Developing your CV and cover letter.

Are you currently applying for jobs and being rejected at the first hurdle? Is your CV and cover letter not getting you to through to the interview stage?

Well, we can help you! After having an amazing discussion with Christine McCartney, Employability Adviser at The University of Sheffield, we were able to chat about the different strategies you can adopt, to develop your CV and cover letter when applying for jobs. So, let’s have a look at what you need to do in order to be a strong candidate for the roles you’re applying for.

Preparation is key.

It’s important that you follow a process when applying for a job; this will give you best opportunity to get past the initial stage when a recruiter glances at your CV.

The process:

  1. Look for a job.
  2. Create a tailored CV and cover letter.
  3. Apply for the job.

Key questions to ask yourself when applying for jobs:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why do you want to work for this employer?
  • What is the recruiter looking for?
  • Can you research the organisation? Do they have any company values you can mention?

A CV is tailored made.

Creating a tailored (tailored being the key word here) CV will help you stand out from the crowd because it will show the recruiter that you are the right person for the job. Tailoring your CV will also show that you have taken your time to understand the role and that you’ve made an effort. FYI, employers can tell if your CV is a generic one and you might run the risk of it being put at the bottom of the pile – Take your time to tailor it!

Art and Design.

Aesthetics is everything when it comes writing your CV and creating a consistent appearance will highlight key skills the recruiter may be looking for. Using the same font and design features will help with the overall look of your documents, and we suggest using a simple font style for example, Arial, Calibri and Helvetica.

First impressions really do count.

Quick fire question: On average how long does it take for a recruiter to read your CV?


Yes, 7 seconds to read your CV and we know what you’re thinking, “7 seconds is a short amount of time” – so we’re going to list a few things that will help your CV stand out within that time!

  • Mention the most relevant information first.
  • Keep your content short and concise.
  • Be positive and show off your qualities.
  • Double check, then triple check for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Turn it, leave it, stop, format it!

When it comes to formatting your CV, there isn’t a right or wrong way. Showing the important information that the recruiter wants to see is more valuable than which order you put your headings. Your formatting will also showcase your own creativity and personality which can be noticed by the recruiter, so maybe think about what you want to include in your CV and how you want to emphasise your personality. We will list some sections below that you may want to use in your CV, remember every person is unique and your CV should be as well.

(A gentle reminder, your CV should be 1 or 2 pages long, not a short novel so please keep it to a minimum.)

  • Name
  • Contact details
  • Personal profile / Career objectives
  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Voluntary work
  • Extra-curricular
  • Interests and activities
  • Skills
  • Achievements
  • Additional information
  • Referees

Language is power.

Recruiters are constantly looking for exceptional use of language in a CV, to the point where they are now using software to scan documents to detect the words used. What language and words do recruiters look for? Here’s a few examples that you might want to use, however don’t overdo it and make sure you use them in the right context.

  • Accomplished
  • Established
  • Implemented
  • Influenced
  • Initiated

If you need more inspiration, check out the online careers department at the University of Sheffield to read more about language and words that you can use for your CV.

Show off your skills.

The skills section of your CV is where you can really show off what you’re made of. Be proud of the skills you have learnt, and present them in a way that compliments the job role you are applying for. We highly recommend that you describe each skill and put them into context because this will show the recruiter how you have gained this skill and understand why it’s helped you achieve certain tasks.

Here is an example of how to highlight your skills:

3rd Year Design Project:

  • Worked in a team of 6 to redesign a model aircraft to complete a specific task
  • Developed an Excel spreadsheet to resize an existing model aircraft so that it could complete the task of delivering a taco to a ground target
  • Modelled the aerodynamics of the model ensuring the redesigned wing would be adequate for the task
  • Learnt a lot about effective time management and teamwork, playing to the strengths of each group member, and the importance of careful planning, making a GANTT chart and project management

Cover letters are written with passion.

Cover letters are an important part of your application because here you can show off your personality and really go into depth about why you are the right person for the role. So, make sure it complements your CV but we will talk about cover letters a bit later!

What is your cover letter meant to highlight?

  1. That you meet all the requirements.
  2. That you genuinely want this specific opportunity.
  3. That you genuinely want to join this organisation.

Firstly, your CV can only cover the first point, however your cover letter can answer the other two points. This is because you are able to go into more depth about why you want the role and why you want to be part of the organisation. Your cover letter should not be longer than one side of A4 and it should be tailored to the specific job role you are applying for.

Is there a structure to writing a cover letter?

Cover letters are an extension of your CV therefore, it should be structured and easy for the recruiter to read. Below is a classic example of how you can structure your cover letter, but remember your cover letter is also unique and the way you order it depends on your own style. So why don’t you mix up the three “why’s” and see what suits you best.

  1. Introduction – Why you are contacting them? Which job you are applying for?
  2. Why you are interested in their organisation?
  3. Why does this job interest you?
  4. Why you are a good candidate? (in relation to their requirements) – Mention and describe your skills, qualifications and experiences.
  5. Conclusion – Always end with a positive statement.

So, there you have it, a full plan on how to write your CV and cover letter. Follow these points and you will have recruiters falling at your feet and calling you in for interviews. However, if you have any questions about CV and cover letters, please contact us through our social channels or email us at – or you can always visit your career advisors whether it be at university or college, to help you further with your CV and cover letter; you can find examples of CVs and cover letters here. We are currently hiring so if you enjoy the look of our vacancies, why don’t you apply for one of our graduate roles here.

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