Improve your CV to give yourself the best chance of getting an interview.
There is an art to applying for jobs, and success depends on knowing the rules and using them to your advantage. Writing a CV is essentially the same process when applying for part-time jobs as it is for graduate positions but it's important to tailor your CV to the role you're applying for.
Read our advice below and take a look at our CV examples to see which approach would best suit your skills and experience.
Rules of the game
Making a good CV is like playing a game with the employer, and these are the general guidelines:
- Rule 1 - Recruiters judge your CV based on how well it matches their ‘wish list’ of required skills and experience. To spice up the challenge, they don’t always explain exactly what they want; you will need to find out what they are looking for by doing some focused research.
- Rule 2 - You have about 30 seconds to make a good first impression.
- Rule 3 - Employers assume that what they see is what they get. In most cases, they know nothing about you except what’s on your CV. Their initial decisions are based on this information, so make it count.
Matching to the job requirements
- Making the effort to tailor your CV to suit the requirements of a job will increase your chances of getting to interview stage
- Study the job advertisement and read between the lines to figure out what’s really needed. Use the recruitment literature and company website – if there’s none available look at what other employers produce for similar jobs, or look at the job profiles on the Prospects website.
- Break down broad requirements like ‘excellent communication skills’ by thinking how you’d use them in the job. Would you need to do presentations, write reports, be persuasive, present ideas in meetings, and advise the general public?
- Before starting your CV, try a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on your relevant skills and experience. It will highlight your main ‘selling points’ and identify any gaps/problems.
Getting yourself noticed
- Decide whether you need a one or two page CV. One page is recommended in some sectors and often better for speculative applications. Academic posts may require three sides with details of publications, conference input etc.
- Give space and prominence to your strongest selling points – you don’t usually have to include every course module or part-time job.
- Select your basic theme – either one which focuses more on your work experiences or on your skills. The latter can help particularly if you lack related work experience but have useful skills from university activities, other jobs, coursework etc. Your choice depends both on the employer (e.g. you might use a traditional CV for law firms and a more creative approach for advertising agencies) and on where your own strengths lie.
- Headings. Normally this will cover: personal details, education, work experience, skills, interests, and references, but you can select or create your own ‘headlines’ to attract attention to your strongest selling points. Examples include:
- Relevant experience, industrial placements, legal profession experience, customer service employment etc. - f you have done several relevant jobs, placements or periods of voluntary work
- Education and awards - if you have won prizes, scholarships, employer sponsorship
- Additional work experience or employment to fund study/part-time work – these distinguish casual work from professional and career-related experience
- Positions of responsibility – these can highlight informal leadership opportunities as well as official roles
- Achievements - an upbeat heading if you have specific outcomes from your interests
- Additional skills - useful for bringing together languages, IT, driving licence and other relevant qualifications
Location location location
- Give prime position and most space to your most relevant strengths. If you have related work experience, put it high up on your CV. If not, your employment might be better after a section on ‘relevant skills’.
- Normally, use reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent experience first) for education and work experience. That usually means one or two lines for older exam results such as GCSEs and including appropriate details about the degree.
Look your best
- Your CV must look professional and be easy to read as employers scan information quickly. Clear headings, well-aligned tabs and reasonable font size. Use good quality paper for hard copies
- Avoid extremes of ‘thin’ text or clutter – separate sections with one or two line spaces and add punch with bullet points and short phrases
- Limit use of sentences and use simple direct language and ‘action words’ for impact
- Avoid generalisations and clichéd phrases like ‘excellent communication skills’ – back up everything you say with specific examples
- Proof read your final version and have a reliable friend check for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely on the computer spellcheck
Ensuring they like what they see
- Value your achievements – for example, if you have a disability you may have gained additional skills in managing budgets and people
- Let your enthusiasm shine through – avoid clichéd phrases that probably describe 90% of graduating students
- Demonstrate what you have achieved not just what you have done – explain what makes your experience more interesting or challenging and what you’ve learned from it. Make your role in group activities clear.
- Quantify major achievements - If you have raised significant money for a charity or society, presented to a sizeable group, had your ideas widely implemented, won regional or national awards, supervised a team etc. then show the scale of that achievement
- Discuss how you’ve overcome challenges - such as coping with a disability or learning difficulty
I'm too busy for this, can I cut corners?
Once you have a good CV, you can make amendments for different applications. The biggest time waster is sending lots of below average CVs for jobs that are of little interest.
What should I include under personal information?
- Address(es), email, and phone number(s).
- Include the dates when you’ll be at university and when you will be back at your home address
- There’s no need to include marital status or your NI number
Should I include a general profile or career aim?
Not if it’s of the type, ‘Highly motivated graduate with excellent communication skills seeking a management opportunity in a multi-national company’. However, a list of specific and relevant skills at the beginning of your CV can encourage employers to look further. You can discuss your career aim in a cover letter.
My A-level grades aren’t great. Can I leave them out?
Employers often read the worst into omissions. If you have good reasons for poor A-level performance, it can be better to explain this in your cover letter.
Should I disclose my disability on my CV?
There is no right or wrong answer here - it depends on individual circumstances. Your disability might explain aspects of your CV (e.g. gaps in education or employment or lack of experience) that might otherwise count against you. Alternatively you might feel your disability has no relevance to your future performance at work. If you decide to mention a disability in your CV, you have the chance to anticipate and address employers’ possible concerns about recruiting graduates with disabilities.
You may decide to mention this in your cover letter instead. If so, focus on the positives – your skills and experience; your strategies for dealing with disability and achieving academic and other successes, but don’t let the issue of disability dominate the letter. You may want to consider applying to some of the organisations in the Business Disability Forum who are especially committed to equality of opportunity.
Should I include a photo?
Normally you should only include a photograph of yourself if the employer requests one. In this case, provide a good quality original or scanned version.
Should I include all my part time jobs?
A long list of jobs can distract interest from the most relevant ones. Try summarising the least recent or relevant. For example: “2003-2004 – temporary agency jobs including A, B & C which gave me X, Y and Z skills”
I’m applying for jobs overseas. Are CVs the same?
Usually not: Look at the country profiles in GoinGlobal, and on the websites of agencies recruiting for international jobs.
Some of my education was overseas. Should I explain my qualifications?
You shouldn't expect all employers to be familiar with overseas qualifications; saying you achieved a C grade doesn’t help much if they don’t know the range. Try to show where your grades fit in – e.g. ‘Grade point average 3.33 out of maximum 4.0’ or ‘Economics B (Pass grades A-F)’.
- Better still, the UK NARIC website can help you relate your qualifications to the UK equivalent, or visit the International Students Equivalence of qualifications page.
Do I include referees?
Employers don’t normally contact references until after interview, but it’s sensible for an applicant to contact possible referees in advance to ask their permission. Do indicate the status of referees – personal tutor, placement manager etc and provide full contact details, including phone number and email address.
A well-written cover letter can make you stand out from the crowd, so it's worth taking the time to get it right.
It should act as an advert for your CV and encourage the reader to look further. Highlight the main strengths you have for the job and why you really want to work for the company.
Our advice below will help you craft the perfect cover letter. You can also see our sample cover letters for examples of different approaches
Use standard business layout with your address top right and today's date below that. Put the company name and address at the left margin below and, if necessary, abbreviate it to street, town/city and postcode.
Start the main body of your letter in a professional way, e.g. 'Dear John Smith' or 'Dear Mr Smith'. You should always write to a named person. If you don’t have a name, try to find one by phoning the company or using LinkedIn, and make sure you get the details (name, title and job title) right.
Covering emails for electronic applications are different. They should be shorter – if unsure seek help from your Careers Consultant.
