How to write a great CV

Imagine you’re an employer, you have a hundred CVs on your desk and from them you have to choose just a handful to interview further. What are you looking for? How do you decide? As the applicant, your aim is to clearly show that you are the right person for the job, so your CV should demonstrate that you have:

  • the specific skills needed for the job
  • the right sort of experience
  • the right personal qualities
  • an understanding of the specific requirements of the job.

But you must also keep it simple. It should be:

  • short – ideally no more than two A4 pages
  • clear – typewritten and laid out with wide margins, section headings and information in logical order
  • relevant – address the employer’s two main questions: whether you can do the job and whether you will fit in.

Your CV should be in reverse chronological order detailing you’re most recent or current position first. Start by documenting your career history, and remember that employers want to know what you can do for the organisation they are hiring for. This means that your priority should be your experience that is relevant to the role you are applying for. Write down a history of your positions over the last 3 to 5 years, and detail all your roles, your specific responsibilities, and maybe a little bit about each company.

Also, it’s always a good idea to have 2 or 3 different types of CV that describe what you do from different aspects. For instance if you’re a hotel manager, you may want to have one that is more descriptive from a hotel perspective with a lesser emphasis on the management, and vice versa, for those more management orientated positions. There’s no ideal format for how you should write your CV, nevertheless it’s good to tailor it to the position you’re applying for.


Covering letter

Personalisation to the role you are applying for and to an addressee is very important. By doing this your job application, covering letter or email will feel as if you’ve taken the time to construct your application, and recruiters are more inclined to respond out of professional courtesy. Employers obviously don’t like spam and speculative job applications that have not been personalised.

Keep your job application covering letter or email cover short and to the point, and specifically target it towards the role or industry that you’re applying for. Where possible address it to the person specifically hiring, and within the text include relevant information that will make a potential employer want to read your CV. A short line at the end of the covering letter to the effect of you appreciating a reply whether or not your application appears to be suitable never does any harm. Finally, keep a note of all your applications so if you choose to follow them up or are contacted by the employer, you have access to the information as it is too easy to lose track if you are applying for lots of jobs.


Where to find a job

Once you’ve completed your CV and your covering letter, it’s time to do some research. It’s very important to remember that finding the right job is a job in itself, so it’s a good idea to document everything you do. This way you’re far more able to track your applications and approach companies and recruiters far more methodically and professionally. Here are some potential sources for finding job vacancies:


Recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies like us will always ask you for a copy of your CV before we do anything. An important aspect for you to consider is that the employer pays the recruitment agency, and as a result of this the employer expects the recruitment agency to put forward candidates with the right experience. The advantage of applying to a recruitment agency is that it’s free, and if the recruitment agency is a catering and hospitality specialist the one CV you send can result in a few interviews.


Interviews

Interviews are generally straightforward and a little preparation can make them a lot easier. 90% of employers already know an individual can do the job they are looking to hire for from their CV. Interviews generally take place for employers to discuss more about what’s written on your CV, and more to talk to you about your aspirations, how you would fit into the team. Most employers would prefer to find the right person after a couple of interviews rather than trawl around and waste precious time. Interviews are basically common sense with a little bit of preparation. Even if what’s listed below is used as a prompt for what you know already or highlights an area for you to think about, then it’s still better than a wasted day off, or a long journey. The following is aimed at helping you achieve your best in an interview situation, however there’s no substitute for genuine enthusiasm and a desire to succeed. Preparation and enthusiasm go a long way.


Pre-interview

  • Find out a little more about the company and think of one or two questions you can ask during, or at the end of the interview which show your genuine interest in the role. The company web site is a good place to start,
  • Prepare and plan your journey and contingency, for example, if you miss a connection. It is important you arrive at your interview calm, collected and not stressed,
  • Read up on your CV, and be prepared for questions that the prospective employer may ask you. See Interview Questions below,
  • Read up on your skills relevant to the position you are being interviewed for, and be prepared for specific role themed questions that the prospective employer may ask you.

