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Writing excellent CVs and cover letters

Now that you’ve looked into building your network, you need to develop your communications in order to engage those key leads.

In this step, you’ll explore how to tell your story through a cover letter and CV, and how to best communicate via email.

Cover letter

One of the most common mistakes people make is writing their cover letter as a summary of their CV. You need to remember that recruiters receive large amounts of cover letters. They don’t want to read about where you went to school; what they want to know is where your school experiences have taken you.

The cover letter is an opportunity for you to tell your story on your terms, and for you to share the aspects of yourself that you want your future employer to know.

Below are seven tips to consider for your cover letter:

1. Create an tailored version for each application

Whilst some of the content you include about yourself will always be relevant, make sure you’re addressing the specifics of the job you’re applying for. Share why you’re excited about the role.

2. Address it to the hiring/recruiting manager

Where possible, try to address your letter to the hiring/recruiting manager using their name. It shows that you’ve taken the time to get to know who will be reading your cover letter, and that you’re invested in applying for this role.

CV writing

3. Explore your CV in more detail

The hiring/recruiting manager now knows the facts, so go deeper into what you have learned from past experiences. Highlight the most relevant examples to the role you’re applying for. Don’t apologise for skills you may not have. Instead, focus on those you do have and those that are transferable.

4. State what can you do for the company

The company knows this role will be a great experience for you. What they want to know is what you’re going to do for them. Think about where there are areas for improvement and what you can bring to those areas. Where possible, include numbers to demonstrate how you made a measurable impact at companies you have previously worked with, or for.

5. Vary the format and tone of voice as appropriate

Some companies will prefer a traditional format for a cover letter. However, there are start-ups and creative fields where a video, story layout or bullet points might work better to convey your story. Browse their website, employer profiles, company blog or anything that can help you to understand their company ‘voice’ better.

6. Include a strong finish

This is your last opportunity to impress. You can do this by including a strong closing sentence that emphasises your excitement and passion, and states why you’d be a great addition to the company.

7. Ask a friend to read it

Having another perspective from someone who knows you well is a great final step. Your friends, family and former colleagues will be able to add insight on other attributes you may have overlooked.

First impressions count, so you want to make sure your letter is well formatted, with correct grammar and spelling. Make sure that the content is clear, concise and relevant. This is your opportunity to share all the facts and elements that make you who you are. Show why you are the perfect candidate for each position you apply for.

Email

Email is still the most widely used tool for formal written communication across businesses and companies. When used in a work context, it is also a reflection of you professionally.

You should always try to ensure the following, particularly when reaching out to potential employers:

  • Relevance: Always make sure you include a subject line that is relevant to the content of your message, and keep it concise.

  • Content: Think about whether what you’re including is to the point, clear and understandable. Begin your email with context, with an introduction of what you’re writing about and why. This will help you to avoid miscommunication. At the end, add what outcome you are expecting or hoping for.

  • Tone and language: An email is a reflection of your professional tone and language. Words can easily be misconstrued over email, so you need to make sure you choose your words well, and use correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

CV

Your CV is the opportunity to lay out all the necessary and relevant content of your education, experience and skills. It needs to be well formatted and the content needs to be crisp, clear and concise.

The most important points to include in a CV are as follows:

  • Contact details and a profile (a statement that highlights your key attributes)
  • Education and work experience
  • Skills and achievements
  • Interests
  • References (where relevant)

You can find more tips on the CV format, and how to write a good example, in the See Also section.

Over to you:

Now take a moment to look over any cover letters or CVs you may have put together in the past.

  • Do they read as the best version of yourself?
  • Are there tips from this step that you could now implement to improve them?
  • How can you best tell your story?

Share and discuss your responses with other learners in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Essential Skills for Your Career Development

University of Leeds