A Guide to Writing a Good CV
What You Need to Know
- The three main styles for organising a CV are ‘chronological’, ‘functional’ and ‘mixed’. Research has shown the chronological style to be most successful at winning interviews.
- In most cases one page is the ideal length for a CV. Two pages is acceptable, but only in certain situations would you ever want to exceed that.
- Prioritise your most recent/relevant experiences. You don’t need to include everything you’ve ever done. For example, if you have an MA you don’t need to list your GCSEs.
- Don’t be afraid of having white space left on the page, it enhances readability. Bullet points are also a great tool for making your points stand out.
- Don’t write in the first person. Instead, use the third person, whilst avoiding the use of self referential pronouns as much as possible. Seeing as your name is at the top of the document, they’ll know who you’re talking about.
- Never lie on a CV. You will probably be found out during your interview, but, even if you get the job, you can be sacked for gross misconduct if the lie is discovered.
- When sending your CV as an email attachment, include your name in the title of the file. Otherwise, it may be lost in a download folder with hundreds of other files labelled “CV”.
- All jobs are different, so, when you find a job you want to apply for, tailor your CV to match its requirements.
No matter what your experience or the role you’re applying for, there are standards of presentation that all employers will expect to see from a good CV. Here are some golden rules for making your CV look great.
- Always type your CV using a word processor.
- Print on good quality, 100smg, A4 size paper.
- Only use black ink and print on white or off white paper.
- Stick to conservative typefaces, such as Times New Roman.
- Keep to 11-12 point font size for your main text.
- Use bold type and italics sparingly and consistently.
- Try to keep your CV to a single page.
- Don’t fill the page with blocks of text. Use bullet points to make the page easier to read.
You should also avoid the use of graphics and photos (unless, of course, it is essential for the industry, such as with modelling etc.) The main thing to bear in mind is that the recruiter reading your CV is under a big time constraint. Yes, you want your CV to stand out, but you achieve this by making sure it is laid out in a way that is easy to take in, not by using gaudy gimmicks.
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Of course you have a lot to say, but do not underestimate the importance of having white space left on the page. This makes the page more attractive and thus gives extra weight to written content. Generally speaking, the less words you use, the more impact they’ll have.
In English we rarely use the third person tense, however this is the most professional way of writing a CV. It is difficult to write a CV in the first person without sounding either too pompous or too informal, and it is best to avoid ever using “I”. So, if, for example, you’re a consultant called John Smith, you would write “John Smith is a consultant…”
However, as the reader knows that you are the subject of the document pronouns aren’t vital. Try and avoid using them wherever possible. Instead, make statements such as, "Has managed a team of 20 staff and possesses proven leadership skills" etc.
As in the example above try using numbers wherever possible to quantify your statements. Figures stick in the mind easier than words.
Using professional jargon can be a good way of showing your knowledge of the role, however, you should use it sparingly. Your CV is more likely to be read by somebody in working HR or recruitment before it reaches the eyes of your future boss. This person will have some knowledge of the specifics of the job, but don’t risk alienating them by overloading your CV with specialist terms.
Needless to say you have to spell check your work, but this won’t remove all your errors. If you’ve written the wrong word, but spelt it right your computer has no way of knowing you’ve made a mistake. Proofread carefully multiple times. It is best to do this from a printed copy rather than on the screen, as it makes mistakes easier to spot. Getting a friend to proofread it is also a good idea, as other peoples’ mistakes are always more noticeable!
Be cautious of similar words with different meanings that people often mistakenly use in place of each other, such as effect/affect and principal/principle etc.
Apostrophes are another area where people fall down. Here are a few things to remember;
- You’re = you are
- Your = belonging to you.
- Mike’s = belonging to Mike
- Animals’= belonging to animals (plural)
- It’s = it is or it has
- Its = belonging to it
Do not lie on a CV. For one thing, if you do get a job using a CV on which you’ve lied you can be sacked instantly at any point for gross misconduct should that lie come to light.
Secondly, you will may well be found out and embarrassed at the interview stage and, even if you aren’t, you will be anxious about being discovered, which will impact on your performance, making it less likely you’ll land the job.
How to Organise your CV
The bulk of your CV is made up of you career history, your proven skills and achievements, laid out so as to best show your suitability for any given job. There are a number of ways of doing this;
Lists your employment and educational history in reverse order, from most recent to oldest, giving brief descriptions of each, focusing on how the experience relates to the role you’re applying for.