Arriving at the interview

  • Arrive 5 to 10 minutes early, and if you’re delayed or running late always phone ahead to apologise for the inconvenience.
  • If you suffer from nerves a useful technique is to go somewhere quiet 5 or 10 minutes before the interview, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in the interview projecting the image you want.
  • Introduce yourself to the interviewer; a solid firm handshake is essential.
  • When waiting and during the interview don’t fold your arms as this gives a negative image.
  • First impressions are everything, and most interviewers decide if you are a suitable fit within the first five minutes. This is why your appearance, presentation and clothing are important.

The interview

  • Make sure you listen and answer the questions.
  • Always have one or two pre-rehearsed questions about the Company and opportunity.
  • Make sure you talk about the role in enough detail. The interviewer will want to tell you how good it is. People always like to talk about their Company. You want to leave the interviewer with a feel good factor about the interview.
  • Remember that the interviewer is hoping that you are the person that they are looking for.
  • Always make it clear that you have a responsible attitude and that you’re looking for a Company you can commit yourself to.
  • Don’t get defensive or aggressive, if an interviewer starts asking difficult questions it may be to see how you perform under pressure.
  • Avoid any unnecessary apologies, especially at the start of the interview.
  • Avoid argumentative discussion with the interviewer. If they have strong views on a subject it’s usually best to avoid discussing it and to direct the conversation to more constructive areas.
  • The purpose of the interview is to present your skills, ability and suitability, so make sure you bring them up. If by the end of the meeting you haven’t managed to, take the opportunity to go through them with the interviewer. Having a check list in your pocket can help, even if you don’t refer to it.
  • If you are asked to describe your strengths back this up with modest examples.
  • Expect to be asked to describe your current responsibilities, be ready to tell the interviewer the following:
    • What you enjoyed about each job
    • What you think your achievements are
    • What experience you gained and how that has helped you
    • What skills you acquired
  • Never stray from the point, or talk for more than a couple of minutes at a time, but do give full lively answers. Avoid just yes and no answers, most questions the interviewer asks will be intended to get you talking, help your interviewer to interview you!
  • The ideal interview is when the interviewer and candidate speak for around the same amount of time.
  • Never bring up money at an early stage of an interview or appear too money motivated, you must show you are interested in the position first and foremost.
  • Never openly criticise your current or previous employers. Always talk positively about your experiences.
  • If you are asked to describe any weaknesses it’s generally best to describe a problem or difficulty that you managed to overcome, it’s best to prepare this beforehand.

Finishing the interview

  • Always thank the interviewer for meeting with you and say you have enjoyed the interview.
  • Always state that you’re genuinely interested in the position; never say that you will think about it? It’s not inappropriate to say you really want the job.
  • If a Company has to choose between two equally suitable candidates, they will choose the one who wants the job the most. A thank you note or email is always a good idea.
  • Find out if the interviewer has any reservations about you. If there are, the best time to persuade them otherwise is whilst you are face to face.
  • Consider asking what the next stage is. Try ‘where do we go from here’, ‘I like the sound of this job’ or ‘is there anyone else I need to meet’.

Common reasons for failure

A recent survey found that the following were the most common reasons for candidates not succeeding at interview:

  • Poor appearance and presentation
  • Overbearing or aggressive attitude
  • No interest or enthusiasm evident
  • Inability to express ideas clearly, poor voice, dictation, grammar
  • Over emphasis on money
  • Unwillingness to start at bottom, wanting too much too soon
  • Criticism of current or previous employer
  • Failure to ask questions about the Company or role
  • Little or no background homework done on Company or role
  • Failure to look the interviewer in the eye
  • No vitality, few signs of life
  • Not being able to explain why they are leaving their current employer
  • Not being able to explain their current role clearly

Our top tips

  • Ask to meet other members of the team you could be working with
  • Ask to see where you will be working and show an interest in it.
  • Always ask at the end of the meeting if the interviewer has any reservations
  • Phone your recruiter as soon as you leave the meeting so they can tackle any issues sooner rather than later
  • Always send a thank you note or email

Interview questions

Find below a list of questions that you could be asked whilst at interview

Warm-up questions

  • What made you apply for this particular position?
  • Briefly, how would you summarise your work history & education?

