Learn how to write a winning CV and a compelling cover letter for every apprenticeship role.
- Create a unique CV and cover letter for each position. Even if you're applying to roles online (which is the focus of this guide), there is usually an opportunity to attach a cover letter.
- Your CV is a timeline of facts. It's evidence of your career so far. Avoid lengthy sentences and bloated professional adjectives.
- Your cover letter proves you are relevant workplace personnel. Sell your convictions with compelling language without leaning on flimsy phrases like 'I believe' or 'I feel'.
A CV and cover letter fulfil different purposes:
- A cover letter is your sales pitch for the job that describes your relevance to the role. An employer is likely to read it first and decide whether your CV is worth considering.
- A CV is a timeline of your experience. It's evidence that backs up your compelling cover letter.
If both documents are persuasive, the employer will want to meet you.
By excluding one, or putting more effort into one than the other, you're only giving yourself a 50% chance of getting an interview, so let's crank up the odds!
If you're applying for a job online, you're in one of three situations:
- The employer wants applications to contact via a recruitment email address
- You're applying via a recruitment portal, like the AVS, or Indeed.com, where you upload documents and send them
- You have to fill in a digital application form with specified fields
If you're applying via email, the cover letter can be the body content of your email, but if it's via a portal, you can include the cover letter as the front page of your CV.
How long should a cover letter be?
Your cover letter should be no longer than 350 words. Be concise as it is easier to read and remember.
Write your cover letter in Word, or programmes like Grammarly, and keep an eye on the word count.
How to set the tone of a cover letter
How you say something is just as important as what you say.
The structure, vocabulary and grammar of your cover letter help you to set the right tone.
The tone of the cover letter should be calm, confident, and polite. It's an extension of your professional personality.
Although a cover letter should be formal, the language doesn't need to be stuffy. Aim for clarity.
One way to do that is to keep sentences to 20 words or fewer. A long sentence is confusing to read and it's harder for an employer to understand your point or intention.
When you do have a long sentence, use commas to break up phrases.
Use accessible language. In other words, would you use all these words in real life? If not, unclutter the words and stick with your everyday vocabulary.
Check that the punctuation is accessible. A semicolon might be recommended by Word's spelling and grammar checker feature, but if it doesn't inform meaning, remove it.
Likewise, remove exclamation points and double question marks. Although punctuation adds personality, be lively with your ideas, rather than take risks with the tone.
Finally, complete every thought and resist jumping from one point to another in one sentence. When you move onto another point, start a new paragraph.
Your cover letter is your first impression, so it needs to engage the employer and sell your skills.
Address it to the right person
Address your letter to the person named in the job advert.
Use 'Dear David,' rather than 'Hi Dave,'.
It's the first time you've been in touch, so be formal and respectful. In the first instance, use 'Dear', and be more conversational with 'Hi' in later correspondence.
If the job advert doesn't name the hiring manager:
- Google the business and find its phone number
- Call up and explain you'd like to apply for the role
- Ask for the name of the hiring manager, so you know who to address
Who you are and why you're getting in touch
The first sentence is your introduction, that helps you to gain an advantage over other applicants.
In a few words, you can emphasise your relevance to the role and industry. The formula looks like this:
I am a Your job title now with the number of years of experience in relevant field, and I would like to apply for the role you are applying for.
I am a qualified Level 4 Engineer with five years of experience in toolmaking, and I would like to apply for your senior toolmaker role.
You can add extra confidence if it's a senior role.
I am a qualified Level 4 Engineer with five years of experience in toolmaking. I would love to bring my experience to your organisation and apply for your senior toolmaker role.
Why should you get an interview?
The second paragraph tells the employer why you're the right candidate for the role.
This is the time to talk about your specific, relevant skills that match the requirements of the job description.
I am a fluent Welsh speaker with sign language training, working with 15 children aged 0-5, under the Flying Start programme, focusing on their health, wellbeing and education.
What can you do for the employer?
In the third paragraph, summarise your unique qualities and skills that would be useful to the employer.
Give examples of how these traits were revealed in previous employment as concisely as you can.
In my current role as Head of Customer Service, I increased our resolved tickets by 46% in 12 months, improving the CS team's efficiency and effectiveness.
In your closing paragraph, tell the employer why your experience will make a difference to their organisation. Be assertive and resist the temptation to sit on the fence with words like 'believe', 'feel' or 'think'.
I will replicate my successes at TSW Training. I will bring all I've learnt from my IAG Level 4, plus my on-the-job experience, to build on the existing on-staff expertise and reputation.
Say thank you
Close your letter politely:
Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the role further. If you have any questions about my experience, please don't hesitate to contact me.
A final check
Read the whole letter as one and make sure it's understandable and clear.
An impressive cover letter is:
- Free of mistakes. The spelling and grammar is faultless
- It's consistent. Job titles, brand names and your name are capitalised consistently, for example
- It's factual, not based on opinion, beliefs, or feelings
Now the cover letter is selling your skills, let's smarten up your CV.
Your CV should include the following information:
- Name and address
- Contact information
- Relevant experience
- Interests and hobbies
- Personal statements
But it's how you present the information that will make you stand out.
And we don't mean using a fancy design - employers want to see the improvements you've brought to businesses upfront.
Here's a compelling CV template, that will show off your skills.
Headline: Your name
Sub header: Your current job title, followed by your email address and contact telephone number
A summary paragraph that describes your experience, with elements lifted from your cover letter. For example:
I am a customer service team leader that champions the customer, putting their needs first. I am a qualified Level 4 Information, Advice and Guidance apprentice, with a track record of evaluation and analysis to improve the efficiency and performance of my team.
Use this section to bullet point your relevant accomplishments. Show the employer what you could do for their organisation.
Keep the bullet points to a maximum of four and be concise and business focused. For example:
- Achieved a Level 4 Information, Advice and Guidance apprenticeship in December 2020
- Closed 1,505 tickets in May 2021, an improvement of 46%
- Launched a new process to manage the personal caseloads of 6 members of staff in April 2021, causing an uplift in closed ticket improvements
- Developed a research initiative to improve the quality of information delivered by our CS operatives in January 2021
Next up is a chronological summary of where you've worked, starting with your most recent employer.
For each role, provide the following information:
- The name of the employer
- Your role
- The dates you worked there
- In bullet points, your responsibilities, and duties
Skills and programmes
Devote a separate section for your skills and abilities using machinery, or software.
Hobbies and interests
The final section of your CV is about what inspires you outside of work. It's a good opportunity to show that you're in the habit of their field.
If you're an engineer, for example, the employer might be interested if you're building, programming, or creating as a hobby.
It's a chance to show off your qualities, as well as your skills.
No, it's always a good idea to tailor your cover letter for the particular job and employer you're contacting.
It shows you have an attention to detail and that you've carefully considered the needs of the company.