Write in plain English and short sentences, using lively language and active verbs. A thesaurus can help you find new ways to express similar ideas. Try to avoid stereotyped phrases and over-generalisations. Don’t be one of the thousands of students who say they 'want to work in a multi-national organisation with good training opportunities'.
Structure your letter in 3-4 reasonably short paragraphs on a single A4 sheet.
- Introduction – Why are you writing? Tell them about yourself and your reason for writing, whether this is a speculative approach or your response to an advertised vacancy. If the post is advertised, give the job title and reference number (if given) and mention where you saw it.
- Why them – Why do you really want to work for this organisation? Popular employers get lots of applications. If you can demonstrate a deeper interest, your letter is more likely to appeal to them. Briefly indicate how you’ve researched the organisation. Show them what interests you. This might be specific aspects of the training scheme, the opportunity to apply specialist knowledge, the organisation’s culture and values, or the possibility of expansion into new business areas. See our Researching employers section for more information.
- Why you - What can you offer? Highlight relevant work experience, course modules, projects, grades etc. Refer to your CV but don’t just repeat yourself; expand on your points by matching specific skills to the job requirements. Show that you are focused but flexible.
- Specific Issues - This section should address gaps in your CV or low exam grades which negate your ability. You could also highlight particular strengths you have gained, perhaps through coping with a disability, or address any concerns you predict the employer might have. Be positive - don’t let these issues dominate the whole letter.
- Close - Avoid standard phrases such as ‘I look forward to hearing from you’. Instead say that you will follow up the application – and do so within two weeks. You can include practical details, e.g. your availability for interview or work experience. Close the letter with 'Yours sincerely' if addressed to a named individual, and 'Yours faithfully' if not.
For more help look at our cover letter examples, then book a Quick Query appointment for a cover letter review.
A focused application form that matches your skills, interests and experience with the employer’s selection criteria is most likely to get you an interview.
Download the application form to view all the questions. Read through the job description thoroughly and critically reflect on your skills and experiences that match the requirements. Do some background research, both on the company and the particular job you are applying for.
Present yourself positively – demonstrate what you have learnt from past events, and how you have taken responsibility for the decisions you have made. Use challenges you have overcome, as evidence of your resilience and positive approach to overcoming difficult situations. If you have a disability or learning difficulty introduce it positively and show that you are still able to meet the competencies required.
Take your time and quality check everything you write. Write clearly, accurately and concisely, making sure it is grammatically correct and without spelling mistakes. Use Word or similar to write your draft and spellcheck the text before cutting and pasting into the form. Give yourself plently of time and remember that applications are withdrawn automatically at the deadline, so check the time as well as the date of the deadline.
Completing the form
These will include your personal details, academic qualifications and work experience. Keep a copy of this information once you have gathered it all together as you may need it for any future application forms you complete. Make sure you are accurate and truthful. Some companies will check your qualifications and previous employers, and an offer of employment may depend on their being able to verify what you claim.
These may have sub-sections that structure the answer for you, e.g.
- Describe a situation where you had to…
- Outline your specific contribution to…
- What was the outcome of…
Competency based questions
These are designed to measure the skills and experiences you have to offer against the competencies needed for the job. You need specific examples as evidence so before you start, think of examples to draw on and match the best example you have to each skill. Try to make sure that your examples draw on a broad range of your life experiences rather than being solely focused on one area.
These could include:
- Facing a challenge or complicated task
- Persuading or influencing others
- Working as a member of a team
- Leading a team or motivating others
- Arguing your case while overcoming the objections of others
- Achieving a particular task or goal in a set time
Good answers will be structured around STAR: the Situation, the Task (what you or the team had to do), your Achievement (your contribution) and the Result (ideally a positive outcome and any lessons learned).
You will often be given a maximum word count which you won’t be able to go over. Use the number of words as a guide – don’t use words for the sake of it but, if a question allows 300 words, answering in 30 is not recommended.
