CVs, Cover Letters and Online Applications
Before you begin any application, ask yourself 2 questions:
- What is the organisation looking for? Read carefully through any information you may have from an advertisement, a job description, and/or a person specification. If applying for further study, has the institution stated what they expect of potential candidates? Specifically, what skills, experience and qualities do they require?
- What can I offer? Having a good understanding of what is required will help you decide what aspects of your experience will be of most interest to the organisation. What experiences have you had at work, through study or leisure interests that will help you illustrate the skills needed? What examples could you provide to show how you have developed and used your skills or knowledge?
Once you have identified what the organisation is looking for and gathered together evidence that shows that you can meet these requirements then you will be able to decide what particular skills and experiences you want to highlight in your application to convince the reader that you are a strong candidate.
Refer to the sections below for tips on producing an effective CV and cover letter and for completing online application forms.
Writing a CV
When employers receive a CV they usually spend just a short time skim reading the document so it is essential that:
- Your CV is well written and well organised, making it easy for the reader to find the details they are looking for
- You are concise: keep your CV to 2 pages maximum and use bullet points rather than lengthy sentences and paragraphs
- You use positive language to promote yourself and what you can offer, although be truthful and realistic when describing your achievements
- You identify the skills and/or experience needed for the job and make sure you highlight relevant information near the beginning of your CV. It is essential to “target” your CV, so be prepared to amend your document to make sure that for each application the employer can see that you meet their needs.
Below is a range of resources to help you produce an effective CV. In addition, the careers team offers regular workshops on creating an effective CV and cover letter. For details and booking go to our Eventbrite page.
Download a PowerPoint presentation on Creating an Effective CV
Login to the Careers Portal to access video, audio and tutorial resources, including input from a range of graduate employers. The CV module includes information on planning the CV as well as a CV builder which provides a series of templates, giving ideas for structuring your document. Once you have completed your first draft, you can use the online CV checker to get instant feedback as well as ideas for developing your document.
For detailed CV guidance including sample CVs:
Download the information sheet on CVs and Cover Letters
Look at our "top tips" video on creating a CV.
It is usual to send a cover letter along with your CV, and the purpose of the letter is to show your motivation for the role as well as to highlight some of the key skills you can offer the employer. You should aim to:
- Begin by stating who you are, indicate the role you are applying for and where it was advertised
- Outline why you are interested in the post and why you would like to work with that specific employer
- Highlight the aspects of your experience which most closely match the requirements of the role
Below is a range of resources to help you produce an effective cover letter. When you have completed your first draft, book an appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss the document and identify any areas for further development. The careers team offer regular workshops on producing an effective CV and cover letter. For details and booking go to our Eventbrite page
Your Careers Portal includes a cover letter builder which provides tips on content as well as examples to give you ideas.
Many graduate recruiters use online application systems – typically you create an account and can access this to complete the form over a period of time. When approaching online forms you should aim to:
- Read through all the sections before you begin if the system allows it. This helps you to see what information you need to gather together and to consider which aspects of your experience you might want to highlight.
- Ensure you follow all instructions, note any word limits and stay within them.
- Check for mistakes in grammar and spelling, use formal business English, and make sure the language is positive and straightforward.
- Complete all sections. If any do not apply to you write N/A (not applicable) rather than leave a blank space.
- Online applications are often electronically scanned for "keywords" - typically some of the main skills required in the role. This means that you need to reflect the language used within the job description/person specification to maximise your chances of progressing to the next stage.
- For longer paragraphs, it is best to draft your answer in Word (where you can use spell check) and copy it into the form when you are happy with the result. Remember to save your work as you go along.
- Leave plenty of time so that you can come back to review your answers and seek feedback from a careers consultant if you wish.
- Always keep a copy of the completed form for reference. Download a copy of any job description/person specification as these may be removed from the recruiter's website after the closing date but will be needed when preparing for an interview.
Types of question
All application forms will include sections to record your personal details, your work/voluntary experience and your education and qualifications. Aside from this, at graduate level you are likely to be asked a series of questions which demand a more analytical and reflective approach, including for example “competency” based questions or business-specific questions.
Competency-based questions. These require you to give examples of situations in which you have demonstrated particular skills or competencies. A typical question might be “Describe a situation where you worked with others to achieve a goal. What did you contribute to ensure a successful outcome?” or “Describe a situation in which you used initiative to solve a complex problem.” For these questions, you need to choose a specific example and if there are a series of such questions to be answered, you should ideally choose examples from different contexts, ie some from work, others from study or voluntary roles. Word limits are often applied, so make sure you adhere to these, and remember that the focus should always be on demonstrating the skill in question.
A useful model for structuring answers is
Situation - a very brief description of the circumstance.
