First impressions are lasting, so it pays to ensure that the cover letter and CV that you submit as part of your graduate application give prospective employers a reason to reach out to you. By investing time in your cover letter and CV, you can draw attention to your relevant academic credentials and work experience, as well as any soft skills or personal interests. To help you put your best foot forward, we’ve assembled some tips on how to create a killer cover letter and resume.
A cover letter is like a sales pitch and what you’re trying to sell is your own suitability for a target job. Successful cover letters:
Your covering letter is an opportunity to convince the engineering employer in question that you want to work in their industry, for their specific organisation and in the role they have advertised. For example, why do you want to use your mechanical engineering degree in the rail industry specifically? What’s the appeal of following a commercial route rather than a more technical one? How are you more suitable than other candidates? A cover letter should answer all of these questions, while also providing the basic information that recruiters might need to get in touch with any further questions.
A cover letter should include the following:
Your cover letter should have a clear structure with an introduction that highlights your key reasons for being an eligible candidate; a summary of your relevant skills and experiences, organised into clear paragraphs; and a closing statement that reiterates your interest in the job, thanks the employer for their time, and includes a ‘soft pitch’. For example, you might write something like: ‘I look forward to speaking with you further about how I can make a positive contribution to your team’.
Throughout the letter, your tone should be polite and professional. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should tie yourself in knots trying to sound overly formal. Simply avoid colloquial language wherever possible and focus on providing evidence of why you should be hired (as opposed to simply claiming to be ‘excellent’ or ‘talented’).
Keep your cover letter succinct – it should be no longer than one A4 page and have your details clearly written as part of a letterhead. Related points should be organised into separate paragraphs to facilitate reader comprehension and prevent the appearance of ‘busyness’ on the page.
The trick to writing a successful cover letter is to have a clear idea of what the company does and what the job entails. You can then draw out evidence of your own relevant skills, interests and experience. Here, the more specific you can be, the better. For example, instead of simply writing that you’ve ‘interned at a leading structural engineering firm’, you could say ‘as an intern, I contributed to a project that led to savings of $X’.
A popular and effective way to present such information is by using the STAR technique. STAR stands for ‘situation, task, action, and result’. In other words, you briefly summarise the context in which you confronted a challenge or opportunity; identify what it required you to do; describe the steps you took; and share the results.
A curriculum vitae (CV or vita) is a written overview of your experience and other qualifications for a job opportunity. Writing one can be time-consuming. However, the good news is that, once complete, the same CV can be submitted with minor tweaks to multiple employer.
A CV should concisely outline your relevant educational history, work experience, professional accomplishments and qualifications. It may also include details of referees (if requested). A successful CV:
The role of a CV is to provide recruiters and prospective employers with an easily scannable summary of your achievements so that they can decide whether or not to progress your application by offering you an interview.
As an engineering graduate, you’ll often find that your educational pedigree is similar to other applicants, many of whom will have completed near-identical degrees at equivalent institutions. Consequently, it’s worth taking the time to figure out what differentiates you from the crowd before subtly emphasising it in your CV.
For example, you might bill yourself as an engineer with strong communication skills and include, in your CV, the fact that you volunteered for a student radio station. Or perhaps you speak another language, love coding or have a specific five-year goal that the role you're applying for will help you to achieve. Giving your CV a novel ‘twist’ is a surefire way to make sure it doesn’t get lost in all the noise.
An engineering CV should include the following:
Your educational history from your university years should include your predicted or actual degree grades, information on group projects and your dissertation, any units relevant to the job, and relevant academic awards. Engineering employers don’t need to know the specifics of units that don’t relate to them.
You should prioritise any engineering work experience you might have, and highlight specific accomplishments that are relevant to the position for which you’re applying.
Of course, as a graduate, your experience in engineering may be limited. Fortunately, many engineering employers look very favourably on achievements and experiences outside engineering. Examples worth mentioning include fundraising, voluntary work, independent overseas travel, sporting achievements or leading roles in university clubs or societies. You needn’t go into too much detail – a summary of your achievements and any relevant transferable skills (eg. leadership, teamwork or problem-solving skills) will suffice.
The most common CV format is the reverse-chronological approach, which presents your most recent work experience and educational accomplishments first. If you follow this approach, make sure that the chronology is clear and that there are no large gaps which could confuse or concern employers. For example, if you took a year off to go travelling between jobs, you might even include that as a CV entry.
As with your cover letter, your tone should be polite and professional, and your entries as specific and detailed as possible. Here are some tips to get you started: