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CVs and covering letters

Your CV

Getting your CV right is a key part of the job application. It’s your opportunity to sell yourself, so you need to make sure it’s doing the job for you.

Here are some hints and tips on how to write your CV, what you should include and what you should avoid.

Keep it clear and concise

  • The ideal CV length is two sides – recruiters are busy people, and often have a large number of CVs to sift through. Don’t give them an essay to read.
  • Try using bullet points. They can help make your CV easier to read.
  • Including a 1-2 sentence personal profile at the top gives a snapshot of your skills and makes a strong early impression. Be sure to include experience and achievements.

Tailor your CV

  • Adapting your CV to the job you’re applying for is crucial. If you don’t, you’re much less likely to get to the next stage.
  • It shows you’ve read the job description and clearly understood how you would fit the role.
  • Start spotting keywords. These will be sprinkled throughout the job advert. Use them in your CV. It can you help to get through the automatic filters some employers use, and it’s a shortcut to catching a recruiter’s eye.
  • Tailor your employment history to focus on more relevant experience. Don’t be afraid to make a big deal of a small job if it’s more relevant to the role you’re going for.

Making your employment history work for you

  • List your experience in date order with the most recent first. Show the dates you were employed in each role, for example, ‘May 2018 to present’.
  • Deciding on how much career history to include on your CV can be challenging. Try to balance the need to show your full range of experience with the need to be concise.
  • Quality is better than quantity. Highlight the most relevant experiences and skills from your current and previous jobs and leave out anything less crucial to the role.
  • Explain any employment gaps. Gaps in employment happen to everyone, but don’t just leave a space on your CV. Briefly explain that you were out of work and point to any transferable skills you might have gained at that time.

No work experience? Focus on what you do have

  • It can be hard to know how to write a CV with little or no work experience, but no one has no experience.
  • There are many skills that you’ll have developed outside the workplace, for example, through volunteering, hobbies, caring or community activities.
  • List your achievements on your CV – it shows you are an effective person who has more to offer than just fulfilling daily tasks.
  • Use the ‘hobbies and interests’ section in your CV to demonstrate skills or experience relevant to the role you’re applying for.
  • The National Careers Service has a Skills Assessment (external website) that can help you spot your talents.

 Be accurate and professional

  • Check what you’ve written before you submit your CV.
  • Double-check facts and dates. Use the spellcheck (set to UK English) to make sure there are no spelling mistakes or typos.
  • Watch out for casual language that you might use in a text message and slang that might be unfamiliar to an employer. For example, don’t use ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ or ‘plz’ instead of ‘please’.
  • Use a sensible email address for your job applications. A ‘jokey’ e-mail address might be okay to use with your friends but could be embarrassing on a CV.

Your covering letter

  • Some recruiters will ask for covering letters for job applications. Even if they don’t, it’s good practice to provide a covering letter telling the employer why you are the ‘right fit’ for the role.
  • A covering letter should complement your CV by highlighting what’s most relevant to the job. Avoid just summarising your CV.
  • Include the job vacancy title, reference number and your name, ideally in the heading.
  • One page is usually enough – unless the employer asks for something different.

Find out more

Visit the National Careers Service (external website) for a walkthrough on each stage of compiling a CV and more tips and advice on how to write a good cover letter (external website).

For CV support in Scotland, visit the My World of Work (external website).

LifeSkills, created with Barclays, has a free CV builder tool. Visit the LifeSkills (external website) to find out more.