CVs and application forms

CVs and application forms
In this presentation we shall be looking at CVs and application forms, both of which are methods of applying
for jobs. The slides that follow are mainly self-explanatory, but I will be adding a few details to them.
What is a Curriculum Vitae?
• It is a document that you produce in order to give the employer an insight into your personal
achievements and experiences.
• I think one of the important things to understand is that there is no absolutely right or wrong way to
compose a CV. It’s an individual document that you produce for yourself. However, there are certain
standard forms that CV’s tend to follow.
• One is the traditional format which lists your personal details, the education you have completed, the
qualifications you have achieved, your work experience, and your activities and interests. And finally,
details of referees – normally two. One would be an academic referee in your subject and the other
would normally either be an employer or a personal reference. This is the traditional CV that most
people are familiar with.
• But increasingly popular, particularly with applicants for graduate jobs, is a second type of CV, the
skills-based CV. This type of CV, which will be dealt with in more detail later in this presentation,
emphasises the skills that are looked for by employers.
• There are other types of more specialist CVs which may be required for specific occupation areas.
For example, an academic CV is often used when applications are made for lecturing or research
posts in universities.
So when do you make use of a Curriculum Vitae? There are two main times: naturally when an
advertisement asks you to send one and you would normally complete this and send it with a covering letter.
The other main way that CVs are used are for speculative applications – that is applying to organisations in
the hope that they may have the opportunities that you are looking for.
It is important when you are constructing your CV to spend some time thinking about what you are going to
include in relation to the type of job or company you are applying to.
• Through self assessment you should be aware of the skills that you have developed through
academic study, extra-curricular activities and work experience - these need to be brought out in a
targeted way.
• When you are applying for work that is specifically related to your degree, you should include the
relevant aspects of your degree course, the knowledge you have acquired perhaps through project
or field work, perhaps some relevant modules, but not necessarily listing all the modules that you
have taken in your degree course.
• You need to highlight relevant work experience - relevant that is to the job or organisation you are
applying to - and putting emphasis on the skills that you have gained.
• Having constructed your CV in a targeted way, you can then apply to specific employers that meet
your skill base and aspirations. It is more logical and effective as a way of proceeding than to apply
randomly, or to make a very large number of applications to a wide variety of employers.
A few comments now on the format that you might follow in the construction of your CV.
• It is important that it is well presented - first impressions are vital particularly when the recruiter has a
large number of CVs to look at. So keep it as simple as you can, using precise language, being clear
and having consistency throughout in terms of layout and in phraseology. Normally a CV should only
cover 2 sides of A4 paper - although a scientist or engineer applying for a technical post may include
on a third side full details of courses studied, projects undertaken and technical skills gained.
• As it’s more important to emphasise your recent achievements, a CV should normally be in a reverse
chronological order. And do please try and avoid any long time gaps in what you list, as recruiters,
particularly personnel officers, are always quick to spot the gaps and wonder what had happened to
you in that time.
Do try and avoid long passages of unbroken text that’s difficult to read. You should be thinking
about using bullet points in some sections and highlighting in order to bring out the points that you
would wish an employer to note.
Coupled with the format is the style.
• It’s important that you produce a good looking document and normally you would wish to word
process this on good quality paper using a laser printer. Incidentally, I did mention in the previous
slide that you should normally use 2 sides - do use 2 separate sheets of paper and not print back to
back. This makes it much easier for employers to photocopy documents that you’ve sent in.
• Think about the font and the point size that you might use so that it’s clear.
• Try and achieve some consistency in the layout and the style.
• We would normally suggest that you don’t resort to gimmicks as a means of communicating what
you’ve been doing, e.g. unusual fonts or format, or coloured paper. This tends not to work and
produces some irritation on the part of employers. Although it can occasionally be effective in
specific sectors, such as the advertising industry.
The British tend to under-emphasise their successes and tend not to sell themselves as positively as
Americans. But think about yourself as an employer receiving a lot of applications. How are you going to
distinguish between different people?
• They don’t know you and so if you don’t tell them how good you are, or what you’ve been doing, how
will they know?
• Try and think about what is the message you’re trying to put across in your CV, what are the most
important or relevant experiences that you wish them to read. Give more emphasis to the experience
and the skills that you want them to read about, by placing them earlier in the CV or giving them
more space or highlighting them in some way, whilst still maintaining the overall consistency of the
Give explanations as to the skills you acquired. How did you act, for example, as a Treasurer of the
English Society? What did you achieve? Was the Society more commercially and financially secure
in the year that you were a Treasurer?
What we’ve been looking at so far has been the traditional CV. There is a second type of CV which is worth
considering. This is the skills based CV, in which you are putting across more directly the skills that are
relevant to the particular area of work that you are applying for. Often details of posts will list the skills that
the particular employer is looking for in the applicant, and this is one way of meeting those requirements and
showing to the employer that you have the relevant experience and background for the post.
• It is particularly useful and suitable for people/students who have had a more varied or perhaps have
had relevant work experience in full time careers before coming on to higher education. It can also
be the CV of choice if you are applying for a job area that does not follow directly from your degree
subject, e.g. a chemistry student applying for accountancy. It may also be the CV of choice when
applying for a job area where the degree subject is of low relevance, e.g. general management
• It shows to the employer that you are well aware of the skills involved in the post and that you can
back this up with evidence that you can provide on the curriculum vitae.
• Often these CVs will have a ‘Personal profile’ as the first part of the CV after the personal details.
This summarises the attributes that you’re putting forward and possibly indicates your career
aspirations. It is important that this profile is carefully thought out and is highly focussed, relevant
and concise. It is in effect almost a resume of your CV.
The type of CV to use depends on the type of job for which you are applying, and on your particular
experience and skills, as discussed earlier in this presentation.
You may even wish to change your CV in order to better reflect the job specification for a job in
which you are particularly interested.
The examples of CVs discussed above, i.e. traditional and skills-based, can be seen as extreme
examples of types of CV. The actual CV you use for a particular type of post may well be some
combination of these. For example, you may wish to include a in a traditional CV, a ‘Personal profile’,
as mentioned above under the skills-based CV.
Also bear in mind that although the CVs discussed above are appropriate in many countries in
addition to the UK, it is always a good idea to check for specific national requirements, e.g. in the
USA a one page ‘resume’ is the norm. See the website under ‘Explore working
abroad’ for information about the types of CVs to be used in specific countries.
We now move on to consider application forms. Employers tend to produce their own forms so that they can
tailor the questions to their specific needs. There are two main styles of application forms.
• Paper forms are still used by many companies. These have the advantage that you can flick easily
between the questions and you have a physical record of your answers.
• Increasingly applications are now being made by online application forms or sometimes by email.
These have the advantage that the company doesn’t have to see your terrible handwriting and you
should receive confirmation that the form has been received quickly. The same general approach is
necessary when filling in on-line application forms as is used with printed forms, but some do’s and
don’ts specifically relating to on-line applications are given in one of the later tasks in this Stage of
the module.
There are a few golden rules one should think about and follow when completing application forms.
• I suppose it’s a bit like taking an examination. I’m sure your lecturers have always told you to pay
attention to the instructions and read through the paper before your start. So just in the same way we
would suggest that you read through the form carefully. This is not always possible with online
application forms and sometimes you have to guess which questions are going to be asked later on
the form.
For paper forms make a photocopy so that you can fill it out without destroying the original. For
online forms, prepare your answers in another program before copying them in.
Follow the instructions carefully about the type of ink, which sections are required in block capitals or
word limits, i.e. follow the rules.
It’s important when you are actually applying and constructing various parts of answers to the
questions that you’re not just reproducing what an employer said they’re looking for in their
recruitment brochure. You have to take that information and interpret it and re-interpret it to your own
Draw a deep breath before you start, take your time and don’t panic. You will find that a number of
the questions you answer are found on a several application forms in a slightly different way. Often
you’ll be covering similar areas of experience on a number of forms, so taking a bit of time,
especially on the first one, pays dividends as you fill in subsequent forms.
When you start looking at application forms, you will find there are various types of question that are
commonly used.
• Firstly there are the factual questions, which elicit information from you, in a purely chronological or
straight-forward way, e.g. personal details, academic qualifications.
• Secondly, and increasingly commonly, there are criteria-based questions - I’ll explain a bit more
about criteria-based questions in the next slide.
• You’ll then often find questions relating to the job or occupation and to the company.
