In a highly competitive job market, landing an interview often comes down to crafting a professional resume and cover letter that really stands out from the rest. After all, employers and recruiters will likely have to sort through hundreds of applications before shortlisting candidates, so you need to make a good impression immediately.

Here are some of the top considerations for a good CV and cover letter, as well as how best to include those all-important skills in both.

First thing’s first: What makes a good resume and cover letter?

The best resume for you depends on a number of factors, including your seniority, the industry you work in, and the job you’re applying for. However, most good professional resumes can be broken down into two main sections.

The first section is an opportunity for you to describe your key achievements, abilities, and qualities. The aim here is to include engaging, concise, and persuasive snippets about your professional profile.

The second section can be thought of as your evidence to back up the statements made in the first section. This is where you outline your relevant experience, positions held, and responsibilities, as well as your education.

Between these two sections, you should be able to effectively communicate that you’re a qualified candidate for the job because you have the right experience and a history of success.

Your cover letter, on the other hand, should act as an engaging summary of your CV and not a regurgitation of it. This means that rather than simply listing skills and experience, you should tell a story about why you’re the best candidate for the job. Think of it as a sales pitch to market your credentials and get you an interview.

How to list your skills on your CV

As we’ve touched upon, the top section of your resume is the place to showcase your key skills, which means any that specifically pertain to the job you’re applying for. Carefully read over the job description and make a note of the skills and phrases used so you can refer to your own honest strengths in these areas.

The experience section of your CV can also be used to highlight your skills in a more practical manner. For example, you might choose to include your experience using different systems or technologies in a past job, which are certainly valuable skills but may not align with any specific achievements.

What are the top skills to put on a resume?

This all depends on your background, experience and industry – but ideally, the skills on your CV should be made up of a mix of the following categories:

  • Specialist skills – skills that relate to the specific job or industry, such as experience using a particular programming language
  • Soft skills – attitudes and qualities that employers value, such as the ability to think laterally
  • Transferable skills – skills that can be used in any workplace, such as the ability to multitask

Don’t skip the numbers

Make your CV as data-driven as possible. Focus on things you accomplished during a contract, and use quantitative data to support these accomplishments. Answer questions like:

  • How many people have you managed?
  • Have you reduced spending/increased profitability? By what margin?
  • Were you able to implement new processes?
  • Has your work positively influenced your employer’s business?

Hard numbers and facts like these are easier for employers to visualise, and they make a much stronger case than blanket statements like, “I have strong management skills.” 

Include relevant keywords

In a world of increased automation, it’s important to include keywords appropriate to your field: HR managers may use Boolean x-ray searches to whittle down a stack of CVs, so make sure that you’re using specific phrases and descriptive words near the top of your CV. That way, whether it’s being scanned by a computer or a pair of eyes, the right phrases will jump out.

If you’re unsure what keywords you should use, LinkedIn is a great place to start your research. Find individuals who are currently holding roles similar to the ones you’re vying for, and take note of the words you see in their profiles. 

Remember not all skills apply to every job

It’s important to tailor your CV to each job you apply for. This may involve keeping a ‘master CV’ and selecting the most relevant work to highlight and enhance your experience as you apply. You should always include a prominent section about your transferable professional skills, technologies you have training in and awards, certificates and other ways you’ve been recognised in your career.

How to include your skills in your cover letter

Because your cover letter is more than just an overview of your experience and achievements, it’s important to weave your relevant skills naturally into your pitch.

For example, a sales professional might include a statement like, “By streamlining the sales funnel at XX company, I was able to grow our sales by 25% YoY and our market share by 10%”.

In this example, the candidate has shown that they are skilled in managing sales funnels and have quantifiable results to back up their assertion.

Put simply, your cover letter is an opportunity to convey your biggest strengths as succinctly as possible.

Looking for help writing your CV and cover letter? Download our free CV templates and cover letter templates.

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