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Last updated on 10/13/16

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Course introduction

Your job as a candidate is to respond to a recruiter's needs as expressed in a job offer. Both your resume and cover letter will address these needs in such a way that the recruiter, within 20 seconds of reading your resume and not much more in reading your cover letter, will perceive that you may be the perfect person to carry out the job.

A resume is aimed at informing a recruiter in the clearest way possible of all the skills, competence, knowledge and experience that will make you able to carry out the responsibilities of a given position.

On the other hand, a cover letter's function is to convince the recruiter that your background knowledge and experience will serve to fulfill the requirements of the position. Thus in the cover letter you will explicitly draw links between the information on your CV and how specifically your background responds to the organization’s needs.

Analyze a job offer

Identify and highlight the application criteria for the job: essential? useful?

To identify the obligatory criteria look for words and expressions such as:

must, should, need, necessary, require /requirement, criteria, the successful candidate will...

Highlight these criteria.

Additional qualifications may be marked by words such as:

helpful, desirable, useful, appreciated, a plus, advantage...

Highlight these qualifications in a different color from obligatory criteria.

Carefully read the duties and responsibilities for the job. What skills, experience, qualities… would help a candidate to carry out the job successfully? Write down what you believe these implicit attributes might be.

First, create a chart showing a set of these attributes using three different colors for the three different types (required attributes, helpful attributes, and implicit attributes):‌

Match your skills with the position
Match your skills with the position

Secondly, create another set of your personal qualities, experience, skills... 

Thirdly, draw lines from your own attributes to those that are pertinent for the job. Jot down the context in which you used and/or developed these attributes. This is the information that you will emphasize both in your cover letter and your resume.

Identify key words

In the same vein, look for keywords in the job description. The more a word is repeated, the more importantly it represents an organization’s culture. Highlight in different colors words that are repeated more than 3 times. Using such words in your cover letter and resume will give the impression that you speak the language of the organization.

Have a look at this example of job offer and corresponding profile analysis using the chart above!

Get started on your CV

Format your CV

First things first, here are a few guidelines I recommend you to follow for the presentation of your CV: 

  • An English language CV can be up to 2 pages long – but no longer.

  • It should read horizontally; there should be no columns to distract the eye.

  • Use only one font type. The body of the resume should be of an easy-to-read size, e.g. Times Roman 12, Arial or Verdana 11, etc.

  • Use only a little bold, underlining and/or italics. Too much of an effect becomes no effect.

  • As for color, keep the CV simple. Black is recommended. If you absolutely want to use color, do not use much, and only cool colors (i.e. dark blue or green), and only on titles.

Let's look more closely at the structure of your CV, starting with:

The header

Include your contact details 

  • Center your contact details to leave room for a recruiter's possible staple.

  • Present your name: first name first, last name last. Capitalize only the first letter of any proper noun: First name, Last name, Street name, City, Country... You will include your address, phone number(s) and email.

Title your CV

  • Under the contact information you should state the type of job you are applying for.

  • This title is future-oriented: it states what you are aiming for. The title should be general enough to include all the types of jobs you are interested in and specific enough to exclude jobs that do not concern you, for example:

Research Associate in Political Science, Culture and the Arab world
Internship in Public Service
beginning June 2016 for 6 months

Determine your most important assets

Present 2-3 special assets that you most want the recruiter to focus on:

What can you offer the organization that makes you better than the next applicant? What past life experiences, studies, extra-curricular activities, work experiences have given you skills that will make you effective in the position?

Present these assets in bullet-point form supporting them by adding how you developed them or in what context you used them.

Now that you've made a clear header, let's move to the body of your CV.

Compose the body of your CV

Present your education such that the recruiter understands its full value 

In an entry level CV the education section precedes work experience because it is probable that your education represents your abilities in your chosen career path more than the work experience you have gained until now.

Later on, after you have gained work experience in your chosen career path, the order will flip and forever after, work experience will appear first.

However, if you have had a good amount of work experience, you might want to put work experience first. For example, this would be a case for someone who has worked for some years and has decided to take time off to further their studies.

The most important information to include is:

  • the date you have received your degree, or the expected date,

  • the name of the university,

  • and your major.

At an entry level you will want to include some of the courses that are most relevant to the job you are applying for.

To help a recruiter who is not familiar with French schools you will probably want to include in parentheses an explanation of the value of education at your university, e.g. "one of France's leading universities in social sciences (and... )". You can add your major to this explanation. 

It might also be important, in the case of some diploma titles which tend to be a bit complex, such as “Governing the Large Metropolis” to mention that your degree is in a more recognizable and general subject, such as “Urban Affairs”, and then give the exact title.

Be sure to include any honors or awards you have received.

You might also want to include in this section a project that you worked on while studying for a degree. If you have been particularly involved in this project and it has taken much time and effort on your part, you will want to treat it in the same way that you will treat work experience: you will bullet-point your actions using verbs to introduce them.

Bring out the most important achievements of your work experiences / internships

For each position state:

Components

Comment

Date

The years (without months) that you have worked in the organization

Organization

The name of the organization. If it is small and/or relatively unknown, include information concerning its sector of activity.

Job title

In the case that you have worked less than 7 months in the job, you will put the number of months in parentheses after the title of the position.

(possibly)

where you were based

In particular, if you are applying for a position where international experience is important, and you have worked in a number of different countries, you definitely want this multicultural background to stand out. In this case, it becomes worthwhile to position the cities/countries of your workplaces on the right-hand margin.