Task – briefly describe what you were hoping to achieve.
Action – what did you actually do and why? This section should form the main part of your answer.
Result – what was the outcome, and what did you learn from this experience?
Business related questions. Companies may wish to assess what you know about their industry and so they may ask your views on the main issues facing the sector, for example, or how you feel the company can stand out from its competitors. For these types of questions, it is important that you research not only the company itself but also the sector in general so that you are aware of the company’s markets or client group, the challenges they may face, and any current issues likely to have an impact on their business environment.
More information and advice can be found on the Careers Portal "completing an application" pathway. In addition, refer to the Prospects website "Example questions and answers" area and Target Jobs "Application and CV advice".
The careers team offer regular webinars on completing application forms. For details and booking go to our Eventbrite page
Applications: Disclosing Disability
Disclosure is the process of informing a potential employer that you have an illness, learning difficulty or disability. For some people, the fear of disclosure or bad experiences in the past stops them from making certain applications for employment. It is often difficult to know whether to tell an employer and also to know when and how the information should be given. The decision is a personal one but the following points may help you to make this choice.
Reasons for disclosure
- Under the provision of the Equality Act, if you have declared your disability the employer cannot dismiss your application on the basis of your disability if ‘reasonable adjustment’ can be made in the workplace.
- Many employers have equal opportunities policies and are committed to employing disabled people: look out for those employers who are ‘disability confident’.
- If you are asked to complete a medical questionnaire you must do so truthfully. Under the Equality Act 2010, prior to a job offer being made employers are only entitled to seek information related specifically to the tasks involved in carrying out the role.
- There may be a need for support in the early stages of selection, eg help at interview, extra time for written tests, or in the longer term for workplace adaptations.
How to disclose – marketing yourself effectively
It is important to think about all the skills that you can offer an employer. Living with your health problem or disability has given you transferable skills that employers look for e.g. doing well in your studies whilst managing a programme of treatment can be considered as evidence of good time management, determination and motivation. If you wish to disclose, there are several appropriate times to do so during the application and interview procedure.
The application stage
If you are completing an application form there may be a section that asks about any serious health conditions or disabilities. Do not just put dyslexia or diabetes for example: you cannot assume that the employer will be familiar with specific medical conditions, and remember also that not everyone with dyslexia for example is affected in the same way or to the same degree. You, therefore, need to explain any implications of your disability within the context of the workplace, always emphasising the positive aspects of how you have managed your health condition in the past, and what you have achieved to date, for example, “Through successfully managing the demands of study and part time work whilst maintaining my programme of hospital treatment, I feel I can demonstrate excellent time management skills which will be valuable within your organisation”
It is always good to focus on your strengths, and many disabilities have positive associations which you can draw on. Students with dyslexia for example are often creative problem solvers with good spatial awareness.
In the event of the application being in the form of a CV and cover letter, then you have a greater element of choice as to whether to disclose at this stage. If you do decide to mention your disability at this point, it is best to do so in the letter rather than on the CV, again framing this information in the light of your achievements to date.
If you have already disclosed a medical condition, or if you choose to disclose in the interview, then it is likely that the interviewer will want to discuss this and perhaps seek to clarify the implications from their perspective. Do not assume that they will see your disability in a negative way, but acknowledge that they may have some initial concerns and as with your application form, present your case positively and reassure the employer where needed. Focus on the skills and qualities you have to bring and the various ways in which you have overcome problems and difficulties in the past, and in doing so try not to let your disability become the main focus of your interview
Useful Resources covering disclosing disability, application processes and vacancy sources
The University Disability & Dyslexia Service provides a selection of resources including support organisations and employment schemes related to specific disabilities.
The Target Jobs website give sources of support and advice on how and when to disclose, rights at work and how to identify disability-friendly employers.
EmployAbility work with university students and graduates to ease the transition from education into employment. Their team offer you free support, advice and guidance throughout the entire recruitment process and beyond. Register with them to gain access to opportunities.
MyPlus is a site with a broad range of information on disclosure, applications and interviews. It also carries job advertisements.
If you would like to discuss these issues further, then you are welcome to book a guidance appointment with a Careers Consultant.
Choosing your referees
It is usual for employers to ask for the details of 2 referees. Ideally one of these should be academic and the other a current or previous employer. For undergraduates, it is appropriate to ask your personal academic tutor to provide a reference, alternatively, you could ask a course leader or your dissertation supervisor, but always seek permission and keep in touch with your referees so that they are aware of the roles you are applying for.
If you do not have an employment based referee, you could use someone who knows you through a voluntary role, for example, or if you have no other options, a family friend. An employer will not accept a reference from a family member.
It is usual not to include your referees' details on a CV. Instead, insert "References Available on Request".
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