How to Write a CV

How to write a CV

What is a CV?

CV stands for curriculum vitae, which roughly translated means: course of life. This is a document used to apply for jobs which will give the recruiter a summary of your working life to date. It is your initial sales pitch in document form, which will either make or break your chances of getting to the interview stage.

A CV will summarise your work experience, education, skills, and although there’s no standard format for the perfect CV, it should always be clearly formatted, tailored for the role to which you’re applying, and short enough to allow the recruiter a quick scan.

In Australia, USA, Canada, Germany, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Cuba, the term CV has a slightly different meaning. A CV is a more comprehensive document used for academic and medical applications. The equivalent document within these countries is a résumé, which will act as a summary, used for general job applications.

How long should a CV be?

The standard length of a CV in the United Kingdom should be no longer than two sides of A4.

If you have a limited career history or you’re a recent graduate, one side of A4 is perfectly acceptable. A CV for academics and some medical professionals may exceed this length. However, in general, you should try to stick with the two-page limit. Most recruiters will only look through a longer CV if the candidate has exceptional information to provide. Recruiters spend on average 5-7 seconds looking at a CV, so a document padded out unnecessarily will not help your application.

As a rule, you should move from a one-page CV to a two-page CV after you have gained approximately seven years of work experience. This is not a hard and fast standard. It will depend on your circumstances and career history.

When you do make the transition to a two-page CV, make sure you do not leave any blank spaces on the second page. Only include relevant information that has not already been mentioned in the covering letter.

What to include in a CV

Contact details – At the top of the CV include your full name, home address, contact telephone number and email address. You can use your name as the ‘title’ for your CV. It looks better than writing ‘Curriculum vitae’ as a header.

Personal Statement (or Profile) – Below the contact details you can place a profile paragraph. This should a succinct statement that highlights your key attributes. This is usually the first section a recruiter will look at, so it should tell the reader, who you are and what you can offer. You want to stand out from the crowd and show what value you can offer in one concise paragraph.

Keep the profile summary relevant to the industry. You can focus on the specific role in your covering letter. Choose a few of your key skills to focus on and describe your employment goals. 100 words is the perfect length for a personal statement.

Work experience – List your employment history in reverse chronological order, with the most recent position first. Include your job title, the name of the organisation, time period in employment, and your key responsibilities. You should make sure that anything you mention is relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Include and career gaps in your work history and explain the reason for the gap.

Education – In this section you can list your educational experience and achievements. List the educational institution, qualification, grade, and year the qualification was awarded, placing the most recent first.

If you are a recent graduate you can place emphasis on this section, by including individual modules for each qualification if relevant, or highlighting important academic achievements.

Skills and achievements – List any skills relevant to the industry or role to which you are applying. Your competency using various software packages is a popular choice. If you are an advanced user of a specialist piece of industry software, write the name of the application and your competency level next to it. Language proficiency is another common skill found in this section. If English is not your native language you can add your proficiency level here, as well as any other languages you may speak. Achievements can range from winning a sales award in a previous role, running the London marathon, or being elected as president of the university ping pong society.

Do not exaggerate your skills and achievements list, as you may get questioned on its contents at the interview. If you can back up your skill’s list with an example for each skill, it will make the list appear more authentic in the eyes of the recruiter.

Interests – Focus on listing your interests which are relevant to the position. For example, it will not help your application if you are applying for a job where a degree of physical fitness is required, and you indicate you enjoy playing video games and watching TV.

Ideally, you want to give a well-rounded impression of who you are as a person. These interests can stimulate discussion at the interview and allow you to reveal yourself to the recruiters. Again, keep them realistic and truthful. A colleague of ours, in his young and reckless years, Googled the recruiter who had offered him an interview and discovered he was a Norwich City fan. In his wisdom, he decided to add Norwich City fan as an interest to his CV. The interview did not go well, when he couldn’t even recall which division Norwich were in. Honesty is always the best policy.

For creative types like artists and writers, if its great if you can provide a link to an online portfolio or blog. Don’t pad this section out with socializing and going to the cinema to fill space. Every centimetre of your CV should hold value.

References – Many applicants add a ‘References’ section to their curriculum vitae. These days, this is a redundant section. A recruiter is not interested at looking at the names of references at this stage. You will be asked for references if you proceed in the process. You also don’t need to include ‘references available upon request’ as employers will usually assume this to be the case.

 

CV format

  • Unless asked for a specific format, always send your CV online using PDF format. This will ensure your original formatting remains unchanged. Different versions of Microsoft Word can cause havoc with a documents formatting when opened by the recruiter. Especially if you have complicated CV layout using boxes and columns.
  • If you are going the old school route and delivering a CV hardcopy. Use pain white A4 paper and send using an C4 white envelope.
  • Choose a clean and simple font such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman, with a font size of 10 to 12 for the text body. Avoid using smaller fonts to squeeze in more information, or larger fonts to fill space (except for section headings; see below). Do not use unprofessional fonts such as Comic Sans or Baskerville. Make sure your front formatting is consistent throughout the CV.
  • Section headings are great at highlighting sections and breaking up your CV body text. You can make these slightly larger than the text body font. Use 14 to 16, depending on which body font size you use, in bold.
  • The recruiter will want to see your most recent achievement and position at the top of your CV, so list everything in reverse chronological order.
  • Make sure the layout is clear, concise and easy to read. Avoid large blocks of text, as recruiter like a document they can skim read. Bullet points are great for this purpose. Spacing should be consistent throughout the document. Use the paragraph spacing function on your word processor instead of hitting return twice to add a full space.

