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The Complete Guide To Writing A Great CV

CV folder in file

There’s a lot at stake when it comes to crafting a CV that will get you an interview – but writing a CV that really sells what you can do is within everyone’s reach.

To help you get noticed for all the right reasons we’ve created a CV guide for every step of the journey.

Part 1 – CV Basics

What is a CV and why is it still important | CV Checklist | Making sure your CV gets seen | Tailoring your CV

Part 2 – Types of CV and When to Use Them

Chronological CV | Skills Based / Functional CV | Combined / Hybrid CV | Other types of CV

Part 3 – Writing Your CV

Personal details | Personal Statement | Education | Work experience | Skills and Achievements | Hobbies and interests

Part 4 – Help Writing Your CV

CV templates | What about CV writers? | Typeface, Design, Formatting and Formats

Part 5 – Other points to consider

References | Explaining gaps in employment history | Social media | Keep it honest | Discrimination and occupational requirements | Final top tips for preparing your CV


CV Basics

What is a CV and why is it still important | CV Checklist | Making sure your CV gets seen | Tailoring your CV

What is a CV and why is it still important?

A well-tailored CV is your first chance to make a good impression and stand out from the crowd when applying for a new job.

It gives a potential employer an overview of your work experience, education and personality so they can decide if you’re a suitable candidate to invite in for an interview.

While jobseekers who rent out billboards might make the headlines, the majority of people are still hired (in part) because of their CV – so it’s worth taking the time to get it right!

CV Checklist

In most cases your CV should include:

  • Up to date contact information
  • Personal statement or profile
  • Work experience – including relevant skills and achievements
  • Education & Qualifications

Meanwhile, most CV should not include:

  • Photograph of yourself  
  • Height or weight
  • Date of birth
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • National Insurance Number or bank account details
  • Referee details (see more)

Making sure your CV gets seen

Have you ever felt like you send out CV after CV but nobody actually looks at it?

Unfortunately, that might because that’s what’s happening.

It’s nothing personal – hiring managers can receive hundreds of CVs for a single vacancy and since they don’t have time to sift through every one, they need to use special software to filter out ‘unsuitable’ candidates before taking a look themselves.

To give yourself the best chance of getting your CV gets seen use keywords found in the job ad throughout your CV and make sure you follow our 15 tips on getting your CV seen.

But who will see your CV?

For companies that get fewer applications and do things the old fashioned way, the good news is someone will almost certainly see your CV

The bad news is that person won’t necessarily be your potential manager – it could be anyone from HR, or even an assistant that helps with the recruitment process – and they may just give your CV a quick scan.

It’s vital your CV stands out and speaks to whoever sees it first, so make sure even someone who wasn’t an expert in your field would understand you were a perfect fit for the job.

If you haven’t been shortlisted but you know you’re perfect for the role, consider contacting the hiring manager directly to explain why you weren’t a good candidate.

Tailoring your CV

It’s not original advice, but it’s good advice, and it can’t be said enough: you should tailor your CV to each and every job you apply for.

You should tailor your CV to each and every job you apply for.

Even if you’re applying for the same sorts of job, different companies will value different attitudes, skills, and experiences so it’s important you reflect this in your CV.

For a start, make note of the adjectives that they use in the job ad. If they’re looking for someone that’s hard-working and reliable, tailor your personal statement around these words.

You don’t want a never-ending CV, so you’ll often need to be selective about the skills and experience you detail in your work experience section – match these to what the job ad asks for, and your CV will stand out even if the hiring manager initially only has time for a quick scan.

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Types of CV and when to use them

Chronological CV | Skills Based / Functional CV | Combined / Hybrid CV | Other types of CV

The same CV format won’t work for everybody and every circumstance.

The right kind of format to best show yourself off will depend on your background and the amount of experience you have.

Chronological CV

A chronological CV is the most common type used today and easily shows an employer your work experience dating from the most recent through to the earliest.

Chronological CV structure:

  1. Contact details
  2. Personal statement
  3. Career history – list each job you’ve had starting with the most recent or current, then move backwards. State your role, employer, dates and your responsibilities for each.
  4. Qualifications and education – Whether to include your entire educational history or just your most recent years will depend largely on how much work experience you have.
  5. Other relevant information

Pros

  • Listing your work experience job by job shows your main responsibilities and takes away any focus on key achievements or significant highlights that you don’t have.
  • Shows your career progression in a way that is easy for hiring managers to understand.

Cons

  • Makes gaps in employment stand out, which you may not want to bring attention to.
  • If you’re changing careers, then it may not be immediately clear for an employer which skills you have that you can transfer.

Skills Based / Functional CV

A functional CV highlights your skills and expertise. It’s useful for senior management positions or for those changing career who need to focus on relevant skills and achievements.

Functional CV Structure:

  1. Contact details
  2. Personal profile – highlight personal qualities, skills and achievements in sections with the most important at the top. Describe your experience as a whole.
  3. Career summary – list each employer with dates.
  4. Skills and qualifications
  5. Any other relevant information
  6. Hobbies and interests if applicable

PROS

  • Older people may be more comfortable using this format as it doesn’t clearly show your age or how many years you’ve been working.
  • You can focus on transferable skills if changing careers.
  • You can focus on what you have to offer and take the spotlight away from frequent job changes or large gaps in employment.

CONS

  • You can’t show career progression clearly.
  • You may have trouble finding achievements and skills to highlight if you only have a short work history.
  • Some recruiters may think you are trying to cover something up as they can’t easily see your employment background.

Combined / Hybrid CV

An increasingly popular format, combined CV takes elements of both the chronological CV and the functional CV formats.

Combined CV Structure:

  1. Contact details
  2. Personal profile – as outlined in the functional CV
  3. Career history – as per the chronological CV
  4. Qualifications
  5. Other relevant information
  6. Hobbies and interests if applicable

PROS

  • You can easily sell yourself based on your skills and work history.
  • If you have steady career progression with many highlightable achievements this is a great way put yourself forward.

CONS

  • Your CV could end up lengthy, especially if you’ve had many jobs.
  • Not ideal if you have large employment gaps or little work history.

Other types of CV

Academic CV: Used by those in the teaching or research professions and puts emphasis on licenses, teaching experience, research studies, publications and grants.

Infographic CV: Uses graphic design elements rather than basic text. While an infographic CV will certainly make you stand out from the crowd, they are not a preferable choice – not least because applicant tracking system software has a hard time understanding them.

If you’re not a graphic designer or artist, you’ll probably will end up making a mess of it.

Video & other attention-grabbing CVs: While many people have landed their dream jobs with a video CV 99.9% of people should stick to a regular CV on paper, unless asked otherwise.

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Writing your CV

Personal details | Personal Statement | Education | Work experience | Skills and Achievements | Hobbies and interests

Putting pen to paper and actually writing your CV may seem overwhelming, so use these great tips to ensure that you cover everything you need.

Personal details

If a recruiter doesn’t know how to contact you, your chances of getting an interview are slim to none.

You don’t need to go as far as including your blood type and next of kin, but make sure you have your full name, and up to date phone number, address and email.

Your email address should be professional – not the one you picked when you were 15.

Personal statement

Your personal statement is your first chance to stand out from the crowd so it’s important to get this part right.

You should briefly explain who you are (in terms of your work experience and skills!), what role you are looking for, and what you have to offer.

N.B. If you’re looking for jobs far from home, use your statement to explain your circumstances – e.g. you’re happy to relocate. If job seeking abroad, confirm you have the right to work in the UK.

Education

What details you should list depends entirely on where you are at in your professional career.

Recent school leaver: State the highest level of certificate that you obtained at school with grades for each subject. If you completed any specialist subjects that are relevant to the position you are applying for then provide details about these. For example, if you’re applying for a handyman role, showing that you excelled in woodwork or metalwork classes will be beneficial.

University graduate: Include your degree or diploma, the university name and the grades you received. If relevant, you can includes details of particular modules or courses.

Including your high school or college grades might also be appropriate – particularly if the job requires skills not obviously attained through your degree. If the job requires mathematical ability but you did a History degree, mentioning the top grade you got at A-Level in maths is definitely worthwhile.

Mid-late career: Include degrees plus any other courses which are applicable to the job application. For example, if you are applying for a marketing manager position and have a BA from ten or twenty years ago, mention any other relevant short courses you’ve taken in social media or online marketing to show that you’re keeping up with industry changes.

At this point in your career, educational qualifications from your school days are unlikely to be relevant any more.

Work experience

A chronological or combined CV requires you to outline your work experience job by job. This is the meatiest bit of your CV, and a chance to show off your skills and experience.

For each job, include the company name, your job title and the dates you worked – the month and year you started and finished each role. If you are towards the later part of your working career, it is sufficient to include the year only for positions earlier on in your life.

Next, write a brief summary of each role and a selection of your responsibilities.

Pick out the responsibilities that match the duties listed on the new job to show the hiring manager how your skills and experience match what the role is looking for – don’t bother listing those duties and responsibilities that are irrelevant.

Show you excelled in your role by giving concrete numbers that illustrate how you exceeded targets.

Skills and achievements

When compiling a functional or combined CV, you’ll highlight skills and major achievements. You probably have a lot more skills than you realise – think outside the box!

SKILLS EXAMPLES

  •        Computers and software: any knowledge you have on specific programs
  •        Foreign languages
  •        Project management: give examples
  •        Preparing budgets

ACHIEVEMENT EXAMPLES

  •        Streamlined in-house processes.
  •        Cut costs for company.
  •        Obtained new clients worth £x to the company.
  •        Successfully managed an office move.

Hobbies and interests

It’s not always necessary to include details about your hobbies and interests, but there are a few occasions when it could be to your advantage.

  • Mentioning relevant hobbies or interests can help back up your skills and make you stand out from other candidates. If you are applying for a job in social media for an insurance company, stating that you like writing and photography will show that you can bring more to the table and potentially get involved with other projects.
  • If you know that the hiring manager loves fishing and it is one of you hobbies, it will give you something to chat about in your interview and help build rapport before discussing your work experience.
  • The company’s ‘Work With Us’ page talks about the importance of the company culture, and your hobbies fit in with that culture.

Think carefully about what hobbies you want to share. Saying that you like socialising with your friends every weekend with a bottle of wine or spending the evening watching television is probably not going to achieve anything.

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Help Writing Your CV

CV templates | What about CV writers? | Typeface, Design, Formatting and Formats

CV templates

Since not everyone is blessed with a talent for creating amazing documents in Microsoft Word, you may want to use a CV template.

You can get one from Adzuna here, but there are lots of different designs available online. Remember, the key is to show off your skills and experience, so a clean, simple template is your best bet.

What about CV writers?

Writing your own CV is the best way to ensure you have total control over how you present yourself, but if you struggle with writing you might consider whether a CV writer could help.

As it’s their job, they should have a good idea of how to best sell your skills and experience.  

If you do plan on using a CV writer bear in mind:

  • CV writers have a habit of embellishing skills or stretching the truth. If you are over-sold to a recruiter you might find yourself unable to talk the talk in an interview.
  • While CV writers can put together a great base CV, they’ll not be on hand to tailor CVs as you need them for each job application – unless you want to shell out a lot of money for the privilege.

You can still turn to others for help even if you don’t hire a CV writer – friends, family or even a trusted colleague can give your CV a look over, while recent graduates can seek advice from their university career service.

Typeface, Formatting, Design & Formats

If your CV looks like a dog’s breakfast there’s little chance it’ll get a second look even if you have perfect experience.

A messy or confusing CV does not paint you in a good light and will definitely not move you to the shortlist pile so don’t shoot yourself in the foot and follow these rules

Typefaces: Ditch the funky fonts – there’s nothing funny about Comic Sans. Arial, Courier or Tahoma do the job,  – 11pt is a good size to work with.

Colours: Would you believe us if we said we’ve seen CVs using text with multiple colours? Just stick to black.

Design: A basic design is all you need for most jobs. If everything lines up nicely, with enough white space for headings to breath you’ll have done a good job.

If you’re a graphic designer then some artistic effort may be expected, but your portfolio remains the best place to showcase your design work.

File format: Word documents are the best choice for presenting your CV as text on a .pdf file doesn’t always play nicely with recruitment software. Don’t forget to name your CV file professionally using your first and last name.

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Other points to consider

References | Explaining gaps in employment history | Social media | Keep it honest | Discrimination and occupational requirements | Final top tips for preparing your CV

References

‘Referees available upon request’ is the final line on many CVs, but there’s no real need to state this – hiring managers assume you’ll be able to provide a reference.

Explaining gaps in employment history

Gaps in your work history should always be accounted for; not explaining them will lead hiring managers to fear the worst.

It’s always best to be honest (see the next section!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t present something in the best light possible.

If you were made redundant suddenly and it took a few months to find a new position, you can say you were using that time to job search for a suitable role or mention any new skills you acquired in the meantime.

Keep it honest

Your CV should present you in the best possible light – but it should definitely be your light. Keeping your CV honest is important for two main reasons:

  • Companies do background checks on new employees. Some are more in-depth than others, admittedly, but there is always the chance you will be found out, and the offer of employment withdrawn.
  • If the lie is big enough, you could even be convicted of fraud.
  • If you lie about your skills and experience but still get hired, you might find yourself underperforming as you’re unable to carry out your duties – this is unlikely to be a positive for your long term career prospects.

Social media

It’s not news that potential employers often search for online profiles to find out more about a candidate. The awareness around this means many people are careful about their public information on Facebook, Twitter and the other major social platforms.

But many people aren’t so concerned about smaller social sites.

This could be a mistake – some applicant tracking systems used by hiring managers will automatically pull information and profile pictures from all accounts associated with that email address.

Here at Adzuna we’ve seen profile pictures that we’re certain applicants would not have wanted to put forward as their first impression.

To be absolutely certain this won’t happen to you, it could be wise to have a separate email for your job search activities, but at the very least you should think beyond the major social networks when it comes to presenting a professional version of your online persona.

Discrimination and occupational requirements

One reason details like marital status and date of birth aren’t usually included in CVs is that it’s illegal for employers to discriminate on these grounds.

However, there are occasionally occupational requirements that allow an employer to lawfully discriminate, while some jobs like flight attendants have height or weight requirements –  in these cases it would be appropriate to include relevant details on your CV.

If you think you may have been affected by discrimination contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for advice.

Final top tips for preparing your CV:

  • Keep it short and sweet: There are of course exceptions, but a good CV usually doesn’t need to be any longer than two sides of an A4, and often one side of A4 is enough. Any longer and you are going to lose the attention of whomever is reading it.
  • Check spelling and grammar: Even if you have the best experience out of anyone applying for the role, a CV full of grammar and spelling mistakes is not going to get you far. There are lots of automatic checkers – including in Adzuna’s own ValueMyCV – but …
  • Get someone else to check: Ask a friend or family member to have a look to check for spelling mistakes and to check that it reads well. If you know someone that works in HR or recruitment, ask them to have a look so they can give you some pointers on how to improve.

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