• Doyenne

CVs and Applications

Don't fall at the first hurdle on your job hunt, follow CV expert Laura Harmsworth's top tips

Laura Harmsworth of Caversham CV Writing provides expert advice on CVs and applications. View the video below to watch her recorded session covering CVs, cover letters, Applicant Tracking Systems and LinkedIn.

Top tips from Laura:

Your CV is an advert, giving you the opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light and to get an interview. Use it to distinguish yourself from all other applicants. A study by New York company TheLadders found that recruiters spend little more than 6 seconds looking at a CV.

Ensure your CV is:

Targeted: Pitched to the role you are applying for (use job advert, job description, person specification). 

Professional: Overall CV presentation and content are 1st class.

Simple: Recruiters can quickly find the information they need.

Succinct: Recruiters look at 100’s of CVs and won’t want to read more than two pages.

Evolving: Update as you gain new experiences and qualifications.

Experience: Showcase the experience required for EACH particular role.

Achievements: Stops CV being a job description and sells you.


Keep a simple structure including your personal details, profile (approx.. six bullets), your experience (see below), education and training, and skills such as languages etc.

In your experience section: • Reverse chronological order (or skills based if change of career direction). • Less info on roles older than 10 years. • Responsibilities and achievements. • Explain any gaps / add voluntary work, studying, helping out friend’s business / looking after family.


Font: Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman, 10 / 11 point (larger for your name).

Bold/Caps: Limit use of bold, italics, underlining, large type.

Consistency: Consistent use of bullet points, full stops, heading styles.

Simplicity: Simple, well laid out format, good use of section headings.

Accuracy: Insure 100% acuraccy in speling and gramar (!)

Tenses: Use present tense for current role, past tense for previous roles. 

Abbreviations: Avoid one-off abbreviations, unless well known in industry.

Action words: E.g. Spearheaded, Accelerated, Oversaw, Established, Secured, Attained, Upgraded, Negotiated

ATS – Applicant Tracking System

  • Nearly 40% of employers now use ATS to scan CVs before a human eye even sees your CV. (CIO magazine 17/4/18).

  • ATS quickly eliminates 75% of applicants.

  • Your CV will not reach the next stage (being seen by an actual human) if it's not written in the right way.

  • ATS scans your CV for keywords that match the job description so ensure you have these littered throughout your CV.

  • ATS is not perfect e.g. it can't read all typefaces (serif or script), and doesn’t recognise certain bullets, such as arrows.

  • Avoid tables, graphics and logos.

  • Don’t submit a PDF unless explicitly stated (unreadable by some software).

Cover Letters

You need to sell yourself in a succinct manner and grab the reader’s attention so they want to look at your CV. 

  • Tailor the letter to the role.

  • Hiring managers want someone who is genuinely interested in the company and the role.

  • Spend time researching the company - what they do, competitors, recent news, values, future plans etc.  Then demonstrate a passion for working for them.

  • Match your skills and experience to those being sought by the company.  Choose three key skills for your letter, illustrating how you match them in terms of your skills, experience and achievements.  Do not copy and paste sections from your CV but write in a succinct manner – bullet points work well.

  • Stick to one page; too brief and it shows a lack of interest/effort; too long and it probably won’t get read!

  • Spend time on presentation and format. Ensure the letter is nicely spaced and use a font matched to what you have used for your CV.

How can you help them?

  • Your application is not about what you want, but how you can solve a problem for the employer.

  • Sound enthusiastic.  You can sound enthusiastic without going overboard e.g. “I am a big fan of xxx company, having seen your success in introducing xxx product into the market.”

  • Focus on the key skills and experience you have that they are looking for, ensuring you refer back to the job ad/description and person specification. 

  • Back these up with figures/examples but not the same ones included on your CV and be succinct.

Inject a bit of you!

  • A cover letter gives you more freedom to show more of your personality than a CV – making your letter stand out from the crowd is a good thing, but don’t go over the top.

Speculative letters

  • Use your network: news, statistics, new strategy, new products/services launched, mergers etc.

  • Speak to senior HR: upcoming roles / where, how usually fill roles.

  • Try to find specific person to address letter to.

  • Outline the kind of role you are seeking.

  • Demonstrate your knowledge of and interest in the company – why you want to work there and what you can offer them.  Tailor your letter to the company (in absence of job advert/description).

  • Include a bit about your experience, knowledge and any pertinent education/training.

  • Close by summing up why you are a great fit for the company and how they will benefit from hiring you.

Returning to work after a career break.

Review your skills

  • Don’t undervalue what you are worth to employers, in terms of skills and salary.  Ask friends and family what skills they consider you have and why they think this (having examples as evidence for your CV and interviews is important).

Hire a coach

  • A career coach is an investment in terms of time and money but one which many find invaluable.  They can help you consider new areas / ideas and assist you in analysing your transferable skills.

Prove you are ready to work

  • Not all your skills may have been gained in the workplace, they could have been gained through activities such as reading professional publications or volunteering e.g. organising a PTA event.

  • Illustrate to employers that you have kept your skills fresh, that you are up to date and ready for the challenges.

  • If you feel you need updating on anything, do this asap – build and use your network, read articles/journals, book an online course.

Address gaps in your CV.

  • Remember – few people have worked continuously from their first job to retirement and will have gaps e.g. ill health, resigning and looking for new role, travelling, caring for a relative or redundancy.

  • You could write a functional CV which highlights skills and clusters achievements.  This is less common than chronological CVs and could cause alarm bells to recruiters. A non-chronological CV is worth considering if you have several gaps or are looking to change career.

  • If a gap is weeks/months, you can use the year-to-year format or group together a few roles e.g. 2010 – 2014 undertook various administrative roles for organisations including xxx and xxx.

  • Address any time gaps in your CV positively e.g. “gained xxx to improve qualifications after redundancy”.

  • And as to the question once you get the job, “will I be good enough?”, this article puts it well: www.telegraph.co.uk/women/work/imposter-syndrome-why-do-so-many-women-feel-like-frauds/

  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black LinkedIn Icon

Privacy Policy

Terms and Conditions

Doyenne Flex Ltd, (Company No. 11582231 England & Wales)

59 Southerngate Way, London, SE14 6DW