What's included in the perfect CV and covering letter?

A recruiter can look through hundreds of CVs a day. So what can you do to make your CV stand out?

What’s included in the perfect CV and covering letter?

An eye-tracking study found that it takes only six seconds for a recruiter to scan a CV and decide whether it is suitable for a role. While this may seem quick in the extreme, even rude and disrespectful, other recruiters and HR or hiring managers have admitted to being able to know in between 10 and 20 seconds if a CV will make it through to the shortlist.

The reason

There’s good reason for this. A recruiter can look through hundreds of CVs a day, with each job advert receiving an average of 250 CVs, so they must be fast.

But what are they looking for in those precious few seconds? How can you give your CV the best chance of reaching the shortlist, and what happens when you’re on it?

The cover letter

For a recruiter to add you to their long-list for a job, you may need to impress them with a cover letter. Again, this will be read quickly, so make it powerful.

A cover letter should:

  • complement, not duplicate, your CV

  • explain your reasons for interest in the job and company

  • identify your most relevant skills

  • explain why you’re qualified and what you have to offer

  • highlight which job you’re applying for

  • say how you learned about the job, including a referral if you have one.

A cover letter should never:

  • be too long and wordy

  • fail to relate to the job advert you’re applying for

  • look unprofessional and messy

  • include grammar and spelling mistakes.

Cover letter structure

  • Header: Both your and the employer’s name and contact details at the top. If this is an email, include your information as a signature at the end.

  • Salutation: Dear Mr, Mrs, Miss + full name.

  • Introduction: Job you’re applying for; how you heard about the job; how your skills and experience match the position.

  • Body: 1-2 paragraphs. Use concise sentences and don’t be tempted to tell your life story. You want to quickly paint a picture of why you’re relevant for the job you’re applying for. Mention specific qualifications/skills you have that match the job advert.

  • Closing: State that you’re a strong fit for the company, that you’d like the opportunity to discuss employment and what follow-up actions you will take next.

  • ‘Yours sincerely’ + signature + typed name.

  • Now edit it, and ask a friend or family member to edit it too.

The CV

Now you need to beat a recruiter’s skim-reading skills and get onto their shortlist.

The reason recruiters can so quickly decide whether a CV is relevant or not is because they’re looking for very specific information during this initial scan. In fact 80% of these few seconds is given to searching for just six things:

  • name

  • current title/company

  • previous title/company

  • previous position, start and end dates

  • current position, start and end dates

  • education.

The decision

From this, they can decide whether a CV is relevant for a specific role, so make sure that a) all this information is clearly viewable and laid out on the first page of your CV, and b) it is all relevant to the job you’re applying for.

For example, if the role requires an MA-level education and you’re just finishing your BA, save yourself the time and don’t apply. Or if the role is for a senior manager and you’re currently an associate, this will probably put your CV in the bin for this particular job. So make sure you’re applying to roles you have a fighting chance of successfully being considered for.

A CV should:

  • be clearly laid out without too much information squeezed into the page

  • have absolutely no grammar or spelling mistakes

  • highlight your experience, skills and qualifications clearly

  • work backwards in time – most recent jobs and qualifications come first

  • not have long sentences – bullet points and key words and phrases are easier to read and digest for the quick-reading recruiter. Save the in-depth validations for the interview

  • be edited several times and by different people.

A CV should never:

  • include a photo of yourself

  • include a spelling or grammar mistake – editing is so important  

  • use ‘fancy’ fonts or coloured paper – keep the layout and design simple

  • include marital status, gender or ethnicity – you just need to have your name and contact details at the top; even your address can be discriminated against, so it’s not essential

  • include interests and hobbies.

The structure of a good CV

  • Name, contact details (email, phone) and maybe LinkedIn or Twitter handles

  • Professional statement – not absolutely essential, but increasingly popular. This can include impactful words, numbers and phrases highlighting key achievements and ambitions

  • Employment history

  • Education

  • Certifications

Once you’re done, upload your CV to our dedicated database  so recruiters can match you to their most relevant roles.

illustration of a cv with a gold medal draped over the top

Update your CV for every application

Remember, it’s always worth tailoring your CV for every application. It’s not a waste of time if it gets you through the door.

Good luck!

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