CVs, Applications, Interviews and Assessment Centres

Whether you are applying for postgraduate study, a graduate role, placement, internship, work experience or a part time job, tailoring your CV and applications will be vital to increase your chances of securing an interview. Your Careers Service is here to help you every step of the way and no question is too big or small so do not hesitate to arrange a session with an adviser today.

The key steps to success:

  • Learn about yourself and recognise your strengths to help you navigate your options
  • Explore myCareer and other jobs boards to find current opportunities
  • Do your homework; research the employer and understand the job requirements as this will help you to produce a strong application
  • Tailor the content of your CV or application to cover all criteria
  • Upload your CV on CV360 for instant feedback on the structure and proof-reading
  • Book an appointment with an adviser to discuss feedback on tailoring and interview preparation

CVs

You may need to create a CV when applying for further study, volunteering or employment and every opportunity may require tweaks in formatting and content. If you have never written a CV you can check out our on-demand video resources on myCareer and attend our workshops to help you get started.

Before you start drafting your CV make sure you read and analyse the requirements listed in the advert and job description. Make a list of key points that you want your CV to convey in order to match the criteria. It is important to understand your own reasons for applying as well as why you think you will be a strong candidate so the employer understands your motivations. Research the company and the role to help you understand what they are looking for and do not be afraid to make contact with the employer to ask further questions to show that you are keen. This will not only provide you with further insight into how you would be of benefit to the team but also allows you to put your name, communication and interpersonal skills across.

Once you decide what information will be the most important to show you as a strong candidate you can move onto thinking how this could best be presented. From academic CV to chronological or skills based, the type of the CV will allow you to highlight the most relevant sections of your document. For example, if you are applying for an opportunity with no relevant work experience you may consider opting for a skills based CV.

Chronological CV – most commonly used type of CV, lists your education and experience in a reversed-chronological order

Skills-based CV – often used to highlight essential skills or in the case of limited experience

Academic CV – used for applications for research roles.

Teaching CV – for those applying for teaching roles or experience

Technical CV – for those applying for IT jobs

Legal CV – for applying for training contracts or legal work experience

To learn more about how to tailor your CV visit our CV & Cover letter guide and for more ideas on CV examples for specific sectors visit TargetJobs page. If you are applying for a creative role or a job in a creative industry check out our full Creative CV Guide to learn how to showcase your skills in alternative forms.

Attention to detail is the key to submit a strong application so do not forget to screen your CV through CV360 for proof-reading and instant feedback on structure and book an appointment with an adviser to discuss feedback on the content. You can speak to an adviser about anything related to your applications or work experience so if you are unsure about any of the steps for a successful application be sure to book an appointment as soon as possible.

Cover letter

Your CV will be usually be accompanied by a cover letter, which outlines the role you are applying for and the reasons why you are applying. If you think of a CV as a factual account of your skills, qualifications and experiences, then a cover letter is more of a dialogue describing your motivations for wanting the role, why you think you are suitable and why you have an interest in that specific employer.


Address your letter

Addressing your cover letter to a specific person is more personal and also shows you have read the opportunity information thoroughly. If the vacancy does not list the name of the recruiting manager you can search for the team board on the company’s website or use LinkedIn.

Introduce yourself and the intention of the letter

There is no need to state your name but introducing yourself as a ‘second year student’ or a ‘graduate’ and following it up with the position you’d like to apply for will tell the reader quickly and efficiently what the letter is for.

Why them?

Explain your motivation and enthusiasm for the role and the company. Demonstrate that you have done your research and you understand what they are about. You may consider to quote some statistics you have found, or a project that they are involved with and then explain how this is of particular interest or relevance to you. 

Avoid vague statements such as “I want to work for a big company with a great reputation” and be more specific, such as “The National Trust appeals to me because of your commitment to sustainability, renewable energy and conservation, but particularly your approach to education amongst children and families, something I believe is the only solution to the troubling environmental issues we are currently facing”

Why you?

It is important that you relate this section to the requirements of the role. Explain what you have to offer, and how you will contribute to the role. Summarise your key skills, qualities, qualifications and experiences which make you a suitable candidate. You might like to also give some examples to illustrate your key selling points.

You can find tips on how to create a cover letter in our full CV & Cover letter guide, use the Cover Letter Builder on myCareer Digital Career Resources and find further suggestions on Prospects Cover Letter guide.

Application forms and supporting statements

Many companies are using their own online application forms as an alternative to a traditional CV and Cover Letter approach. Employers usually have a high number of applications to sieve through so make sure you tailor the content to the company and the job requirements.

Whilst some sections may be straight forward e.g. completing your personal details and education, others will need more thought and preparation. You may be tempted to copy and paste your previous employment duties from your last CV or list your main responsibilities. However, do consider that the employer is expecting to see how your previous jobs developed your skills for the role they are trying to fill. Do allow enough time to complete a form and bear in mind that writing a strong and evidenced supporting statement can take you several hours or days.

What to expect

Application forms vary so it is vital that you familiarise yourself with the form before you embark on completing it. Understanding each section will allow you to plan for content and the time you would need to complete it. Usual sections are:

  • Personal information – personal details and contact information
  • Educational background - your academic achievements, including the institutions you've attended, courses taken and qualifications gained.
  • Work experience - your employment history with main duties and responsibilities in each role, emphasising those most closely related to the job you're applying for.
  • Competency-based questions – these would be specific questions about examples of times when you've demonstrated the skills required for the role. Avoid generalising or being vague. Use a STAR technique to help you describe a specific situation.
  • Personal statement – check out the word count and use the personal specification in the job advert to write a well-structured and evidenced case that you are the right person for the job.

Demonstrate your passion for the job, company or sector and any past achievements you can relate to the role. Taking a factual approach to describing your skills will earn you higher marks. 

For instance, the employer is unable to score full marks for stating that you have ‘’excellent communication skills’’ so aim to evidence the skill with examples such as ‘’As a Student Ambassador I have developed strong communication skills through delivering presentations and answering questions of perspective students or parents.’’

Before you make the start take a look at our Digital Careers Resources:

Interviews

Interviews can be daunting but it is only natural to feel nervous. It is important to go into the interview feeling confident and well prepared. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic interviews will more than likely take place virtually via Zoom or MS Teams.

Top tips

  • Don’t be late! – Make sure you are aware of the times. If it is a virtual interview log on at least 5 minutes before and be ready.
  • Take a breath – it is okay to ask for a moment to think about your answer.
  • Sit in an area with plenty of natural light, do not have the sun shining directly into the camera and blinding the interviewer.
  • Keep your computer camera at eye level to avoid looking up or down.
  • Think about your background – have you made your bed? Is your room tidy? If your room is dis-organised the interviewer will think you are too.
  • First impressions – this is key, be polite and friendly.
  • Treat the interview as if it is face to face. Smile to show you are a friendly, approachable person and keep eye contact.
  • At the end of the interview remember to ask questions! Think what you would like to know more about.
  • Thank the interviewer at the end for the opportunity and their time.

There are several types of interview questions you could be asked.

Competency based questions: (also known as behavioral, structured or situational)

This will be questions about your skills. They work on the premise that past behavior is the best indicator of future performance. The skills you will be questioned on will depend on the job you are applying for and the sector you will be working in.

Expect questions with openings such as those below and ones which will expect you to focus on your past experiences:

  • Tell me about a time when you have…..
  • Give me an example of when you…..
  • Describe how you….

When answering these types of questions, you need to apply the STAR technique and prepare a story like response. Always listen to the question carefully and prepare your answer. The key with using this method is thinking of an appropriate example. The STAR technique allows you to answer the question in a systematic way whilst providing all of the essential details.

The STAR technique explained:

Situation: set the scene and provide the details.

Task: describe your responsibility in the situation that took place.

Action: Describe the steps you took (this is the main part of your answer – be very specific here).

Result: Explain the outcome that your actions achieved. Explain to the interviewer what you learnt from the situation.

Strength based questions:

These types of questions are to find out what your interests and strengths are with an aim to establish a good ‘personality’ fit for the role. The strength-based interviews normally contain a lot more questions that competency based interviews.

For example:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you stay motivated?
  • What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Further preparation:

Prospects Interview Guides are your one stop shop for everything you need to know about interview questions and preparation.

Interview360 is an online tool to practice and develop your interview skills and receive instant feedback on body language and communication style. This is a great way to practice for your upcoming interview.

Glassdoor is a platform which will allow you an insight into the companies’ interview process. You can find out what questions previous candidates were asked and their overall interview experience.

Book an appointment with one of our advisers for help with interview techniques, tips or mock interviews.


Assessment centres and Psychometric tests

Assessment centres (otherwise known as assessment days) are common and often used in recruitment for graduate positions. Ranging between an afternoon and two days the assessment centre is deigned to simulate real life situations and enables the employer to see how you would perform and interact with others and how you work under pressure. You will be assessed throughout the whole day (even during breaks!) usually amongst a group of 6-8 people.

Psychometric tests are used to help to identify your skills, knowledge and personality. They're often used during the preliminary screening stage, or as part of an assessment centre.

Assessment centres - what to expect?

Whether you are invited to the employer's offices, training facility or completing the assessment centre online you are likely to be faced with a variety of exercises, including:

  • case studies
  • group discussions
  • in-tray exercises
  • presentations
  • psychometric tests
  • role plays
  • social events
  • written tests
Whilst the standard interviews are usually focused on skills required for the role, the assessment centre assessors will be scoring you against wider set of skills and attributes. These are often adaptability, problem solving or analytical thinking, commercial awareness, communication, creativity, decision-making, leadership, negotiation, organisation, persuasion, planning, team-work and time management

One of the main things to remember is to be prepared! So learn more about the assessment centres and check out our assessment centre tool. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your preparation book your advice appointment today.

Psychometric Tests

Psychometric tests are often used during the preliminary screening stage to help to identify your skills, cognitive ability and/or personality. If you are applying for a graduate job, internship or a placement you will likely be tested this way. The majority of psychometric testing is completed online and are usually timed.

There are several types of psychometric tests including verbal reasoning, numerical skills or critical thinking. They may seem daunting at first but you can improve your performance and confidence by practicing in advance. If you feel you may struggle with the tests, or if you were previously unsuccessful in the process, explore packages that are available online.

You can start practising using our Psychometric Tests in Digital Career Resources on myCareer and explore further free resources below:


Launch your career with LinkedIn

Your wide-reaching online CV that never sleeps, LinkedIn is the social network platform for professionals, connecting students and graduates with employers and businesses.


How to make the most of LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional online network that will allow you to search for jobs and contact potential employers. You can start building your network and job sector knowledge using LinkedIn’s alumni tool. This will allow you to see the career journeys of graduates from your programme, the qualifications they completed, the skills they developed and employers they worked for. You can then ‘connect’ with people of interest.

To learn more about LinkedIn and how to use it check out our LinkedIn webpage and book onto our regular Master LinkedIn webinars.

LinkedIn Learning is an online training platform offering thousands of courses to develop your knowledge in software, creative, and business skills. All students of University of Plymouth can access LinkedIn learning for free even without a LinkedIn profile. For new users we would recommend the overview page which includes videos on how to use LinkedIn Learning.

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