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Graduate series: Writing a successful CV and cover letter

Why do you need such a striking CV? Because research shows that recruiters only scan someone’s CV for an average of 7.4 seconds, meaning first impressions are vital. Your CV and cover letter (sometimes called a ‘one page pitch’) are the parts of the application where you have the most freedom to shape your narrative - getting them done right is an integral part of the graduate process. This article will unpack how you can make your CV and cover letter stand out amongst the wave of graduate program applicants.

Tailoring to the application

The number one mistake which people make is using the same template response for every grad job they apply for. Every job, company, Government Department, or institution is unique, and employers want to see that you have genuinely engaged with the nature of the work on offer. A general ‘copy and paste’ document will show that you have only engaged at the surface level.

Pay attention to the job description and pull out the key words and phrases. Ensure these key terms come through in your cover letter. Then identify the core skills of the job - these may be explicitly stated or you may have to read between the lines to discern what skills would be useful in the role. Structure your CV around these skills - think about the most appropriate and relevant experience you have had demonstrating you can perform this nature of work.

Building the narrative

Your CV and cover letter are your chance to tell your story. Cover letters are often called one page ‘pitches’. Authenticity is key - ensure that the cover letter captures you as a person, what your values and passions are, and what impact you want to leave. A narrative format is compelling and memorable - try to incorporate an overarching theme to bookend your cover letter and leave a lasting impression with the reader.

Perfecting the structure

A good CV will be structured in an easy to read, formulaic way. It should have a simple layout, with clear sections and heading titles. It’s better to build your own CV, rather than use auto-templates, so you can tailor and simplify it in the best way possible. Essential details to include:

  • Name and contact details (email, phone, and a link to your LinkedIn profile)

  • Education and qualifications

  • Professional experience

  • Extra-curricular (such as volunteering, community service etc)

A CV is typically 1-2 pages long. Resist the temptation to include all your experiences. A good rule of thumb is to only include one role per skill set - if one role can demonstrate that you are competent in an area, there is no point duplicating with similar positions that aren’t adding any further value to the CV.

Cover letters should also be easy to read. Ensure your paragraphs aren’t too long and that there’s enough blank space to break up the text. A compelling opening paragraph will set the tone for the rest of the letter, while a strong closing sentence will leave a lasting impression with the reader. Cover letters should not go over a page.

Before you hit submit

Get a friend, family, or colleague to read your application before you hit send. A fresh set of eyes can not only pick up typos and formatting consistencies, but also sense-check the framing of the cover letter and its degree of clarity. Get multiple people to review if possible, as people often pick up on different things.


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