Whether you’re just starting out on your career journey or have years of experience under your belt, when it comes to your CV, it’s always a good idea to take a step back and make sure it’s the absolute best it can be.
Essentially, your CV is a sales tool. You need it to stand out for all the right reasons and convince the hirer that you deserve an interview spot.
We’ve written several blogs about CV writing over the years, but decided it was about time to pull all our advice together into a one-stop ultimate guide to crafting your CV. So, read on and get ready to transform your CV into a job magnet!
SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE
Starting off with a blank page can be daunting, but if you follow our guide, you’ll soon be on your way to a professional document to be proud of.
Avoid using CV building tools online – they can be glitchy, give you less control over your content, don’t give the best experience for the hirer at the other end and they’re often not optimised for applicant tracking systems (ATS) which could hinder your chances of being shortlisted – more on this later.
Stick to one clear font only and use bold to make subheadings stand out.
For your main content use a font size between 10pts – 12pts. 11pts is perfect! And use something 1-2pts bigger for titles/headings.
Unless one is specifically required for the job you’re applying for – don’t include a photograph. It may be commonplace in other countries, but not in the UK.
Stick to a maximum of 2 pages. Be strict! If you can’t, you’re including too much unnecessary information.
You don’t need to put ‘Curriculum Vitae’ at the top, it’s a waste of valuable space. Go with your name instead.
Start with your personal details – but keep it limited to your name, location, phone number and email address.
If your current location doesn’t match the location of the job you’re applying for, it would be helpful to include (open to relocation / relocating in MONTH YEAR to LOCATION) – just to make it clear to recruiters – even if you’ve included a covering note or letter, as these may not get read.
Never include your date of birth or National Insurance number.
You could add a link to your Linked In profile if you’re an active user and think it would add value to your application.
Write in the first person and stick to it throughout. For example:
First person – Managing a team of 15 (you don’t need to include the ‘I’ e.g. I managed a team of 15 – it’s your CV so it’s a given you’re talking about yourself)
As opposed to third person – Jo is a manager of a team of 15
Don’t use ‘we’ statements – your CV is about what you’ve achieved, not anybody else.
DO I NEED A PERSONAL STATEMENT?
In short, unless it’s been specifically requested as part of your application, it’s not necessary to include a personal statement.
Most of the time, recruiters are skimming through hundreds of CVs and may skip past a personal statement as they’re often filled with cliché language – such as ‘great communication skills’ and ‘team player’.
However, there are some circumstances, when written well, that a personal statement can be useful – such as to explain a gap in employment, the reason for a career change, or for someone who doesn’t yet have much experience to set out why they think they should be considered.
If you do choose to include a personal statement, it should be around a paragraph in length and be positioned beneath your personal details.
Most people should start with their work history. Listed in reverse chronological order – i.e. starting with your current or most recent job first and work backwards.
The full date is not usually necessary – simply the month and year is sufficient.
A layout like the below is a good example of how to head up each job you’re going to include:
Ambitions Personnel Ltd September 2015 – present
Then beneath each job, list an overview of your main duties (and the duties that demonstrate the most relevance to the job you’re applying for) in bullet point format.
Avoid copying and pasting your full job description or including every last duty – just pick out the key things that best showcase your skills and experience for the job you’re applying for.
How many points you include and the level of detail you provide will depend on the level of your role but as a general rule, include no more than 6 points.
Avoid using job specific jargon (like the names of systems) that aren’t relevant to the wider world.
Where possible, qualify any statements you make with facts and statistics (such as receiving a feedback score of 97% customer satisfaction, or exceeding your sales target by 24% in Q2). And, as tempting as it might be, don’t overstate or lie.
Think of PAR statements – standing for Problem, Action and Results. What was the issue, what actions did you take and what was the outcome? These can be a powerful way to bring your CV to life.
As a rule of thumb, cover the last 10-15 years or your last 3 jobs – whichever is the longest.
Check your dates are correct – don’t guess or put that you have been somewhere longer than you were, as it could come back to bite you later on.
EDUCATION, TRAINING AND SKILLS
If you’re just entering the world of work and don’t yet have any relevant work experience, your recent education should be included first. If you have non-relevant work experience, you can include this section below your education.
Again, qualifications, training and courses should be listed in reverse chronological order.
Only include what is relevant to the job and your career stage – if you’re an experienced manager with a degree level qualification, your full GCSE results are probably no longer needed!
