March 2, 2015 : Gillian Anderson

Building a strong CV

What you can do to help your employee find the killer content they need for their CV.

For many of your CJS employees, this will be their first position and building a strong CV without having a track record in the workplace can be tricky. Once again it’s about finding skills and qualities that transfer. The My CV tool will guides your employee through and make the process much easier, but you’ll probably have to give some support to get that killer content.

Avoid the clichés

“I work well on my own or as part of a team” says nothing, yet it’s written on about 80% of the applications or CVs that we see coming through. Try to find alternative ways to say things and back them up with evidence. For example, if they play football, then they understand team dynamics and the importance of compromise and negotiation when working towards a common goal as well as for individual success.

Where there isn’t a great deal of work experience look to their home lives. Have a chat and find out more about them. Are they carers, do they look after siblings, do they have a child of their own, what are their hobbies?

Remember to ask about school experiences. Most young people will have been involved in the Curriculum for Excellence so they will have taken part in community and enterprise activities where they gained experience that can be included. From those you can identify the skills need to be teased out in a CV.


Encourage your employee to volunteer. Valuable experience can be gained, it shows commitment, and if they choose the right option it can be something that they will continue for a long time.

Over my own career, even with a comprehensive work history, I’ve only had one interview where my volunteering didn’t feature. I spent 11 years as a crew member with the RNLI, and although very little of the training (navigation, knot tying, firefighting or seamanship) was relevant in my day jobs, employers were curious. It demonstrated I could work effectively in a high pressure environment, understood managing risk, could work with others, and more than that, I really enjoyed it!

Keep it concise

The CV should be laid out as follows:

  • A short introductory paragraph outlining your employee’s unique points
  • A summary of any qualifications
  • Work history – starting with most recent and working backwards and with a brief summary of key tasks and responsibilities.  You can include volunteering and work experience here.
  • A summary of hobbies and interests

Use a business style font and not less than 12 point font and although this is less likely to be a problem with CJS employees, no more than two pages.  Nobody has time to read War and Peace when you’re narrowing down potential interviewees!

Update it regularly

As your employee completes training courses and gains experience, remind them to update their CV. If it’s ready to be emailed when an opportunity comes up, it might just be the thing that secures their next post.

It’s also really useful to refer to when you’re filling in applications and can’t remember dates that you worked somewhere or when you did a course. Your CV should grow with you, reflecting your achievements and career development.

Covering letters

Covering letters may not be considered as part of the formal selection process, but can very easily create a terrible first impression if done badly. Please, please, please help your employee to write a professional cover letter.

The letter should be brief, refer to the vacancy being applied for and to the attached CV.  It should summarise

  • how they heard about the vacancy
  • why they are interested
  • any particularly skills to draw attention to
  • additional detail if there are any gaps or anything out of the ordinary on their CV
  • emphasise willingness to be available for interview

What to avoid? Well, here are my top bugbears:

  1. Ending the letter with “Yours truly” – it should be “Yours sincerely” if you know the name of the recipient, “Yours faithfully” if you don’t
  2. Sending it to a general address – make sure it is addressed to the correct department and/or person
  3. Highlighting conditions to be placed on the interview.  Any applicant who says that they can only attend for interview every second Tuesday between 2 and 4pm is very unlikely to be offered one!

My World of Work has a great template document for cover letters. You can download it here.

Remember! Many vacancies now specifically ask applicants to complete a standard form, rather than send a CV and covering letter. If this is the case, definitely do not send a CV. Instead, use the information from their CV to help fill in the application form. Having an up to date CV will make that easier and faster!

  • This is the first blog in the Moving on up series where Gillian will share hints and tips on how to support your CJS employee prepare for the end of their contract.
  • My World of Work
  • My World of Work is an online careers service form Skills Development Scotland, which includes a toolkit to help jobseekers to identify their skills, brush up their CV and build interview skills. As a CJS employer you are responsible for encouraging your employees to use the website and setting aside some time to help them through the tasks.
  • Check out our step-by-step guide on helping your employee to use the My CV Builder tool.
  • Get Moving competition
  • My World of Work has teamed up with Young Scot Extra to give 16 to 25-year-olds living in Scotland the chance to win up to £1000 of travel prizes to get their career moving in the right direction. Help your CJS employee to create a My World of Work account and they could be in with a chance of winning. Closes 31 March 2015.
Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Gillian Anderson