Applying for a job: what you need to know

Emma Alkirwi, aka the CV Guru, took part in a workingmums.co.uk Facebook Live session yesterday and covered all the main questions applicants have about CVs and cover letters.

Emma Alkirwi, also known as the CV Guru, led a workingmums.co.uk Facebook Live session yesterday on all things CV and applying for a job. Here we outline some of the issues covered.

CVs

Emma  talked participants through how to lay out their CV. At the top there should be name, address, email and phone number. There is no need to put date of birth or marital status or any other information, said Emma, adding that putting a date of birth could lead to age discrimination. Similarly, dates can be left off education information.

The CV should be written in the third person – too much use of ‘I’ make the person seem less professional.

That should be followed by no more than eight lines of professional profile – a summary of the person’s skills and expertise, including the tasks they carry out and some mention of soft skills such as leadership skills.

Next comes a section on key skills and expertise. This enables the employer to understand at a glance what the person can do. This should include skills that are specific to the job applied for rather than soft skills and should mirror what is asked for in the job advertisement.

This should be followed by a career summary section which lists work experience with dates [month and year]. For the most recent roles it is important to list key achievements that make the applicant unique and make them stand out. There is no need to list every job that the person has had – just the most recent or most relevant ones.

The next section is education, which, in addition to, for instance, degrees, should include relevant training.

Applicants can also include an additional information section, for instance, on language skills, driving licence [if relevant to the application] or specific relevant skills such as use of social media platforms.

An interests section is optional and should only be included if it will add value to the post being applied for, for instance, charity work.

There is no need for full details of referees at this point.

Emma advised avoiding creative layouts – applicant tracking software [ATS] used by many larger employers will throw these out in any event. The ATS scans for key words so it is important to ensure the CV mirrors the words used in the job specification.

The most important thing is that the CV is easy to read and highly relevant to the job applied for.

A CV should ideally be no more than two pages, but if it is for a senior management or technical/engineering role where specific programmes need to be listed it can run to three. 

Cover letters

Cover letters are still important and allow applicants to detail their suitability for the job and explain why they are applying. They show that applicants are not just sending out a load of blanket applications and have researched the company and why they want to work there. 

They should have the same details as at the top of the CV. If possible they should be addressed to someone in the recruitment team as this shows extra effort has been taken. There should be no more than three paragraphs – the first is an opening statement about the applicant believing they have the skills and experience for the job; the second outlining the skills and experience that is relevant to the role, with concrete examples and the third explaining why the applicant wishes to work for that company and why they are a stand-out candidate. They should be signed yours sincerely if the name of the recruiter is known or yours faithfully if they are addressed simply to sir/madam.

Cover letters should be proof read for grammatical and spelling errors and should be no more than one page.

Career gaps

Emma said it is important not to ignore a career gap and financial firms will have to run checks in any event. Applicants should put ‘career gap’ and can then expand on that, for instance, to bring up family/due to caring responsibilities, illness or redundancy. They can include any relevant activity done during the break, for instance, voluntary work. The same applies to LinkedIn.

Emma said women often don’t apply for jobs if they don’t have everything listed on the job specification, but this is usually a wish list. Unless something is essential, it is worth giving it a go. 

There is no need to mention childcare in CVs or cover letters, but it might be worth researching if an employer is open to flexible working.

Changing industry

If an applicant wishes to apply for work in a different industry from the one they are currently in they should explain in the cover letter that they are a quick learner, and give examples, for instance, that they have switched industry before, and also outline their transferable skills.

Applicants might want to consider highlighting relevant skills and experience instead of doing a career summary. Applicants who are worried about looking overqualified for a position could consider toning down their CV and removed some of their achievements.

*Watch the Facebook Live session here.



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