Getting Started

CV Dos and Don’ts

You should never lose sight of what you want your curriculum vitae to do for you – get you an interview for your dream job! When preparing your CV, think about your skills, competencies, qualifications and experience. What are your selling points and strengths?


  • • Take your time!
  • • Plan it well – your CV is an important marketing tool where you are the product and the CV is the chance to sell yourself
  • • First impressions count – you only have 20-30 seconds to grab the reader’s attention
  • Ensure the document looks attractive – give thought to the layout, use headings and bullet points and remember the importance of white space
  • Correct spelling and grammar are essential – using the computer spell check facility is not enough
  • Include a summary up front that makes the reader want to find out more
  • Keep it as truthful as possible
  • Do be clear, concise and accurate
  • Try to tailor the CV to suit the job being applied for – reflect the terminology used in the advertisement; remember: word processing makes this a lot easier
  • Keep it short – length will vary according to age, but preferably two pages and never more than four pages
  • Use strong, positive words – avoid any negative comments
  • Ensure it is results oriented – list achievements, not just responsibilities
  • Use reverse chronological order for work experience – include dates, company name and activity and job title
  • Qualifications should be arranged to show commitment to relevant ongoing continuing professional development
  • Wherever possible, send to a named person – if unsure contact the company to check
  • Check it, check it again, get someone else to check it and then check it again
  • Keep it up to date


  • Don’t waste time saying it is a Curriculum Vitae – it’s pretty obvious what it is
  • Don’t use coloured paper – stick to good-quality cream or white paper
  • Print, don’t photocopy
  • Don’t include a photograph unless specifically requested
  • Don’t fold the CV, post out in A4 envelopes
  • Do not mention salary, unless requested
  • Do not disclose reasons for leaving prior jobs
  • Curriculum vitae means ‘the course of (one’s) life’, but don’t take it literally and give a full life story – stick to the relevant facts.

Your CV should be easy to read andunderstood by anyone at any level in a short time. Your CV cannot do the job alone; it also needs a good covering letter to ensure it is truly effective in getting you to the interview stage.

Application Forms and Covering Letters

Covering Letters

Having a good covering letter will significantly increase your chances of getting an interview. You may have the best CV, but if it’s hidden by a poorly targeted and/or a poorly worded covering letter, the prospect of it being read are minimal.

Hints and Tips

  • Remember to keep it brief and all on one page.
  • It is vital that you customise your covering letter. Recruiters may have hundreds of applications to sift through, so make sure yours shouts out at them that you have the skill and ability to do the job.
  • Your covering letter is an opportunity to tell them who you are and why you are suited to the position.
  • If the job advert includes a telephone number, take the opportunity to call and find out more. This will enable  a better idea of what they are looking for, while giving you the opportunity to personalise your covering letter by referring to the telephone conversation.

Your letter should ideally consist of three paragraphs:

In the first paragraph, state the reason for your application – for example, which job you are applying for (including the job title), where you saw it advertised and the date. With a speculative letter, you need to explain how you found out about them – for example, a recent article you may have read about the company or its website.

The second paragraph is the opportunity to sell yourself by linking your strengths and skills to the job. Concentrate on mirroring the requirements of the job. For example, if they say they are looking for someone with good researching skills, write an example of research experience you may have picked up in your career.

In your third paragraph, you should request an interview or meeting. You may want to tell them you will call them next week to discuss it further. Alternatively, you could say that you would welcome the opportunity to discuss how you might be of value to the recruiting company.

  • As with your CV, never lie. The last thing you want is to spend your whole interview trying to dig your way out of a hole you’ve created by being liberal with the truth!
  • Your covering letter should reflect you as a person, so be yourself. If you are not flamboyant, don’t write a letter as if you are and vice versa. After all, you don’t want to write a letter that you can’t live up to. If you’re trying to be someone else on paper, is this really the right job for you?
  • If the advert asks for an indication of your current salary, then provide it in the letter as a range, ie. $50,000 – $65,000. This covers the request and allows both parties some flexibility and room for negotiation.
  • Address your letter to a specific named individual and sign it ‘Yours sincerely’. Personalising your cover letter goes a long way. ‘Yours faithfully’ is the correct form if you have to use a generic form of address, such as Dear Sir or Madam.
  • Present your letter in typed format, preferably on white A4 paper. If this is not possible, hand-write neatly.

Application Forms

Application forms put the recruiter in complete control of the information they will receive from applicants.

This in turn makes the screening process more manageable and fair, because it allows them to make direct comparisons between your responses and everyone else’s.

Hints and Tips

  • Never simply substitute an application form with your CV. It is usually acceptable to include your CV when your return the form, unless specifically asked not to.
  • Never respond to a question on the application form with the phrase ‘see attached CV’.
  • Always read the whole form carefully before filling it in and make a photocopy of the blank form to have a dry run at completing it. When complete, ensure you ask someone else to check through what you have written.
  • A good exercise is to jot down your initial thoughts on a rough page. Don’t be caught out by starting to write your response and realising halfway through that you could have phrased it in a better way. Worse still, you could make a mistake that you can’t amend.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to complete the form in a quiet environment with no interruptions.
  • Never leave blanks. Always make sure you respond in some way, even if it is with a dash or ‘not applicable’.
  • Again, and only if asked, it is far better to indicate a salary range rather than exact details.
  • Honesty is your best policy. As with covering letters and CVs, the golden rule still applies: never lie or exaggerate. You will be found out and this will do your relationship with a prospective employer no good at all.
  • Use black ink to carefully copy across from your practice form to the original.
  • Always take a photocopy of the completed form. That way you will be able to refer to what you wrote if you are invited for an interview.
  • Send the original with a covering letter.
  • Regard ‘other information’ sections as an opportunity to sell yourself by emphasising your achievements, skills and strengths. Think about instances when you have demonstrated the requirements specified in the job advertisement. What specifically did you do? What was the result?

