Writing Your CV

Click here for some useful CV templates

 

Contents

What is a CV?
Why do I need a CV?
Tailor your CV to the job description
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Making an impact
Contact information
Personal statement
Experience, skills and achievements
Education and training
Hobbies and interests
Formatting
What to do next

What is a CV?

A CV, short for curriculum vitae, is a written compilation of your education, work experience and accomplishments.  It is used as a personal marketing tool used to show a prospective employer why you’re the best candidate for the job.  Many job advertisements require applicants to submit a CV and cover letter as part of the application process.

Why do I need a CV?

A well-presented CV is vital in your search for a new job.  It will not get you the job, but a good CV makes the difference between getting an interview and your application being ignored.  With your CV being one of many, recruiters will only read it for a short space of time, so it is extremely important that it is structured clearly, with your best selling points presented in a logical manner and the most relevant information readily identifiable.

Your CV is often how you make a first impression on an employer. It needs to put across the right message, have the right presentation, and have no mistakes.  Employers receive lots of CVs and have to decide quickly who they’re going to interview.

Your CV is often the only thing that employers have to build a first impression of you, so it needs to be impeccable if you want to position yourself as a strong candidate.

There is no right or wrong way to write a CV but this page is intended to help you produce a clear and concise CV that will increase your chances of being invited for an interview.

Tailor your CV to the job description

When a job advert catches your eye, don’t rush in and send your CV straight over in an attempt to beat the competition with speed – instead, focus on beating them with quality.

Take a few minutes to really understand the job requirements and compare them with your CV. Imagine you were the recruiter for this role and reading your CV for the first time… does it match up with the job specification?

CV tailoring doesn’t mean you have to re-write your entire CV for every application; it can actually be done fairly quickly once you’re familiar with the process.  Tailoring your CV is about understanding which of your qualities are most important to a particular vacancy, and adjusting your CV to make them prominent to that particular recruiter.  This does take a bit of extra time and effort but it will pay off as each application you make will be of a high standard and greatly increase your chances of getting shortlisted for interviews.

To tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for, go through the ‘skills required’ section of the job description, and highlight those that match your own skill set. Try to mimic the phrasing of keywords and skills mentioned in the job description to help you stand out although you should not copy and paste exact phrases straight from the job description.  Instead, find a different way of saying the same thing.

If you are hiding any crucial skills that are required for a particular role, at the bottom of your CV, then make sure you move them up to the top of the CV for that application and make them prominent.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Not only does tailoring your CV to the job description show the recruiter you’re a great match for the role, but your application will be more likely to pass an application tracking system too.

Applicant tracking systems are used by many employers to process job applications and to manage the hiring process.  They provide an automated way for companies to manage the entire recruiting process, from receiving applications to hiring employees.  An ATS creates shortlists from thousands of candidates on a recruiter’s database.  If the ATS doesn’t understand your CV, it won’t select it. Consequently, a human recruiter won’t even set eyes on it.

But even if your prospective employer isn’t using an ATS, including clear, relevant keywords increases the odds that your skills will jump off the page to someone screening with limited time.

Making an impact

Your CV should be a demonstration of your written communication skills, so ensure that you write in a consistently professional manner.  Recruiters will assume that your CV language reflects the way you will communicate in the workplace, so construct your sentences properly and use a wide vocabulary.

Using active instead of passive language will make your CV sound more dynamic.  Active words help reiterate what you’ve achieved in each role, not just what you did, and will keep the recruiter engaged.

Space is limited, so it’s important to employ language that’s short, informative, and without unnecessary description.  Replace bulky paragraphs with short, one sentence bullet points to deliver information more quickly and easily.  Start each bullet point with a powerful verb like ‘developed’, ‘managed’, ‘created’, ‘organised’, or ‘transformed’, and mix up your word use so that every bullet in your CV does not begin with ‘Responsible for’.  Some verbs lend themselves to certain industries more than others, so do some research to ensure that your CV really flows.

Follow this link for a list of 199 useful verbs

It is important to avoid generic clichés, such as: ‘hard working’, ‘team player’, ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘out-of-the-box thinker’.  These phrases may appear impressive at first glance, but they don’t actually tell recruiters anything factual about you, and they have already been used thousands of times.

If you want to show employers that you are a hard-working team player, don’t simply state the fact but instead use examples of the results you have achieved within team settings to prove it.   It’s important to show your responsibilities but it’s even better to show what impact your actions have had for your employers.

You may be tempted to use industry jargon to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about but the first person who sees your CV might easily be a recruiter or an assistant, and it should therefore be readable, relevant, and interesting to anyone.

Filling your CV with buzzwords may seem like a good way to make it stand out, but they have become so overused that they won’t set you apart from other candidates.

Each year LinkedIn publishes a list of overused buzzwords to avoid.  In 2017 they were:

  • Specialised
  • Leadership
  • Passionate
  • Strategic
  • Experienced
  • Focused
  • Expert
  • Certified
  • Creative
  • Excellent

Contact information

Many people are still adding excessive personal details to their CV – a phone number and email address are obviously critical if you’re expecting a recruiter to contact you, but there’s no need to be sharing your marital status, date of birth, nationality, gender and so on.  A recruiter will ignore these details anyway, due to anti-discrimination legislation, so put the space to better use by sharing more relevant information about your career, skills and achievements.

Every part of your CV will be judged by employers, so make sure that you quote a sensible personal email address containing your name.

Also, to avoid potential embarrassment and compromise, ensure you use personal, rather than work, contact information.

Smiley woman in eyeglasses reading business document

Personal statement

Your personal statement is one of the most important aspects of your CV.  It’s where you give an overview of who you are and inject a touch of personality.  As the first opportunity to market yourself, a good personal statement will win the attention of a recruiter.

You should tailor it to every job you apply for, highlighting specific qualities that match you to the role.  Aim to keep your personal statement short and sweet, and no longer than a few sentences.

To make the most of this section, you should try to address the following:

  • Who are you?
  • What can you offer the company?
  • What are your career goals?

Remember that you are competing against many other candidates so this section should explain what makes you stand out.  The rest of your CV will provide evidence of this.

Although only a relatively short paragraph at the beginning of your CV, it’s essentially your ‘elevator pitch’ and an opportunity to sell yourself to the potential employer. It should be designed to hook a recruiter’s attention, persuade them that your CV is valuable and relevant to the role, and keep them reading.

Keep it short and sharp in order to hold readers’ attention, summarise your most valuable skills and highlight the benefits of employing you.

Unless you are applying for an acting or modelling job, a photograph is unnecessary.  There is no need to include the logos of the companies you have worked for or skills graphs.  Skills graphs are designed to give recruiters an idea of your levels of proficiency in certain areas but they don’t give the reader a tangible scale of your skills.  Use real-life measures to demonstrate your skill levels, such as qualifications and length of experience.

Your Personal Profile should be unique to you.  Read it back to yourself and ask, ‘could this be about anyone else but me?’  If the honest answer is ‘yes’ then you will need to rewrite it.

Experience, skills and achievements

Recruiters want to find the candidate who matches their client’s brief as closely as possible and if you can show them that you have the skills and experience they are looking for, you stand a good chance of being selected.

Once a recruiter has had a quick scan of your CV, they will look at your current or most recent role. This role is easily the best way to measure your current capabilities, so recruiters will spend some time reviewing this part of your CV.  When you write this role description think about what a recruiter will want to know when reading it:

  • Where do you sit within the organisation?
  • Do you manage a team?
  • How do you contribute to the company?
  • What results did you achieve for your employer or clients?

Write an introductory sentence to build context, then bullet point your responsibilities and achievements.

Don’t separate your skills and accomplishments from each position.  By looking at your CV, someone should be able to identify what you did at each job and how long you were there.  Provide specific examples of how the company benefited from your performance.   A good CV must detail your accomplishments, mentioning the business benefits and results attributable to your direct involvement.

Make a list of all the achievements at work that really matter to you.  What have you done that put you outside your comfort zone; that stretched you to do something you weren’t sure you could do?  The structure of an achievement should contain a skill that you used, an activity that you carried out and a quantifiable business result or benefit.

By backing up your skills and achievements with statistics you can easily make any role in your employment history look more impressive.  By providing evidence of your growth and successes, no matter how small they seem, you can really show off your talent.

Don’t include obvious skills: everyone assumes you know how to use Microsoft Word and the internet.  Instead, use your valuable CV space to highlight skills that actually make you stand out.

Find any acronyms and write out the full name of the title, qualification or organisation.  You should include both, at least the first time, to make sure the recruiter knows what you’re talking about and so an applicant tracking system will pick it up no matter which format it is looking for.

While it’s okay to glaze over gaps a little (for example, by just using years to show dates of employments instead of months and years), you should never lie about them.   Instead, be honest and confident when explaining periods of unemployment.  Mention any skills and experiences that you picked up during these periods.

If you have job-hopped frequently, include a reason for leaving next to each position, with a succinct explanation like ‘company closed’ or ‘relocated.’  By addressing the gaps, you’ll make them less of an issue.  If you are re-entering the workforce after a hiatus, outline your skills and accomplishments in the summary statement at the top.

Don’t try to creatively fill in gaps on your CV.  For example, if you took time out of the workforce to raise a family, don’t list your parenting experience on your CV.  While parenting is as demanding and intense a job as any out there, most corporate decision makers will not take this section of your CV seriously.