The application form is also likely to ask you why you are applying for the job so summarise why this post is the next logical step in your career progression and why both the job and the organisation interest you. It’s important to demonstrate that you have thought through in detail why you want the job and what specific skills and experience you can offer. Don’t tell the employer what they already know about themselves and don’t resort to flattery. Employers will be looking for more in-depth and genuine reasons for applying.
Check whether or not you can save and return to the form before submission. Not all online applications allow this. If it does note your password so you can return to the form.
Don’t forget to save or print a copy of your completed application – you will need to refer to it if you’re asked to go for an interview!
Online application forms can be made more secure using encryption technology - so check for these safeguards before sending your personal information online.
Find out more
LinkedIn is a useful tool to improve your job search and connect with your industry.
There are currently around 610+ million users on LinkedIn and more and more recruiters are using the platform specifically to find candidates for jobs.
LinkedIn is effectively a huge database of candidates where recruiters can find out how others describe their career paths, skills and expertise. LinkedIn is also a great place to find out what’s going on in your industry, and what’s important to members of your professional community and for you to build a network of these people.
What will make your profile stand out?
Put in the time to make your profile an impressive first impression of you, the more information you include about yourself the better the chances of a recruiter being impressed enough to reach out to you. LinkedIn actually provides you with a measure of how complete your profile is and will also suggest tips and sections for you to complete. Cover the basics, such as all your contact details and work experience, but it is also important to go the extra mile to differentiate yourself from other candidates looking at similar jobs to you.
Adding a profile picture and also a background picture can provide a real visual of you and your proposed job search. Make sure you pick images that are professional and communicate your ambitions.
It is essential that you make your profile personal to you. This begins by using a customized URL (ideally linkedin.com/yourname), this is far better than the automated address that the site will assign you.
Employer focused headline
It is more powerful to create a headline that is not simply your job title. What is your speciality or your main selling point? Use this space to differentiate yourself from others and be specific.
Writing a summary
Think of this summary just like the opening of your CV: it should highlight your strengths, skills and experiences for the area of work, industry or sector you are looking to target. Be wary of buzzwords and try and offer examples and evidence for each point. The summary can include what you are doing now, actively job hunting or still at university and then talk about your objective or ambitions.
Adding comments and sharing
You should also be adding comments to articles which show your interest and passion in chosen sectors, industries and companies. Sharing these articles and links on your own page is also a great way of generating relevant activity, as long you feel you can expand or share your opinion on the post.
You can follow relevant people, organisations and companies and this will allow you to put together a relevant range of interesting content on your feed. Again, you give yourself greater prominence within the feed if you start to express why you think a particular piece of content matters. Remember to share stories and blog posts which are relevant to your job search.
LinkedIn encourages you to pinpoint skills and experiences you have which are relevant to your profile and your job search. Contacts in your network can then endorse you for these skills. You should manage your endorsements proactively and as you get endorsements you may find that they do not match your job search in terms of the quantity of endorsements you get for a particular skill. Highlight at least five skills most relevant to your role and industry and rank them. Maintaining a relevant list of skills on your profile will help others understand your strengths.
It is useful to let LinkedIn sync with your address book so that it can suggest people for you to connect with. You should think of relevant people in your own network who you may think share contacts that could be useful for you and send them invites too. You will be noticed if you are an active member of your network and this is how the number of your contacts will grow. When you send invites always remember to remind people how you met, these might include contacts you meet at careers fairs.
People often think nice things about you but for them to write a recommendation about you is powerful. Think of people who know you and your skills and ask them to write you a brief recommendation. Aim for about three in total if possible. Think about who could write about you - these people could be from work experience, volunteering, student activities and extracurricular activities.
If you haven’t selected the feature that doesn’t post the changes you’re making to your LinkedIn profile, all your connections will see the amends. Here’s how to fix it: navigate to ‘privacy & settings’, click on ‘turn on/off your activity broadcasts’ in the ‘privacy controls’ section and un-tick the box.