Work history

  • Can you describe for me one or two of your most important accomplishments?
  • How much supervision did you receive in your previous job?
  • Describe for me one of your biggest disappointments in your current job?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • What’s important to you in a company, and what things do you look for in a new organization?

Job performance

  • What are your strong points for this job?
  • When you’ve been told, or discovered yourself, a problem in your job performance, what have you typically done? Can you give me an example?
  • Do you prefer working alone or in groups?
  • Starting with your last job, tell me about your achievements that were recognised by your manager?
  • What things you would like to avoid in a job and why?
  • What would you say is the most important thing you are looking for in a job?
  • What were some of the things about your last job that you found most difficult to do?
  • What are some of the problems you encountered in doing your job? What do you usually do about it?
  • What are some things you particularly liked about your last job?
  • How do you feel about the way you were managed?
  • If I asked your present or most recent employer about your ability, what would they say?

Education

  • What aspects of your education or training have prepared you for this opportunity?
  • What courses have been of most help to you in doing your present job and why?

Career goals

  • What is your long-term career objective?
  • What kind of job do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • What do you feel you need to develop in terms of skill & knowledge to be ready for that opportunity?
  • How does this job fit in with your overall career goals?
  • What would you most like to achieve if you were offered this position?

Self-assessment

  • What are your three greatest strengths?
  • And what are your three greatest weaknesses?
  • What kind of things do you feel most confident doing?
  • Can you describe for me a difficult obstacle you have had to overcome?
  • How would you describe yourself as a person?
  • What do you think are the most important characteristics a person must possess to become successful?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest achievements to date? Why?
  • What things frustrate you the most? How do you usually cope with them?

Creativity

  • Can you think of a problem you’ve encountered when the old solutions didn’t work & you came up with a new one?
  • What kind of problems have people recently called on you to solve? How did you solve them.

Decisiveness

  • Do you consider yourself to be thoughtful, or do you usually make up your mind up quickly? Give an example.
  • What was your most difficult decision in the last six months? What made it difficult?
  • How do you go about making an important decision?

Range of interests

  • Tell me specifically what you like to do outside of work?
  • How do you keep up with what’s going on in your industry?

Work standards

  • What are your standards of success in your current position?
  • In your position, how would you define doing a good job?
  • If you were to manage the performance of another individual, what factors would you look for?

Leadership

  • What approach do you take in getting your co-workers to accept your ideas?
  • How would you implement a specific change in the organisation?
  • How would you get co-workers who don’t want to work together to establish a common approach to a problem?
  • How would you describe your basic leadership style? Give specific examples of how you practice this?

Flexibility

  • What was the most important idea or suggestion you received at work and what happened as a result?
  • What was the most significant change made by your company in the last six months that directly impacted you, and how successfully did you adapt to this change?

Self-development

  • What or who has been the most important event or person in your own self-development?
  • What kind of books & publications do you read?

Resignation tips

Congratulations on securing your new position. Now, if you’re happy with all the terms stated in your job offer letter, and if you’re currently employed you’ll need to resign. The resignation is an important exercise, and is essential that it’s done in a professional manner.

You must always be positive. Remember, it is highly likely that future employers will use the company you’re leaving for a reference in the future.

  • Always confirm your resignation in writing, and thank your employer for the opportunity they have given you.
  • It is important to refer to your contract of employment or staff handbook and be aware of your notice period.
  • Whilst resigning, be professional and objective. Even if you didn’t get on with your manager, never use this meeting to settle a personal score. Whatever the relationship, it’s important that you’re mature in your approach and that the resignation meeting is completed smoothly.