14 top 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.

Your 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:

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 

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.

14 top tips for perfecting your cover letter and CV: 

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. 

     

“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

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.  
“After I'd been out of industry for about 5 years, I started to think, if I was ever going to return, I'd better do it soon. It was tough. I faced a lot of dead-ends and disappointments. I soon realised that recruitment consultants are the gatekeepers to most jobs and because I had got a slightly unusual CV, they weren't making room for me. I went to an ICAEW event about returning to work after a career-break and that's when I came across caba. When I heard about their career coaching I decided to go for it. It's a great service - the career coaching.”

Emily

caba client

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. 

how caba can help you find work 

Our career coaches are here to help you develop a career plan that helps improve your confidence and networking skills, creates an effective job search strategy, builds a winning CV and transforms your interview skills. 

 

training and events

24 May 2022

master the art of resilience

This course builds on our Boost Your Resilience introductory course by providing a deeper insight into mastering resilience. You’ll learn …
enhanced course
25 May 2022

espresso mindfulness for busy people

What is mindfulness and why should you care about it? This webinar lifts the lid on mindfulness, including what it is and how it can benefit you …
espresso series
7 June 2022

develop your personal brand

Your personal brand is about how others perceive you. With the right tools, you can use it to make an impact and progress in your career. Learn …
enhanced course
8 June 2022

espresso food and mood: what's the evidence

Can food really influence your mood? There’s scientific evidence to suggest that it can. Watch this webinar for an exciting glimpse into taking …
espresso series

view all training and events 

your questions answered 

Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)1, ACA students2, ICAEW staff members3, and the family and carers of members and students4

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is or was dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means tested?

If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

view more questions



Not got the answer to your question?