This is the second post in the Career Talk series of blogs. In my previous post, I wrote about the career prospects after Masters in Sweden. The next step after you’ve figured out what to do is to convince someone to let you do that….if you want to go for a Ph.D., you’ll need to convince the professor, if you want to work at a company you’ll have to convince the hiring manager and if you wish to start your own company…then there is a long list of people to convince.
The first part of the convincing process is to make a good first impression. You just don’t find opportunities easily, and when you see one, you really don’t want to throw it away by making a bad first impression. So the first interaction with any company or professor would be your CV and/or your cover letter for the position you’re applying to.
There is a big difference between these two documents. If I had to explain it in one sentence, A CV talks about accomplishments of your past, while your cover letter talks about your promises for future. Your CV provides a factual snapshot of your skills and experience, whereas the cover letter gives a glimpse of the person behind that CV to the employers, and add credibility to it.
Curriculum Vitae or Resumé
If you are studying at a Master’s programme at a university, you would have surely written your CV for the application. And I am sure everyone would have followed a different template, which would be more specific to the country they come from. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make. People just do a google search for any random CV template and use it.
Your CV should be compliant with the norms of the country you’re sending the application to. I committed some blunders, got a large number of rejections before I realized what I was doing wrong. So after some research on CV’s specific to Swedish job market, I have some suggestions and guidelines:
1. Design and layout
The optimal length of a CV in Sweden is two pages. Not one page, not three pages unless you’re CEO of a big company. Try to limit it to a single column which should be readable in one flow.
Fonts: Don’t use a lot of different fonts, A maximum of two or three fonts. One for the content and one for the headers.
Colors: Same with colors, you can get creative if you are going for a creative job. For technical jobs and Ph.D. applications, use two or three colors just to make things distinguishable. No need to make your CV look like a rainbow.
2. Introduction & Contact
Your CV should obviously start with your Name, Keep the font size more than the normal font size so that it should be easy to relate it to you. Some people write Curriculum Vitae/Resume at the top of their CV, I don’t really find it essential, of course, it’s your CV.
You can also add a tagline with a description of what you do and who you are.
Photograph: It’s not mandatory, but is recommended to have your photograph on the CV. The position of the photograph depends on how you are facing the camera in the photograph, for example in my photograph below, I am looking a bit to the right side, so it was better to have that picture on the left side. If I had it on the right corner, I would be practically looking out of my CV, not a really good psychological impression. Don’t put a too formal, passport photo, don’t put a too informal party photo. Try to practice the Swedish concept of Lagom.
Personal Data: This tells some essential things about you. Where to find you, how to contact you and where to find more information about you. So the main things are: Your contact number, your email ID, your address (approximate address is enough) and a link to your Linkedin Profile [More info about LinkedIn in upcoming blogs]. If you have a personal website or web page, put that link also in this section. Don’t put your Twitter/Facebook profile link.
Make sure that email address and LinkedIn profile address are hyperlinked.
This is the header section of my CV for an illustration of what I’m talking. I don’t know if this is perfect. I know for sure that I need a bit less formal photograph.
This is a short three or four sentence section which is very specific to the position you’re applying for. This plays a very imortant role in your CV.
- It creates an impression that you are not sending out generic applications to all the companies.
- Make sure to mention the position and the name of the company in this section.
- A short one or two sentence long bio about why you are interested in this job.
A lot of people don’t include this section in their CV, they think I am attaching a cover letter which has all this info. But I attended an event, where one of the speakers was talking about the importance of this section. He said 50% of people will look at your CV first and 50% of them will look at your cover letter first. So make sure that you have some traces of CV on the cover letter and vice versa. To keep them intrigued about your profile.
4. Work Experience
There are a few things you should mention about your work experience:
- Where did you work ?
- What was your role ?
- What was the time period you worked for (Mention the month as well as year) ?
- What skills did you use there ?
If you have experience in the technical field it is great, but if you lack experience in that field you should not worry. All kinds of work experience is highly valued by the employers as you develop employability skills that are important in almost all kind of jobs.
5. Education & Projects
List your education in reverse chronological order. I guess Master’s and Bachelor’s are enough and there is no need to mention your school education.
Mention the courses you have studied which are relevant to the particular position. There is no need to mention all the courses.
Regarding the projects, some people make a separate section for it, while some mention it under education or experience. Don’t delve into the details, all you have to do is write 3 things about every project.
- What was the aim of the project ?
- What was your contribution/role in the project ?
- What tools/skills you used in it ?
There are three important subsections for this:
- Technical Skills: Mention all the technical tools and applications you know. If possible try to self-evaluate yourself. You can either do it on the scale of – Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert or simply use a scale of 0 to 5. Also, try to categorize things rather than making a long list. Like Programming Languages, Simulation Tools, Word Processing etc.
