Effective CVs and applications

Learning how to prepare applications that successfully highlight your strengths and matching these to the needs of the organisation is an important skill. Your CV is your 'sales brochure'; it's often the first contact you have with a prospective employer, and it is YOU until the employer meets you. Being able to successfully market yourself in a CV or application form is vital in securing the chance to meet with your prospective employer at interview.

We run CV workshops weekly during term-time, and you can also make a one-to-one appointment with a Career & Skills Consultant to review and get feedback on your CV.

 See our free downloadable CV self-assessment checklist and 5 Minutes on Effective Applications handout.


Different types of CVs

There is no one “perfect” CV format. There are several different types of CV structure, and the one you choose will depend on the role you are applying for and your experience. The main types of CV used are described below. You can find examples of each of these types of CVs on the Prospects website.

A chronological CV is the “traditional” (and most popular) CV format. It outlines education and employment experience in reverse chronological order and gives specific details of responsibilities in past role. This format is useful if you have qualifications and/or experience which closely matches the requirements of the role for which you are applying.

A skills based or functional CV places emphasis on transferable skills rather than chronological account of your experience. It allows you to highlight the skills that you have developed from a range of experiences and aims to illustrate that you have the capabilities to successfully undertake the role for which you are applying. This is a useful format if you are changing careers/industries or you feel the experience you have is not directly relevant to the role (but you possess relevant skills).

An academic CV focuses on research interests and skills, as well as conferences attended and publications written. It is appropriate when applying for jobs in academia. You can find useful guidance on writing an academic CV on the vitae website.

What to include in your CV

What you include will vary depending on the type of CV you choose (see above), but key sections you should always include are:

  • Personal details – name and contact details only.
  • Education - this should be in reverse chronological order (most recent first) and only go back as far as second level.
  • Employment History - details of work experience should be in in reverse chronological order. Include part-time/summer jobs, voluntary work, internships etc.

There are several additional sections that you might want to include in your CV in order to highlight relevant skills, experience and attributes, for example: 

  • Career Objective – a short summary paragraph at top of the CV.
  • Skills Profile - enables you to highlight skills you possess relative to the job you are applying for. Make you sure you tailor your skills profile to each application; and remember to give evidence to support the skills you are highlighting.
  • Achievements & Interests - an opportunity to demonstrate that you are motivated to pursue other activities and develop new skills.
  • References - you don’t necessarily have to include references in CV unless requested.

For detailed advice on how to write an effective CV and what you should include in each section check out our article CVs that hit the mark (and one that doesn’t) in the UCD Career Guide. You can also come along to one of our weekly CV workshops. Login to Careers Connect to register.

Writing a cover letter

Always include a cover letter with your CV – it’s an important part of your application.

After spending a lot of time working on your CV it can be tempting to quickly write a cover letter, but like the CV, your covering letter is there to “make the sale” so it’s vital that you put the effort in. A good cover letter can:

  • highlight the match between the job specification and your skills and experience
  • convey your interest and enthusiasm for the role
  • demonstrate that you have done your research on the organisation
  • indicate your ability to write effectively and professionally

You can find a sample cover letter plus a wealth of practical advice on writing an effective one in the UCD Career Guide. You can also find more information and example cover letters on the Prospects website.

Application forms

The vast majority of application forms are now online. Before you start filling in the form, make sure you can save your content and return later to the form. Keep a note of your password and keep a copy of the completed form to refer back to before your interview. Most online application forms don’t have a built-in spell-check function so you may want to write your responses in a Word document first, spell-check and then copy and paste into the form. Make sure you abide by word limits for each question!

Most application forms require you to input information on education, employment history, skills etc. This is often in a similar format to what you might put in a CV. The form will also typically contain a range of competency-based questions, for example: “Give an example of a time where you had to influence others to do something that they were reluctant to do”.

You'll need to think of an appropriate situation and explain what you did in an clear step-by-step manner using the STAR technique:

  • Situation – give some context by briefly describing the situation or problem
  • Task - describe your specific task, role or goal
  • Action - describe the action you took to complete the task successfully, and any obstacles that you had to overcome
  • Results – highlight outcomes achieved, including anything you learned from the experience

Remember to use ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ when describing actions that you took. The person reading the application needs to be clear on what your specific role was. You can find more information and tips on making a great application on the gradireland website.


Career Zone online module‌You may also like to take a look at the Winning Job Applications section of Career Zone - a non-credit bearing, self-study optional online module produced for UCD students. Self register through Blackboard.