How to write a good CV

  • Proofread your CV. You will be surprised how many CV’s are sent with simple grammar and spelling mistakes. Print out a copy and proofread your CV for an extra angle of perspective. Ask a friend or family member to read the CV. Sometimes a second pair of eyes will pick up a mistake you have subconsciously missed from the beginning.
  • Keywords are key. Avoid using dull generic terms that have limited value. Excellent communication, flexible, motivated, independent, and goal driven, are not all overused clichés that are not going to help your chances. Try using terms such as accurate, innovative, pro-active, reliable, and responsible. Make sure you include examples from your work history. You can mention you were responsible for managing a team of six sales consultants, or you were editing engineering reports for accuracy. Anyone can claim they work hard, but how many can prove it? This should be your aim.
  • Use active verbs wherever possible. For example, you could include words like ‘created’, ‘analysed’ and ‘devised’ to present yourself as a person who shows initiative.
  • Take a look at the company’s website, local press and the job advert to make sure that your CV is targeted to the role and employer.
  • Create the right type of CV for your circumstances. Decide whether the chronological, skills-based or academic CV is right for you.
  • Don’t put the term ‘curriculum vitae’ at the top of the page.
  • Make sure your email address sounds professional. If your personal address is not appropriate create a new account to use professionally.
  • Never lie or exaggerate on your CV or job application. Not only will you demonstrate your dishonesty to a potential employer, but there can be serious consequences too. For example, altering your degree grade from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is classed as degree fraud and can result in a prison sentence.
  • If you’re posting your CV online don’t include your home address, as you could be targeted by fraudsters.
  • You should always include a cover letter unless the employer states otherwise. It will enable you to personalise your application. You can draw attention to a particular part of your CV, disclose a disability or clarify gaps in your work history. Find out how to write a persuasive cover letter.

What should I leave out?

When it comes to your CV, there are certain words and phrases you should try to avoid – and they mostly consist of overused clichés.

Not only could using them risk mildly irritating the person in charge of hiring, you could also end up blending into a sea of similar candidates.

Although all recruiters will have their own pet peeves, here are just a few of the worst CV words:

Obviously, exceptions can be made if any of the above were included in the job description as an essential skill – but using examples to back them up is still crucial.

How should I present my CV?

Your CV is the first thing an employer will see when hiring for a vacancy, and how it looks at first glance will be the reason they decide to read it in more detail. Even if your skills match the role perfectly, a messy and confusing CV probably won’t even get a second look.

To ensure you’re painting yourself (and your skills) in the best light, you should always:

  • Choose a clear, professional font to ensure that your CV can be easily read (leave Comic Sans and Word Art back in the 1990s where they belong)
  • Lay it out in a logical order, with sufficient spacing and clear section headings (e.g. Work experience, Education)

 

Final thoughts

Once you’ve put together your CV – don’t assume it’s finished.

Every job is different and tailoring your CV accordingly is vital to standing out. Edit it in line with the job description whenever you make an application, and you’ll be able to ensure it matches the specifications every time.

Highlight that you’re the right match for the job by outlining:

  • The specific skills you have to offer the employer
  • Relevant accomplishments and achievements
  • The work and educational experience you have in their field
  • Personal qualities that will make you right for the role
  • An understanding of the job requirements

CV format

  • Avoid fonts such as Comic Sans. Instead, choose something more professional, clear and easy to read such Arial or Times New Roman with font size 10 to 12, but nothing smaller. Ensure fonts and sizes are consistent throughout your CV.
  • Section headings are a good way to break up your CV. Ensure they stand out by making them larger (size 14 or 16) and bold.
  • List everything in reverse chronological order so the recruiter sees your most impressive and recent achievements first.
  • Keep it concise and easy to read by using clear spacing and bullet points. This type of CV layout allows employers to skim your CV and quickly pick out the important information.
  • If you’re posting your CV, go with white A4 paper. Only print on one side and don’t fold your CV – you don’t want it to arrive creased.

How to write a good CV

  1. Use active verbs wherever possible. For example, you could include words like ‘created’, ‘analysed’ and ‘devised’ to present yourself as a person who shows initiative.
  2. There should be no spelling or grammar mistakes in your CV. Use a spell checker and enlist a second pair of eyes to check over it.
  3. Avoid using generic, over-used phrases such as ‘team player’, ‘hardworking’ and ‘multitasker’. Instead, provide real-life examples that demonstrate all of these skills.
  4. Take a look at the company’s website, local press and the job advert to make sure that your CV is targeted to the role and employer.
  5. Create the right type of CV for your circumstances. Decide whether the chronological, skills-based or academic CV is right for you.
  6. Don’t put the term ‘curriculum vitae’ at the top of the page.
  7. Make sure your email address sounds professional. If your personal address is not appropriate create a new account to use professionally.
  8. Never lie or exaggerate on your CV or job application. Not only will you demonstrate your dishonesty to a potential employer, but there can be serious consequences too. For example, altering your degree grade from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is classed as degree fraud and can result in a prison sentence.
  9. If you’re posting your CV online don’t include your home address, as you could be targeted by fraudsters.
  10. You should always include a cover letter unless the employer states otherwise. It will enable you to personalise your application. You can draw attention to a particular part of your CV, disclose a disability or clarify gaps in your work history. Find out how to write a persuasive cover letter.

 

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