CVs and job applications
You might find the prospect of updating your CV or writing a job application a little daunting. Our tips will help you get started and we’ll show you where to go for personalised support.
How do I write a CV?
To improve your chances of getting a job you need to maximise the impact of your CV.
- The first thing you should do is look through the person specification - it's usually included with the job details. It’ll show you what specific skills the employer is looking for.
- Think about how your skills and experience fit the jobs you're applying for.
- You can then tailor your CV to the role - it’s tempting to use the same CV for every role you apply for, but you’ll increase your chances of getting an interview if you tailor it for each application.
- Make sure your CV is no more than two pages. That may mean leaving some things out, which is fine if they are not relevant to the specific job.
If you write a skills-based CV, you can easily highlight the skills that you have and make sure that they reflect the personal specification for the job you are applying for.
You could make key words on your CV stand out by using bold text or bullet points.
How do I write a cover letter?
You‘ll often need to write a cover letter to go with your CV. This is a short letter to introduce yourself and refer to which role or post you are applying for.
You can also use it to highlight your key ‘selling points’. Ideally your cover letter should only be one to two sides of A4.
You should include the following:
- a reference to which role you are applying for
- a sentence or two about why you are interested in working for the organisation, showing that you have done some background research
- examples of how you fulfil a few (no more than three) of the key skills or attributes that they are looking for. Remember, the cover letter is not an additional CV, so it should only highlight it, not repeat or replace it.
- explain if there are any large gaps in your employment history.
Remember to double check your letter for spelling or grammatical errors before you send it.
You can get further advice and information on writing CVs and cover letters by visiting The National Careers Service. They have a CV builder tool on their website, which you can use to start writing your CV.
What is a personal statement?
Some employers don’t accept CVs. This will be made clear on the job advert. They will instead ask you to complete an application form or even go through an online application process.
Application forms often include a personal statement where you explain why you should get the role. The employer wants you to directly address the person specification and/or job description in this section.
How do I write a personal statement?
Your personal statement is your chance to ‘sell yourself’ and show how you could meet their requirements. While it can be time consuming to write such a tailored response, it’s necessary so that they can see you have understood and, more importantly, meet the criteria the employer is searching for.
- Read the job description and person specification carefully
- Address each part of the person specification
- Use examples to demonstrate your skills
- Share relevant experience from outside work – for example from volunteering experiences or hobbies
Tips for online applications
If you have to complete an online application form, it may be done through the employer’s website. You may have to register with them in order to access the online application, and you will need an email address to register.
Some online applications will have word or even character limits for each section. A character limit counts letters, spaces, and punctuation marks rather than just individual words.
Online applications usually allow you to save your answers and then return to amend them before finally submitting it. However, there are some which won’t let you save your answers and you must write them and submit the form in one sitting.
Because of these issues, we recommend to first write your answers on your computer, or by hand, so you can double check them for spelling and grammar and make sure you have written everything you need.
If you use a programme like Microsoft Word, you use the function that checks the spelling, grammar, word count and character count.
If you need help with completing an application form or an online application, you could ask a friend or relative. Your local job club may also be able to help with this.
What is an equalities monitoring form?
When you apply for a job, you may be asked to complete an equalities monitoring form.
This will often ask you about your date of birth, your ethnicity, if you have a disability, and possibly your religion and sexual orientation too. This may seem intrusive or you may be concerned about what this information will be used for.
These forms are confidential and should always be kept separate from your application. They should not be used to discriminate against you because of any answers you supply. Many organisations use the information on these forms to help them be more inclusive and build a more diverse workforce.
Many forms will have an answer where you can select ‘Prefer not to say’ if you don’t feel comfortable providing the information.
What if I don’t have many qualifications?
If you don’t have any formal qualifications, it doesn't mean you haven't gained lots of valuable skills and experience throughout your life. An employer will likely focus on three key things:
1. Experience - both professional and personal
If you've only had a few long-term jobs, you may feel this puts you at a disadvantage, but it can show employers that you are reliable and loyal. It also shows that you have had the chance to grow and develop in an organisation.
Be sure to cover:
- the opportunities you had to develop in your roles
- any new tasks you took on
- if you helped to supervise others
- any additional training you received
Many people will have gaps in their employment history, often from raising a family or caring responsibilities. If you have any, address them in your CV or application form so employers know the reason.
- The Carers Trust offers more information about support for carers wanting to return to work.
2. What relevant education and training you have undertaken
As the education system has changed, many qualifications that were once common are now less widespread or not offered anymore. As a result, some older people don’t want to talk about their school qualifications (e.g. O-levels) for fear it will show their age and lead to age discrimination. But age discrimination against people seeking a job or in work is illegal.
It’s generally best to include qualifications on your CV, but you don’t have to include the dates that you got them if you don’t want to. You should include any courses or training you have done in previous jobs or elsewhere, which will demonstrate willingness to learn.
It could be that some of your qualifications have expired if they were time-limited. First-aid courses need to be repeated every few years, as do qualifications on food hygiene. Find out if you need to update any qualifications before you list them on your CV.
Transferable skills are what we learn in our jobs and our personal lives that can apply usefully in other circumstances. They are important to highlight in your CV and in job applications, especially for those who may have limited work history or lack formal education or training.
Employers look for ‘soft skills’, which include:
- communication skills
- team work
- problem solving
Write down as many as you can for the experience, both professional and personal, that you have had. You can also include specialist skills like using tools, equipment or computer programmes.
What should I do if I’m rejected from a job?
Most employers don’t respond to individual job applicants unless they wish to invite them to an interview. Some employers receive hundreds of responses to job adverts and don’t have the time to feedback individually to people.
While this can be disheartening and frustrating, don’t let it put you off and don’t take it personally. Move on to the next opportunity and keep looking ahead.
If you find that a lot of your applications are getting rejected, you may need to get some help with reviewing your CV or your skills.
What should I do next?
Need more help?
If you feel you need more help with job applications or interviews, or want some support, there are places you can go to get that help.