Writing a CV can be a daunting task – there’s a wealth of information out there and figuring out where to start can feel like a job in itself.
That’s why we’ve created an essential guide to writing a CV that will grab the attention of potential employers and help you bag that all-important interview.
When applying for any job, your CV is the first chance to make a good impression and stand out from the crowd. However, our research reveals that only 15% of UK adults feel confident when writing and submitting a CV for a new job role.
With this in mind, we have shared our top tips; based on data from over 500,000 CV’s submitted via ValueMyCV, on how to master CV writing:
Coming up with a design for your CV from scratch can require expert Microsoft Word skills. If you don’t feel confident designing your own CV template, there are plenty available, either on Microsoft Word or online.
Although CVs designed to imitate company packaging and cereal boxes have been making headlines recently, it is important to remember the purpose of a CV is to show off your skills and experience, so a clean, simple template is best.
Typeface, Formatting & Formats
How your CV looks is important; if it looks messy or is confusing to read then there is little chance it’ll get a second look, regardless of your experience. To avoid the most common mistakes, follow these three simple rules:
- Typefaces: Shy away from funky fonts, stick with Arial, Courier or Tahoma. Remember you want an employer to be able to read your CV so don’t make the font too small – 11pt is a good start.
- Colours: Just stick to black. Using multiple colours for text can get confusing.
- Formats: Word documents are the best choice for presenting your CV, as text on a .pdf file isn’t always compatible with recruitment software. Don’t forget to name your CV file professionally using your first and last name when you save it.
It may sound obvious but if a recruiter doesn’t know how to contact you, your chances of getting an interview are almost impossible. While you shouldn’t disclose all your personal details, your full name, up to date phone number, address and email are expected.
If you’re looking for jobs away from home, use your personal statement to explain you’re happy to relocate, or if seeking jobs in the UK from abroad, confirm you have the right to work in the UK.
A CV that has grammar and spelling mistakes is not going to get you very far, regardless of how experienced you are for the role. To overcome this, ensure you get someone else to double-check your CV for spelling mistakes and that it reads well. There are also lots of automatic checkers available, such as ValueMyCV.
Keep it short and sweet
A good CV shouldn’t be any longer than two sides of A4 and often one side of A4 is enough. Any longer and you are going to lose the attention of whoever is reading it.
To reduce the word count, ensure you have only included relevant experience that showcases your relevant skills for the desired role. If you’re going over the two-page limit, don’t be tempted to shrink your font or spacing as this will likely make your CV hard to read. Instead, review any areas that can be condensed and make sure you’re only including your most relevant and up-to-date experience.
Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, comments: “Your CV is the first thing a potential employer sees and from that, they interpret who you are as a person, how suited you are for the desired role and if you would fit into their company. First impressions are everything, so you want to ensure your CV is the best it can be.”
How To Write A Great CV
- Customise it for every role you apply for
- Leave out irrelevant information
- Use concrete examples to demonstrate your experience
- Include hobbies and interest that suit the role you’re applying for
- Make sure it gets seen
Customise it for every role you apply for
Employers are much like potential dates- they don’t want to feel that you have sent the same message to 100 other people. They want to feel you are a good match for one another and that you want that particular position, with that particular company- in a word, they want to feel special – not that you are simply desperate for any old job.
So what do you do when you’re trying to win someone over? You focus on what you have in common. This is why you should always – repeat always – customise your CV for each and every job application. Sure, it takes more time, and yes it can be a longer process, but remember – once you have secured that juicy role, you can safely tuck away the CV until next time.
So study the job advert carefully and make a list:
- What are the employer’s key requirements for a candidate? (If you don’t meet these, you may not be ready for the position)
- What essential skills and experience do they specify?
- What duties and responsibilities are involved in the job?
- What adjectives and attributes do they use to describe their ideal candidate?
- Have a look at the company website and jot down any information you can find about their culture, values, vision, and what they look for in the people they hire.
Now, go through your own employment history and for each past role see where you can display evidence that you fit the profile of their ideal candidate (and get the recruiter to swipe right).
So let’s say you once worked in a shop. If you are now applying for a job in accounts, you may want to showcase how you developed your bookkeeping and cash-handling skills in that role; whereas an exciting opening in PR might see you emphasising your great knack for dealing with people and your skill in representing that retailer to the public. Be ruthless – anything that is not relevant, eliminate it. If you don’t have direct past experience, then focus on transferable skills.
Leave out irrelevant information
If a position you held five years ago was completely irrelevant to the role you’re applying for today, don’t waste valuable space talking about responsibilities and duties you had that do nothing to improve your application (but do leave the dates in there so you don’t have unexplained absences!). Recruiters and hiring managers only have so much time to assess your CV, so you don’t want them getting the wrong idea and thinking your skills aren’t relevant.
Use your cover letter as an opportunity to explain your career path.
Use concrete examples to demonstrate your experience
Ok, so let’s stick with the dating analogy… you’ve arranged to meet your date and with any luck you want them to like you. How do you convince them? Do you look them in the eye and tell them, “I’m a great prospect”? Of course not. What you do instead is to wear a certain outfit… Be at your most charming… Encourage them to admire your best features.
The same applies when writing your CV. Don’t just tell the employer you’re amazing… show them. Cut out the empty descriptions (think clichéd stuff like ‘target-oriented team player with excellent interpersonal skills’ – trust me, the recruiter has heard it a thousand times before and they’re not running to grab the phone).
Instead, focus on achievements and evidence, rather than a laundry list of duties and descriptions. Up your game; everyone knows that working as a barperson involves serving drinks – so, go one step further and describe what you did to add value to that role. Rather than ‘responsible for serving customers’, try something like, ‘implemented an upselling system that increased average order value by 20%’. See the difference?
Include hobbies and interest that suit the role you’re applying for
This is yet another opportunity to demonstrate to the employer that you are the sort of person who will fit both the job role and their company culture. So for example, if you are applying for a role as a sales person, you may wish to include hobbies that demonstrate your competitive, outgoing nature- this is the time to mention a team sport you excel at, or your active participation in the university debating team (rather than use valuable space telling them that you quite enjoy reading).
Make them relevant and make them genuine. If possible, include details of groups and organisations you are a member of, events you have taken part in, or accomplishments in your chosen hobby.
Make sure it gets seen
What’s the point in going to all that trouble writing a brilliant CV if it doesn’t even get seen? Format your CV incorrectly and this is the risk you run. Put your CV through ValueMyCV or check out our list of CV formatting dos and don’ts to make sure it gets seen.
- Include a profile summary. This is a few sentences or bullet points (up to 200 words), right at the top of the first page, illustrating the unique selling points that make you a perfect match for the role. So, for a French-speaking Graduate Sales position, the summary might be – “Russell Group alumna with international experience in sales and client relationship management; French speaker; proficient in Sales Force and CRM software”. The idea is to show the employer in a nutshell why you are a credible candidate – and encourage them to keep reading.
- Start with the most relevant information first – so if you’re fresh out of school or university, include your education and qualifications first. If you’ve been in work for a while, start with your most recent position and work backwards.
- Keep it brief. CVs should be no longer than 2 A4 pages (with the exception of some academic CVs)
- Use simple past tense active verbs. Each bullet point should start with an action verb – e.g. ‘Increased sales by x amount’, ‘Negotiated contracts with buyers’. For current roles, use ‘increasing’, ‘negotiating’, etc.
- Hack the screening software. Most CVs nowadays will be screened with an automatic key word search – so if there are certain skills that will be expected for the role (for example a Purchasing Assistant will be expected to ‘negotiate’), then make sure that they are included in the body of your CV.
- If possible, send a PDF version of your CV- this avoids file compatibility issues at the other end and means that the document arrives in the format you intended.
- Account for any gaps in your career history. So, if you spent a year travelling state this clearly, with dates.
- ALWAYS get someone else to proofread your CV. Errors, typos and spelling mistakes are a massive turn off for employers and provide an easy excuse to reject your application (and speed up their shortlisting process).
- Include a photo (unless it’s a modelling job), date of birth, or marital status.
- Include irrelevant information – if it’s not supporting your overall argument that you are great for the role, then cut it out!
Now that you’ve written your CV…
If you followed these essential tips, you should now have a CV that is selling your skills and ready to send off to employers. But before you do, be sure to check what your market value is with our automatic ValueMyCV tool – it’s free to use and lets you know instantly what salary range you should be aiming at. Once armed with this information you will be ready for the next stage – the interview!