Writing a stand-out CV and perfecting your interview technique are skills that can change your life if you get them right, but also something few people feel confident about. Since simple mistakes can mean you lose out on a job, you need to carefully consider how to impress your potential employer at every stage of the application process. Whether you’re just starting out in your career, returning from a period of unemployment, or making a big career move, our comprehensive guide will make a huge difference to your job prospects!

1 The first step: What kind of role are you looking for?

You may have done this step already, but a lot of people end up heading into a job search without a proper idea of what kind of role they want. If you know exactly what you’re after: great, head on to stage 2 below! If you’re still unsure, try the following:

  • Ask for first-hand advice: Speak to anyone you know with a job you think you could be interested in and ask what it’s really like in their role day to day. The reality often isn’t what you first thought and someone in the industry can give you specific tips about applying and may even get you a good recommendation or foot in the door for a job opportunity.
  • Research online: As well as asking around, there are many websites where you can read profiles on hundreds of different roles to see if you fit their criteria and if the job sounds like something you want to do. Try nationalcareers.service.gov.uk which has a section of activities and quizzes that aim to show you jobs that fit your skills.
  • Get unpaid experience: There’s nothing like personal experience to help you understand a job and whether it’s right for you. It will really boost your CV to have even a couple of days unpaid work experience in the sector you are applying to and shows you’re genuinely keen.
  • Do a free course: Also, taking a relevant vocational course while you’re applying not only improves your knowledge but your employability as well. For online courses on many different topics, try www.reed.co.uk/courses/free.
  • Invest in yourself: Some high earning roles require additional qualifications that you’ll need to pay for in advance, however the future salary can be worth the upfront cost. If you need a little extra cash to pay for your courses you could try our short term loan which you can pay back over 3 months.

Also try asking yourself the following questions to make sure a potential role is really suitable:

a thought bubble with questions inside it

Some of these things might depend on the specific organisations you apply to, so it’s equally worth researching individual companies before making your applications.

2 The ground work: How do you get your CV noticed?

Aside from including the basic information required on any CV, it’s very important to show you’ve tailored your CV to the specific industry and ideally each individual role that you apply for.

Even if you think you could be better qualified, cleverly constructing your CV can go a long way to convincing a potential employer that you do fit what they’re looking for and have great potential.

Your CV should be no longer than 2 pages of A4 and split into clearly marked sections:

  1. Personal Information — name; address; contact telephone number; email address.
  2. A Personal Statement * (not too long, about 5 lines).
  3. Your Key Skills * (pick about 5 that are most relevant for the job that you want).
  4. (relevant) Employment History – job title; company name; address; when you worked there and your key responsibilities in the role.
  5. Education & Qualifications – school/college/university; when you were there; course; grades; plus anything like a First Aid course or driving licence that could be relevant.
  6. Hobbies & Interests – but not too many! One line is enough to show some personality and give your employer something to ask you more about in interview.
  7. References – you can just confirm that these are available upon request.

* The key to the Personal Statement and Key Skills sections is working BACKWARDS from what is needed for the job you’re applying for and highlighting your own corresponding knowledge, skills and experience that will transfer well into the new position.

Start with a list of what’s needed in the new job, then cross-match the skills you’ve gained in other jobs or areas of your life to show how you will work well in the role that you’re applying for.

Similarly, when talking about your previous employment history, play up the responsibilities that have relevance to your new role and don’t focus too much on those that don’t.

An example: You’re applying for a job as an Office Administrator. You know this requires:
IT skills; organizational skills; communication skills; time management and problem-solving.

E.g. Personal statement
I am an excellent problem-solver as I am good at coping with unexpected changes in my day and I use my organizational skills to make sure I am always prepared. I like the variety of work that uses my IT skills as well as inter-personal skills because I enjoy communicating directly with people as the most efficient way to ensure everything is running smoothly in the office…

E.g. Key skills
Good time-management: Working as a teaching assistant in a school showed I can manage my time well since we had lots of different activities planned throughout the day and keeping to a strict timetable was essential to managing large groups of young children…

Finally you should remember a few crucial tips to make sure your CV makes the Yes pile:

  • Whatever you do, don’t make spelling or grammar mistakes — these will end up straight in the bin. Ask as many people as possible to proof-read your final version for you if you can.
  • Don’t make things up! If you get caught out by employers who do background checks or ask for references, or you get tripped up by questions in interview, you’ve thrown the job away.
  • Focus on presentation. If the employer is sifting through hundreds of CVs, they won’t even bother reading one that looks messy and difficult to read at first sight.

If you’re asked to include a Cover Letter with your application, this can be a few paragraphs along the lines of your personal statement and keys skills, but even more specifically tailored the particular job and company you’re applying to, why you want to work there and what you will offer the role. Make sure the language you use is suitably formal.

3 The next stage: Interview dos and don’ts

There is nothing more important than doing your research before you turn up to interview. Make sure you’ve read everything on the company website and have a look if they’ve been in the news recently. Read up on the industry you’re applying to as well, such as if there have been any recent changes, e.g. new regulations, or if it has been hitting the news for any reason.

You should know the advertised job specification inside out and as well as everything you included in your CV so that you’re ready to expand on any of the points. Take a couple of neat copies of your CV with you, or make sure it’s in front of you if you’re interviewed over the phone.

The types of questions that interviewers like will ask you to demonstrate your abilities using past achievements and experiences.


a second thought bubble with more questions inside it

Tougher questions also include what your ‘weaknesses’ are or what your colleagues think of you.

Some other crucial things to remember for interview are:

  • Dress smartly and appropriately, don’t be late, give a strong handshake and sit comfortably without fidgeting. Make good eye-contact with all of your interviewers.
  • Prepare plenty of questions to ask at the end of the interview to show you are genuinely interested and have thought about the role. Always ask something!
  • Be enthusiastic and go in with a positive attitude. You’re bound to be nervous but if you’ve done your research you have the right to feel confident. You can only do your best.

If you’re concerned about having enough money to pay for your travel expenses to the interview you could apply for one of our instalment loans to cover the costs. Your repayments would be spread across 3 months making it an affordable option that allows you to budget accordingly.

Everybody knows that applying for jobs can be very time consuming and everyone has to take plenty of knock-backs before they land their dream role. Dedicate the time and don’t become disheartened too quickly. Being in the right job is really important for your well-being as we spend so much of our time at work, so follow our advice above and before you know it you’ll be hired!