You also only need to list qualifications which are relevant to the role, you might have undertaken many courses specific to a previous role – but consider what would add value to your application.Listing too many could mean that the really important ones get overlooked.
HOBBIES AND INTERESTS
Generally speaking, if your hobbies or interests are going to add value to your application (for example, if they help you to demonstrate knowledge of an area or particular skill) then go ahead.
If you’re adding them for the sake of it, or struggling to come up with ideas – then don’t. Cliches like ‘socialising’ can be a turn-off and appear like you haven't put much thought into it. You might do more harm than good, as well as using up valuable space.
There’s no need to include references on your CV, unless they’ve been specifically requested as part of an application. It’s highly unlikely any potential employer would be contacting your references at the initial application stage.
If you have space, then there is no harm done by including them – as long as you’re sure the space can’t be better used elsewhere.
If you do choose to include them, ensure that you have asked for the named person’s permission first and have their correct contact details and job title. Employers also like to see their relationship to you and would usually expect at least one reference to be a previous employer – usually your most recent.
HOW TO DEAL WITH GAPS IN YOUR CV
People have gaps in their work history for many (often very valid) reasons. As we’ve said, the purpose of your CV is to sell you enough so that you secure an interview – where it’s much easier to discuss any career breaks or gaps.
Most gaps don’t need to be addressed on your CV, unless it was very recent, or for a long period of time.
If your last paid employment was a while ago, it may be helpful to include a brief explanation on your CV. It’s always a good idea to mention anything you’ve done during any time away from the workplace which adds to your application, such as training, networking, transferable skills gained or reading.
Whichever approach you choose, do not amend dates to try and conceal a break – as that’s untruthful and could ruin your chances down the line.
Instead, be prepared with how to respond to any questions about a career break/gap at interview stage. Employers want to know that you would be a reliable hire who can do the job, focus on how you can reassure them that is the case.
TIPS FOR CV WRITING IF YOU DON’T HAVE EXPERIENCE
It’s tricky to know how to write your CV when you’re just starting out, especially when it feels like every job advert seems to require some experience!
It’s not an instant fix but trying to get some experience – including unpaid work experience or voluntary work, will give you something to talk about. There’s usually always a transferable skill to be found even if it’s not from within the field you want to be.
Failing that, use examples from education or life to demonstrate your skills – for example, being captain of a sports team, being a mentor for a younger pupil or taking part in a charity event.
MAKING YOUR CV SEARCH FRIENDLY
Many recruiters and employers use automated systems called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which store and grade CVs by relevance. In today’s market, it’s a good idea to consider how these systems work and make sure your CV is ATS friendly.
Headings on your CV should be clearly labeled and in a bigger / bold font to stand out.
ATS can only read text, so avoid any charts, graphics etc.
Use keywords – if you follow our advice of tailoring your CV to each role you apply for, then you’ll naturally be doing this anyway. Look at the job advert and job description to get a feel for what the stand-out requirements are which match up with yours – whether it’s specific experience, a skill or qualification, and make sure you include it in your CV.
The safest file type to be ATS compliant is Microsoft Word - avoid PDFs as they are not always compatible.
THE FINAL CHECKS
Proofread your CV back, checking for any spelling or grammar mistakes. We cannot emphasise enough how important this is! For some hirers, errors can be make or break.
Triple check your contact details are correct – you’d be surprised at how many CVs we receive with incorrect mobile numbers and no other way of making contact!
Check that the layout is consistent – spacing, fonts and sizes are the same throughout and it is easy to read
Even better, ask a friend or family member to proofread it for you. A fresh pair of eyes is always a good idea.
And finally, your file name matters! Just saving it as CV.doc could mean it gets lost, or using something unprofessional (you’d be surprised at what we’ve seen!) could equal a rejection. Using your name is safe – Joe Bloggs CV.doc.
Remember the 7-second rule – recruiters spend on average 7 seconds looking at your CV before making a decision – make it easy for them to find what they need to know!
The sole purpose of your CV is to get you an interview – sell yourself!
But never ever lie!
Tailor your CV to the job you’re applying for - use keywords from the job advert and job description / person specification to highlight that you’re a good match
Make sure your contact details are correct!
Pay attention to your spelling and grammar – it matters!
So, there we have it – our ultimate guide to writing your CV!
If you’re thinking about your next career move, we can help. Simply get in touch with your nearest office and our team of friendly expert recruiters will be happy to talk to you.