How to Write a CV – Career Advice & Expert Guidance

CV advice

We know that writing a CV might seem like a daunting task, however all you really need to do is provide a polished, professional description of your work experience, education and skills. This alone will give you an edge over the dozens of other qualified applicants and get your foot through the company door.

To ensure your CV makes the cut, we’ll go through the entire process of how to write a CV, step-by-step, so that you don’t miss out on any of the more crucial elements.

Download one of our free CV templates here. 

How should I begin my CV?
How should I structure my CV?
How can I build my CV?
CV layout and presentation tips
CV writing tips
Who will look at my CV?
Do I need a CV?

How should I begin my CV?

First, make sure you include your personal details – that is, your name, address, telephone number and email. You can also include your date of birth, however this isn’t necessary due to age discrimination laws.

You should then follow this up with a personal statement; this tells the employer what you’re all about and where your specialties lie.

Personal statement

In short, it’s your chance to shine and capture them from the get-go. You’ll be able to shout about your achievements and share your career aspirations. Always ensure that you tailor this to the job role that you’re applying for.

How to Write a Personal Statement

Your personal statement should include a brief overview of who you are, your strengths and any work experience and/or education you’ve had. Also include skills you’ve gained, such as time management, customer service, teamwork, computer skills etc.

State what sort of jobs you’re looking for and why you think you’d be good at it, and try to keep it short and snappy at 50-150 words.

Finally, don’t clutter it up with boring business speak, and banish clichés such as ‘hard worker’ and ‘works well individually or as part of a team’.

Example                                             

“Recent graduate with a degree in English from Bath University. Practical work experience in both customer service and retail, as Editor of Bath University student blog and magazine. Looking to start my career in Journalism in a role where I can build on the skills gained at University and work experience.”

How should I structure my CV?

Here is the basic outline for what to include in a CV:

  • Personal Details
  • Personal Statement
  • Work Experience
  • Education
  • Skills/Qualifications
  • Interests
  • References

While the structure of your CV might change depending on your line of work or type of experience, the same basic tenets will hold true no matter the position you’re applying for.

As mentioned above, you should start your CV with your personal details and statement, and then go right into your work experience (unless you’re weak on that front, in which case you might want to mention your education or qualifications first).

Work experience:

When writing about your work history, be sure to only list experience that is relevant to the job at hand. If you have a wide range of experience, choose the roles that are pertinent to the sector or field you’re hoping to get into. Your CV should be carefully-curated, that way you’ll position yourself as the strongest candidate for the role.

If you have limited experience, think about any transferable skills you might have. You can also talk about previous projects you’ve worked on, times you’ve volunteered, athletics you were involved in… essentially anything that demonstrates your hard work, diligence, and passion.

When reviewing the work you’ve undertaken, highlight your responsibilities and the skills and experience acquired. This helps demonstrate how your experience helped develop your skills and mold you into the employee you are today. Start with your most recent first.

Examples:

Accounts Assistant, Goliath National Bank, June 2011 – Sept 2011. Three months in the Accounts department of a major high street bank.

Responsibilities included:

  • Reconciling invoices and receipts
  • Assisting with monthly accounts reporting
  • Processing staff expenses 

Part-time shop assistant, Help the Needy Charity Shop, June 2010 – Apr 2011

Responsibilities included:

  • Gained experience in cashiering
  • Responsible for the provision of in-store customer service
  • Assisted with stock replenishment

Education:

BSc. Physics, Grade 2:2, Central Brookside University, Sept 2009 – July 2012

A levels: English (B), Geography (C), Media (C), General Studies (D), Hollyoaks Sixth Form College, Chester, Sept 2007 – July 2009

After you’ve reviewed your employment history and education, include hobbies and interests that demonstrate a particular skill or are relevant to the job you’re applying for:

  • Captain of school hockey team (shows leadership)
  • Volunteer/community work (shows you’re proactive)
  • Visiting art galleries and museums (if applying for a job in something relevant…)

Likewise, steer clear of any personal information that doesn’t impact your ability to do the job, including:

  • Date of birth, marital status, number of children or religion
  • Data that could be used in identity theft such as your National Insurance number or passport number
  • A photo, unless you’ve been asked to submit one

References:

Don’t include names and contact details on a CV (although application forms may ask for this.) Always seek permission from a reference before passing their details on to a recruiter or potential employer.

 

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How can I build my CV?

Generally speaking, Microsoft word is the best platform for creating a CV. There are numerous templates available, but typically a clean, minimalist, uncluttered template is the way to go.

You’ll also find that many employers or third-party websites offer a CV builder – you’ll simply input your information into the required fields, which will then generate a simple CV for their database.

There’s really no restriction on how you go about creating your CV though, so feel free to get creative (where appropriate)! For example, if you’re a graphic designer, you could use tools of the trade to create a CV that shows prospective employers you have the design chops they’re looking for.

For inspiration, look at some of our CV templates here.

CV layout and presentation tips

Beware of bad formatting! As great a candidate as you might be, if the formatting of your CV is all wrong, you’ll most likely select yourself out of the job pool.

First and foremost, no one wants to be greeted by a wall of text. Try to be clear and concise in what you say – bullet points always help. Also use headings and short paragraphs to make it easy for recruiters and employers to scan.

In a nutshell:

• Cover no more than two pages and create your CV in Word.

• Avoid borders, colours, images, novelty paper and cartoon fonts like Comic Sans. Arial, Verdana or Tahoma in font size 10 or 11 works best.

• Use headings, bullet points and short paragraphs to make it easy for recruiters and employers to scan.

• Open with your best bits and list the most recent educational details and roles first, explaining any gaps.

• Display impeccable spelling and grammar. Don’t miss your big break because of a misspelled word. Check everything meticulously before you click ‘send’.

Read more on how to produce an interview winning CV.

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CV writing tips

Keep it real – and keep it succinct. Your CV should fit onto two pages of A4 paper, and resist the urge to embellish. Save it for your interview.

Tailor it to specific jobs. While a “one size fits all” approach certainly saves time, if you’re applying to multiple positions each with its own specialty, tweaking the contents just a tad to include keywords and key phrases from the job description allows you to point out exactly what you have that matches what the employer wants and needs.

Stay current. Regardless of whether you’re actively hunting for work or not, you never know when someone might know someone who knows someone who needs someone just like you! And don’t forget to note any significant events in your career as they happen, so you don’t forget something later that could be important.

Avoid gaps. An employment gap raises suspicions, even if the reasons for that gap are completely legitimate. So you’ve been out of work? Spin it positively to your advantage. Were you taking classes? Volunteering? Increasing your soft skills in project management or teamwork? Don’t be shy! Share it.

Make the most of your experience. Incorporating strong, positive language like “developed,” “organised,” or “achieved” that connects your experience and skills to what the job seeks – even if it was a restaurant position and you’re seeking something in banking – helps!

Tell the truth. Embellishing may be tempting, but lying on your CV opens up a can of worms you don’t need, especially when potential employers check your references and your background. Just say no. Stick to the truth.

Error! Error! Do take the time to proofread for mistakes in grammar, spelling, mechanics, and formatting. Hiring managers look for excuses to toss a resume in the “reject” pile. Don’t give them an easy out.

Data, maths & specifics. Potential employers like hard numbers, so if you suggested process improvements which increased revenue, specify that those sales increased by 80%. Cut overhead costs by launching a new cost-saving measure? Tell them that you saved $14K over six months after creating and instituting a new recycling program.

Looks do count. Image really is everything, so take time to plan an eye-appealing layout that’s organized and easy to follow. Use a combo paragraph/bullet format for job descriptions, and don’t succumb to Charles Dickens, who was paid by the word, by writing verbose sentences. Simplicity is key – and so is white space!

Cater to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). These systems look for industry keywords and buzzwords, so research the words most commonly used in jobs with the titles you seek. These SEO-friendly words help those ATS search engines pull your CV from the pile.

Who will look at my CV?

This can really vary depending on the company and how they recruit. Typically it would be the hiring manager and whoever would be your line manager, however this could extend to other parties. If you’re going through a recruitment agency as well, there’s a chance that your CV won’t even get as far as the company… candidates tend to be shortlisted for these roles, and only the ones deemed fit will make the cut.

Regardless of who may or may not be looking at your application however, you should still make it the best it possibly can be, especially as CVs can be stored or circulated for future use.

Do I need a CV?

The answer to this question is unequivocally YES. Without a CV, you literally have no way to show prospective employers why it is they should hire you… instead, you’ll just be some person asking for a job, and what’s so impressive about that?

So if you’re questioning whether or not writing a CV is worth the effort, we’re here to tell you: IT IS! So fire up that computer and get to writing what we’re sure will be the most stellar CV of all time.