• Sometimes you’ll find employers will use personality questionnaires in their application forms. If you
are faced with personality questionnaires, then simply answer the questions as carefully and
honestly as you can. Don’t try to pick the right from the wrong answers - there aren’t any - and such
an approach would lead to a very distorted personality profile.
We’ve put a lot of emphasis throughout this course, on skills.
• With criteria-based questions, employers are using that concept in order to ask you questions about,
and to produce evidence for, the criteria or competencies that they’re going to judge you on. How are
your skills relevant to the occupation or to the company to which you’re applying?
• Answer the question as a situation, looking at the actions that you took and the results that you
achieved. Normally, setting out the situation should only take about 20-30% of the answer. The
actions you took should be about 60-70% of the answer - i.e. the main part - and the results
achieved about 10% of the answer. Your answers should refer to particular situations, not general
ones and should be as recent as possible. You should always refer to ‘I’ and not ‘we’, even when
answering questions about team-working. Try to give answers which relate to extra-curricular
activities and work experience as well as to your academic studies.
A few additional points about filling in application forms - some of which we’ve covered already in relation to
• We can’t emphasise too strongly the necessity to check your forms, to check the spelling and the
grammar. Often applicants make silly errors which they keep overlooking. So do get a friend to
check it over for you.
• Follow the instructions given by the employer. Don’t attach additional sheets to explain events or to
give additional criteria unless you’re asked to do so or encouraged to add extra information.
Remember the application form has been designed by the employer in order to test you to see
whether you meet their criteria.
• Finally, a covering letter. Normally you don’t need to provide a covering letter when sending an
application form unless requested to do so or when you have some additional information to put
forward, i.e. special points you wish to draw their attention to that you’ve been unable to mention on
the application form. For example, reasons why your A level or degree results do not reflect your true
ability. Obviously with online applications you will normally not provide a covering letter.
You may often see advertisements that require you to apply with a CV and covering letter. So what is this
letter about? It’s really to fulfil two things. To accompany your form or CV, so that the employer knows how
you’ve seen the vacancy and what particular job you’re applying for. But it’s also an additional means of
selling yourself for that particular occupation or position. So these letters should be produced to the same
standard as your curriculum vitae.
• They should be word-processed unless, and a few employers do this, you’re requested to use your
own handwriting.
• Use the same size paper as your CV, i.e. A4, and use the same paper, so they match.
• It’s important and helpful if you can address it to the person who is responsible for the recruitment e.g. “Dear Mrs Jones” or “Dear Mr Jones” - and finishing the letter with “Yours sincerely”. It means
that the letter gets through to the right place and the right person as quickly as possible. If you don’t
know the name of the person you’re writing to, it might be worth checking out by a quick phone call
to the organisation in the first place.
• You’ll probably find yourself making a number of applications, but it’s important that the covering
letter is individualised. You should adapt it to the particular employer or the job that you’re applying
for, by referring to them briefly in the body of the letter, so it doesn’t look as though you’re on a mail
merge system and it’s a mass produced letter, hence conveying an impersonal air. As indicated
throughout this presentation, first impressions are very important.
A few comments about submitting CVs and application forms.
• It’s very easy to make simple mistakes so do get someone else to make a final check - with a new
CV or a first application form a careers adviser, but subsequently a friend. They should look it over in
order to check your spelling, check your grammar and that it’s being consistent.
• Whenever you submit an application form or a CV, do keep a copy of what you’ve sent. If it is an
online application, then often there will be an option to print out the form - if not, then make certain
you do keep a copy of your answers to the main questions asked. Interviews often will focus on the
information you’ve given in forms and therefore it’s important you keep a copy to look over just
before you go to an interview.
• As CVs and application forms are often photocopied within an organisation, make it easy to do so.
So we would advise you to send your applications flat in an A4 sized envelope rather than folding
them over several times. Incidentally, one would normally, when you’re using more than 1 sheet of
paper, use a paper clip rather than staple, so that it’s easier to photocopy.
• Make sure you send it in good time, not the day before the closing date preferably
• And remember also to make sure when you’re making a large number of applications at any one
time, that you put the correct form in the correct envelope! You may laugh at this, but many
employers relate stories to us of receiving the wrong forms.