If you want a job in the UK, this guide explains how to write a British style CV and cover letter plus information and tips on job interviews in the UK.
Once you find a job in the UK, increase you chances of getting the job by adapting your CV and interview style to match the expectations of British employers. To give yourself the best chance of getting a job in the UK, you’ll need to know how to fill in a British job application form, put together a British-style CV and write an accompanying cover letter. You’ll also need to know what to expect if you are invited to a job interview in the UK, to help avoid any cultural blunders.
Your British job application
When you apply for a job in the UK you may be asked to send in a short covering letter and either a completed application form produced by the company or organisation, or a CV, specially adapted to the job for which you’re applying, or to apply online. Whichever route you take, your application should always be clear, well-structured and succinct with no spelling or grammatical errors. Ask an English-speaking friend to read through your application if necessary.
If the advertised vacancy asks you to complete an application form, don’t be tempted to send in your CV instead of the application form – the CV will be most likely to be thrown into the bin and your application dismissed. Only attach a photo or send copies of any educational certificates or references with your initial application if requested – it is not the norm to send either in the UK.
You must apply in English unless the job advert specifically requests that you apply in another language.
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The job description and job specification
British employers usually provide applicants with a job description outlining what the job entails, specific duties and responsibilities, and sometimes a chart showing how the role relates to the rest of the organisation, including the line of management (your line manager being your immediate boss). You may also be sent a person specification or ‘spec’, setting out the list of skills and experience that are essential or desirable in the ideal candidate. Use all of this information when you’re putting together the CV or application form and covering letter to show the employer how your skills, experience and qualities match their specific requirements.
Take the time to read through carefully, making sure you fill in the form fully, correctly, and with no mistakes or corrections. Write answers out in rough or in pencil first. You can usually use a separate sheet if necessary. You’ll be asked about your qualifications and experience but you may also be asked to write about what you can bring to the job, what you see as your strengths and weaknesses, and why you want the job.
How to prepare a British-style CV
Keep your British-style CV to a maximum of two sides of A4 paper. Presentation is very important, use good quality paper and lay out the information clearly. Put ‘ your name – CV’ at the top of the first page as a heading.
For some jobs in marketing and the media, you might like to put a personal profile of no more than four lines, at the start of the CV; something punchy and a concise introduction to your skills and aims.
When you are putting the CV together, put information about your qualifications and work experience in reverse chronological order, that is, the most recent first. Be specific about your skills and experience, link it to the job, and avoid clichés and vague general statements.
This is the order of information you should follow when you prepare your British CV:
- Your personal details: name, date of birth, address, email and phone number. There’s no need to include your marital status or whether you do or don’t have children.
- If you’ve been working for a year or more then put your employment history next, with the employer’s name, type of company (unless it’s obvious) and address, the position held with dates, and a bullet point list of key responsibilities and/or achievements. Try to relate your skills to the job.
- Education, with university name and details, dates, name of the courses taken, and qualification with grade. Don’t forget to mention any prizes or special work relevant to the job for which you’re applying. Then comes secondary education: name and address of school, dates with qualifications and grades (leave out poor grades). If it’s your first job, then put education first, followed by work experience.
- Skills: computer skills, specifying Mac or PC, and listing details of software/applications and level of knowledge, languages, with level of fluency, and whether you have a driving licence for the UK (if relevant).
- Interests and achievements: only if they are relevant to the job you’re applying for, or are of particular interest. Keep this section brief.
- At the end, add the names and contact details of two referees who have agreed to support your application (don’t forget to ask them first).
Writing a British-style covering letter
A British covering letter is usually written on a computer on just one side of paper, and is formal, short and to the point. Make sure the letter is addressed to the correct person. You should state the job you’re applying for and where you saw the advert (if appropriate). Briefly explain why you’re interested in the position, and what it is about this particular company that attracts you. Then explain how your skills and experience make you the right person for the job and what you can offer the company. End the letter with ‘Yours sincerely’, then add your signature and print your name underneath.
The Guardian offers three examples of good cover letters.
British job interviews and the selection procedure
After you have sent in your application you may only hear back from the employer if you have secured an interview. Some employers receive so many applications for a single position that they cannot acknowledge unsuccessful applications. If you don’t hear from the employer within a week after the deadline for applications to be submitted, it is perfectly acceptable to contact them and ask when they will be drawing up their shortlist of applicants for interview. You may be invited to come to an interview on the telephone or by email or letter.
The British interview process
Depending on the job, you may have one, two or a series of interviews. They may be one-to-one with the line manager or person from the human resources/personnel department, two-to-one with both of these, or with a panel of up to six interviewers.
Some interviews are structured or ‘competence-based’ where you’ll be asked a series of questions about personal qualities needed to do the job and to give examples of situations where you’ve demonstrated these (for example, ‘describe a situation where you had to overcome a difficult obstacle’). Others are more like conversations based around your CV or application form. You may be also asked to take psychometric or other tests as part of the British interview process.
You may be contacted the next day or within days or weeks but generally speaking, the longer you go without hearing from the employer the lower your chances of being offered the job.
If you don’t get the job you can try emailing or phoning to politely ask for feedback on your interview.
- Prepare for the interview beforehand: research the employer as well as the wider sector; read through your application form/CV so that you’re ready for questions on it, and have some interesting questions ready for the employer (and not just about pay or holidays). Take a notepad to make notes in the interview if you wish.
- Dress smartly – first impressions are very important; many employers are put off by tattoos, for example, so consider covering them if you have them.
- Be on time.
- Shake the interviewer firmly by the hand and don’t sit down until you’re invited.
- There may be some small talk or light conversation before the interview proper gets started, eg. ‘how was your journey to the interview?’ which is meant to relax you. Be friendly but remember it will also count towards the general impression you’re giving.
- Smile and make eye contact during the interview. If there’s more than one interviewer, start your answer by looking at the person who asked the question but look at the other interviewers too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or ask a question during the interview.
- Avoid ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers or being too brief but don’t ramble on either.
- Don’t afraid to get into a discussion during the interview; an interviewer might deliberately challenge what you say to get a discussion going – but be polite and always keep your cool.
- Avoid exaggerating or boasting about your achievements as you might come across as arrogant.
- Typical British interview questions are: ‘what are your main weaknesses and strengths?’ and ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ time’ – so think about the answers to these questions beforehand.
- Avoid criticising pervious employers.
- British interviews almost always end with the opportunity for you to ask questions – take it!
- At the end of the interview, thank the interviewers.