How to write a great CV
Your CV is the window to your skills and experience – your own personal sales document. It’s your chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants and it’s critical to getting to the next stage of the recruitment process. And yet many new job seekers either haven’t ever put a CV together before or have a CV that was created at school and just isn’t strong enough – either in content or presentation – for a serious job application.
Why do you still need a CV?
Your CV has one job: get you an invite to interview.
Here’s the scary bit – according to a 2018 study by Ladders, the average time a hiring manager takes to read your CV is 7.4 seconds. And the more applicants for the job, the faster those hiring people flick through the paperwork. So your CV needs to create a positive impression straight away.
How can you manage this? It’s more straightforward than you might think. Just follow our seven steps to a great CV to help get your application further up the pile.
Step 1: Plan your CV’s structure
There’s a temptation to be over-clever with your CV. But the person assessing it just needs to see the key information, and if it’s not where they expect it to be, they’ll move on. So make sure your CV is structured to make it easy for them to scan the information they need in an order they expect:
- Personal details
- Personal statement
- Employment history
- Qualifications and skills
- Personal interests
There is also an optimum length for a CV– no more than two pages. This is a sales document, so keep it short, to the point, and relevant to the role you’re applying for. Which leads us to the second step.
Step 2: Make a list of keywords to include
Your CV should include keywords that are relevant to the company and the role to which you are applying. Read the job description carefully so you are clear about what the company is looking for, and reflect those requirements in your CV, including in any examples of experience, skills, and culture. The person assessing CVs will be scanning for these keywords – they may even use a software tool to scan your CV, so, it’s well worth taking the time to do this properly.
Step 3: Consider your writing style
Your CV needs to be accessible. Many job seekers think that using long words and business jargon will help them to look more professional. In fact, these things simply make your CV harder to read, or make sense of, and you could fall at the first hurdle.
Short sentences, no flowery language and only the most relevant information – these are the things that matter at this stage. Remember that you might get the opportunity to demonstrate your presentation or writing style at interview. But for now, you just need to get past the first stage.
So be professional. Use active language that helps to show attitude, achievement and action. And keep things easy to read by using bullet points rather than long paragraphs – this makes a huge difference to readability.
Step 4: Consider your content
A good CV goes through several drafts. That’s because you need to start with all the information you want to include, and then edit for clarity and relevance. So, to begin with, fill in each of the sections in Step 1 with all the content that you think is useful.
These details matter because they include everything the recruiter needs if they are taking your application to the next stage. Put your name, address, email address, right to work in the country you’re applying in, and contact numbers in the body of your document, so they appear clearly on every page.
This is a two- or three-sentence summary, designed to sell you to the hiring manager as a great potential candidate. Like an elevator pitch, this statement should be punchy, concise, and packed with personality. Let the hiring manager know who you are, your ambition, what makes you perfect for this job, and what skills you bring to the table – but don’t include anything you can’t evidence in your employment history.
This statement can take a while to craft, so write out everything you want to say, and then look for ways to edit it down so you are left with the most important, impactful information. And tailor it to each job you’re applying to for effectiveness – treat it as a mini cover letter!
This lets the hiring manager see the experience you have. Don’t worry about the type of jobs you put here – for new entrants to the job market, recruiters know that your experience may be limited. The most important thing is that you can demonstrate skills, workplace experience, learning and responsibility. For each job – starting with the most recent – state:
- The job title
- Dates you were employed (starting with most recent experience first)
- Your main responsibilities
- Major achievements – be specific if you can, with statistics and data
- Include your part time/summer jobs too – just don’t write about them in great detail
If you have any employment gaps, just add a sentence to explain them. Often, an unexplained employment gap can result in your CV being discarded.
Qualifications and Skills
Set out your qualifications with the latest first. You do not need to list every qualification you’ve ever had. For example, if you have a degree, recruiters don’t expect to see your A Level or GCSE results too. Include any professional qualifications too.
Make sure your skills are tailored to match the requirements of the role you’re applying for. Make sure you highlight any specific skills you have, including second (or more) language skills, particular tech abilities and communication skills. If you’re yet to graduate, include the expected graduation date.
This section should be short and to the point – it should not be longer or more wordy than the sections that are immediately relevant to the role. This section gives an insight into your personality, so only list the interests you can genuinely talk about at interview – don’t make them up. Think of them as talking points for the interview.
This section just needs a line to say that references are available on request. Recruiters will not expect to see reference details at this stage.
Step 5: Review, Revise, Proof
Now you’ve got content under each section, it’s time to read it over and make sure you’ve included everything – and that you take out anything that’s not relevant. There are two things worth doing at this point:
Leave some time between writing and reviewing. This gives you a bit of space to think about what you’ve written and what you want to say. When you come back to your draft, you’ll see it in a fresh light, which makes editing easier.
Get a second opinion. Ask someone you trust to have a look at your CV. Even better, if you know a friendly recruiter, or have a friend or family member who has recruitment responsibility in their job, get them to give you, their thoughts. Constructive criticism is really useful and will help you to see where you can improve.
When you review, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it highlight your relevant skills and experience?
- Does it show progression through your career?
- Does it showcase your achievements?
- Does it include relevant keywords?
- Is every sentence as concise and on point as possible?
- Does it include specifics: facts, figures, and outcomes?
- Does it give a sense of your personality?
When you are happy with the content, go through with a fine toothcomb to check for spelling mistakes, bad grammar, and unnecessary repetition. This may seem tedious, but CVs are regularly rejected for common errors – if you struggle with writing, get someone to check it over with you.
Step 6: Format
Your CV should now include all the content relevant to the role. The next job is to make sure it is cleanly presented. This will add to the professional feel and, most importantly, make it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to read.
Here are a few tips to make your CV pop:
- Keep formatting simple and sharp
- Use a sensible font – no Comic Sans, Marshmallow, or fonts that look like handwriting
- Unless you’re applying for a creative role keep the design simple and on a word doc not PDF, due to way CVs are processed in databases
- Print it on white paper, and avoid the temptation to use anything other than black text
We’d recommend type size no smaller than 11 point, so if you are struggling to fit everything on two pages, consider further editing, or expanding your page margins to give you a little extra space. Also consider left-aligning your text rather than centre text. It takes up less space and is actually easier to read.
Step 7: Sell yourself and send it off!
Name your CV document appropriately – your name, the year, and the job title/skillset you’re applying for.
When it’s time to send, check the requirements from the recruiter or company, to make sure you have covered everything they need and included any additional information they have asked for. Submit your CV in the format they have asked for and don’t include anything extra that isn’t required.
Finally, remember that you can adapt your personal statement to each job you apply for. This means you can focus on particular skills or experience to attract the attention of the recruiter, making your application as relevant as possible each time.