It is particularly in the Work Experience section that the English language CV differs from a French CV. Because the CV should be set up in such a way that the recruiter can take in the maximum information in the minimum amount of time, the following points should be kept in mind: 

  • All and whatever you have performed and accomplished should be presented in bullet-point form.

  • English is a verbal language. Therefore the first word opening the bullet-pointed line must be a dynamic verb. 

  • Be concrete and specific. Explain your work in detail. Each bullet point will begin with a verb followed by an object. You may include the objective of the work, how you carried it out, who you worked with, an important result … 

Show how other activities have helped you to develop transferable skills

Community service, competitive sports, extra-curricular activities… are areas where you may have acquired important transferable skills that can be used on the job. Decide on additional sections to include in your resume if they are relevant. Create sections so that your achievements in various fields will stand out. Treat the information in these sections like work experience indicating what functions you have carried out and what you have accomplished.

Here are examples of section titles you can use on your CV: 

Objective
Career Skills

Education
Relevant Course Work
(Academic) Projects

 

(Work/Professional) Experience
Experience
Interpersonal
Organizational
Management
Research
Banking

 

Relevant Experience
Research Experience
Other Experience

 

Community Service 
Competitive Sports

 

Honors
Professional Development
Professional Associations
Technical Skills

Complete your CV

Specify your language and computer skills

The final section of a CV is “MISCELLANEOUS”. Here at the end, you will indicate whatever information you believe the recruiter needs to know about you that you have not yet mentioned above. There will usually be sub-headings including: “Languages”, “Computer Skills”, “Hobbies”... 

Under “Languages” be sure to include your native language(s) as well as acquired languages. Note how you can convey this information: 

Miscellaneous
Languages: native speaker of French, fluent English, operational Spanish, some Chinese
Computer Skills: able to use both Apple and Windows, competence in all MS Office applications and Photoshop
Hobbies: sports (cycling, running, cross-skiing, swimming), literature (biographies and autobiographies)

Write a convincing cover letter

Even before a recruiter begins to read your letter, the letter itself tells much about you. It is important that the letter gives a good first impression of you, the writer. Use a layout consistent with English business standards as can be seen on this cover letter example and these detailed cover letter sections.

The content of a cover letter can be divided into three sections: you (the organization), I (the candidate) and we.

You (the organization): open your cover letter engagingly

A cover letter's aim is to convince the recruiter of your ability to contribute to the organization's missions. Presenting yourself is not enough. To be persuasive the letter must demonstrate in what way your strengths will serve the organization. This means the letter is to be oriented toward the needs of the organization.

The first paragraph of a cover letter serves to open a relationship with the recruiter within about five lines.  Composing this paragraph is a bit tricky in that while the paragraph concerns the organization, it must also  lead the recruiter toward your motivation and competence. Recruiters need to feel that the letter is being addressed to them specifically. Mention some positive information about the organization. It is a good idea to look up the organization on Internet:

What is their mission statement? What are their values? What are they proud of?

Choose a point that fits one of your specific skills or personal qualities and begin with that point. Then suggest that the organization could be interested in you, in that your skills or qualities can contribute to the organization’s objectives.

Example of 'You' section (the organization):

It is a great privilege for me to apply for your Winter Internship Programme as OECD is known to be a global forum where people of diverse backgrounds come together to work toward the same goal of creating international cooperation and a better world economy. In such a context it would seem that my team-working skills and past experience of living and working in a multicultural environment can positively contribute to the work that OECD does on a regular basis.

Once you have opened the recruiter to the idea that, “Yes, we do need a person like that,” you will begin the “I” paragraphs.

I (the candidate): inform the recruiter of your assets and how they can serve the organization

Link your assets to the needs of the job within the organization

Begin immediately by responding to the need that you have created in the mind of the recruiter as in the above example. Each “I” paragraph should draw links between your studies, your past experience and the job you are applying for.

Example: 

As project manager intern at the Hummingbird Foundation, I was in charge of three different international projects aimed at developing the foundation and its branding. This insight into cultural patronage was a unique experience, strengthening my strong interpersonal skills, which should allow me to work well with your international clients.

Present your strengths convincingly

For the recruiter to believe that you do indeed posses a particular skill, a simple statement is insufficient, e.g. “I have good communications skills.” Unsupported affirmations only lead the recruiter to look for proof. A much more subtle form is to presuppose the quality, i.e. to use it in a sentence such that the recruiter's focus is on another idea that assumes the existence of that quality. In this way the quality is communicated in a form that cannot be questioned.

Examples: 

When working on the group project for my Master's degree, my organization skills helped the team move successfully forward together.

As a business developer at DW, I led the digital start up to double its monthly sales. The knowledge of a digital environment I acquired there will allow me to perfectly adapt to CCDigital Art Market's everyday challenges.

We: close the letter inviting the recruiter to call you for an interview

Persuade the recruiter to call you in for an interview. Politely create an image in his/her mind's eye of you and him/her working together toward a common goal. Use words like: we, us, together, jointly, mutual, common, share...

Then close the letter with your signature and full name preceded by a salutation: e.g. Sincerely, Yours truly, Yours faithfully...

Summary of additional resources 

Analysing a job ad

Example of job ad and profile analysis

CV

Education section for your CV
Work experience section for your CV
Example of CV 
CV Checklist

Cover Letter

Example of Cover Letter
Cover Letter Sections
Cover Letter Checklist

Other resources

List of verbs
Useful links

 

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Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement