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Job Search: Hints and Tips

Selling yourself to a prospective employer

Finding a job can be a long journey – from catching their eye with your covering letter to finally impressing them on interview day. But every step is a great opportunity to highlight your positives.

Make the most of every stage of the journey with these top tips:

  • A wealth of experience. Even if you’re just starting out, you have a strong story to tell. When they’re properly presented, summer jobs, school and college projects, extra-curricular activities, voluntary work and hobbies can all contribute to your sales pitch. If it’s relevant to the job criteria, it counts.
  • The clue’s in the job title (and description). Read the advert and description carefully: they’re full of clues to the company’s ideal candidate. After that, it’s a matching game. Review your experience and pull out examples from your work and educational history where you put the required skills to the test.
  • Polish up those hidden gems. Putting a positive spin on your non-work activities can help boost your credentials enormously. Arranging a local charity event, for example, demonstrates an attractive range of skills and attributes – from budget planning and supplier management to delivering to a deadline.
  • Know your stuff. A confident delivery at interview carries a great deal of weight, so become an expert on your own experience. Practise out loud how you’ll answer commonly asked questions and learn how to paint your excellent organisational skills or knack for negotiation in the best possible light. 

What they’re looking for: Good examples to use:
Team work Think of the times you’ve had to work with others or contribute to a group to succeed. Sports teams, academic societies, group projects at school or university and Scouts or Guiding are all great examples.
Communication skills Anything that puts your writing, speaking and listening skills to the test. This includes speeches, presentations, written and oral  reports, dissertations, blogs (if relevant, clean and work-related), telephone work,  debating society, newsletter contributions, amateur dramatics and school or campus newsletter, newspaper or magazine contributions.
Leadership When have others looked to you for expertise and guidance? In addition to any supervisor or team management roles, think along the lines of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, mentoring, team captaincy, Scouts or Guiding.
Commercial awareness Think of examples that show off your knowledge of how business works. These could include Young Enterprise, summer jobs, internships and work experience.
Project management When have you had to plan, organise and co-ordinate a range of tasks to achieve a single goal? This could mean organising events (for charity, school or university), coursework, working to a deadline, dealing with budgets, planning and co-ordinating a group of people. 

CV Advice

Top Tips on How to Write a Good CV

If you take time to write a good CV it could make all the difference and getting it right from the start will make it easier to update as you progress. Use the guidance below to help you write a top notch CV.


Make sure that you set it out in a way that is easy to read. The employer should be able to tick off key points quickly, so that they can get to the important stuff such as qualifications and experience.
Once you’ve written it, check it for accuracy and spelling errors. Then get someone else to check it again!

Keep it to no more than one or two sides of A4.


Keep it accurate and up-to-date and remember to add in any new experience as you progress. Amend the content for the particular job you are interested in, drawing on examples of past work that are relevant e.g. where you have worked in a team, made a real difference, introduced new ideas, achieved success etc.

Example CV

Click on the image below to see the layout and key parts of a standard CV of the type that most school, college and university leavers will use.

Click on this link to download a CV template that you can adapt.

Update: check out my separate advice on
how to write a personal statement
for your CV

Click this for more great CV advice!

Covering Letter Advice

Competition for jobs among school leavers has never been keener so think of your covering letter as your way to stand out from the crowd. Because it’s an afterthought for so many applicants a good covering letter is a simple but effective way to shine.

The covering letter works alongside your CV to land that crucial interview. It’s an opportunity to highlight to the reader a few key reasons why they should take you seriously. Done well it can also communicate your personality and highlight specific details of your current situation which have not been covered by your CV. For example, you are more than happy to relocate if the job is in a different area.

In most cases your covering letter is the first contact you’ll have with a potential employer - so make it count.

Keep it relatively short as most employers don’t have the time to read through long-winded letters or CVs. Make sure that any important information, such as key skills, are on your CV. Then, all you need to do is ensure the letter confirms your interest in applying, introduces the CV, and highlights any key points you want to emphasise. Make sure that you use it to state briefly why you feel you are suitable for the role and what you will bring to the position, connecting your education and experience to the requirements of the role.

Here’s how to put this essential document to work for you:

  • Keep it brief and focused – a couple of powerful paragraphs work best.
  • Tailor it to each job you apply for - emphasizing the relevant skills for that particular role.
  • Bring your reader up to speed - whether you’re about to leave school or college or are seeking to move on to a better job.
  • Stick to plain, everyday language. Fancy words and flowery phrases wont impress!
  • Proof read your letter carefully before sending it. Any errors and your application is destined for the waste paper basket.

Following up on Applications

You’ve sharpened up your CV and sent off your application but now you can’t stand the suspense. How soon is too soon to get in touch?

  • Putting in a personable, professional call a few days after submitting your CV can highlight your name to hiring managers. But keep it brief. Showing your enthusiasm for the position, check whether your details have been received and thank them for the opportunity.
  • After that, sit tight until the application deadline has passed. Chances are your contact is working through a stack of CVs so badgering them for early feedback won’t do you any favours. The same applies following an interview. Even if you got on famously, don’t be tempted to get in touch before the agreed date or to send your interviewer an invitation via LinkedIn.
  • Remember, if you spotted the role on a jobsite like, you’ll still need to follow up directly with the employer or recruiter. You’ll find these details on the jobsite when you apply.
  • Shortly after the closing date, make a follow up call to check progress. The company may simply be taking longer to select candidates and you could still be in the running. If this is the case, reiterate your interest and leave them to it.
  • If you learn the position has been filled, stay upbeat by asking for constructive feedback and letting them know you’d love to be considered for future roles. This keeps the door open for you to send a speculative CV when you’ve gained more experience. 