Whether you recently left college or are switching to a new industry, you can help bolster your lack of relevant work experience by listing your transferable skills, related side projects and relevant coursework.

Education and training

List your educational background with the most recent or advanced degree first, working in reverse chronological order.  If an older qualification is more specific to the job, list that first to capture the reviewer’s attention.

Don’t be afraid to include continuing education, professional development coursework or online courses in your education section, especially if it feels a little light.  Online courses are an accepted norm nowadays, and your participation in them will help demonstrate your determination and motivation to build the skills you need for your career.

Although you want to portray yourself in the best possible light, employers won’t fall for any bent truths or over exaggeration.  Staying honest in your CV and job applications will reflect better on you, and will make interviews less stressful.

Don’t include ‘References upon request’.  This would take up room you could otherwise use for experience and skills.  A prospective employer will request references if they decide to invite you for interview.

Hobbies and interests

Most employers want a well-rounded employee who assimilates well with the organisational culture.  Your list of hobbies and interests is a great way to show dedication, passion and how well you’ll fit in.

If you’ve done something cool in your personal life that either shows off your soft skills or engages your technical abilities in a different light, you should definitely include it.  Maybe you’ve run a marathon, which demonstrates your adventurous spirit, strong work ethic and desire to challenge yourself.  Or perhaps you’ve won a poker tournament, which shows you’re a quick thinker and good with numbers.

Volunteer work , particularly if it’s long-term or if it has given you the chance to lead a project from beginning to end, can be a great substitute for full-time work in the ‘experience’ section of your CV. Some organisations give titles or recognition to regular volunteers so, just like you would for a paid job, list bullet points that show your major accomplishments and what you learned during your involvement.

Formatting

If you are struggling to land interviews with your current CV it may not be its content that's letting you down.  Sometimes your CV formatting could be making it difficult for recruiters to see your skills, which will result in your CV being overlooked.

The good news is that by making a few simple CV format changes, you can make some big improvements that will hugely increase your chances of landing job interviews.  If recruiters find your CV easy to read then they will like you more.

Keep it simple.  Use a basic but modern font (see the list below), and make your CV easy on the reader’s eyes by using a font size between 10 and 12 and leaving a healthy amount of white space on the page.

You can use a different font or typeface for your name, your CV headers, and the companies for which you’ve worked, but keep the overall effect simple and consistent.

Follow this link for some useful CV templates

Good fonts:

  • Arial
  • Bodoni MT
  • Calibri
  • Century Gothic
  • Garamond
  • Georgia
  • Helvetica
  • Palatino Linotype
  • Tahoma
  • Trebuchet
  • Verdana

Aside from your name, which should be a little bigger, the font size throughout your CV should be the same size to ensure readability.

Make the most of limited space by decreasing margins and filling the pages with compelling content that will persuade a prospective employer to contact you.  Decreasing page margins will allow you to fit more content into the top of the page and your CV as a whole.

Decreasing the top page margin will allow more of the content to become visible to the recruiter upon opening your CV, which will give you a much greater chance of making an immediate high impact.  Ideally your current or most recent role should be visible upon opening so that the recruiter can instantly see your current capabilities.

To ensure that your CV is easy to navigate and has a professional outlook you should have clearly headed sections and sub-sections.  Make your document easier to skim by adding divider lines between sections.

  • Ensure your CV page transitions look tidy: don’t start a new section at the bottom of a page.
  • Bullet points in your CV role descriptions make them easy to read.
  • All text on the document should be aligned to the left
  • Use conventional colours: keep colour coding looking professional and don’t use more than 2 font colours throughout
  • Use digits when writing about numbers
  • Keep your CV formatting consistent

While there is no rule regarding CV length, it’s best to try and keep it to around two pages, which is just long enough to tell your story without boring the reader.

The best way to save your CV is as a Microsoft Word file.  This is the most common file type and therefore readable by most ATS. If you save your CV as a PDF, you risk introducing formatting errors on conversion.  Never include graphics or text boxes as the format can get damaged, plus, it looks unprofessional and could put off recruiters.

A CV is a professional document and the file name will be seen when it's attached to emails, so take a few seconds to name it properly.  The best way to name it is to simply use your full name followed by the letters ‘CV’.

Don’t be tempted to use an automated online CV builder, as most of them have poor structures and don’t allow much flexibility on design.

What to do next

  • Proofread your CV, and correct any errors or areas that don’t look quite right
  • Upload your CV into a word cloud generator and see which keywords are most common. If the most prominent ones aren’t what you want to be remembered by, or if there are important words that aren’t present, think about how you can tweak your CV to make them more clear
  • Read it out loud. This will not only help you catch any spelling or grammar errors but it will also help you notice any sentences that sound awkward or that are hard to understand
  • Send your CV to The New Job Fitness Club, and we'll suggest ways to polish it even further