Careers and Enterprise

Improve your CV or application

This is your first step to getting noticed by a recruiter. Taking the time to get this right will make a strong first impression and will increase your chances of getting through to the next stage.

Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes - they are looking to see how your skills and experience match exactly with what they are looking for. To do this effectively, make sure you provide clear and relevant examples of when you have effectively used each of the skills they require, which will be listed on the job description. Using specific examples provides the reader with convincing evidence of your ability to do the job. As this approach is based on the job description for a role, you will need to adjust your CV to fit with the requirements for every single job you apply for.

CVs

A CV is a summary of your education and work experience specific to the job you are applying to. It is the first impression that the recruiter will have of you, so take the time to get it right and improve your chances of being invited to interview.

Get it right:

Start with the job description for the role you are applying to. This lists exactly what the recruiter is looking for and your task is to demonstrate each of these skills on your CV in order to convince them you have the ability to do the job. Matching your CV to the job will mean you will have a different CV for each role you apply for. Remember, a CV is NOT a list of everything that you have done. Think about what is most relevant to the role you are looking for.

Don’t just say that you have team working skills, but use an appropriate example of when you have successfully used the skill in the past as evidence to prove your point. Examples can be your work experience, degree, extra-curricular activities and achievements. Use action words such as ‘analysed’, ‘improved’ and ‘planned’ rather than passive phrases like ‘I was involved in’ or ‘I had to’. Avoid using ‘we’ as the reader wants to know what you contributed or achieved as an individual.

Layout is key! Your information must be clear and easy to find. To do this keep your margins aligned, your fonts consistent, and your dates in reverse chronological (most recent first). Proof read your CV for spelling mistakes and typos, as these can mean your CV is put straight in the ‘no pile’. Keep in mind the person reading your CV may be reading hundreds of them, so don’t miss out on this important step.

Always follow any instructions provided by the recruiter. It is likely they will want you to send a covering letter along with your CV. Your cover letter should draw attention to achievements on your CV that you wish to highlight and is where you explain your motivation for the role and organisation.
Remember that in some industries, such as investment banking, a one page CV is the norm. Whereas an academic CV may be many pages long. See the link below to the downloads section for sample CVs for specific industries.

 

Cover letters

A cover letter is your opportunity to explain to an employer what your motivation is for applying to both the role and the organisation, along with how your skills, knowledge and experience make you an ideal candidate.  Ensure you understand what the employer is looking for, so you can effectively show how your skills match the skills they require.

Get it right:

Whilst a CV is a concise list of your skills and achievements, your cover letter should introduce yourself, your CV, and the role you’re applying for. Further demonstrate your suitability for the role by providing detail about experiences or achievements mentioned on your CV that you want to draw their attention to. Link your examples to the requirements on the job description so you can explain how they are particularly relevant to the job.

As with your CV, remember that this piece of writing is an example of your work and of your written communication skills. It is important to make sure that your writing is clear, concise and professional, has consistent formatting and is easy to read. It may be tempting to use a thesaurus to find words that you think will sound impressive, but this often makes the text sound stilted and false. Use positive language and action words such as ‘analysed’, ‘improved’ and ‘planned’ rather than passive phrases like ‘I was involved in’ or ‘I had to’. Avoid using ‘we’ as the reader wants to know what you contributed or achieved as an individual.

  • Your cover letter should include a clear introduction – explain who you are (e.g. a recent QMUL graduate), what position you are applying for, and how you heard about the role.
  • Make it easy for the reader to see why your skills, experience and personal attributes match the requirements of the job. Explain why you are right for the position by choosing three or four specific examples of when you have used the skills they are looking for.  
  • Give clear evidence of your motivation i.e. why you want the role and to work for the organisation. This information can set you apart from other candidates, so don’t miss it out. Think about what attracts you to the company, and use your example way to show your enthusiasm and understanding of the role. Research the organisation and the sector – the company website, LinkedIn and Twitter are good places to start.
  • This is also an opportunity to outline and tackle potential gaps or interruptions on your CV (e.g. you changed your degree course). This means explaining the situation and selling it in the best possible light.

Application forms

Similar to an interview, an application allows employers to ask questions in order to find out more about particular skills that they require. Your answers are your opportunity to draw their attention to your abilities, create a strong first impression, and improve your chances of being invited to interview.  

Get it right:

Start with the job description. Know exactly what the employer is looking for in the prospective candidate to enable you to sell your experience in a way that shows you match their needs. Find out about the organisation you are applying to. What makes them different to their competitors? What are their biggest achievements?  Understanding who you are applying to and the industry they work in is part of commercial awareness, which is highly sought after by employers.  Demonstrating this knowledge in your answers will allow you to further demonstrate your professionalism, motivation and suitability for the role.

Answer the question being asked and not what you would like to be asked. Your responses will be graded on how much evidence you provide for what they are looking for, so stay focused on the topic to avoid receiving low scores. Use specific examples from when you have successfully used the skill in the past as evidence to prove you are able to use that skill effectively i.e. that you have the ability to do to the job well. Think about different situations where have used and developed your skills (including part time work, volunteering and extra-curricular activities) and identify the most appropriate example to use for your answer. A good method for structuring your answers is the STAR technique.

Treat your application as a sample of your work. Any spelling or grammar mistakes show that you haven’t taken care over the work you have submitted, so triple check your answers to find any errors. We have had feedback from employers that some candidates have clearly copied and pasted answers from previous applications, as they have left the name of the previous employer in the text! Don’t make the mistake of have your application put straight in the ‘no pile’ through being careless.

Use clear and professional language, with active words like ‘analysed’, ‘coordinated’ and ‘initiated’. Make sure your sentences aren’t too long and avoid using a thesaurus to find long words that you think will sound impressive. This often has the opposite effect and can make the text sound unnatural and strange.