Applying for a job
Find out about applying for a job using a CV, along with a covering letter, or an application form.
This involves studying the job advert and, if available, the job description and person specification. Preparing and submitting either the combination of a CV and covering letter or a specific application form. Generally speaking a CV and covering letter is preferred by the private sector, whilst most public sector employers use their own application forms. This content will focus on some guidance and top tips surrounding these areas as well as providing signposting to resources.
Your CV and covering letter
The purpose of your CV, and associated covering letter, is for you to demonstrate that you have the skills, behaviour and experience required for a specific role. To this end, you should use the information provided in the any advert, job description, supporting information, company website and, most importantly, person specification to ensure that you cover all relevant requirements.
Find out more below:
Your CV is a key document which will, hopefully, secure you an interview. Get it wrong and your application will come to a sudden halt. You have no more than 30 seconds to create the right first impression with your CV, so make sure the important information is at the top of the first page.
Focus the CV on specific jobs. Change your profile and skills list to match the requirements of the role.
Personal Profile - No more than 50 to 70 words at the beginning of your CV. Three main parts:
- What sort of person are you - sociable, friendly etc.
- Approach to Work - reliable, flexible etc.
- Main Strengths - team worker, initiative etc.
Your list of skills should be relevant to the job for which you are applying. Don’t forget your ‘transferable’ skills.
Remember - Your profile should match your personality, and not reflect someone else's.
Use the same font throughout and don’t just rely on ‘spell check’ - get someone to read through it.
The most appropriate fonts include Arial, Verdana, Century Gothic and Calibri. Size 11 or 12 is preferable.
Have a business like email address. If you believe that your current email is inappropriate, but don’t want to change it, then create a new email address to use just for job related activities. Don’t underestimate the negative impact that a poor email address can have.
Your work history should start with the most recent employer and work backwards. You should include the name of the employer, your job title and your duration of employment – include month and year.
For each job you should detail your main duties and responsibilities.
You only need to go back about ten years / three employers. Unless it’s directly relevant to the job, they’re not really interested in what you did 25 years ago. Any skills relevant to the job should also be included in your skills list.
Your record of training and education should, like your employment history, start with the most recent and work backwards. Only include qualifications, courses, licences etc. that are relevant to the job. You need to list the qualification/ training and, where appropriate, the level. You don’t necessarily need to say where, or when, you did the training although, if it was recently, you may want to include the year as this will show you’re improving your skills.
Help with writing a CV
Writing a CV can be a lengthy and complex task and you may have to spend some focussed time preparing and researching, however the National Careers Service has many resources that could help you:
In addition, the following resources are available:
- Totaljobs - CV templates in different formats
- Totaljobs - Ten CV mistakes to avoid
- Totaljobs - Ten steps to a successful CV
- Totaljobs - CV checklist
- Hays - CV tips
- Hays - CV structure
- Monster - How can I make my CV more effective
- Reed - CV builder
It is a good idea to ask someone to review your CV / application form for feedback. They may have suggestions and could pick up on any spelling or grammatical errors that you (or the spellcheck) has not identified.
You should always send your CV with a covering letter which needs to make an impact and encourage the recruiter to read your CV. All CVs should be tailored to the job to which you are applying and the covering letter allows you to go into specific detail about why you are suited to the job and also show the recruiter that you have done your research. The following resources are useful:
- Totaljobs - Cover letter template
- Totaljobs - Cover letter tips - five golden cover letter rules
- Hays - Cover letter advice
- Monster - What to include in a cover letter
Any covering letter should be a maximum of one side. It is another opportunity for you to sell yourself and mention anything that is not covered by your CV and that you feel the employer should know. Use the space wisely.
As with your CV, the purpose of your application form is for you to display, to a prospective employer, that you have the skills, behaviour and experience that they require for you to be successful in the role they are advertising.
Find out more below:
Application forms are common in public sector organisations, but are increasingly being used in the private sector. When a job requires the submission of an application form, CVs and covering letters are usually not accepted. An application form should be treated with the same time commitment and thought as a CV because it will solely make up the first impression.
Application forms are now frequently completed online and in some instances can be longer and more complex. Before completing the application online it is a good idea to write the application form offline into a word document and save this regularly, then either copying and pasting the content or uploading it onto the online form when completed so that you can make any changes or amendments until you are totally satisfied it is ready to submit.
In the same way, if you are completing a paper-based application, complete a photocopy of the form and, when you are happy, transfer the information to the original. This will, hopefully, avoid errors.
For more on application forms see:
Last updated: October 2019