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CVs and Cover Letters; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Will Parker on Mon 20 January 2020 in Placement Blog

Check out Will's blog for his pearls of wisdom on applying for a placement!

The process of applying to a placement: find somewhere that looks good, send them a copy of your CV and cover letter, then hope for the best. That's the way to do it, right? Wrong!

A few months into starting my placement at ProspectSoft, alongside being a developer, I took on the role of recruiting next year's placements. Recruitment is something I’ve never done before, so I was very excited to learn the process and get stuck in.

During my (albeit short) time recruiting, I’ve seen many CVs and cover letters. A few that I see, let’s just say, don’t quite hit the mark. So, I’m going to give the following advice for free on how you can wow with your CV and cover letter!

First of all, wording. It’s important to be careful with your wording, especially as some information you put on there could be misinterpreted. If you believe you’re particularly good at something, then feel free to list it as a skill. However, saying that you’re an expert at it is probably going a bit far. If you include a sentence such as “My time in University has made me an expert in JavaScript.”, the chances are, you’re actually not. That tells the reader that you may not actually know as much as you think you know, or even be vastly off in your estimation of your abilities. Perhaps you in fact are an expert - in that case, why do you need a placement? If you’ve learnt all there is to know, what can we teach you? Instead, say something along the lines of “University has laid the foundations of my knowledge of JavaScript, and has given me the confidence and ability to move on to more advanced concepts.” This shows an understanding of your own level of knowledge, as well as a willingness and desire to learn more through this opportunity the company are offering.

Online templates are a great way to design a sleek and sophisticated CV. However, steer clear of lurid and garish designs. Using fancy graphics and bright colours can sometimes detract from the content of your CV and can even portray an immaturity that isn’t attractive to potential employers. Included in this is showing skills graphically, using charts and graphs. Most of the time these don’t tell a recruiter anything, as there's no context of scale. Let's say you have a half-full progress bar that’s meant to show your C# skills. It could mean that you have some proficiency and have the capacity to learn. It could mean that your skills are lacking, and you are in need of improvement. It could even mean that you have been working with the language for many years and think you’re better than half the other developers globally. As you can see, it’s up for interpretation – so be as clear as possible.

How do you know if a company is right for you and if you’re right for them? Including hobbies and interests in your CV can allow a recruiter to gauge how well you’ll get on with your potential colleagues, and it can speak volumes about your willingness to get involved in activities both inside and outside of the workplace. These don’t have to be specific to the job you’re applying for - simply saying you’re part of a society says a lot about your personality. We’re looking for something that makes you stand out amongst our hundreds of candidates, so showcasing your skills through a hobby or passion can give us a great indication of your personality and how you like to spend your spare time. It’s not just about grades and experience!

Finally, the cover letter. The worst thing to see as a recruiter is a run of the mill, copied and pasted cover letter. One big indicator of this is not including the name of the company in your letter, but don’t be fooled - “Insert company here” won’t work either. The key is to use a company’s website to research the role you’re applying for and use that both to; decide if the role is right for you and to tailor your cover letter to show what you already know about the company and why you’d be the perfect fit. Ensuring you have the correct layout is also going to score you those extra points, as recruiters can make a snap decision in seconds if the layout isn’t right! 

Hopefully, by following my advice, companies offering placements will be fighting for you, not the other way around!
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