Customise your CV and Cover Letter

First things first: I can hear you thinking “Do I REALLY have to change my cover letter and my CV for every job I apply for?”

Good news: No, you don’t!

If you are not really motivated to get the job, if your cover letter is exactly suitable already or if you believe you don’t have a good chance, then you don’t need to change your cover letter or your CV.

I’m not trying to be sarcastic here. I could tell you a few examples from my own life (especially when I was younger) when I wasn’t motivated enough to get THAT particular job, but just A job… and I applied without customising my cover letter or my CV.

But put yourself into the shoes of an HR department or a recruitement consultant. If you received hundreds of CVs and cover letters every day, would you really read each one of them? A lot of employers or agencies cannot possibly read all cover letters and CVs they receive. That’s why they’ll use a computer programme to scan them for key words. If the relevant key words can be found in your cover letter and CV, they’ll read it, otherwise they won’t. And even if that’s not true… they’ll quickly skim over your cover letter for some relevant experience and then open your CV… or not.

So, what does that mean?

  • If you are really interested in a job then it’s worth customising your cover letter AND your CV,
  • If you are not sure whether it’s worth your time (due to a lack of expertise or industry experience), it’s worth calling the recruitment agent/ employer to have a quick chat about the role. This is better than sitting down and spending at least an hour on time-consuming customisations.
  • Take the job add and underline the relevant key words: What is it exactly that the employer is looking for? These are the key words you’ll have to include in your cover letter and CV.  Best is to include the key skills and briefly demonstrate how you have used those skills in the past.
  • What if you cannot possibly fulfill all the criteria? I dare say don’t worry… if you fulfill the main 4 criteria but not the 5th, that should be ok. But also: be bold and creative. Let’s say the employer is looking for “project managment experience”. You might not have been officially called a project manager before, but most of us have managed some sort of project in their job or in their private life before. Check whether it’s worth drawing from those experiences.
  • Be bold to omit things that are not relevant to the job you’re applying for. Let’s assume you’ve won an award for programming and the job doesn’t require programming at all. That’s when you need to make a decision: can you use your award to demonstrate that you’re results and quality-driven? Or could your programming skills be useful to the job after all? If you have said yes to either of those two questions, include it. Otherwise do not make a big deal of it.
  • I found some good pieces of advice in the following book: Brilliant Job Hunting: How to Get the Job You Want by Angela Fagan.

If you feel you cannot be bothered about these customisations, then ask yourself:

  • Are you really committed to finding a job or is this something you feel you “ought to be doing”?
  • Does this job really motivate you or do you feel you “should apply”?
  • Is this really the right job for you? Do you know what your values and goals are or are you stuck somewhere? Needless to say, a few sessions with a coach could help you there… 😉

One final thought:

There are lots of agencies and services that offer their help with CV writing… I wonder how good those services really are. The person knowing yourself best and the only person that can really match your experience to an advertised role is probably YOU!

If you are looking for a job at the moment, there is more Free Advice for Jobseekers.


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