CV clinic

Materials World magazine
1 Mar 2014

It’s not enough to have the right skills for a job – first you need to secure the all-important interview, and that means perfecting your CV and cover letter. Rachel Lawler rounds up some unmissable tips to help you get ahead.

Your CV is one of the most important documents you will ever write. A well-written CV can make the difference between getting that crucial interview or finding your application cast aside. In an age of increasing competition for jobs, it is more important than ever to make the best impression you can.

But advice on writing the all-important résumé can be confusing and often conflicting. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been speaking to recruiters and hiring managers to get the best advice for materials scientists and engineers working on their CVs. Here is a selection of their best advice…


  • Use one font. Make it a clear, easy-to-read one. Nothing fancy.
  • Decide on the hierarchy of point size (eg for title and for body copy), and keep it consistent across your CV and cover letter.
  • Standardise your page margins on your CV and cover letter. It is easy to do in page settings, and makes the two documents seem far more ‘designed’ and cohesive.


Avoid italics and different colours.


  • There’s no excuse for typos. Run a spell check. Always. Print it out and proofread, carefully. Lastly, ask a friend to proofread it for you.
  • What tense are you using? It’s a personal decision, but whatever you choose, be consistent. Don’t jumble present and past in one job. A simple rule is: past jobs = past tense, present job = present tense.
  • Don’t ever write in the third person. It sounds crazy.
  • Consider the length. The person reading your CV may well have 50 more to sift through. Don’t make their job hard. Three sides of A4 maximum for a CV, ideally less. For a cover letter – up to two pages, but only more than one if there is a really compelling reason for it.
  • Make every word count. Avoid fluffy language, or 10 words where four will do.


  • Remember who is reading your application. It is likely to be someone in HR doing the first sifts, rather than a specialist engineer. So be clear and professional.
  • Tailor your CV and cover letter to the role. It’s a good idea to have one master CV that is pretty long, then trim it down depending on the role, to allow relevant skills to stand out.
  • Ensure your cover letter mentions the skills listed in the advert/job description, preferably in order. Recruiters, especially at large firms, will be using a matrix to score your skills against their core competencies. Make it easy for them to tick all the boxes for your application.
  • Send a cover letter, even if the role doesn’t request it.
  • Personalise your cover letter. Do some research, make sure you get the address correct and ensure you reference the role correctly, too.
  • Consider putting a core skillset, based around the skills the role requires, at the top of your CV.
  • Highlight soft skills from unrelated roles, such as work experience. But avoid detail that is irrelevant. Cashing up at a hairdresser’s might be relevant. Washing hair is unlikely to be.
  • Give practical examples of what you have achieved. Don’t just reproduce your current job description in your CV. Concrete examples of things you have delivered are good.
  • Google yourself. If the first thing that comes up are things you wouldn’t show an employer, find the source and remove them.


  • Give irrelevant details. Honestly, a recruiter doesn’t care if you love reading or classic cars. Unless the job involves either in a professional capacity.
  • Have gaps in your CV. If you took a year out to volunteer, one line explaining the role is enough, but gaps = bad. It’s OK to put ‘sabbatical’.
  • Explain why the job is perfect for you. Instead, explain why your skills are perfect for the job/business.
  • Duplicate info on CV and cover letter. They should complement each other. The recruiter doesn’t want to read information twice.
  • Waffle. Time is precious, make it easy for them to like you.
  • Put a reason for leaving your current job. It’s unnecessary and inappropriate.
  • Embellish. Be honest about what you have done – you will always be found out in the end.
  • Send a photo. You want to be judged on your ability, which is unrelated to how you look.
  • Use an unprofessional email address. If you have a comedy email account, register for a free one based around your name for job applications.

Nicholas Braddon MSci MA, Patent Attorney and Associate at Barker Brettell LLP, says:
One of the best things I ever did when job-hunting was to get my CV onto one page – without making the text too small to read – and to keep my cover letters less than one page long. If your CV and cover letter are any longer than this, then the person sifting through job applications could switch off before reaching the end.

John P Sykes, Geologist and Mineral Economist, University of Western Australia, says:
I have made the following observations from looking at a number of graduate CVs as a self-employed consultant:
The opening paragraph of a CV should cover your key skills, with bulletpoints that match the requirements for the role. This should be tailored to the job you are applying for.
Technical people tend to pay little attention to the aesthetics of a CV, believing that only content is important. A CV should be presented with the care of a professional report.
Back up your CV with an online presence. At the very least, an up-to-date LinkedIn page with member pages for any relevant institutions.

Sue Brough, Head of Marketing and Communications at Engineering Council, says:
I would advise all IOM3 members who have achieved professional registration as Engineering Technician, Incorporated Engineer or Chartered Engineer to ensure this is evident on their CV and cover letter. Using your post-nominals with your name will make you stand out immediately.

What you said on Twitter
saw a CV last week that was written in the third person w/ narrative “David attended X school, where he studied Y” #weird
Your CV is NOT a list of things you have done. It is a sales tool designed to get you an interview. Period
Golden Rule No 1 of CV Writing is ‘never use the same CV twice’
@danmoyle8 a good tip is not to have 1 cv but a few, so each 1 is specific for each role you apply for!