First impressions are lasting, and this is especially true when it comes to CVs and cover letters for engineering jobs. Recruiters are often time-poor professionals who want to expediently separate the wheat from the chaff before reaching out to candidates who stand out because of their academic credentials, work experience or diverse interests. So, 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:
Cover letters can be time-consuming, and that’s largely due to the importance of writing a new one for each application. Nothing turns off a prospective employer quite like the sense that they’re reading a template message.
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?
A cover letter should include, at least, the following:
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 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”.
Your cover letter should have a clear structure with an introduction that leads into a summary of your relevant skills and experiences. This should be followed by 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’).
Finally, 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.
A curriculum vitae (CV or vita) is a written overview of your experience and other qualifications for a job opportunity. The bad news is that writing a CV is generally takes more time than writing a cover letter. However, the good news is that, once complete, a CV can be submitted with minor tweaks for each new 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 apply 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, if you have any at all.
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 (e.g. 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, before moving backwards. If you follow this approach, make sure that the chronology is clear and that there are no large gaps which could confuse or worry 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: