Writing the perfect CV and cover letter

Posted on May 25, 2012

Why do you need a perfect CV and cover letter? The answer is simple.

Jobs are getting harder to find and competition is fierce. The Internet lets employers look farther and farther for employees, and gives them more and more choices. As such, they often make their first decisions based on a few key documents and a Google search of a candidate’s name. Because of this, your cover letter and CV (curriculum vitae) are powerful weapons. If you understand how to write and use them correctly, you can greatly improve your chances of getting that ideal job.

People are often confused about how to write a cover letter and CV, also called a résumé. What should you include? How should you organize things? Should the cover letter be pasted in your email or attached? What should you capitalize? Should you use headers? How long should your cover letter be?

At Make Your English Work, we write and edit CVs and cover letters every day of the week, all year long. We also read the cover letters and CVs of applicants who want to work with us. We know what makes a good cover letter and a bad one, and how to create a perfect CV and cover letter that get attention, instead of going straight into the trash.

In this series of posts, we cover quick tips and standard rules, teaching you everything that you need to know to write a perfect CV and cover letter.

Today, let’s start with steps 1 and 2:

How to Write a Perfect CV and Cover Letter Step 1

Not sure? Know the Difference between a CV and Cover Letter

1) Know the different purposes of a cover letter and CV

The reason why a CV and cover letter are two different documents is that they have clear purposes that are separate from each other.

    • Your CV

Your CV should quickly present the facts of your life that an employer wants to know. Keep it simple, and avoid long, flowery descriptions and 10-sentence “objectives” or “mission” sections. The employer wants to look at your CV and understand your experience and achievements in 2 or 3 minutes. If you have experience that is important, write about it. If you don’t have it, don’t write about it. Don’t use vague, general statements with lots of adjectives.

If your job as a customer service representative involved answering one hundred phone calls a day and answering questions about product malfunctions, say that. Don’t describe yourself as “an account specialist dedicated to the prompt and personalized response to queries of all sorts from a wide base of diverse customers with a variety of temperaments.” Stick to clear facts and short sentences.

    • Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter will usually be read first, so it should start by quickly explaining why you are writing. The letter should then describe your experiences and skills in more detail. By more detail, we mean more information and not a more “creative” description of the things that are already in your CV. The reader will have your CV and can look at it at any time, so don’t repeat the same things that are in your CV but add a lot of adjectives.

If you write in the CV that you helped customers with problems, don’t just write in the cover letter that you “assisted a variety of crucial stakeholders with issues related to their business needs.” That tells the reader nothing new except that you can come up with a lot of word choices and use business jargon. Instead, describe the problems, describe the customers, and explain how you helped, giving examples and relevant details.

A perfect cover letter gives more information on your skills, your experience, and why you are the ideal person for the job. It shows the reader that you can write well, but doesn’t show off or confuse. Respect the reader. He or she may have many other jobs to do and your cover letter could be one of hundreds. Keep things short and clear and try to say everything in one page if you can.


2) Know how to present your cover letter and CV/resume

Know how to present your CV and Cover Letter

Confused? How to write the perfect CV and cover letter.

If you are sending an email, your cover letter should be your email. Don’t write a separate email and attach your cover letter, unless the employer specifically asks you to. If they do ask for that, it is likely because they want to check if you know how to deal with formatting and writing documents, so follow their rules. If their ad doesn’t mention anything about how to send the cover letter, make your cover letter the email. It is your chance to introduce and describe yourself, so get right to it without wasting the reader’s time. If something in your cover letter doesn’t work in an email, delete it. No exceptions.

Your CV should be attached in the most common form, which is a Microsoft Word document. If you are a computer gal or guy, and are a hardcore Apple adherent, love Open Office or Google Docs, or have some freeware program that you will use until you die, let go of your ideology for now. Send a document that can be opened with Microsoft Word and looks the same as when you wrote it, which means an MS Word document. Yes there are better programs, but Word is the standard. These days, .doc format is probably still more widely accepted than .docx, although that might change. If you can’t let your favorite file type go, add it in as well as a .doc file, but make sure to make it clear that the two files are the same thing. It will show that you know your stuff instead of angering your future boss or coworker who doesn’t understand what a .pages or .odt file is. Of course, if the job ad asks for a different file format send that.

If you like this post, why not read more on how to write the perfect cover letter, or how to write the perfect CV?

If you have questions, leave them in the comments or send us an email. We will are happy to help, and if you want us to write your cover letter and CV for you, check out our copywriting services, have us edit your existing CV and cover letter, or ask us to check things out in a proofread.

If you’re not sure about our services, why not try us for free?

Have your own ideas on how to write a perfect CV and cover letter? Tell us below.


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