Top Five Interview Questions

You’ve impressed on paper and now it’s time to deliver the goods in person. The same interview questions pop up time and time again, so take the opportunity to rehearse your responses before the big day.

Practice your pitch in advance and you’ll walk in calm, confident and clued up. Are you ready for the five killer questions?

  • Why do you want this job? Do your homework for this one - browse the company’s website, visit a store, get to know their products. Take time to find out what the business does, how and where they do it and what they stand for, then explain how your own career aims and personality are a perfect fit.
  • Tell me about yourself.  Resist the urge to recount your life story. Think sharp and succinct – a short summary of your work and education that highlights top achievements and relevant experience. If you’re a school leaver, let them know how your studies have prepared you for this role. Your CV’s personal profile is a great place to start.   
  • What are your weaknesses? Keep your answer positive and upbeat. Acknowledge where you’re short on skills but describe what you’re doing to build on your strengths. For example, if you lack management experience, describe the course you’re taking, your recent role as a team leader or a project that required you to co-ordinate a group.
  • Why should we hire you? Take this chance to show off your strengths. Study the job description for a steer, then pinpoint concrete examples from your education or career – from leading successful projects to supervising co-workers - that demonstrate you’re the best candidate for the position.
  • Give me an example of when you dealt with a difficult customer, used initiative, turned a negative into a positive. The list goes on. You can’t predict exactly what you’ll be asked, but you’ll find some valuable clues in the job description. Look to your CV, learn your work and educational history inside out and prepare some ready-made responses that roll off the tongue. Practise makes perfect here, so don’t be afraid to run your lines out loud.

The Most Common Interview Mistakes

Most interviews give you just three minutes to seal the deal - and this is one time when meticulous attention to detail really pays off. It’s your big chance to impress and the little details, from clothing to eye contact, really do matter.

Here are our top tips on avoiding the most common interview mistakes.

Do your homework: Never walk into an interview unprepared. Read up on the company you’re dealing with, learning what they do and how they do it. Be able to articulate why you want to work for them and how your personality and experience would prove a perfect fit. Then show off your knowledge and initiative by asking a few well-informed questions about the business at the end of the meeting.

Dress the part: If you’re itching to make an avant-garde style statement, interview day isn’t the time to do it. In fact, some bosses admit that dress sense can be the decider between similar candidates. So unless you’re in the running for a role at a cutting-edge fashion business, it’s best to play it safe. Plump for smart business attire and save your trendier togs for that new-job night out.

Stand tall, sit still: A successful interview isn’t only about what you say; your body language speaks volumes too. Slumping and shuffling in your seat, twirling your hair and folding your arms can lose you valuable points before you’ve even uttered a word. But practise makes perfect. Run through some interview FAQs at home - either with a friend or in front of the mirror - and tame those nervous tics before the big day. Then take a deep breath, summon your self belief and wow them with a strong handshake, genuine smile and plenty of eye contact.

Stay positive: Even when you’re tackling the toughest interview questions, never be pulled down by negativity. There’s no need to divulge the ugly details of your last role or badmouth a former boss. Instead, keep your responses upbeat and professional, focusing on your strengths and enthusiasm for the role.

Confidence is the key. A sparkling CV gets you through the interview room door, but charisma is the clincher. Successful candidates exude confidence and use those three precious minutes to set themselves apart from other applicants. They know their career history inside and out and sell their strengths like an expert. So do whatever it takes to build your self assurance, whether it’s running your lines until they roll off the tongue or wearing your sharpest suit.

How to Stay Positive during your Job Search

If your job search is taking longer than you’d like, it’s easy to let the fire in your belly fizzle out. But putting to work a few positive steps will help you stay focused.

Keep your online CV current. When using jobsites , it’s vital to keep your details visible to recruiters and hiring managers. Refresh and upload your CV often, highlighting any new skills, courses or experience.

Be strict with your search. Set aside a particular time each day to focus on job hunting and stick to that routine. Cut out distractions and use those hours to apply for roles, update your CV or perfect your cover letter. Make it your job to find a job.

Never stop networking. Networking isn’t nearly as daunting as it sounds. It’s simply making the most of the people you know, and they people they know, and so on. Formal networking events in your community and a LinkedIn profile are great places to start, but tapping into established relationships can work wonders, so ask friends and family to keep an eye out for opportunities and get back in touch with old colleagues.

Get help from the experts. If you haven’t already, get to know your local recruitment consultants. On top of having the inside track on upcoming roles, many offer a range of candidate services to support you during your search – from interview advice to CV workshops.

Fill in the gaps – for free. The web is full of free online courses to help you develop your skill set in your own time, at your own pace. And if you’re short on experience in a particular area, consider volunteer work to bolster your business knowledge. As well as showing initiative, volunteering builds both your credentials and list of contacts. So check online for local internships, work experience opportunities and apprenticeships.

Act on feedback. Gain as much constructive criticism from recruiters and employers as you can. What would make your cover letter more compelling? How’s your interview technique? Does your CV stand out from the crowd? Then build on that feedback to market yourself more effectively.

Further Information

For lots more practical advice take a look at:

CV thread at the Student Room

Preparing for Interviews (Monster)

Open University - applying for jobs

National Careers Service - CV advice