decide what to include in your personal statement:
What in your life story makes you special, unique or impressive?
What interests you about the field of work/study for which you are applying and how did you learn about it?
What are your relevant work experiences?
What are your career goals?
What skills do you have (e.g. problem solving, willingness to learn, leadership, communication skills) and can you provide evidence to back up your claims?
What personal characteristics do you possess (e.g. integrity, compassion, persistence) and, again, can you provide evidence to back up your claims?
What responsibilities have you undertaken?
What difficulties have you overcome?
Why should you be chosen above the other applicants?
When you have thought about enough examples and have the appropriate evidence to back them up you can then write your personal statement.
Writing out your personal statement
Start with a strong opening paragraph that will grab the reader's attention.
This should be used to provide details of your interests, knowledge and experience of your particular field. You may also include information about your qualifications and previous relevant work experiences. Give recent and relevant examples. What you select to include in your personal statement and the choices you make will help the reader form a judgement about you so it would be wise to give considerable thought to this.
Finish by tying together the various issues you have already raised and reiterate your interest in the job or course.
You may be asked to supply the names of referees in support of your application:
Your principal referee would normally be your academic/personal tutor.
Make sure that you have your referees' permission prior to giving their names.
Provide your referees with information about yourself and what you are applying for. You may wish them to mention, for example, your academic achievements, predicted grades if appropriate, jobs, travel experience, etc.
Providing a copy of your CV and/or your application form to your referees may also be useful.
Remember: If your referees are well informed about your background and aspirations it will help them to write a more focused and personal reference.
Tips on writing a personal statement