How to write a cover letter

A great cover letter needs to be engaging and relevant to the position you are applying for.  It should tell the employer what you can offer them, how your skills and experience are compatible with the role, and why you want to work for that business.  It should also be distinctive and make you stand out from other applicants.

Your cover letter should sell you to a potential employer.  Step out of your shoes for a moment and think about how other people would describe you.  What positive things would they say?  How do you like to work?  What do you excel at?  What have you achieved?  What can you offer an employer?  Why should they interview you?  Why do you want to work with them?

When you have thought about these things make some notes.  Next, read the job description for a role you are interested in.  Now, think about how you fit with that description and tell the employer why you are a perfect match.  Give them clear examples of when you displayed your skills and convince them they cannot afford to miss the opportunity of meeting with you.

Some of the key ingredients of a great cover letter are:

  • An engaging introduction
  • A concise description of relevant achievements and skills
  • A convincing statement about what you can offer the employer
  • Genuine reasons why you want to work with them

Need further advice on your cover letter?  Give The CV Agency a call on +353 86 390 6659 or email cv@cvagency.ie.  We will write you a 100% custom-made cover letter from scratch.

 

 

 

How to make a great CV

One of the most challenging aspects of filling a vacancy is dealing with what at times can be an overwhelming response. It can be difficult to decide who to interview if there are a number of equally good candidates. It can also often be tricky to give lengthy consideration to a CV if you have a stack of applications in your inbox.

In the case of employers, particularly if it is a small company where there is no specialist HR or recruitment function, the individual hiring for the role may have limited time to spend on the task. Conversely, recruitment consultants see a very high volume of CVs every day and are adept at making a judgement within seconds. They will often be looking for negatives to rule candidates out and make their decision easier.

How do you make a great CV that will grab attention in seconds and avoid a quick rejection? One of the best pieces of advice for any candidate writing a CV or cover letter is to put yourself into the shoes of the person who will be reading it and make it an easy choice for them to call you for interview.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Does my experience, qualifications, and skills match the requirements in the job specification?
  • Are there spelling mistakes or unexplained gaps that make it easy for them to rule me out?
  • Is my CV clear and easy to read?
  • Is the layout logical, starting with my most recent position?
  • Have I explained what I actually did in previous roles?
  • Have I highlighted my key skills and achievements?
  • Does my CV show the reader who I am or is it bland and generic?

Whether you are a school-leaver or a seasoned professional, a great CV is one that is clear, concise, sells your skills and achievements, and shows an employer what you have to offer.

Keep it simple and to the point and make sure to include the following:

  • Basic contact information
  • A profile
  • Education and qualifications
  • Work experience
  • Key skills

A CV is a marketing document and as such it needs to be confident and targeted. We are often our own worst critics and it can feel a little awkward promoting yourself. However, you can be certain that other candidates will be telling the employer how great they are, so make sure your CV sells you.

For further information or advice contact The CV Agency on cv@cvagency.ie or +353863906659

 

 

Top interview tip: Everyone matters

As a senior recruiter, I recall being bemused by candidates who were personable and friendly toward me as the interviewer, yet were dismissive or cold with junior team members or support staff they encountered.

When you are involved in an interview process, remember that everyone you encounter can have an influence on whether you secure the role.  From the assistant who arranges your appointment to the receptionist who greets you on arrival, all these members of the organisation are forming an impression of you.

Hiring managers often like to know what other people think of a candidate, especially if it is small company or if there are several comparable candidates available. Recruiters will also discuss their impression with other team members if they need a second opinion.

Being charming and affable will also show an employer that you are happy to be there and genuinely want the job. Remember to be courteous, smile, and make good eye contact with all those you encounter.

The top five reasons a CV is rejected

Spelling mistakes

Spelling mistakes in a CV are a red flag to any employer or recruiter. They show poor attention to detail and a lack of care and consideration. Even with spelling and grammar checking enabled on a word processor, taking a few extra minutes to read through your CV to make sure it is correct can be invaluable.

Poor layout

It is an unfortunate truth that many recruiters spend mere seconds looking at a CV. If it is not well laid out and to the point an otherwise good candidate can be overlooked. Not structuring a CV in a way that is easy to read and understand quickly, using confusing dates, or not putting information in reverse chronological order are common mistakes.

Too little or too much information

Your CV should have sufficient detail to highlight your skills, experience, and education in a concise way. If a CV is too short it may lack detail about what you actually did in your previous roles or what your achievements were. Conversely, an excessively long CV is equally off-putting and challenging for an employer to digest and compare to other applicants.

Vague or generic statements

Specifics are absolutely critical when writing a CV. Give actual examples of your skills and achievements and exact details of what you did. Generic statements not evidenced by experience or education will result in a CV that does not stand out and is easily disregarded by an employer.

Unexplained gaps in your history

There is nothing inherently negative about having a gap in employment or education. The main thing an employer or recruiter wants to see is that the period of time can be accounted for in some way, whether it be taking time off to travel or raise a family. Employers like to have the full picture before calling a candidate for interview and leaving a lengthy gap in your work history will raise questions about what you were doing during that period.

Dressing for success: Interview presentation

Personal presentation and grooming when attending an interview is sometimes overlooked by candidates. While interviewers are primarily focused on skills, education, and experience, a candidate’s personal appearance is undoubtedly influential in their decision about which candidate they want on their team. Imagine you have two candidates in front of you for an office role who are equally matched in terms of skills and experience. One is wearing a crisp suit, shirt and tie, is well scrubbed and groomed, while the other is poorly groomed and dressed casually. Who would you choose?

Looking clean, tidy, and professional shows an employer you value the opportunity of meeting them and you want the job because you have made every effort to impress. Good presentation can have a genuine impact on your chances of success, particularly where others have made less effort. It is particularly important for roles where there is a strong client-facing aspect to the job.

There are two common situations where candidates regularly miss an opportunity by not making enough effort in their presentation. One occurs when often younger candidates apply for casual work in fields such as retail and customer service and they may feel it is not necessary to attend the interview ‘suited and booted’. However, it is common to see a candidate beat the competition because they were the only one who went the extra mile and wore a suit or shirt and tie.

Another common situation occurs when recruitment agencies interview candidates. Candidates may feel it is not necessary to make as much effort because they are not meeting the employer directly. However, recruiters are assessing you on behalf of the employer and are just as likely to be influenced by your presentation and shortlist you accordingly.

Losing out on a position due to personal presentation issues is very easy to avoid. Some of the basics when attending an interview include:

  • Dress professionally and appropriately to the workplace (e.g. business attire for office roles)
  • Wash, clean shave or trim beards, and tidy hair
  • Smell pleasant, but avoid overly strong perfumes or aftershaves
  • Jewellery is acceptable but keep it to a minimum
  • Handbags should be modest in size and neutral in appearance
  • Shoes should be clean, polished and appropriate to the work environment

 

 

How long should a CV be?

The length of your CV is important as many recruiters and employers will spend a very short amount of time considering your application. You need to get your message across in a succinct way, while providing sufficient detail to highlight your key experience, qualifications and attributes.

Keeping your CV short and sweet can be challenging for experienced professionals. However, a CV consisting of reams of pages is off-putting for employers, so try and stay focused on your most relevant experience. Conversely, a CV that is too short may lack detail and fail to properly showcase all you have to offer. Aim for two or three pages at most.

The Competency Interview

Examples. Examples. Examples.

Competency interviews can be a daunting prospect if you have never encountered them before. However, with a bit of preparation and lots of examples in mind they are very manageable.

Competency interviews can be entirely focused on a role’s competencies or employers may include them along with other more standard interview questions. Either way the focus will be on the key skills and abilities required for the position. Employers find them useful as it allows them to use your past performance to predict your likely future performance in the role they are hiring for. It also make it easier for them to directly compare various candidates. Rather than asking you specific questions, you may simply be asked to describe an example of an occasion where you displayed a particular competency. For example, an interviewer might say:

‘I am now going to move on to the competency component of the interview. The first competency I would like you to deal with is problem solving

In order to answer this type of question it is necessary to describe in detail an example of a time when you displayed the relevant competency. Preparation is really important for competency questions. If you prepare your competency examples in advance you will have a much better chance of dealing with them effectively on the day. Remember that employers are not looking to hear general statements such as ‘I am great at solving problems’. Instead, they want to hear a real example of a time you showed that skill and what you actually did.

Occasionally, interviewers will provide a list of competencies in advance. However, they can mostly be found within the candidate requirements of the job specification. Study this section carefully as it will help you understand what the employer is looking for.

The STAR technique

One of the most useful ways of preparing for a competency-based interview is to consider the STAR technique. STAR stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

When using this method you need to describe the situation that occurred, what task you carried out, what action you took, and the result or outcome.

Here is a simple example for the competency problem solving:

The situation: ‘I had just taken on a new position as office manager when I noticed that staff were spending a lot of time dealing with slow and poorly performing computers.’

The task: ‘I set about pricing a range of new computers and worked out how much productivity would increase from the enhanced performance of new machines.’

The action: ‘I presented the information to the managing director and we purchased the new equipment.’

The result: ‘Staff were more productive as they were able to do their work more rapidly and there was less downtime due to IT problems.’

There are a wide range of competencies for any given position so prepare lots of examples and remember the STAR technique. It will help structure your examples and stay focused.

Some common competencies are:

    • Teamwork
    • Initiative
    • Organising & planning
    • Communication
    • Decision making
    • Motivation
    • Resilience
    • Conflict management
    • Problem solving
    • Customer-focus
    • Commercial awareness
    • Leadership
    • Adaptability
    • Analytical thinking
    • Listening
    • Influencing
    • Results/target orientation
    • Developing others
    • Relationship management