Lists you relevant experiences under headings, such as Leadership or Customer Service, according to which aspect of your professional life the experience relates to, rather than when it occurred.
This combines the two, grouping experiences under headings you’d find on a ‘functional’ CV and listing them chronologically underneath each heading.
Research suggest chronological CVs are much more successful at winning interviews, with some recruiter seeing functional CVs as a method of covering up gaps in work history (as they don’t provide a full picture of your career) or exaggerating the worth of semi-relevant experiences.
However, if you are switching career paths, working in an area which requires you to move form contract to contract very quickly or have little work experience due to being new to the work market, functional CVs can work well.
Some people feel the need to include a section on the core skills and greatest working achievements, separately to their work history. However, most experts recommend working what you’d want to say in these sections into the content of your working history.
When writing your career history include the title of the job, the name of the employer and the dates you were in the job. You can just put the years, there’s no need to include the exact months, in fact, this can be a good way of subtly disguising periods of unemployment.
What Else to Include
There are a number of things recruiters will commonly be expect to see when looking at a CV;
These are vital and should head up the page, with your first and last name at the top and contact details below that, including your phone number, address and email address. No other details, such as age, passport numbers etc, are necessary. In fact, they could expose you to the risk of identity theft in the event of a scam.
This is not completely obligatory, but is highly recommended. The profile will be underneath your personal details and give a brief summary (no longer than a paragraph) of yourself as a professional. For example;
“A highly experienced sales person with great interpersonal skills and a track record of success in high pressure environments…”
This should be no longer than a paragraph of three or four sentences and written as if in the third person, but without the use of pronouns, as discussed at the start of this guide.
This section very briefly outlines what you are looking for as a candidate. This is less important than a professional profile and can be omitted to save space if necessary. It should be written in the same style as the professional profile but even shorter. For example;
“Looking for a new challenge as the head of a sales team having achieved a great deal in previous sales roles…”
Education and Qualification
This can go either before or after the main content of your CV, depending on whether or not it is more or less relevant. For example if you are a law graduate, who has only ever done casual work your degree will be more relevant than your career history.
Only include what is necessary. The more recent the qualification, the more relevant it is. If you have a degree you do not need to include all your A level grades unless they are a selling point. Likewise if you are a graduate you don’t need to state the grade you achieved. So, if you only got a 3rd, don’t mention the grade.
You don’t need to list all the institutions you’ve attended, but, if listing a degree, you need to state which university it’s from.
If the job application says to include references, be sure to check their contact details and, if it’s been a while since you asked them stand as a reference for you, it’s worth checking they are still happy to do this and to give them a heads up.
If references are not asked for it is a good idea to save space my ending your CV with the line “references available on request.”
Tailoring your CV
Every job you apply for will be different. Therefore, it makes no sense to use the same CV every time you go after a role. You should tailor your CV to each vacancy you apply to. This will not normally be a big task. It may simply involve changing a few words or drawing more attention to one experience rather than another.
A good tip is to try an incorporate some of the key words used in the advertisement for the job into your professional profile.
Sending your CV via Email
These days most CVs are sent via email, a medium many of us associate with informality. However, it is vital that you do not slip up on the email having spent so much time writing a great CV, by seeming unprofessional.
Firstly, you should always remember to write a relevant title for your application in the subject heading. If you forget, your email may never be opened.
Secondly, include your CV as an attachment. Don’t just paste it in to the body of the email, as this will most likely ruin your careful formatting. As you are attaching your CV it is also vital you give the file a name specific to you, such as “CV Jane Foster” rather than just “CV”, otherwise it may well got lost amid hundreds of other similarly labelled files in the recipients download folder. The same applies when uploading your CV to a job site.
Finally, write your email as you would a letter. Open with “Dear, Mr Smyth” rather than “Hi” or any other less formal greeting. Make every effort to find out the name of whoever is most likely to read the CV and address it to them.
If you cannot find a name, as is often the case go with “Sir/Madame.” Remember though, if the name is not easy to find on a website or job advertisement, they’ll be all the more impressed if find it. Ringing the organisation and asking will often do the trick. If this proves impossible go with “Sir/Madame”.
When signing off, again, keep it formal. The proper way to end a letter/email is “Yours Sincerely” if you know the name of who you are writing to and “Yours Faithfully” if you don’t.
- Find your perfect job using our online job centre.
- Read out guide to graduate careers.
- Get advice on writing cover letters.