How to write a CV
A CV, which stands for curriculum vitae, is a document used when applying for jobs. It allows you to summarise your education, skills and experience enabling you to successfully sell your abilities to potential employers. Alongside your CV employers also usually ask for a cover letter.
That said one size doesn’t fit all. For example, a school leaver or recent graduate with minimal experience may only need to use one side of A4. Although not used as often, a three-page CV might be needed for those in high-level roles or for people who have gained a lot of experience or worked in multiple jobs over the last five to ten years. For example, some medical or academic CVs may be longer depending on your experience. While it’s important to keep your CV concise you should also avoid selling your experience short.
To save space only include the main points of your education and experience. Stick to relevant information and don’t repeat what you’ve said in your cover letter. If you’re struggling to edit your CV ask yourself if certain information sells you. If it doesn’t cut it out. If it’s not relevant to the job you’re applying for delete it and if it’s old detail from ten years ago summarise it.
What to include in a CV
- Contact details – Include your full name, home address, mobile number and email address. Your date of birth is irrelevant and unless you’re applying for an acting or modelling job you don’t need to include a photograph.
- Profile – A CV profile is a concise statement that highlights your key attributes and helps you stand out from the crowd. Usually placed at the beginning of a CV it picks out a few relevant achievements and skills, while expressing your career aims. A good CV profile focuses on the sector you’re applying to, as your cover letter will be job-specific. Keep CV personal statements short and snappy – 100 words is the perfect length. Discover how to write a personal statement for your CV.
- Education – List and date all previous education, including professional qualifications. Place the most recent first. Include qualification type/grades, and the dates. Mention specific modules only where relevant.
- Work experience – List your work experience in reverse date order, making sure that anything you mention is relevant to the job you’re applying for. Include your job title, the name of the company, how long you were with the organisation and key responsibilities. If you have plenty of relevant work experience, this section should come before education.
- Skills and achievements – This is where you talk about the foreign languages you speak and the IT packages you can competently use. The key skills that you list should be relevant to the job. Don’t exaggerate your abilities, as you’ll need to back up your claims at interview. If you’ve got lots of job-specific skills you should do a skills-based CV.
- Interests – ‘Socialising’, ‘going to the cinema’ and ‘reading’ aren’t going to catch a recruiters attention. However, relevant interests can provide a more complete picture of who you are, as well as giving you something to talk about at interview. Examples include writing your own blog or community newsletters if you want to be a journalist, being part of a drama group if you’re looking to get into sales and your involvement in climate change activism if you’d like an environmental job. If you don’t have any relevant hobbies or interests leave this section out.
- References – You don’t need to provide the names of referees at this stage. You can say ‘references available upon request’ but most employers would assume this to be the case so if you’re stuck for space you can leave this out.
- Avoid titling the document ‘curriculum vitae’ or ‘CV‘. It’s a waste of space. Instead let your name serve as the title.
- Section headings are a good way to break up your CV. Ensure they stand out by making them larger (font size 14 or 16) and bold.
- Avoid fonts such as Comic Sans. Choose something professional, clear and easy to read such Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman. Use a font size between 10 and 12 to make sure that potential employers can read your CV. Ensure all fonts and font sizes are consistent throughout.
- List everything in reverse chronological order. Then the recruiter sees your work history and most recent achievements first.
- Keep it concise by using clear spacing and bullet points. This type of CV layout allows potential employers to skim your CV and quickly pick out important information first.
- Name the document when saving – Don’t just save as ‘Document 1’. Make sure the title of the document is professional and identifies you, such as ‘Joe-Smith-CV’.
- Unless the job advert states differently (for example, it may ask you to provide your CV and cover letter as a Word document) save with a .PDF file extension to make sure it can be opened and read on any machine.
- If you’re posting your CV, print it on white A4 paper – Only print on one side and don’t fold your CV – you don’t want it to arrive creased.
Pick the Best CV Format
Recruiters spend only 6 seconds scanning each CV. So the very first impression is key. If you submit a neat, properly organised document, you’ll convince the recruiters to spend more time on your CV.
CV: Proper Order of Sections
Pro Tip: If you’re fresh out of uni and need to write a student CV with no experience, or if you’ve graduated from a very prestigious institution within the last 5 years, put your education section above your work experience.
Choose clear, legible fonts
Be consistent with your CV layout
Don’t cram your CV with gimmicky graphics
Get photos off of your CV
Make your CV brief and relevant
Hiring, nowadays, is one hell of a hectic business. Nobody’s got the time to care for what high school you’ve attended or to read 10+ bullet point descriptions of past jobs. We’ll get to that later on.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve finished writing, save your CV in PDF to make sure your CV layout stays intact. But pay close attention to the job description. Some employers won’t accept a PDF CV. If such is the case, send your CV in Word.
How to Show Off Your Work Experience (And Stand Out)
The HR manager most likely already knows what a business development manager or a sales manager does. You don’t want to seem like the average professional – you want to present yourself as an A-player, someone that shakes the company up (in a good way).
As you can see, the work experience order is in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent job first. And in terms of the activities, the details are backed up by numbers and percentages.
If you want to assure them you’re going to be a right fit, find what skills and responsibilities are listed in the job and, make sure you place them in the relevant sections of your CV. Look for what skills and responsibilities they’re looking for in the job ad, and tailor your CV accordingly.
With that said, in some fields (e.g. cashier in a supermarket), you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in terms of achievements. In that case, you can simply stick to your daily responsibilities.
How to Ace Your Interview
If you’ve made it this far – congratulations are in order. But you can’t celebrate just yet. The final gatekeeper standing between you and your dream job is the interview process.
- The essential information on your CV includes: contact information, CV summary or objective, work experience, education, and skills.
- Optional sections may include: certifications and awards, languages, hobbies, interests, and any relevant social media channels.
- Make sure your work experience and results are backed up data or some form of measurable change.
- Lastly, make sure your CV is tailored to the specific job, your cover letter is relevant and doesn’t repeat your CV, and that you’re prepared for some of the obvious interview questions.