Tips for preparing the perfect CV and cover letter from Padraig O’Connor

Career coach Padraig O’Connor helps many of his clients with their CV and cover letters. The following are what he feels are the cornerstones of writing a CV and cover letter:

Size matters: Clients who have a substantial career history often struggle to keep their CV concise and focused. Potential employers should not receive a CV of more than two pages. Consider the following:

For each role only describe key responsibilities and achievements, keeping it to about two of each.

Rather than using the chronological layout, use the less common ‘functional’ CV where you describe responsibilities and achievements under areas of expertise.

Leave out details regarding roles you fulfilled that are not relevant to the job on offer.

Skills and achievements: My clients often struggle when asked to think about achievements and how their actions positively impacted on an organisation or situation. Try the following:

Ask yourself what difference you made to a past employer while you were performing a particular activity. Identify a situation where you were presented with a problem and ask yourself what action you took. Was the outcome positive? This is known as the STAR approach - situation, task, action, result.

Achievements do not need to be earth-shattering. They just need to reflect the contributions you made to a company.

One size does not fit all: A CV must be tailored to each job you apply for. The job description for the role will dictate what skills, experience, and achievements you need to put more emphasis on. Consider the following:

Develop a ‘master CV’ that contains details describing your skills, experience, and achievements. This CV is likely to be longer than two pages.

Make a separate copy of the ‘master CV’ for each job you apply for. Based on the job description, edit it so relevant information has sufficient detail and irrelevant information is summarised or removed. Keep it all within two pages.

A cover letter

When writing a cover letter you can employ the structure below:

State how you became aware of the position and that you wish to apply.

Say why you are attracted to the role/company.

Summarise your employment experience by stating one or two achievements targeted towards the position on offer.

Highlight some of the skills you can bring to the role. End with an invitation.

Things to avoid: Do not misrepresent your skills, experience, or achievements.

At the same time, the cover letter must not come across as negative or pessimistic.

Do not fall into the trap of repeating everything on your CV. Stick to the structure above.

Keep these tips in mind and you will be well on your way to writing CVs and cover letters that will grab an employer’s or recruiter’s attention.

Call Pádraig O’Connor on (087 ) 7058989 or email [email protected].


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