How to write a CV

What is a CV?

Your CV, short for curriculum vitae, is a personal marketing document used to sell yourself to prospective employers. It should tell them about you, your professional history and your skills, abilities and achievements. Ultimately, it should highlight why you’re the best person for the job.

A CV is required when applying for a job. In addition to your CV, employers may also require a cover letter and a completed application form

If you’re starting from scratch, writing a great CV can seem like a significant and time-consuming task. And even if you’ve had previous experience of writing CVs, you might still be making the mistake of using the same one for every job.

How to write your CV

Writing a CV can be a stressful task, especially if you’re starting from scratch…

And although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for the perfect CV, it should always be clearly formatted and short enough for a recruiter to scan quickly – and most importantly – tailored to the role you’re applying for.

Not sure where to start? Here are some basic rules on how to write a CV:

 What information should I include on my CV?

CVs should never be completely formulaic, but there are a few things they should always contain:

1. Personal details:

It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to include their name, email, contact phone number and address. To avoid any awkward moments, make sure these are clearly presented at the top of your CV. ‘Curriculum Vitae’ is an unnecessary title – your name is not.

Here is an example of how your name, professional title and contact details might look:

Forename Surname | Professional Title

Location: Town, County

Phone: 01200 567890

Email: name@example.co

2. Personal statement

As it’s the first thing that’s shown on your CV, a personal statement is an essential part of standing out from the crowd. It explains who you are, what you’re offering, and what you’re looking for. Aim to prove why you’re suitable in one short and succinct paragraph.

3. Work experience:

This section should include all of your relevant work experience, listed with the most recent first. Include your job title, the name of the organisation, time in post, and your key responsibilities.

Here’s an example of how to lay out each position of employment on your CV:

mmm yyyy – mmm yyyy

Company Name, Location

Role Title

Outline

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key responsibilities

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key achievements/projects

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key responsibilities

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key achievements/projects

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

4. Achievements:

This is your chance to show how your previous experience has given you the skills needed to make you a suitable candidate. List all of your relevant skills and achievements (backing them up with examples), and make it clear how you would apply these to the new role.

5. Education:

Your educational experience and achievements should be listed here, along with dates, the type of qualification and/or the grade you achieved – although the specific parts of education that you include in your CV will depend on your individual situation. For example, if you have more educational achievements than work experience, placing an emphasis on this section is a good idea.

6. Hobbies and interests:

You don’t always need to include hobbies and interests in your CV, but mentioning relevant ones could back up your skills and help you to stand out from the crowd – not to mention give you something to talk about at an interview. Just don’t say you enjoy socialising with friends just for the sake of including something. If it’s not going to add value, leave it out.

Any extra information, such as reasons for a career change or reasons for gaps in career history should also be included as required.

Things you should avoid in your CV

Long passive phrases: Don’t put the reader to sleep. Make sure you write your CV in the present tense, get to the point, and always include lots of action words.

Unrealistic accomplishments: Be realistic in your skill set – no one is an expert in everything. Remember: if you exaggerate your skills and experience, you’ll only have to justify it at the interview.

Overly technical information and jargon: Include what you know but don’t be fussy in your language. Your CV is a sales document, not an instruction manual.

Personal unrelated activities: You’ve got no idea how the person reviewing your application will react to your hobbies, so it’s best to leave them off unless they’re relevant to the role. No hobbies at all is better than ‘socialising with friends’.

The words you should be using

It almost goes without saying that you should always be as positive as possible when describing yourself.

But some of the keywords you could use include:

  • Accurate
  • Adaptable
  • Confident
  • Hard-working
  • Innovative
  • Proactive
  • Reliable
  • Responsible

Again, it’s always important to make sure you backup your attributes.

So, instead of just using an adjective to describe yourself, mention previous experience and responsibilities, as well as your accomplishments (for example, any goals or targets you hit).

Some proactive descriptions you could use might be:

  • Achieved
  • Formulated
  • Planned
  • Generated
  • Managed
  • Represented
  • Completed
  • Implemented

However, the most important thing is how you use these words.

Formulate strong statements that demonstrate your skills and experience in action, using terms that show you’re positive and pro-active rather than flimsy phrases.

Words you shouldn’t use in your CV

In terms of the actual words you write, almost all recruiters have their own pet peeves.

Here are just a few of the most common CV phrasing fails:

  • Flexible
  • Motivated
  • Strong work ethic
  • Multi-tasker
  • Independent
  • Detail-oriented
  • Self-motivated

Most of the words that fall into this list are CV clichés that have been around so long that they no longer carry any real meaning.

Obviously, if one of these words is a key element for the role you’re applying for, then they can be used.

 

Recruiters don’t just want to know you’re goal-driven – they want to see examples of it too.

Final thoughts on CV format

Remember: this is a template, not a ready-made CV.

This means that it’ll only be effective if you actually put the work in. So before you get started – take some time to research the company and role, and think about how your skills and experience make you a good fit.

Then, do this for every single job you apply for. Because although you won’t have to completely rewrite your CV each time, making small changes that make it tailored to the job are essential.

Finally, your CV will always look different depending on your situation – whether you’ve just graduated, you’re coming back from a career break, you’re looking for part-time work, or anything else.

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How to write a CV

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