- What is a CV?
- How to use social media in your job search
- Cover letters (CVs)
- Typical interview questions
What is a CV?
A CV (also known as a Curriculum Vitae, or résumé), is a document that acts as an overview of your skills, education, and work experience. They are an essential part of any job search and most companies or recruitment consultants will ask you to send your CV to them when applying for a role.
Essentially, a CV is a tool to sell yourself and give you the best chance of being asked to an interview.
What should you include in your CV?
Although there’s no official CV structure, there is certain key information you should always include:
Your personal details (e.g. name, address, phone number)*
A personal statement (a brief summary of who you are and what you’re looking for)
Relevant key skills
Work experience (start with the most recent and work backwards)
Education, qualifications & training (the most recent first)
Memberships of relevant organisations related to your work or the role
There are lots of free templates available. You can find them in Microsoft Word or do a quick Google search. Many job sites have free templates too.
*The only dates you should include on your CV are in the employment and qualifications sections.
Formatting your CV
The layout of your CV says a lot about you as a candidate, and how it looks is just as important as the content. Find a template you are happy with – you might need to try a few – to find one you are happy with.
To make sure your CV is clear, concise, and easy to read, follow these key tips:
Present information in a logical order
Keep it brief (and relevant)
Check spelling and grammar (and ask someone else to check it too)
Choose a common business font (like Arial or Calibri) and use sizes between 10 and 12 point
Use headings and bullet points
Make heading clear by increasing the font size or making them bold
Include white space – leaving blank spaces on a page helps the reader because your CV won’t feel cluttered and it is easier to pick out the relevant information
Spell out acronyms – you might know that EGR is Exhaust Gas Recirculation but will your reader?
How long should a CV be?
When it comes to CVs, size matters! Think about it from a recruiter’s perspective, they may have 100s of CVs to go through in a day and at some point will lose concentration. Keeping your CV short and easy to read with all the relevant information easy to find will help.
91% of surveyed recruiters said two sides of A4 was the perfect length of CV.
Tailor your CV
It’s always good to keep your CV up to date and keep a copy safely stored away. When it comes to applying for jobs you need to make a copy of your CV and tailor it to the role you are applying for. This means identifying the required skills and experience in an advertised role and then adjusting your CV to bring out your most relevant skills, experience and achievements in your CV.
A personal statement or summary, usually sits at the top of your CV, under your name and contact details. It is a short paragraph (up to 5 lines) that says who you are, what your career goals are and what skills and experience you can bring to a company and the role.
Highlight your achievements
While it is essential to state your skills and experience it is also important to highlight your achievements. This can be a short sentence under the list of your skills/experience for each role which provides an example of the value you added to the organisation or your team. It could be financial, great customer feedback, improved processes – something you are proud of and can talk about in an interview.
Read the job description and advert for the role you are applying for. What skills and experience are they looking for? Those are keywords and you should use them when describing your skills and experience on your CV. This helps recruiters easily tell at a glance that you have what they are looking for.
Check and check again
Read through your CV and look at it from the recruiter’s perspective – does it have a logical flow? Do my skills, experience and achievements match the job description and stand out?
Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Use your device’s spellchecker and make sure the language is set to English UK. Ask at least one other person to check it too. Mistakes don’t make a good impression…
Adding a headshot is common in many countries – but not the UK.
Hobbies and interests
Only include these if they are relevant to the job you’re applying for. If they’re not, leave them off. This will leave you with more space to add relevant information.
Saving the file
If you can, save your CV as a PDF – this can be opened on any device. It avoids any issues with the recruiter not having the same software that you used to create your CV and not being able to open the document.
You don’t have to add references to your CV or add ‘references available on request’. If you are offered a role after an interview, you will be asked for details then.
Now you’ve got your CV sorted, let’s get started on your cover letter!
How to use social media in your job search
Your CV is normally only seen by people you have sent it to directly. However, most employers and recruitment agencies use social media to find suitable candidates for a role – and to find out more about candidates.
Lots of people use social networks personally but they are a great way to raise your professional profile and help businesses and recruitment agencies find you. Here are some tips:
Get everything squeaky clean If potential employers are going to be looking at your social posts – what would they think? Make sure that any public information on all of your profiles is super clean and professional. This means checking for swearing, images that aren’t professional, rants or arguments and consider removing anything that might be politically divisive.
