CVs and covering letters for work experience
Check out our essential guide to CVs and covering letters for work experience and internships to help you make the best possible application.
You don’t have to stick to a rigid format or set headings.
There is no one right way to write a CV for an internship, placement, open day or other work experience opportunity and only a very few rules for a covering letter. We know that there is nothing scarier than a blank piece of paper, though, and so we provide a handy sample of a penultimate-year student’s CV for you to download and use as inspiration. We also answer your work experience CV and covering letter FAQs to make sure you show yourself in the best light.
What should and shouldn’t I put on a CV?
A CV for an internship or work experience opportunity should clearly outline:
- your contact details
- your education history
- any work experience or part-time jobs
- any active involvement in extracurricular activities, eg university societies, community groups such as Scouts, volunteering, Duke of Edinburgh and so on
It’s good to list your additional language skills (if you have them), your IT skills, training in first aid (if you have any) and that you have a full, clean driving licence (if you do).
You can put details of your referees if you like (it is normal practice to include an academic tutor and a former work experience employer, if appropriate), but you can also just write ‘details available on request’. It will depend on the space available.
For CVs in the UK, you shouldn’t include your photograph, date of birth, gender, marital status, ethnic background or religious beliefs.
If you are in the penultimate year of your degree, employers probably won’t be interested in your experiences before you reached sixth form or further education college – unless you have done something particularly unusual or noteworthy.
What if I have no work experience to add to my CV?
Your CV should express evidence of your skills and abilities no matter where you gained them, so emphasise any involvement in clubs and extracurricular activities. Highlight the times you have taken responsibility for something, such as helping organise a charity event. Write about any project work you’ve completed as part of your A levels or degree, calling attention to the skills you’ve gained.
What is the best format for my internship CV?
There are two main ways that you could structure your CV – chronological or skills-based – although you can borrow elements of both. Read our explanation of the difference between chronological and skills-based CVs, but a chronological format is suitable for most university students in their late teens and early twenties and that is what we have used for our template CV.
In a chronological CV format, details about education, work experience and extracurricular activities are presented in reverse chronological order (most recent first), but you don’t have to stick to set headings. In our template CV, we have used ‘work experience’ for paid experience and ‘volunteering achievements’ for our candidate’s involvement in student societies and her contributing to student and local newspapers. However, if you have a lot of work experience in retail, for example, you could title the section ‘Retail work experience’. If you’ve had a lot of responsibility, you might want a section titled ‘Positions of responsibility’. If you’ve volunteered a lot, you could opt for ‘Voluntary work and fundraising’.
You’re looking to strike a fine balance between depth of information and a concise format. If a part-time job or extracurricular activity is particularly relevant to the employer or the opportunity, give it more space than other facts.
Make sure that your CV is neat and easy to read. For example, use the same typeface and point size for all headings. If you use bullet points, use them in every section. You can add colour to your CV, if it will make it more attractive – just make sure that the document is still legible if it is printed out in black and white.
How long should a CV be?
Either one full page or two full pages. Some employers specify a particular length of CV, so do double check before you send it off.
What contact details should I provide on my CV?
Make sure that you put down contact details that you use or access regularly. The recruiter is likely to email or phone you to invite you to an interview and you don’t want to miss the communication. However, make sure that your email address and your voicemail greeting sound professional or formal – you want to give the right impression.
If you want to add your LinkedIn handle (if you have one), make sure that your profile tallies with what you have put in your CV.
How do I present my education history?
You don’t need to list all of your GCSEs (or equivalent) – just cite the number and the range of grades.
In most cases, you don’t need to outline all of your degree modules and marks individually. It is usually sufficient to pick out any that are particularly relevant to the opportunity and to provide brief details of any projects. The exception might be if you are applying for a technical role and have done a technical degree (such as in engineering or technology) if you don’t have an opportunity to provide a full transcript. However, even then, if you need lots of space to write about your work experience or extracurricular achievements, it is usually sufficient to pick out modules that are most relevant.
How do I best describe my work experience and extracurricular activities?
You need to convey not just what you’ve done, but the skills you developed and what you have achieved. Focus on your personal contribution to whatever it is you’re writing about and stress achievements, results and outcomes, quantifying them wherever possible.
The examples below and above show how you can interweave your skills into the description of the tasks you completed and how you can quantify your achievements.
However, you will need to amend your CV for each individual opportunity that you apply for. Read each job description and use the employer's language when describing your achievements. For example, if they look for 'planning and organisation', make sure you use the words 'planned' and 'organised' in your CV. If they have used the term 'time management', explain how you managed your time. This will signal to the employer that you are right for the opportunity.
Do I need to include a career aim or personal statement on an internship CV?
Often a career aim or personal statement doesn’t give you a competitive advantage, as most students’ sound remarkably similar: for example, ‘A creative student who can work well in a team seeking a placement’. This is unlikely to strengthen your application and so it is usually better to use the space to expand on your part-time jobs or extracurricular achievements.
The exception to this is if you do not have the opportunity to submit a covering letter or to answer application form questions about your reasons for applying or your career aims.
If you do use a personal statement to introduce yourself, make it very specific to the employer and the opportunity and draw out what it is about you that would make you the best hire.
When do I need to write a covering letter for an internship?
Write a covering letter to accompany your CV if you apply for an opportunity via email. You can either write your covering letter directly into the email window or attach it as a separate document (if you do the latter, you should write a brief message in the email, outlining what you are applying for and referring the reader to the attached documents.)
If you are filling in an online form, it will specify whether a covering letter is required.
What do I write in a covering letter?
A covering letter introduces your CV. It highlights your most relevant skills and your enthusiasm for the opportunity. It must be specific to that opportunity and employer; every employer wants to feel wanted. A covering letter has four parts:
- An introduction. Try to apply to a named person rather than ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. State the opportunity you are applying for and where you saw it advertised.
- Why you’d be a good hire. Provide examples that show you have the skills, attributes and/or knowledge the recruiter wants – use the job description as a guide. You could use this formula to help you highlight your suitability: ‘I will be able to do [something on the job description] because I have experience of [doing something similar or using the required skills]. For example, I…’
- Why you want the internship. Say what appeals to you in particular about this opportunity and employer. Research the employer to back up your reasons.
- A gracious sign off. Thank them for considering your application or say you look forward to hearing from them. If you’ve applied to a named individual, sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’. If you have applied to ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, use ‘Yours faithfully’.