CVs are an essential part of finding a job; so getting yours perfect at the start is crucial to ensure that you have a more effective job search. Every CV should be personalized and there are many ways it can be presented, but each should follow a similar structure in terms of its content. This guide will help you to write a great CV so that you can get your job search started!
What is a CV?
Think of your CV (Curriculum Vitae) as a personal marketing tool with which you can sell yourself to potential employers. Your CV should tell them about yourself, what experience and education you have, and where your skills lie. The aim is to make yourself stand out from other candidates and to give recruiters an idea of your suitability for their vacancy. Be sure to keep it short and sweet – no longer than two A4 pages is best.
The basic CV format
There is a set of guidelines you can follow for making the most out of the content on your CV. We recommend using the below structure as the basis for your CV, regardless of industry or job role.
Hobbies and interests
The first part of your CV, positioned at the top of the page should be your contact details. This is the very basic stuff: your name, email and phone number are standard practice. If you choose to, you could also include your date of birth, but you don’t need to reveal your marital status, religion or ethnicity on your CV.
Your personal statement is one of the most important aspects of your CV; this is where you give an overview of who you are, and it also gives you a chance to inject a bit of personality. This section should be tailored for every job you apply to, picking specific qualities that best match the job role.
You can use first or third person in this section, but just be sure to be consistent whatever you choose. This section should be no more than a couple of sentences long.
Aim to answer these three questions:
- Who are you?
- What can you offer the company?
- What are your career goals?
Experience and employment history
This section gives you a chance to outline your previous jobs, internships or work experience (obviously everyone’s level of experience differs). Your experience should be in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent organisation at the top and listing your job title, and the dates that you worked there from and till. Underneath each organisation you should list your responsibilities – it helps if you choose your most relevant duties for the job you’re applying for, especially if it’s a long list. You can play about with the format, but in this section bullet points are useful for clarity and making your skills stand out.
Below is a very basic example, but you should take this chance to highlight your strongest areas and the things you achieved in your previous position:
Administrative Assistant at Company Name
(April 2012- January 2014)
- Responsible for keeping records up-to- date
- Implemented new company filing system
- Answering phone calls and responding to emails
Similarly to the Experience section, your education should be listed in reverse chronological order starting with the most recent qualification you received. Include the name and the dates you were at the institution, followed by the grades you achieved. If you have a long list of qualifications, by the time you get down to GCSE’s there’s no need to list them all; just choose the most relevant ones. If you hold a degree, you could list a few of the most relevant modules you took.
Bullet points are also helpful in this section, for example:
Name of Institution
(September 2009 – July 2011)
- History – B
- Business – A
- English Literature – A
Often people look at this section and think “well, I haven’t got any achievements”. But achievements don’t have to be just awards (although these can be included in this section); if you’ve done anything you’re particularly proud of like completing a project or receiving a promotion, then you should include these in this section. Whatever you put is only going to help the recruiter build up a picture of you and your successes, so try not to stress over what qualifies as an achievement – if you’re proud of it, let them know.
Hobbies and interests
This section isn’t mandatory for your CV, but it does help recruiters to get to know a bit more about your personality. If you have any interesting hobbies that you think could make you stand out, or if your hobbies relate to the industry you’re going into, then use this section to help build up a bigger picture about you as a person (not just as a string of previous jobs and qualifications). If you’re running low on space this section isn’t 100% necessary, but if written well it could help you to stand out.
Your references can be your last employers or your educational tutors, but there’s no need to list all their details in this section.
John Smith – Head of Sales
Sales Company LTD,
1 Manchester Road,
You can save space here by simply stating:
References are available upon request.
Recruiters can then ask for their information if and when they need it.
Explaining a gap in your CV
Whether you’ve been travelling or been unemployed, sometimes there can be gaps in your CV, and these will need to be explained. Though you may be worried, you should avoid lying about these gaps; every situation can be explained and some maybe even used to your advantage. There are a number of reasons for gaps, and short breaks shouldn’t make a huge difference to your CV. However, if you’ve been out of work for a long period of time then you will have to explain the gaps at some point.
If you took time out to go travelling, you can describe your cultural experiences, and you may have even done some work while you were away – it’s not all about full moon parties and putting pictures of sunsets on Instagram! There are many interpersonal skills you can demonstrate from your time abroad, as well as other desirable characteristics like leadership, adaptability and financial planning. List this in your experience section as you would if it had been a previous job.
If you had to take a prolonged period of time out due to sickness, you shouldn’t have a problem being honest as long as the illness doesn’t affect your ability to do the job. State that due to a medical condition you had to take some time away from work but you have now returned to full health and are looking to re-enter the workplace.
Similarly, if you were made redundant and ended up unemployed for quite some time, explain that your company had to make cut backs that unfortunately led to a reduction in the number of staff. Your CV only needs to go back a maximum of about ten years of experience (if you have that much), so any gaps before then will be ignored anyway.
7 Tips for CV Success
1. Be creative
Play around with the format of your CV and try to add a bit of your personality to the layout. In recent years candidates have even gone digital in the form of video or games.
2. Be careful
If you choose a more creative format for your CV, don’t let it be detrimental – don’t choose anything too distracting or that makes it difficult to read.
Make sure you check and re-check your CV; you don’t want any silly spelling or grammatical mistakes to hinder your chances before you’ve even got your foot in the door! If you need to, get someone else to check it over for you as well.
4. Don’t make it too long
Your CV should be no longer than one or two A4 pages – recruiters aren’t likely to have the time to read five pages, no matter how talented you are!
5. Tailor each CV
Each CV you send out should be tailored to the specific job role you’re applying for – choose relevant examples and skills to demonstrate why you’d be right for the job.
6. Keep it up to date
Keep updating your CV each time you gain a new skill or qualification. Also, remember that over time your career goals may change, so your CV should reflect this as well.
7. Sending your CV online
In today’s digital world it is likely that you’ll be sending your CV via email or a job site, so save your CV in a pdf format to be sure that recruiters can open it on whatever device they’re using.
Frequently asked CV questions
Below is a quick list of questions that our career experts get asked often. If you have any questions then get in touch via social media or using the comments below.
Should I include a picture?
This is becoming an increasingly important discussion in the recruitment world – should CVs include pictures? With access to our social media sites, some argue that putting a picture on your CV doesn’t make too much difference; whilst others argue that it could lead to discrimination. Ultimately, what you choose to do is down to you, but as it stands, common practice is to avoid including a picture.
If you do decide to attach a picture of yourself, make sure it’s a professional one – perhaps a professional headshot or LinkedIn photo. Facebook selfies aren’t going to make the best impression!
Should I use bullet points or paragraphs?
In the education and employment sectors, using bullet points can help to not only break up the layout and make it look clearer; but also make certain points or skills stand out. Paragraphs work better for your personal profile, but if you’re being creative with the style you might play around with this format. It is up to you what you choose to do, but bullet points can be helpful in stopping your CV from looking like one big block of text.
How far back should my employment history go?
Your employment history should go no further than ten years back. If you’ve done very long stints with a company this could be the exception, but if you’ve had numerous jobs you shouldn’t worry about going back any further than ten years.
Get your CV perfect at the start of your job search and you’ll increase your chances of finding a job quicker. Your CV is your chance to make a great first impression and secure yourself an interview, so follow this guide and be as creative as you can!
Source CV Library