The aim of a CV and a cover letter is to generate enough interest in you to get you to the interview stage. A well-prepared application improves your odds of actually getting the job. Before you start working on an application, think about what you want to say, and how you want to say it.
Start by making a list of your skills and abilities
Before you start, you need to know a lot about yourself and your skills. What knowledge and experience do you have that an employer would be interested in? What are your personal qualities? And above all, think about why you want to apply for this particular job.
SLU Career has developed a Career Guide to help you put your skills and motivation into words. You can save the information produced in a rough CV. This will come in very handy when writing job applications.
Do your research on the company and the industry
Find out as much information as you can, for example by reading the company’s website, annual reports, visions and plans so that you can get a sense of what kind of place you are trying to work for. Use the information you find to help you decide whether your skills and needs and what you want to contribute are compatible with the prospective employer.
Read the job advertisement carefully
If you are answering a job advertisement, you should pay careful attention to what it says. As well as the job description, try to find out: what education/knowledge do I need in order to do the job well? What experience and qualifications do they want? What characteristics are required? What skills and abilities do I need for the job?
Find out what documents are required for your application and how they are to be submitted
An application is usually expected to include a cover letter and a CV, or a list of qualifications. A CV differs from a list of qualifications in that it is a more comprehensive and may include information about your hobbies, personality, career goals, etc. A list of qualifications is a brief overview of your experience and education, as well as your language and computer skills.
How to write a CV
CV stands for curriculum vitae, which means ‘course of life’ in Latin. Your CV summarises what you have accomplished so far. Once you have written a well-constructed CV, it can be quickly updated and adapted to the particular position you are applying for.
Things to keep in mind
Opinions vary about the best format and layout for a CV. While there are no strict rules for the format of a CV, certain general principles have been established about what information it should contain. Before deciding on the format you want to use, look at some different examples. You can find tips about structure and CV templates online at recruitment agency and trade union websites, for example.
Information to include on a CV
Personal and contact details
Name, address, phone number, e-mail address, date of birth (not the last four digits of your Swedish personal identification number).
Some people write a line or two about the goal or vision of their job search. You might want to mention the kind of job you are looking for or your future long-term career goals.
This heading usually appears in a CV and includes your goal. The purpose of the profile is to describe you briefly in a way that attracts the employer’s attention. Your profile is a summary of the qualities and skills that you want to emphasise in connection with the particular position you are applying for. Use your profile to show the employer that you are the right person for the job.
This and the following headings in your CV should be well structured and in point form. Remember to check out suggestions online to help you find the structure and layout that is right for your application.
Write the name of the university and programme you completed, the degree you obtained, any specialisation you pursued, and the dates that you were at the university. Also indicate when you expect to apply for the award of a qualification. Do not forget to include any courses that are relevant to the job you are applying for. List the most recent information first.
This heading should follow the same structure as you have chosen above. List the jobs you have held that are relevant to this particular position. Always start with the most recent job and work backwards. State your job title, the name of the company, the location and the dates you were employed. You can also briefly describe your duties and the experience you gained. If the company is not well known, you can summarise what it does in one or two sentences.
Language and computer skills
List your language and computer skills, as well as your proficiency level. For languages, for instance, indicate whether you have basic familiarity, good command, fluency or if it is your mother tongue. You can also distinguish between your reading, writing, speaking and comprehension skills. For instance, you might say that you have basic familiarity in speaking and writing, or that you have good command of speaking and comprehension. Try to be as specific as possible when describing your computer skills and give examples. For instance, Excel: very good knowledge and experience producing own formulas.
This heading could also be called “voluntary work” or “other qualifications”. Here you should stop and think about what might be important for the employer to know about you. You may want to mention your involvement in the student union or a sports club, or the fact that you have completed basic military training or spent time abroad. You can also list your hobbies. This heading should also follow the same structure as above and be formulated with a subheading followed by descriptive text.
Unless the employer specifically states that they want to see your references, it is a good idea to leave them out for the time being. If you prefer, you can simply put that references are available upon request. References are not usually needed until the final stage of the recruitment process. If you decide to include references anyway, adapt them to the particular position you are applying for. Give the name, contact details and relationship of the reference: e.g. manager, co-worker, board member, etc. Always let a reference know before you give an employer their contact details! Inform the reference of the kind of job you are applying for so they will be prepared if they receive a phone call. Do not forget to thank them and provide feedback. Maintaining a good relationship with your contacts is very important.
Suggested other headings
If there is a particular type of experience that you want to stress, you can add extra headings, such as management experience, time spent abroad, or positions of trust. Remember to adapt the information to the position you are applying for and the qualifications mentioned in the job advertisement.
Examples of information that you should NOT include on your CV
- Your final school grades
- The last four digits of your Swedish personal identification number
- Your religion
- What country you are a citizen of
- What salary you are looking to receive
How to write a cover letter
The purpose of your covering letter is to supplement your CV and make you more interesting as an individual. After employers read your letter, they should be able to see you in the position they are looking to fill. Focus on what you can bring to the company and describe how you can apply your skills and experience to the job. The purpose of the CV and cover letter is to get you to the job interview stage.
Suggested format and content
The content of your personal letter depends on your answer to the following questions:
1. Why do you want the job?
2. Why should they give it to you rather than somebody else?
Write down everything that comes to mind, and then choose a few points to focus on.
Write the recipient’s address on the right-hand side and the current date in the header. Use a clear title and feel free to make it personal and interesting.
This is the place to attract the attention of the employer and explain why you are the right person for the job. Go back to your CV and see what qualifications you have mentioned. This is your chance to supplement and describe them in greater detail while at the same time linking the two documents together.
Continue to make connections between your qualifications, the requirements listed in the job advertisement, and other experience and qualities that make you the best person for the job. Do whatever it takes to make your application stand out. Do not forget to explain why you want the job – that is very important. Your reasons might include the particular duties involved, or the company’s brand, reputation, values, employment policies or working environment. Remember to keep things clear and concise, though, as you will have the chance to elaborate during the interview.
Conclude on an upbeat note by saying that you are looking forward to meeting in person, or by reiterating why you want the job. End with “Yours faithfully,” or "Yours sincerely,”. Keep things formal, and do not abbreviate. If you post your application, do not forget to sign it. If you e-mail it, include your scanned signature if possible.
Before you send off your CV and letter, show them to several different people and ask for feedback!
Things to keep in mind when submitting your application
Do you want feedback on your CV and/or covering letter?
SLU Career employs CV reviewers who will give you feedback on your job application. Attach your application PDF-documents in an e-mail and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can review documents that are written in Swedish and/or English.
Make sure you include the job advertisement if you are applying for a job that has been advertised. Give yourself plenty of time before any deadline for your application. Once we have reviewed your documents, we will send them back to you with comments and recommendations for how to improve them.
A good application improves your chances of getting the job!