If there is something you wouldn’t want an employer to see, delete it or change the privacy settings to limit what people can/cannot see.
Choose your networks. You don’t have to have a profile on every available platform. It’s better to have one or two that are regularly updated than lots that are unused. LinkedIn and Twitter or Facebook are more than enough.
Use your real name. It can be tempting to use a nickname for your profile handle but that won’t help an employer or recruitment consultant find you when they search for your name.
Photograph. Make sure you have a professional-looking photo of yourself and make sure it is used on all your profiles – this helps searchers identify you more easily.
Keep them 100% up to date. It’s important to keep your profiles accurate and up to date. Also, particularly on LinkedIn, the timeline should match your CV – employers or recruitment consultants will notice any differences.
Join relevant groups. Joining relevant groups is a great way to network. They’re also useful for asking for advice and finding out about opportunities.
Who to follow. Follow companies that you are interested in working for to spot any opportunities they advertise and to find out more about them. You can also follow people in these companies or similar ones. You can like, share or comment on their posts to raise your professional profile. And of course, you can follow relevant recruitment agencies and consultants too.
Keywords & hashtags. Make sure you use relevant keywords and hashtags so that you pop up in searches, making it easier for people to find you. On some platforms, you can make it clear in your settings that you are looking for work. On others, put it in your bio/description.
Ask previous colleagues or customers to endorse your skills or write a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile – what others say about you is powerful and can impress prospective employers.
Cover letters (CVs)
What is a Cover letter?
This is a letter that you send with your CV when you apply for a job. It introduces you to the employer and is an opportunity for you to highlight your skills and experience that are relevant for the role you are applying for. Each cover letter, like your CV, should be tailored for each job application.
How long is a Cover letter?
It really depends on the role and seniority of the position you are applying for. Some job adverts will tell you the maximum length of a cover letter.
However, cover letters should generally be no more than one side of A4. Aim for three to five short paragraphs that highlight your skills and mirror the advert, job description and person specification (if supplied).
If you are applying by email your cover letter should be in the body of the email and not sent as a separate attachment. You can always write it out on an A4 page first to get the right length and then copy and paste the paragraphs into your email. Don’t forget to use your programme’s spelling and grammar checkers to avoid unnecessary mistakes.
How to address your letter
Where possible you should address the letter to the hiring manager or the person who is receiving the applications (this could be someone in HR or a recruitment consultant). If you don’t know who will be receiving the applications, it’s better to be more formal for example Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Whom it may concern or Dear Sir or Madam.
Remember if you use someone’s name, finish your letter with Yours sincerely. If you don’t use someone’s name, use Yours faithfully.
What to include
Keep it brief and relevant; use this as an opportunity to highlight your skills and show why you should be considered for the role and invited to interview.
The opening sentence
Start with explaining why you are writing to the organisation for example:
‘I am writing to you to apply for your recently advertised role of Diagnostic technician advertised on your company website.’
Next, say you’re suitable for the position, what attracted you to the role and the company. For example:
‘I am a fully qualified diagnostic technician, and would like the opportunity to work within [insert company name], a forward-thinking business within the industry that has a superb reputation, with both its employees and customers.’
Next, you should highlight your experience and link this to what the business is looking for. Mirror keywords from the advertisement and/or job description. For example, if you a business is looking for candidates who have knowledge of specific tools and systems and you do highlight that. Similarly, if they looking for people who are ‘highly motivated and solution oriented’ give an example that shows you are:
‘Over the last four years, I have gained a wide and varied range of skills, and have in-depth knowledge of diagnostics using a range of tools and systems including [x system/tools]. I am motivated and believe one of my biggest strengths is my ability to problem solve and find solutions. I am a committed team member who is flexible and adaptable to meet my employer’s needs.’
Finally, repeat your interest in the role and that you are keen to discuss your application with them. And, last but not least, thank them for their time.
‘I would like the opportunity to discuss this role with you further and I am available at any time convenient to you. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope to speak with you soon.’
What is an interview?
You’ve seen a job that you’re interested in and you’ve sent in your CV or application form. Once the person recruiting for this role has seen your application, they may invite you for an interview.
Interviews are usually formal meetings with the hiring manager, to find out more about you and to assess whether you really have the skills and experience you included on your CV or application. They will also be working out if you could be a good fit for the business e.g. would you fit into the existing team.
Don’t forget, an interview will also help you find out if it is a company or place you want to work.
Depending on the role and hiring organisation’s procedures, you may have more than one interview for a role and with more than one person at a time. Interviews can take place by phone, video call or face-to-face.
How to prepare for an interview
It’s important to prepare for an interview. It will help you feel more confident and give your interviewer a good impression. Here are some tips:
Do your research
Find out what you can about the company. Check out their website to find out more about the business (most websites will have an About us section). Also, read about the products and services they offer and who their customers are. You can also do some research to find out who their main competitors are, what products or services they deliver and highlight any differences/similarities between the two organisations.
You may also know someone who works there – ask them about their experience of working for the company.
Review the job description. Re-read the job description. Think about how your skills and experience fit the role and match what the company is looking for. Write down some examples ready for your interview. You might not have every skill they are looking for but make sure you have their key ones covered. Don’t forget about your transferable skills.
Think about what questions you might be asked. Write down your qualities and experience and practice talking about them. Practise speaking about them over and over so it starts to feel natural. This will help build your confidence ahead of your interview.
Manage your nerves. It’s natural to feel nervous, especially under pressure and in new situations. Get ready to manage those nerves and practice techniques in advance like taking deep breaths to calm yourself and techniques to help you feel more positive. Try these tips to cope with nerves.
Remember, you were offered an interview, so the company is already interested in your skills and experience – this is your chance to show them off!
Have your own questions ready. Most interviewers will ask if you have questions that you would like to ask them. This usually comes towards the end of the interview. Interviewers like to be asked questions. You can ask questions about the role, the team or about what it’s like to work for that company. For example, how would you describe a typical day/week in this role, how do you measure success, what training is available or what are the most positive things about working there?
Phone interviews. Make sure you are in a quiet place with a good signal and that your phone is charged! Speak clearly and not too fast. Did you know that you can hear a smile? Smiling throughout your call will make you sound more relaxed and positive.
Video interviews. Your interview could be online rather than face-to-face. Dress and prepare like you would for a meeting in person. Make sure you are in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure you have a good internet connection and that your device is charged. It’s a good idea to test the sound so that you can hear them and they can hear you.
Face-to-face interviews. Check your travel arrangements. Do you know where your interview is and how to get there? Leave plenty of time in case there are any delays to your journey. Dress appropriately – first impressions go a long way. Take any relevant information with you like the details of the person you are meeting, a copy of your CV, the job description, the questions you have prepared and anything else you may have been asked to bring with you such as proof of identity, qualifications etc. Manage the nerves and when you arrive, smile and greet everyone positively.
It’s also important to look the part, first impressions open doors. If money is a bit tight, you can hire a full interview outfit for free from H&M or Suited for Success, helping you to boost your confidence and make a great first impression.
At the end of the interview. Sometimes it is hard to tell how an interview went. Even if you don’t feel it went well, thank the interviewer for their time. Ask them about the next steps and when you should expect to hear back from them.
After the interview. Follow up the interview with an email or telephone call. It shows that you are genuinely interested in the role and company. In the email, refer to the role and thank your interviewer for their time. Also, invite them to ask you any additional questions they might now have. End the email by saying that you are looking forward to hearing from them.
Typical interview questions
Interviews are a way for recruiters to find out more about you. They will usually want to check that you do have the skills and experience that you stated on your CV or in your application. Questions will be designed to find out more about you and to help them decide if you will be a good match for the company. Interviews are also a way for you to find out more about the company and the position helping you to decide if you would like to work there. Here are some questions you may be asked:
WHY DO YOU WANT THE JOB?
Talk about why you applied for this job — not that you need a job or like the salary or location — what is it about the work itself that appealed to you? Remember the research you have done on the role and the company so include keywords that mirror what skills the company is looking for and the company’s values.
DO NOT mention any negative comments about current or past employers.
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU THINK WILL BE REQUIRED FOR THIS JOB?
The job advert will have alerted you to the qualities the organisation are looking for. You may have also discovered qualities that they favour in your own research of the company. Use similar words and phrases to talk about your own qualities and also think about additional qualities you may have that would help in the role.
WHAT CAN YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMPANY?
This is your chance to shine! Talk about your achievements in previous positions which are relevant to the position you are applying for. Use these as an example to show how you have contributed to the team and/or organisation. Try using the STAR method to help you prepare.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO WORK FOR THIS COMPANY?
Emphasise the positive reasons why you want to join their company. For example, being part of a great team in an organisation that values excellent customer service. Think about what you can bring and what you would gain from working in that environment. Again, use your company research. Avoid discussing things such as more money or shorter hours at this stage.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS COMPANY?
This is your chance to impress the interviewer with your knowledge of their company, what they offer and how they deliver this. Again this goes back to researching the company before your interview.
YOU HAVE NOT DONE THIS SORT OF JOB BEFORE. HOW WILL YOU COPE/SUCCEED?
If you are going for a new type of role, be prepared to talk about your transferable skills that are relevant and highlight your personal skills such as, always aims to succeed, being very determined and motivated to get the job done, and being a quick learner.
WHY SHOULD WE EMPLOY YOU?
The answer to this question will be based on your previous relevant experience and achievements, so think about this based on what you can offer and what they require. Also, include personal skills such as being a great team player, punctual, efficient, keen to learn and share your own knowledge to help others.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE AND DISLIKE ABOUT THE JOB WE ARE DISCUSSING?
This is about turning negatives into positives. Talk about the positives like a new challenge or the opportunity to bring fresh experience to the company. Imply there is nothing to dislike about the job, which is why you’re so interested
WHY ARE YOU CHANGING CAREERS?
This is usually asked if you are making a significant change in your career. Use things like personal goals in your response. For example, you’ve always wanted to work in [insert type of role/ sector] but your personal circumstances didn’t allow it until now. Always stress the positive aspects of the change rather than the negative aspects of your previous career. Highlight any training or learning you have done to help you make the change.
WHY DID YOU JOIN YOUR PREVIOUS COMPANY? WHY ARE YOU LEAVING NOW?
Always be positive about your reasons for joining and leaving a company, and be mindful to not say anything negative about your present/previous employer. You might want to stress that you are looking for a new challenge and that you feel that the company who is interviewing you would offer that opportunity.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A NEW JOB?
Make sure your answer is relevant to the company which is interviewing you. Responses such as looking for an opportunity where you can apply your existing skills and learn new ones, or things like they are a leader in the industry and you want to expand your skills and experience.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF OR HOW WOULD OTHERS DESCRIBE YOU?
Pick 3 to 5 key words that demonstrate your skills and qualities. It’s a good idea to have examples related to these qualities ready in case they ask for them. Remember to stay truthful to who you are, as this could be reflected in references.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT/SUCCESS FROM YOUR CAREER?
Think about this prior to any interview as we all get a sense of achievement/success from different things, but make sure it demonstrates your skills and qualities relevant to the role. Be confident and proud of your achievements when you are talking about them.
ARE YOU SELF-MOTIVATED?
Employers will always expect a yes! Give an example that demonstrates how you have been self-motivated in your current or previous roles.
CAN YOU ACT ON YOUR OWN INITIATIVE OR DO YOU REQUIRE DIRECTION?
This is a two way question. An employer wants someone who is able to follow directions and complete tasks, but also someone who is also able to work from their own initiative.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
Is it customer satisfaction? Achieving targets? Supporting others? Learning new skills? Completing tasks to a high standard? Opportunity for career progression? We’re all different, be honest. Avoid answers about financial gain.
CAN YOU WORK UNDER PRESSURE, CAN YOU MEET TARGETS?
Each job will have an element of pressure and targets. Think about your past experience and prepare examples to demonstrate this.
WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS?
Think about this in relation to the company you have applied to. Talk about opportunities to gain new skills, achieve relevant qualifications, and potential opportunities to develop in the future.