Creating a Winning CV & Cover Letter

Updated: 4 March 2015
Added: 26 February 2008


  1. Introduction
  2. Compiling your CV
  3. Writing your Covering Letter
  4. A Note on Coming from the Constituency
  5. And finally…. some buzzwords!

1. Introduction

So, the horror stories of long hours and low pay haven’t put you off and you’re desperate to take your first steps down the path to Westminster Village or into an MP’s constituency office.  Whether you’re looking for an internship or a full-time permanent job, the difficult truth is that your application will be competing with tens – or possibly hundreds – of others.  This W4MP Guide is to help you to make your application stand out and to convince your prospective employer to invite you for interview.

The MP or, more likely, his/her staffer, will probably only give your CV a very quick glance.  A busy MP or Staffer with 50-100 CVs to look at will make a very rapid decision whether they wish to take your application further.

Don’t be put off by the competitive nature of the application process – focus on your USPs – Unique Selling Points.  Even if you’re not as experienced as some of the other applicants, the ability to demonstrate commitment, enthusiasm, judgement, communications skills and a good work ethic can be just as important.

2.  Compiling your CV

Keep your CV to two sides – an MP doesn’t have time to read more than this and will probably just get the impression that you’re unable to be concise.

Order your CV in the most accessible way possible.  Many CVs are formatted in an order which can be very frustrating for MPs who are recruiting.  The most important thing to remember is that the MP should not have to scrutinise your CV closely to be able to see your most relevant experience.  Too many CVs list educational experience before work experience, and some even do this in chronological order, so that the first thing the MP sees is your GCSE results.  This is almost totally irrelevant.  What the MP wants to know is that you know what a researcher or caseworker does and that you can demonstrate that you can do it.

The following format is quite standard:

  • Personal details – name, address, phone number and email address.  You are not obliged to include your date of birth.
  • Include a personal statement – the intention of this is to provide an overview of who you are, what you have been doing and what you want to achieve.  A good, powerful personal statement can create a positive first impression and get you in the ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’  pile without the employer having to go through your CV and pick out the best bits.
    For example:
    A  committed Parliamentary intern with experience in speechwriting, constituency casework and generating proactive portfolio-related press stories using a wide range of parliamentary methods.  A longstanding Conservative party member with ambition and vision.  
    An experienced constituency caseworker with sound political judgement and experience of grassroots local campaigning.  An academic background and interest in parliamentary procedure, looking for an opportunity to experience working with the Parliamentary Labour Party.
  • Make the most of your most relevant employment experience – if you’ve already done an internship, flesh out what your duties were on your CV.  Many CVs use the same space talking about their lifeguarding duties during the summer of 1999 as they do their recent 3 month internship in Westminster.  If you did a well-rounded internship, why not split this experience into sections, e.g. ‘Parliamentary Research’, ‘Constituency Correspondence’ and ‘Media’ – show what you did under each heading and support with examples.
  • ***  Use bullet points to state what you did in the job (e.g. speechwriting) and give an example to back it up (e.g. for Adjournment Debate on rural transport 11/12/07)  ***
  • Highlight any experience you’ve had with the Party – there’s place for this on your covering letter but, when applying for jobs with MPs, try to include it on your CV as well.  Whether it was student politics, helping out in local party fundraising or some grass-roots door knocking, this experience demonstrates you have the commitment your future boss will expect from you.
  • List your education and qualifications in reverse chronological order.
  • Include an ‘interests’ section but use it wisely.  This can be a great opportunity to prove that you’re a well-rounded individual and not someone who lives for politics.  Be specific and try to be a bit different – everyone, by the way, enjoys swimming!  If you took a gap year, note down where you travelled to, especially if it was to the developing world.  There’s a big difference to employers between ‘independent travel in India, Pakistan and Tibet’ and lazing around on a beach in Australia with your friends.  Be careful, though, not to give the impression you’ve been struck down by the travel bug and are likely to jet off round the world two months into the job!
    ***  If you’ve done volunteering/campaigning for the party or for an NGO – for example at university or abroad – include this. MPs love this sort of thing! ***
  • Three references are ideal – but can be listed as ‘available on request’ to save space or if you want to ensure that they’re not approached before interview.

