Applying for Jobs – Part 1 (CV and cover letter)

I must be out of touch. In my day, CVs didn’t have photos or opening paragraphs resembling quotes about the person whose CV it is I’m reading. They weren’t written in continuous prose, poorly formatted or in Comic Sans MS. Cover letters were tailored to the specific job being applied for and addressed to the correct person, with no sense of Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V about them.

Somewhere along the way, there has been a cock-up. Or I’m out of touch. I must be – hundreds of applicants can’t be wrong… can they?

Let me tell you something that is clear AND definite. At my company, I am now the employer. It hasn’t taken me long to see an enormous range of CVs and cover letters in a massive diversity of styles. It also hasn’t taken me long to develop pet hates. Some of these are blindingly obvious, and yet they wouldn’t have become pet hates had I not received them again. And again. And again. Others may simply not occur. Either way, here are a few shoulds and shouldn’ts (from the perspective of myself, and others I have spoken to)


What was this job for again, innit?


1. Don’t make spelling mistakes!

You know that job you’re applying for? The one where you have to have a complete mastery of the language? Make a spelling mistake in your cover letter / CV and you can guarantee not getting an interview.

My favourite: Under “skills”, someone wrote “atention to detail”. Priceless.

2. Pictures on CVs

The general consensus in my office is that they are a bad idea. Imagine a scenario in which, before a potential employer has even read your CV, they’ve called a mate over with the sentence “You’ve got to see this! This guy looks exactly like…..”. Laughter ensues, but not in a good way. The attention has been drawn.  If you feel you simply have to do it, at least follow these instructions:

  • Blank background
  • Professional attire
  • NORMAL smile
  • No props
  • Not huge
  • Black and white

My favourite: A young lady whose CV photo was her, in a pub, holding a pint.

3. The “introductory paragraph”

I say scrap it, personally. It should be on your cover letter and tailored, so that the comments about your personality directly correspond to the skillset required for the job. Because of this, I’ll return to it in the cover letter section (below)

Note: I have been told that some people do like this, but the above points still apply. Third-person commentary and flowery vagueries are not welcome – you should check the job description and then write this part.

My favourite: Somebody who had created a column especially for quotes about themselves. The CV looked like a holiday brochure. Ultimately, I want a teacher, not a person I can “stay in” (so to speak)

4. Formatting

Don’t go over the top. Everybody knows where the “format” button is.

  • Choose a sensible font like Arial or Verdana.
  • Bear in mind that offices all have different versions of Word, so put your CV in a .pdf so that it doesn’t look any different on another person’s screen. Dont send .odt, .jpg, .gif, .png or .IDIOT versions of your CV.
  • Use bolded headings and bullet points – they make it very easy for reference purposes
  • 2 pages! A third could be acceptable if it’s reference info or interests

My favourite: I was sent a CV a few weeks ago in an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that’s right. An Excel spreadsheet. Just in case you’re still pinching yourself, here’s a picture of an Excel spreadsheet:


I have a degree in Call of Duty

5. Content

It’s pretty standard. Let’s go for four sections:

  • Personal info – Name, address, phone number, Email. You DON’T need your facebook ID. Yes, that’s right. A world where facebook is absolutely unnecessary.
  • Educational Background – most recent first. Include dates (months), institution names and grades. You don’t need to list your GCSEs. Just “10 GCSEs A-C” will do.
  • Employment History – again, most recent first. List key duties and avoid rambling by using bullet points and starting each sentence with a verb. The key here is to be concise. I personally HATE continuous prose on CVs. Also, don’t include useless stuff. If you worked in an ice cream parlour 10 years ago, I frankly don’t care. I want to know what you have done as a teacher. Next time you apply for a customer service job, plonk the ice cream parlour back on there. Until then, either leave it out or merely reference it to avoid gaps in employment. You don’t need to list your duties. A teaching example might be:

April 2011 – July 2012, Teacher, Roger’s Naughty Little Boys School of English, London

  • Taught A1-C2 general English, IELTS exam preparation and Cambridge Exam classes to multinational classes
  • Helped students with self-study
  • Delivered an INSET on pronunciation
  • Was observed regularly both by peers and management
  • Delivered skills-based classes
  • Assisted with and led extra-curricular activities

You don’t need to write about obvious stuff. Every school has registers – I don’t need to know that you can fill one in!

  • Additional Skills / Hobbies – Clean driving license? Black belt in Origami? Extra qualifications,  no matter what they are, show discipline. If you can use a computer, be specific. “Can use a computer” is not as good as “Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint”. If you play Football, put it down. If you go out and drink 25 Jagerbombs every weekend, DON’T put that down.

My favourite: Under “Skills”, somebody put “No tattoos”. I have three. I am still insulted.

Unskilled Workers

David Beckham – An unskilled worker

A final note about CVs

CVs are not colloquial. Exclamation marks, phrases such as “which I really enjoyed” and emoticons (Yes, REALLY) have no place on a CV. Trust me, you aren’t getting an interview.

And another thing… (I sound like my Mother) – put an Email address for your referees, if you are attaching their contact info. Most employers will have a form to send them.

On to…. The Cover Letter

I get the sense that guidance hasn’t been provided. Let’s go for a rough guide:

  • One page is enough – I’m talking Arial, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing. Any more and you run the risk of sounding pompous / making me eat the paper out of boredom.
  • Employers are NOT idiots – I receive hundreds of these things. If you’ve cut and pasted the format of a cover letter online, someone else has too and I WILL NOTICE.

As an extension to the above, here’s the rough format of a cover letter that I’ve seen several times of late:

“Blah blah blah my Cv / resume blah blah native / near-native speaker blah blah blah Thank you for blah blah CV / resume”

If you happen to see this before applying to me, take this as a warning: If I see this, I will press “DELETE”

  • Read the job spec – If there is a name at the bottom and you send your “old faithful” cover letter starting with”Dear Sir / Madam”, then you’re asking for trouble.
  • Refer to the actual job – mention the company name. Actually do a little bit of research. The clicky-clicky-sendy AND REPEAT method of applying for jobs in bulk will get you nowhere.


Here’s a good idea of what should go in your cover letter:

  • A brief introduction – why are you applying? Why should I read beyond this sentence?
  • Overview of experience – NOT the time to mention that ice cream parlour job. Relate your experience directly to the role. Write about 200 words.
  • Your personal approach – do you believe in task-based learning? Does your school take the communicative approach? Are you well-organised? Do you believe that communicating with students outside the classroom lowers the affective filter inside the classroom, thus facilitating more effective learning? PUT IT. Again, 200 words is enough.
  • BYE BYE! – Thank me for reading your letter, state that you would like to arrange an interview to discuss the role further, and then sign off (using the correct sign-off – “Sincerely” if you used my name at the start, “Faithfully” if not.)

My favourite: “Dear Sir / Madam, I am most interested in working for your company and have attached my impressive CV. Please read it and let me know how many weeks’ work you are going to give me. Sincerely, X”. Whoever you are, if you read this, for shame.

Feel free to contact me / comment on this. I’m particularly interested in people between the ages of 18 and 23 who have received input at school / university on CV and cover letter writing and can recall what that input was. As I say, I am clearly out of touch.

Next week: Phone / Skype Interviews: An interviewer’s nightmare.


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