Writing a great CV is one of the most important first steps you can take towards getting a job. It’s your chance to pitch yourself and your skills to potential employers.
Your CV is the first chance that recruiters will have to get to know you. It should cover:
- your education and employment history
- the core skills that you will bring to the workplace.
It may seem daunting to write about yourself at first, but these steps will help you to present yourself in the best possible light. Aim for two A4 pages. It’s standard to use word processing software such as Microsoft Word and to save in the .doc format. A PDF file is also acceptable.
If you find it difficult to use a computer, you might also wish to try using a simple online CV building tool such as the one offered by Reed.co.uk.
Structuring your CV
Your CV should always include your:
- name, address and contact details
- personal statement
- key skills
- education history
- employment history
- hobbies and interests.
You may find it helpful to use a CV template.
Formatting your CV
The content of your CV is the most important thing. But the way you present it will also have a strong impact on those who read it. Make your CV look professional.
- Make all your text black and use an easy-to-read font such as Arial or Calibri.
- Use bold or underline for section headings.
- Be consistent – use the same font and formatting throughout.
- Have clear spaces between sections.
- Keep it short. Try to aim for two A4 pages (it’s OK to do more if you have a lot of relevant experience).
What to include in your CV
Highlight your strengths and show why you are the right person for the job. Use positive examples of your skills and experience from your previous jobs, education and training. You can also use experience from any voluntary positions you may have had.
Highlight what you see as your most valuable skills and greatest achievements. This is your chance to sell yourself. If you have received any relevant awards or commendations include these in a section titled ‘awards and achievements’.
What not to include
You are trying to impress, so don’t include any negative points in your CV. You will be able to discuss what you think of as your weaknesses and strengths in your interview.
Your CV should match the type of job you’re applying for. For standard CVs, it’s best not to include a photo of yourself. However, if you are applying for a job as an actor, model or similar it may be appropriate to include a recent photograph.
Don’t say anything that is untrue or exaggerates your experience and skills. If this comes out later, you could lose your job.
Completing your CV – section by section
Personal information and contact details
This should go at the top of your CV. Include your name, address and contact details such as your phone number and a professional-sounding email address. Your email address should be your name, for example – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make your personal statement positive and engaging. You should write this section in about 5-6 sentences. It is common to write in the third person, for example:
- Brett is a dynamic and hard-working individual with a keen eye for details.
- Sarah has a degree in graphic design and understands the challenges of creating visually appealing products.
Your personal statement should show how your experiences and skills relate to the role that you are applying for.
Make a list of bullet points covering what you see as your most important skills. Be concise, specific and refer back to the role that you are applying for. Here are some examples:
- Excellent communicator with experience in email marketing
- Quick learner
- Exceptional IT skills with experience in X, Y and Z software packages
- Experienced in using a till.
You may wish to use an online tool such as Career Smart’s skills audit to help identify your key skills.
Start with the most recent course or qualification and work back. Each entry should include the:
- name of the educational institution
- title of the course
- dates you studied from and to
- qualification/ grade that you gained.
Sep’ 86 – Oct’ 89 – Warwickshire University Fine Art – BA Hons 2:1
If you have little work experience, you may wish to place this section before your employment history.
Include your employment history for the past 10 years or more if it’s relevant. Begin with your current or most recent job and work backwards. For each entry you should include:
- the name of the company you worked for
- your job title
- the dates of when you started (‘from’) and finished (‘to’)
- a 1-2 sentence description of your role
- a bullet-point list of 3-6 main duties and responsibilities in the role.
How to deal with employment gaps
When looking at your CV, employers often look at any gaps you may have as well as the roles you have had.
For long employment gaps due to illness or impairment it’s often best to briefly explain these in your CV or in cover letter. This avoids the risk of recruiters jumping to their own conclusions.
You may wish to use the phrase ‘actively seeking employment’ to explain these gaps in your CV.
If you are concerned about the gaps and do not wish to explain them at this point, another approach is to transform your CV into a ‘functional CV’. To do this, group your employment history by skill set rather than in chronological order. For example:
- Managing suppliers – example from company A
- Working with difficult customers – example from company B
This approach may help to ease concerns over gaps. Recruiters are likely to focus on your skills and experience rather than on specific dates.
Awards and achievements
This is an optional bullet-pointed section where you can list any awards you may have received at work or in education that you think are relevant. You can also include achievements here, such as “exceeded sales targets by 200% at company x”.
Hobbies and interests
This section is a chance to let your potential employer know a little more about you. You should be honest here. But it’s also important that the interests that you list reflect characteristics that you would need in the role. For example:
- if you’re applying for a technical role and you enjoy playing chess, this would illustrate that you have an analytical mind.
- if you’re applying for a customer-facing role, you may want to list active hobbies or team sports.
Tailoring your CV to the role
You must tailor your CV for each role that you apply for. Matching up your skills and experience with those listed in the job description will increase your chances of getting the job.
This is your opportunity to present yourself as someone who closely matches the employer’s requirements.
It’s helpful to have your CV and the job description alongside each other so that you can go through point by point. Identify which of your skills match up with those in the description and consider anything that you can add in or make more prominent.
Any changes you make to your CV must be true. If not, this will seriously harm your chances.
Keeping your CV up to date
Make sure that you are sending out the most up-to-date version of your CV.
Update your CV regularly, particularly if you have recently gained more experience or completed a training programme.
Checking your CV
You are trying to impress recruiters with your CV so it must be professional. Check for:
- spelling mistakes
- words or phrases that you repeat often
- grammatical errors
- formatting issues (such as the wrong font or extra spaces).
Ask someone else to look over your CV to check that it reads OK and is error-free. A friend with professional experience or a careers advisor is ideal.
Using the right phrases for the job
- Customer service and retail roles: Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Cleaning roles: Ability to work as part of a team as well as individually
- Hospitality and catering roles: Polite and friendly
Choosing the right words
- Avoid over-used words and clichés such as ‘team player’, ‘detail-oriented’ and ‘flexible’. If you do use words such as these provide details to back them up.
- Use positive words like ‘accurate’, ‘confident’ and ‘adaptable’.
When is the best time to send a CV?
If you’re applying for an advertised role, apply as soon as possible before the deadline. Some recruiters may close the application process early if they receive a lot of CVs.
If you’re emailing your CV to an employer who has not advertised a role, then the best time to send it is probably between 8 and 9pm. It will then be near the top of the recruiter’s inbox when they start work the following morning. Avoid sending CVs on Monday or Friday. These are busy days and your email may be ignored or forgotten in the rush.
Don’t be afraid to phone them within a week to check that your CV has arrived. This will show your enthusiasm and get your CV noticed.
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