3.  Writing your Covering Letter

***  Try to keep your covering letter to one side of A4.  ***

  • Remember that the letter should augment your CV, as it will be your CV that the MP/Staffer looks at first.  If they like the look of your CV, only then will they flick through your letter.
  • The most important thing to remember when writing your covering letter is to tailor it to the MP to whom you’re applying.  If you’re doing lots of applications at the same time, this will make the whole process more time-consuming but it will be worth it.  Covering letters which aren’t tailored to the job advertised will go straight in the bin.  Work closely with the job specification and description set out in the advertisement.
  • There are three basic areas you need to address in your covering letter:
    1. Why you want to work for that particular political party:
      You might talk about the party’s philosophy, policy or practical way it conducts itself.  If you’re a member – say so.  You might mention how you got involved, what policies attracted you, what you think the party can offer the country.
    2. Why you want to work as a Parliamentary Researcher:
      Other possible jobs might be as a caseworker or organiser in the constituency.  Why do you want to do this job and not another political job? This is where you demonstrate you know what the job involves.  You might mention the opportunity to conduct in-depth research, work on legislation, generate pro-active media stories, run an All-Party Group.  The list is almost endless!  It’s essential to use the job description given in the advertisement, to know what to address.
    3. Why you want to work for that particular MP:
      What is it about the constituency that interests you?  Do your research and find out what local issues are important.  You can do this by looking on the MP’s website and accessing the area’s local papers via the internet.  If you’ve been to or lived in the constituency, say so.  If you can draw parallels between the constituency and another one of which you have experience, do so.
      What it is about the MP’s portfolio that interests you?  Again, research what the portfolio involves.  Why would you enjoy working on these issues?  What ideas would you like to pursue?  What policies in this area do you admire and why?  Do you think the party’s policies on this portfolio have any weaknesses?

***  If the MP you’re applying to doesn’t have a portfolio, then tailor your covering letter to his/her interests.  You can find these out simply by Googling the MP or consulting  Look for:
·         debates they have initiated or taken part in
·          Parliamentary Questions/Early Day Motions they have tabled
·         All Party Groups they’re members of.
The MP’s own website should also give you a clue about their parliamentary interests.  ***

4.  A Note on Coming to Westminster from a Constituency

Owing to the cost of living in London whilst working unpaid, many people are unable to undertake a Westminster internship.  Whilst it’s still true that this is generally the best route to a paid Parliamentary job (due to contacts as well as experience), there can be productive ways around it.  Applying for internships in constituency offices can be very fruitful, or working as a caseworker or organiser can be a stepping stone to Parliament for those who fancy relocating to London.  If you have constituency experience, play this to your best advantage when applying for Westminster jobs.  Although you don’t have Parliamentary experience, you do have experience of grassroots politics and possibly campaigning, and a hands-on understanding of how decisions in Parliament affect constituents’ lives.

You need to be able to demonstrate that you will make up for the lack of Parliamentary knowledge by learning it, on the job and even before you start, such as Parliamentary Questions, Early Day Motions and legislative procedure.

Here are some places to start:

W4MP Guides:
How the Place Works:
Parliamentary Questions:
Working on Public Bills:
Early Day Motions:
All Party Groups:

Robert Rogers and Rhodri Walters – ‘How Parliament Works’ – a real researchers’ favourite!
Michael Rush – ‘Parliament Today’
Susan Child – ‘Politico’s Guide to Parliament’

And if you need any help with jargon busting:
BBC Politics website:
Parliament Glossary:

5.  And finally….some buzzwords!

Every industry has recognised personal qualities it looks for in its employees, and politics is no different.  If you can, try to demonstrate in your CV and covering letter that you are:

Hardworking;   Sound in political judgement;   Committed;   Attentive to detail;   Flexible;   Trustworthy;
Reliable;   Quick thinking;   Understanding;   A good listener;   An excellent communicator;
Able to show initiative;   Able to work as part of a team;   Able to work independently and with minimal supervision;
Able to prioritise;   Able to work to deadlines;   Able to work under stress/pressure, both long and short term.

Throughout your CV and covering letter, the key is in demonstrating that you know what the job entails, that you have the right qualities and that you can apply them with accuracy and enthusiasm.  Each time  you mention your personal qualities, try to  include an example to demonstrate them.  If you can credibly support the argument you’re making, you’re a natural when it comes to politics!

Good luck!

CD/February and November 2008

Want a list of jobsearch websites? Click here.

Click here to see Part 2 of this guide, which deals with preparing for interviews.