CVs and covering letters: convince engineering recruiters you're perfect for their graduate job

Some engineering employers, notably smaller companies, prefer CVs and covering letter. Find out how to perfect yours, with help from graduate recruiters Anand Patel (Tube Lines) and Felicity Marsh (AkzoNobel), and download our template engineering CV and covering letter.
image showing part of job ad, CV and covering letter
Use active verbs in your CV to reflect what you would bring to the job and what you can do already: eg designed, developed, devised, analysed, optimised, solved, supervised, presented.

A CV should be no more than two pages of A4, and a covering letter just one page – but how do you fit in all the information you’ve been collecting? By researching the skills sought by the employers you’re targeting and then matching your experience to these. Our sample CV and covering letter are annotated to show you how.

Use a skills-focused or chronological format for your CV, depending on what sells you best, and remember to tailor your CV to each employer. Whichever kind of CV you choose, take care to make it easy to read: consider using bullet points and clear headings.

Anand's tip The layout of your CV needs to be clear and easy to read, so avoid small fonts and large sections of text.

Do graduate engineering CVs need personal statements?

Many students start with a brief personal statement outlining their abilities and aspirations. If you do this, be specific and keep it relevant to the engineering job in question. It's a waste of space to say 'Sheffield student with great teamworking skills seeks challenging job.' Far better to say 'Final-year mechanical engineering student with particular interest in aerodynamics seeks graduate role in the defence industry.'

Educational history – how much detail do engineering companies want?

Your educational history from your university years should include your predicted or actual degree class, information on group projects and your dissertation, any modules relevant to the job, and relevant academic awards. Engineering employers don’t need to know the specifics of modules that don’t relate to them.

Include your A level (or equivalent) subjects and grades. Give GCSE/standard grade results, but don’t waste space listing each one individually.

Felicity's tip If you have studied for a general engineering degree, remember to list the modules you have taken that are most relevant to the role you are applying to.

Engineering work experience

Outline engineering work experience in you CV, judging how much detail to give by how closely it relates to the specific job you are applying to. Explain what skills you learned and how they can be transferred to the position in question. If your internship or industrial placement doesn’t link closely, it’s likely that these will be ‘higher level’ competences such as ‘prioritisation’, ‘explaining technical information to non-technical colleagues’ or ‘communicating with suppliers’, rather than specific technical skills.

Should I include non-engineering experience in my CV?

Many engineering employers look very favourably on achievements and experiences outside engineering. For example, one major engineering recruiter comments that it awards extra points at the applications stage for ‘life experience’. This can be a real boost if you haven’t been able to secure engineering work experience – and can give you an extra edge if you have. Examples worth mentioning include fundraising, voluntary work, organising independent overseas travel, sporting achievements or taking a leading role in a university society. Don’t go into detail: summarise your achievements and any transferable skills developed.

Likewise, part-time work or summer jobs are worth a brief mention, but focus on the transferable skills you developed that will be useful in your engineering career, rather than listing your responsibilities at length.

Anand’s tip Attainment of academic qualifications is always impressive but, as all other graduates will also have these, it tends to be the extras that make candidates stand out: work experience, voluntary work or extra-curricular activities.

Felicity's tip Most graduate programmes look to identify future business leaders, so being able to demonstrate leadership skills through extra-curricular activities is beneficial.

What’s the point of a covering letter?

Most engineering graduates have a fairly wide range of career options open to them. Outside the engineering sector, graduate engineers are sought after for their numerical skills and problem-solving mentality; inside, there’s a wide range of industries and job types that engineers of most disciplines can choose from.

Your covering letter, therefore, is a chance to convince the engineering employer in question that you want to work in their industry, for their specific organisation, and in the job role 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?

The trick is to have a clear idea as to what the company does and what the job entails, then draw out evidence of your own skills, interests and experience that relate to this. ‘I’m applying to you because you are a vibrant, international company that is a market leader in the automotive industry’ (flattery) won’t get you anywhere. A much better approach is:

  • Clearly state your career aim
  • Say specifically what attracts you about that particular employer (eg you could mention a couple of projects it has been involved in that interest you)
  • Mention a work placement, project or module you have enjoyed that relates to the role in question.

Keep your covering letter succinct – it should be no longer than one side of A4.

Anand’s tip Showing an understanding of the company in your letter will illustrate that you’ve done your research. Pick out the key bits that fit with your application and relate them to yourself.

Accuracy and professionalism – vital for graduate engineers

Careers in engineering demand professionalism and accuracy, whether for communicating effectively with clients, suppliers or non-technical colleagues, or for ensuring that calculations are correct. Make sure that your use of written English in your CV and covering letter reassures recruiters that you have these qualities. If written communication isn’t your strong point, refresh your knowledge of punctuation and grammar before you start, and run draft copies of your CVs and covering letters past trusted friends or careers advisers.

Anand's tip Spelling, punctuation and grammar in CVs and covering letters are very important as this is the first the organisation is seeing of you and first impressions do count. It is worth getting someone else to check with fresh eyes before hitting send.