By Kyri Protopapa, International Employability Executive
We are aware that this is peak recruitment time – whether you are looking for a graduate role, a placement, an internship or a part time job. As we have received many requests for application advice and CV/Cover letter reviews we have compiled for you some tips to ensure you submit quality applications.
Below you will find some advice on how to write a powerful CV and cover letter as well as tips for interviews and the CAR model which will help you structure your answers for competency based questions.
You can find additional information around psychometric tests, assessment centres, applying to further study and more here: https://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/applicationsinterviews/
CV common mistakes – see more info including template/example CVs here or watch CV webinar here
- Length – when providing a CV to someone in the UK, your CV needs to be 2 pages long and make sure not to leave a big gap at the bottom of the last page. Try spacing your experience accordingly or describing the skills you gained in more detail, including not only what your responsibilities were but also what skills you utilised and quantifying your contribution.
- If you are worried you do not have enough work experience, talk about volunteering, (group) school projects or other extracurricular activities.
- Avoid spelling mistakes and bad grammar – your spellchecker may miss some mistakes so try reading your CV out loud or have someone else proofread your CV for you. Use UK and not US English spelling.
- In the UK there is no need to include personal details such as your date of birth, gender, marital status etc. – in fact, some recruiters actively discourage you to mention any of the above. Name, postal address and contact details are sufficient. You may also want to include a link to your LinkedIn profile.
- It is not usual practice to use a photograph on a UK CV. If you do choose to use one, make sure it is a high quality professional photograph.
- Draw attention to your accomplishments rather than simply describing your previous jobs. Think of successful campaigns, new procedures you introduced, sales increases and the specific value you contributed in a role to highlight what you can bring to your new employer.
- Put emphasis on what hard/soft skills you have learned and quantify your achievements by following this model: what responsibility you had, what action you took/impact you made/ outcome, what skills you gained i.e. ‘Participated in the PASS Mentoring scheme and successfully supported 10 first-year students by assisting them in their academic studies, thus, enhancing my communication skills and ability to explain complex concepts in an effective way. Through my guidance, all my mentees achieved high results.’
- Use active language, see examples here: https://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/applicationsinterviews/cv/activelanguage/
- Unsure of what skills to mention? Have a look at some transferable skills here: https://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/findjobs/skills/
Cover letter format – see template and further advice here or watch cover letter webinar here
- Letter format, include your address and the employer’s address at the top
- No longer than 1 A4 page and 3 paragraphs
- Start with: Dear Sir/Madam or name if appropriate
- Add a line in bold with the job reference number (if known) and job title
- 1st paragraph – what about the organisation and role makes you want to work for them and this is where you can demonstrate your research of the organisation, are they doing something new, innovative, how do their values align to yours, etc.
- 2nd paragraph – what are your bringing to the table in terms of experience and knowledge and this is where you summarise or highlight the best parts of your CV, quantify your information, don’t use terms like several, vast, etc. if you have several years of experience state how many with the figure not the word as numbers draw the eye. Address the job description or person specification of the role, if they are asking for specific competencies or skills address how you meet them in cover letter – this is how you tailor your cover letter to reflect the language and skills the employers has used in the job description.
- 3rd paragraph – Give yourself a sales pitch! What other experiences have you had that mean that you are a good match for this role? Will this job fulfil any ambitions you have?
- Last paragraph: I look forward to hearing from you.
- End with: Yours faithfully (if you do not know the person you are contacting hence have used Dear Sir/Madam at the start) or Yours sincerely (if you know the person – might have met them at an event, spoken to them during an online workshop etc.).
Interview advice – see further guidance here
- Prepare a quick introduction about who you are i.e. Name, what you are studying, professional interests and what your career aspirations are – link this with why specifically you were attracted to a role and organisation
- Prepare for the most common questions such as why you have applied to the organisation or institution, why you are interested in the role, how you fit the skills/attributes required for the role. It is fine to mention that you are attracted to the benefits/rotation aspect of a role but the interviewing panel already knows what they are offering you so don’t spend too much time on that, rather focus on what you can bring to the table, how you can make a success of the roles and how your skills alight with the job description.
- Research the organisation’s values and mention that you are aware of them – do you embody them/share them in any way? Mention this in your answers!
- Be commercially aware – know what products/services an organisation offers, its main competitors, have they been in the news lately?
- Be prepared for competency based questions such as describing a time you exhibited resilience, mentioning a project where you worked as part of a team, how you handled a difficult situation/a pressing deadline etc. Draw examples both from your academic studies and professional experience.
- If they ask you about your biggest weakness they are not trying to catch you out – rather they want to see that you can reflect based on past experiences. Just explain how you are working on it, what steps you have taken to improve i.e. if you struggle with time management, you may have tried to be more organised by creating to do lists and adding reminders for all your deadlines in your calendar
The CAR model (mostly used to answer competency based questions)
Practice structuring your answer using the CAR model (context, action, result). This may also be referred to as STAR (situation, task, action, result). You will provide most detail in the ‘Action’ part.
- Context – Say who, when, what, where, how and why this situation was.
- Action – Say specifically what you did and how you demonstrated that competence.
- Result – Say something specific or quantifiable, a learning point or feedback from others.
Example of using the CAR model to exhibit teamwork: As part of a Project Management module I undertook, I had to devise and execute a project to benefit the local community. As a result, I approached some students in my course and agreed to share the workload and work as a team. Collectively we agreed to organise a fundraising pub quiz and invite members of our local community to help them meet and mingle with their fellow neighbours and University students. We shared ideas and divided the workload evenly, creating a timeline of when each task had to be completed. For example, I was in charge of booking and liaising with the venue; however, I also assisted with the promotion of the event when one of my teammates faced time-management constraints and requested my support. Team spirit, anticipating potential obstacles in advance and consulting my team whenever issues arose ensured the delivery of an enjoyable and successful event which attracted over 50 attendees and raised £300 for the local community.
As ever, if you need any additional support do not hesitate to contact the Careers Service at firstname.lastname@example.org
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