14 tips for creating a standout cover letter and CV

A strong cover letter and CV is the key to getting past the initial application phase and one step closer to interview stage. Take a look at these 14 tips for perfecting both of these documents.

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Your curriculum vitae (CV) and covering letter are sometimes all that stands between you and an interview. Regardless of the job you’re applying for, submitting a polished cover letter and CV is an absolute must.

Here we share our top tips for making sure both of your documents get you noticed for all the right reasons.

But first, let’s just spend a few minutes focusing on why having a strong cover letter and CV is so important:

CV

If there’s one thing we want to stress to you, it’s the fact you must tailor your CV so it focuses on the end game – the role you are applying for. Then, and only then, should you share it with HR teams and recruiters. Best practice dictates that you should create different versions of your CV that align with the different positions you are going for.

cover letter

This is the first chance you get to attract an employer’s attention. What your cover letter says informs whether or not your CV even gets read. It also shapes those initial thoughts about you and your abilities. A strong letter sets you off on the right positive note.

CV tips: 

  • include your contact details – on the first page of your CV. Remember, companies cannot discriminate in any way, so you don’t need to include your age, gender, sexuality or marital status. 
  • make sure the format of your CV is compatible - with the majority of software programmes, if you’re sending an electronic copy, are you using the latest version of Word? Do you need to turn it into a PDF? Is there other software you need to use? 
  • avoid using fancy fonts and layouts – your CV is just one of dozens of CVs. If it’s difficult to read, it’s more likely to immediately get binned. (Note: Coloured inks aren’t easy to read. An off-white or cream background is usually the best choice). 
  • sell your achievements - not your responsibilities. Under each job title, briefly explain what you accomplished while in your roles e.g. ‘I saved the company xxxx.’ And if the company you’d like to work for is looking for a motivated individual, then evidence that shows you’re motivated should be at the very top of the CV. 
  • adapt your CV – so it’s relevant to the role you are applying for. Recruiters spend minutes, sometimes seconds, scanning CVs. What are they specifically looking for? What’s the job and person specification criteria? Your CV should highlight your achievements, experience and skills that match these requirements. Where possible, aim to mirror the language they use, but don’t blindly copy it; use similar words instead. 
  • write for Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) – in today’s digital world, most companies use ATS to sort and pre-filter CVs. And according to CV Library, ATS robots reject up to 75% of CVs before they even get handed over to a human. To get noticed, your CV needs to reflect the keywords used in the job description, including qualifications, functional skills and relevant software. 
  • keep it concise – CVs should be no longer than two sides of A4 paper. The average employer reportedly spends just 8 seconds looking at a CV, so sending them anything longer than this (no matter how suited you are for the job), is an automatic fail. 

cover letter tips: 

  • do your research - even at the application stage, make sure you’ve researched the company and what it does. Look at their values, ethics and have a clear understanding of the business and sector in which it operates. This will shape your application. 
  • explain why you’re getting in touch - for instance, in response to a job advert or because you’re expressing a direct interest in the company. 
  • say why you’d like to work for the company - if you’re applying speculatively. You can get the insight you need to do this from the organisation’s website, annual reports or by contacting them directly and asking for information. 
  • remember the appropriate formalities - ‘sincerely’ and ‘faithfully’ when signing off. If you can get the name of the person recruiting, even better. Personalised letters have greater impact. 
  • tailor your language to reflect keywords - that are in the job description or person specification. Briefly write about your skills and abilities, and refer the reader to your CV. 
  • be authentic - authenticity is a key ingredient for success. Do not try to be someone else. You are who you are. Find ways of articulating who you are and what you stand for. Be genuine, and you will come across as being more confident, believable and credible. 
  • get somebody to check it for you - before you send it, to help catch any spelling or grammatical errors you may have overlooked. This basic, but highly essential tip applies to your CV too.  

how caba can help you find work

Our career coaches can help you develop a career plan that improves your confidence and networking skills, creates an effective job search strategy, builds a winning CV and transforms your interview skills.

chat to them today

Spending time perfecting your cover letter and CV may be the last thing you want to do, or have time for. But it will help make sure that when you do go for a job, you will hopefully sail past the first hurdle, and won’t have to spend hours on end getting noticed. What’s more, only you will benefit from putting the effort in, nobody else. 

If you're successful in securing an interview, don't forget to read our 10 tips for making a positive first impression. 

“The sessions with the coach were very, very useful. So much about job-hunting relies on understanding the culture. For example, in Germany you won’t even get short-listed unless you have a professionally shot photo on your CV. I just wasn’t aware of that. But once the coach told me, and advised me where to get my photo taken, that was another barrier out of the way.”

Maria

caba client

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