Importance of a good CV and cover letter
Time to complete
When you’ve just a matter of seconds to convince someone you’re the right person for the job, most of us still reach for the same thing – a CV.
Whether it’s just a single sheet of A4 paper or a link to an interactive online reel showcasing your latest vlog, the curriculum vitae continues to play a key role in unlocking your next career move. Why? It’s your chance to stand out and make a great first impression.
And given that recruiters and hiring managers tend to receive many more CVs than they need – sometimes hundreds of entries for a single job role – you need to make a big impact in very little time. In some instances, you’ve barely six seconds to capture the eye of a potential employer.
Spending time on your CV to make it shine can really reap rewards. As your skills and experience grow over time, you’ll want to reflect this in case a job opportunity comes out of nowhere and you need to urgently apply. If you haven’t looked at it for years, it’s easy to forget what you’ve achieved; without regular updates, you could easily leave out a key achievement and unwittingly lose out on your next promotion.
We explain the role and value of a great CV and how you can use this alongside other tools to demonstrate your professional ability. You can also access our CV Builder here to help you get started.
Why is your CV still so important?
Like most of us, Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci needed a job – and he is often credited for creating the first version of a CV. In a pitch for work in 1482, he outlined his remarkable skills in bridge-making, sculptures and painting (and, happily for him, the world of art and generations to follow, he secured the role).
The CV then developed into a useful tool for travelling workers to introduce themselves to local guildsmen or lords in the 16th century. Fast forward a few hundred years, and CVs really took root as a popular way to market yourself in the 1950s, becoming a standard part of the job-seeking process. However, in a reflection of the times, you were often expected to include personal information such as your religion, marital status and even how much you weighed.
Today, many workers also use professional social media channels to show off their skills, the debate around CVs and their relevance has become more heated. However, there is a reason they remain the go-to for so many: their universal format.
The simple nature of a list of all your key bits of personal information and work accomplishments makes it easy for both job-seekers and recruiters to quickly and clearly communicate necessary information. A CV also gives workers an opportunity to reflect on their achievements and consider critically what they have and haven’t enjoyed from their past working experiences. Its capacity to afford a degree of personal reflection can be invaluable, especially for people who don’t regularly do so as part of professional reviews.
Keep it short – and keep your audience in mind
The key to making your CV stand out is simplicity and knowing exactly who you’re trying to make it appeal to. Here’s how to press home these points:
- Keep it short – your CV is a summary, not a comprehensive list of every achievement you’ve ever made. As a rule of thumb, try to stick to a maximum of two pages unless you’re very experienced and applying for an executive level position (or a role in academia). Consider including only your highest levels of education and offering reference details on request rather than spelling them out – it’ll look a lot neater and make the overall CV appear more appealing on the eye.
- Tailor it to your audience - generic CVs sent out en masse will struggle to make an impression. Instead, take a view on what’s relevant for each job, and highlight relevant work experience nearer the top of the page. For example, if a new role demands technical expertise you excelled in two years, ago, you can bump it up to become more eye-catching. It can also be worth trying to mirror the language used in the job description to catch the hiring manager’s eye.
- Highlight your transferable skills – as well as showcasing your immediate abilities and technical skills, be sure to include the core transferable skills. Highly prized by managers, they follow you from role to role, as they are the basics of good business and professional development in the workplace today. Find out more about how to boost this underrated skill set which includes communication, creativity and leadership.
- Give it a proper proof-read - read through it once, twice, three times – and then again. Some employers won’t even consider a CV if it is full of errors or grammatical mistakes. If you’re not overly confident, you could also try getting support from a virtual writing assistant like Read the CV out loud to see how it sounds. Ask a friend, family or trusted former colleague to give it a sense check for you.
Refresh on a regular basis
Even the most impressive CV can quickly look dated if it’s not kept fresh. It’ll require some dedication but try to make time to sit down every six months or so to keep it up to scratch. Look back at recent projects or new experience you’ve acquired, and fit it in. It’s likely much easier to document it while it’s relatively fresh in your mind rather than rushing the day before a job application is due.
Do try to regularly refresh your LinkedIn profile (see below), as well. It’s best to make your updates in one or two bursts, rather than dragging it out, to make it feel less of a chore. And remember to do a thorough proof check each time to avoid making grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that cost you the application.
Turn it into a key part of your job-hunting plan
The working world has changed dramatically since the CV’s advent in the 1950s and you’ve now got a number of interesting ways to show off your professional skill set. Whenever you’re seeking a new role, new job or career change, don’t put all your focus on your CV – instead, keep it (and all its personal information) at the heart of your plans and use it alongside the below:
- Write a covering letter - a covering letter can be a big boost to any CV: think of it as an opportunity to go above and beyond, and really show your dedication to joining a particular company. The letter doesn’t have to be long - often two or three persuasive paragraphs will do the trick. A carefully-crafted letter can be especially helpful if you’re making an open application - and can even create roles where there are none.
- Log on to LinkedIn - with over 650 million members worldwide, LinkedIn has completely changed our understanding of what social media can do for jobs, employment support and workplace help. And there is a lot of evidence to suggest that employers are paying attention; over 80 percent of employers and 90 percent of recruiters review social media profiles for insight on candidates. Don’t forget to check your other social profiles for what could be considered inappropriate content by an employer.
- Raise your profile with a blog/vlog – this is especially useful for small businesses, but also for anyone who is interested in getting their name out there as a thought leader. By producing quality blogs or vlogs that highlight your authority or expertise, you could try to make yourself renowned for a particular specialism or viewpoint on a key subject. You could consider platforms like Medium and Wordpress if you’re interested in writing a blog, or check out Instagram, YouTube or even TikTok if you want to try vlogging.
- Create a portfolio or work samples – where possible, showing examples of your work can really highlight your skills and approach. If you’re showing off client work, be careful to collect the required permissions or to share a version that has been scrubbed of any confidential or identifying details. You could take some inspiration from graphic design portfolios to pull together a portfolio of your own, and remember that you don’t have to just show creative work. Presentations or lesson plans, data analysis or visualisations, diagrams or blueprints, process and workflow maps can all show off your competence and be put forward too.