- Personal Skills: Things like being able to communicate well, to plan, to organize, handle stressful situations, teamwork, handle customers and people
- Linguistic Skills: This is pretty important, mention the languages you know, and your level of proficiency. Having Swedish language skills is always an advantage for jobs.
NOTE: Depending upon the kind of job you are applying to, you can choose the order of mentioning Education, Experience, and Skills. If you are applying for a Ph.D. it’s always good to mention education first. In non-technical part time jobs, skills come first.
7. Extracurricular activities
This is the humane part of your application. When anyone is looking at your CV, they would be eager to know your hobbies and interests. Try to give an insight to what else you do, if you play any sport, or play any musical instrument, or like to travel, mention it here. If you have some accomplishments in any of these fields, mention that too. Try to limit this section to 4-5 lines.
You can always skip this section if you don’t have any references. But in case you are mentioning any reference, then make sure to inform your referrer about the job application. Because they are likely to be contacted regarding your application by your employer.
Some more tips:
- Try to move from plain uni-color CVs to better-looking ones. Try to use some tools other than MS word. I use Adobe InDesign, some of my friends use LaTeX.
- If you still want to stick to MS word, this is a website with some good templates: Hloom.com
- For LaTeX users, overleaf.com has some great templates.
- Edit your CV to fit every job you apply for. Make sure it’s immediately obvious why your experience and skills match what they are looking for.
- Use bold type appropriately. Try to avoid using underlining.
- Triple check for spelling mistakes and typos, you don’t want to misspell your area of expertise.
- Finally, print your CV on a A4 size paper, and see if the font size you chose looks good. On a computer screen, you have a choice to zoom in and out. It’s not easy to estimate if the font size is too big or too small, and a lot of employers evaluate the paper applications.
Cover Letter or Motivation Letter
This is undoubtedly the most important part of your application after your CV. So make sure that you write a good one. In most of the cases, it is more important than your grades, because it’s your cover letter that shows your potential employer if you are really interested in working with them or if this is just one of your 20 random job applications.
The cover letter should never exceed an A4 size sheet, this doesn’t mean that you write a lot and shrink the font size to 9pt. A4 size with a font size of 11 or 12 and 1.5 line spacing is recommended. There are some more important things while writing a cover letter:
- Letterhead: Use a letterhead style header for writing all the cover letters, the header section shall contain basically all the information as your CV header, except the links: Your Name, Address, Phone Number, and Email.
- Title: Mention the job title you are applying for at the top. Eg. Application for the post of Graduate Engineer.
- Date: Always mention the date when you are submitting the application, you can use an automated feature in MS word for this.
- Salutation: Dear Sir or Madam – this is one of the most generic ways of addressing your potential employer. Most of the job postings have the name of a contact person mentioned, address your cover letter to that person. Don’t get too cheesy with salutations like Respected Sir etc. Use Dear First name format when applying for jobs. If you are applying for a Ph.D. then you can use Dear Dr./Prof. Last name format too.
- Content: The cover letter comprises of three important parts:
- About me: Briefly introduce what you are doing, what is your background and how you got to know about the opportunity.
- Why I am good for this job: Try to make connections between what the company asks for in the job listing and your own skills and experience. This is your chance to show the employer why you are the best person for the job. Try to exemplify, for example instead of saying you are a good communicator, it’s better to say “My experience at the job fair allowed me to interact with a lot of people, which helped me to develop good communications skills”
- Why your company suits me: Search for specific information about the organization and job you are applying for and try to relate it to your skills and interests. Again exemplify; like “I have worked with python during a couple of projects and found it very interesting, working at your company will be an opportunity to pursue those interests professionally”
- Concluding the letter: Try to end on a not-so-desperate note. You can mention that you look forward to talking to them. Also, mention that your CV is attached with the letter.
- Signature: Always sign your name in the end. If you are sending a paper application (rare case), then sign with a black pen above your name.
Some more tips:
- Do not use contractions.
For example: Do not use don’t, it’s I’ll, etc. Use do not, it is, I will, etc.
- Spell check your cover letter to avoid mistakes! Use editors like Grammarly to know the grammar mistakes too. MS word won’t point out the difference between it’s and its, they both are correct but used in different contexts.
- Ask your friends to review your cover letter and CV once you are done. I always do that, I and my friends review each others’ applications all the time.
- Avoid writing in the passive voice. Make yourself the subject of the sentence using active words.
- Don’t make the cover letter a wordy version of your CV; remember, your CV has your past, and the cover letter has your future plans.
Now that you’ll be spending a lot of time while working on your application. Here is some lyric-less working music to make it easy.
Read the next blog in this series here: