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CV and applications

Applying for a job is about demonstrating to an employer that you have the skills and experience that they need. You will either need to fill in an application form or submit a CV.

What is a CV?

A CV is a summary of your skills, experience, job history, qualifications and training. You can include volunteering as well as paid work, just make sure you are clear when you do this – i.e. write ‘voluntary position’ after the name of the role you had.

It should be either one full page or two full pages long, easy to read with clear and accurate information.

Every time you apply for a job, make sure that your CV is as relevant to the job as it can be, that it starts to sell you early on, and picks up on any key skills that the employer mentions in their advert.

There are lots of hints and tips on the National Careers Service website. You can also find local help by searching services near you in our service directory

There are also a lot of websites available that give example CVs, including this one from monster which includes video guides

The Careers Gateway contains more useful information on CV building, application forms, self-assessment, interview skills, covering letters and replying to job adverts


How can you use a CV?

Employers might ask for a CV or application form when they are recruiting. If they ask for an application form, make sure you fill one in and do not try to cut corners by attaching your CV and writing ‘see attached’. Few employers want to see a CV as well as an application form and you should assume that they don’t want to.

Whether an employer asks for a CV or an application form, make sure you also attach a covering letter unless they specifically say not to. See below for tips.

You might also use a CV to do a speculative approach to an employer. This is when you give your CV and a covering letter to an employer who you want to work for who isn’t actively recruiting.


Handy Hints

You might find these handy hints useful when putting together your CV

  • A short personal profile (one paragraph max.) near the top of the CV can be useful to introduce your key selling points to interest employers early, and/or to positively answer questions that your CV might throw up, such as a break in your job history
  • It is much better to spend more time on each job and send out less, than just send out standard copies to lots of companies
  • Don’t be tempted to make the font size too small to cram more information in or too big to fill up space!
  • You don’t need to write ‘Curriculum Vitae’ or ‘CV’ on your CV
  • Make sure your most relevant experience for the job is included in your CV. For example, if all of your jobs have been in retail and you want to move to care, you should focus on the customer service aspects of your job
  • Use white or cream paper and avoid images, photos, or a fancy font, etc. unless it is a specifically creative role you are applying for when this might be acceptable.
  • Make sure your name stands out so it can be seen at a glance
  • Are your personal details correct – phone number/email?
  • Have you used a professional-looking email address? If in doubt, it’s worth setting up a new one
  • Do you stand out from the crowd?  If you struggle to sell yourself, ask family or friends for positive statements about yourself
  • Don’t embellish the truth – your employer may ask to see proof of qualifications or check where you have worked
  • Get someone else to proofread your finished CV and check how readable it is
  • Bullet point lists (like this list) are a good way to present information like skills and experience concisely and clearly

Covering letters

Don’t make a covering letter or speculative letter too long or rambling. Three to four paragraphs on one side of paper is probably best. For a speculative letter you should explain that you are looking for work, why you particularly want to work for that employer and your relevant skills and experience.

When you are submitting a CV or application form for an advertised role you can use the covering letter to show the employer that you have the relevant skills and experience for the job. It’s also a place you can show enthusiasm for the role where it can be difficult to do this in a CV or application form. You could follow the advice under filling in a personal statement in the application form section below to do this. Further advice on covering letters can be found from the National Careers Service



Application forms

When applying for a job using an application form, make sure you read any guidelines or instructions about how to fill it in, and follow them. If you can, fill it in electronically. This makes it easier for the employer to understand and shows that you are competent on a PC. If you can’t do this, make sure that your writing is clear and legible and that you have checked spellings and grammar– it’s likely to take at least one draft, so make a copy of the application form before you fill it in. If you are filling it in electronically, beware of American spellcheckers and mis-used words, such as ‘their’ for ‘there’ which won’t show up with a spellchecker.

If the form asks for reasons you left a previous role, make sure you are honest but positive.

Most application forms will have space to write a personal statement or supporting statement. There will be a box for this but most will give the option to use extra sheets. Usually the box is not big enough for the information you need to give here, but you should aim to stay within two sides of A4 at the most. Reviewing what you write can help you make it shorter and more to the point on a second draft.

The personal statement is the place to explain why you have relevant experience for the role. If there is a person specification available, go down each point in the ‘essential’ and if possible ‘desirable’ sections and say, in one line or so, how you have relevant experience. For example, if they want someone with IT experience you can say “I used Microsoft Word when volunteering for x”. For good communication skills you could say “when I worked at x I was praised for the way I communicated with difficult customers”. It’s easier for employers if you do this as bullet points or in short paragraphs.