Application Forms and Covering Letters

Interviewers generally look at three key areas:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you do the job?
  • Will you fit in?

They already have a good idea of your intellect and ability. The interview allows them to analyse your skills, strengths and other qualities.


An interview is an opportunity for both parties to discover more about each other. If you have little or no interview experience, you are likely to suffer from pre-interview nerves. This is nothing unusual and experienced interviewers will expect it.

Remember: nerves are good – they show you want the job. Preparing for your interview will enable you to tailor your questions, increase your confidence and show the employer you are keen, thoughtful and can plan ahead. Think of responses that will back up your positive qualities. Try to use stories or to give examples, because they are more likely to stick in an interviewer’s mind.

  • Think about where your strongest skill or strength lies. This is what sets you apart from the rest.
  • Where have you successfully employed this in the past? Outline what you did – and the results.
  • Showing enthusiasm to learn new skills is vital. Think about past occasions when you have actively taken on new skills and methods.
  • Problem-solving is a major area for scrutiny in interviews, so prepare some anecdotes about problems you have encountered and overcome.
  • Interests or pastimes are important to a recruiter because they demonstrate your motivation, values and in some cases your intelligence. Think about leisure activities that may have relevant attributes for your potential career. Do not be reluctant to talk about them, if appropriate.
  • Do your homework on the organisation for which you are interviewing. Showing that you have done this is critical, as it will demonstrate that you are keen, confident and knowledgeable. You can also sell yourself by introducing your research through questions.
  • Contact the company and ask them to send you some literature, such as annual reports, newsletters and brochures.
  • Read relevant trade journals and use your network of contacts to see if you can find out anything about the company and the person who will be interviewing you.
  • Thoroughly navigate through the organisation’s website.

Your Questions

It is important to have a few questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview. Nine times out of 10 you will be asked if you have questions and it can look bad if you do not have at least a couple. Prepare in advance. Use a plain postcard to note your questions down, but remember: do not ask about terms and conditions until you have been offered the job. Try to ask about things that will show your keenness for the position.

For example:

  • Ask them to expand on the details of the job itself – the job profile
  • Ask about what the team is currently working on
  • Ask what type of training is provided
  • Be careful with respect to questions about promotion; it is a minefield, so you are better off asking an oblique question, such as, ‘How do you see the role developing?’
  • Find out why they are recruiting for this position
  • Asking questions about the interviewer is always a winner – people love talking about themselves. How did you get into this industry? What do you like about working for this company? Where do you see the company being in five years’ time?

Remember, though, if you don’t care about the answer, don’t ask the question.

What to Wear

Remember: first impressions always count.

The interview is one of the few occasions when a smart dress code is still essential and expected. You should ensure you appear well groomed, but comfortable. Check your hair, clothes and shoes. If you wear perfume or aftershave, ensure it is discreet. The golden rule here is not to distance yourself from your interviewer by your appearance: nothing too outrageous – this is definitely not the time for a fashion statement.

Your Manner

The person interviewing you will be looking for qualities that demonstrate your ability to do a good job, while making a positive contribution to their organisation. They also want to find out if you hold similar values to them.

  • Listen carefully to the information you are given and the questions you are asked
  • Do not argue, criticise former employers or colleagues or talk about domestic/personal matters
  • Do not be either overly modest or boastful; think carefully about your responses and try to remain calm and collected while responding
  • Most importantly, be yourself!
  • Remember, the interviewer needs to see the real you to decide whether or not you will fit into the organisation.


Your Body Language What is your perception of good body language? Statistically, up to 55% of a recruiter’s decision is based on your body language.

  • Wait to be asked to sit down
  • Maintain eye contact; this can be difficult to do for protracted periods in a one-on-one interview, so look at the top of the interviewer’s ear instead; he or she will not notice – try it on someone beforehand and see
  • Use forward movements and nod to show you are listening
  • Pick a position for your legs that is appropriate and comfortable and leave them there; do not fidget
  • If you use your hands to gesticulate, keep them at or below elbow level

What interviewers look for

Did you know that fewer than 10% of Australian managers are trained in interview techniques? You will be fortunate to meet a highly skilled interviewer. It helps to remember that the interviewer is human too and may be just as nervous as you.

Interviewers have two clear objectives:

1. To identify the best candidate.

2. To fill the vacancy as soon as possible.

They also have three key considerations:

1. Can you do the job? This is normally the most straightforward part of the interview. They have already been attracted by something in your CV or application. They are likely to ask you about your career choices and pose situational questions: What would you do if …? More organised interviewers may require you to participate in tests, presentations or team meetings, where applicable. Do not just repeat what is on your CV; bring it to life with examples.

2. Will you do the job? This is often harder to convey because you need to communicate your motivation for applying. The interviewer might ask you what you know about the organisation, how the job fit with your long-term career plans or what attracted you to the job.

3. Will you fit in? Questions about fitting in are a crucial part of the job interview process. You need to be prepared to answer questions about personality, your style of working, how you operate within a team, your strengths and weaknesses and possibly your views on topical issues.