How To Write An Excellent CV

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Expert Tips On How To Write Award Winning CV

 

What is a CV?

Curriculum Vitae is an outline of a person’s educational and professional history, usually prepared for job applications (literary: the course of one’s life). Another name for a CV is a résumé.

A CV is the most flexible and convenient way to make applications. It conveys your personal details in the way that presents you in the best possible light. A CV is a marketing document in which you are marketing something: yourself! You need to “sell” your skills, abilities, qualifications and experience to employers. It can be used to make multiple applications to employers in a specific career area.

An application form is designed to bring out the essential information and personal qualities that the employer requires and does not allow you to gloss over your weaker points as a CV does. In addition, the time needed to fill out these forms is seen as a reflection of your commitment to the career.

There is no “one best way” to construct a CV; it is your document and can be structured as you wish within the basic framework below.

What information should a CV include?

What are the most important aspects of CV that you look for?

One survey of employers found that the following aspects were most looked for (From the brilliant 2010 Orange County Resume Survey by Eric Hilden)

  • 45% Previous related work experience
  • 35% Qualifications & skills
  • 25% Easy to read
  • 16% Accomplishments
  • 14% Spelling & grammar
  • 9% Education (these were not just graduate recruiters or this score would be much higher!)
  • 9% Intangibles : individuality/desire to succeed
  • 3% Clear objective
  • 2% Keywords added
  • 2% Contact information
  • 1% Personal experiences
  • 1% Computer skills

Personal details

Normally these would be your name, address, date of birth (although with age discrimination laws now in force this isn’t essential), telephone number and email.

Education and qualifications

Your degree subject and university, plus A levels and GCSEs or equivalents. Mention grades unless poor!

Work experience

Use action words such as developed, planned and organised.

Even work in a shop, bar or restaurant will involve working in a team, providing a quality service to customers, and dealing tactfully with complaints. Don’t mention the routine, non-people tasks (cleaning the tables) unless you are applying for a casual summer job in a restaurant or similar.

Try to relate the skills to the job. A finance job will involve numeracy , analytical and problem solving skills so focus on these whereas for a marketing role you would place a bit more emphasis on persuading and negotiating skills.

Interests and achievements

Keep this section short and to the point. As you grow older, your employment record will take precedence and interests will typically diminish greatly in length and importance.

Bullets can be used to separate interests into different types: sporting, creative etc.

Don’t use the old boring cliches here: “socialising with friends”.

Don’t put many passive, solitary hobbies (reading, watching TV, stamp collecting) or you may be perceived as lacking people skills. If you do put these, then say what you read or watch: “I particularly enjoy Dickens, for the vivid insights you get into life in Victorian times” .

Show a range of interests to avoid coming across as narrow: if everything centres around sport they may wonder if you could hold a conversation with a client who wasn’t interested in sport.

Hobbies that are a little out of the ordinary can help you to stand out from the crowd: skydiving or mountaineering can show a sense of wanting to stretch yourself and an ability to rely on yourself in demanding situations

Any interests relevant to the job are worth mentioning: current affairs if you wish to be a journalist; a fantasy share portfolio such as Bullbearings if you want to work in finance.

Any evidence of leadership is important to mention: captain or coach of a sports team, course representative, chair of a student society, scout leader:

“As captain of the school cricket team, I had to set a positive example, motivate and coach players and think on my feet when making bowling and field position changes, often in tense situations”

Anything showing evidence of employability skills such as team working, organising, planning, persuading, negotiating etc.

N.B

Writing about your interests

Reading, cinema, stamp-collecting, playing computer games

Suggests a solitary individual who doesn’t get on with other people. This may not be true, but selectors will interpret the evidence they see before them.

Cinema: member of the University Film-Making Society

Travel: travelled through Europe by train this summer in a group of four people, visiting historic sites and practising my French and Italian Reading: helped younger pupils with reading difficulties at school.

This could be the same individual as in the first example, but the impression is completely the opposite: an outgoing proactive individual who helps others.

Skills

The usual ones to mention are languages (good conversational French, basic Spanish), computing (e.g. “good working knowledge of MS Access and Excel, plus basic web page design skills” and driving (“full current clean driving licence”).

If you are a mature candidate or have lots of relevant skills to offer, a skills-based CV may work for you

References

Many employers don’t check references at the application stage so unless the vacancy specifically requests referees it’s fine to omit this section completely if you are running short of space or to say “References are available on request.”

Normally two referees are sufficient: one academic (perhaps your tutor or a project supervisor) and one from an employer (perhaps your last part-time or summer job). See our page on Choosing and Using Referees for more help with this.

The order and the emphasis will depend on what you are applying for and what you have to offer. For example, the example media CV lists the candidate’s relevant work experience first.

If you are applying for more than one type of work, you should have a different CV tailored to each career area, highlighting different aspects of your skills and experience.

A personal profile at the start of the CV can work for jobs in competitive industries such as the media or advertising, to help you to stand out from the crowd. If used, it needs to be original and well written. Don’t just use the usual hackneyed expressions: “ I am an excellent communicator who works well in a team…… “

What makes a good CV?

There is no one “correct” way to write and present a CV but the following general rules apply:

  • It should be targeted on the specific job or career area for which you are applying and brings out the relevant skills you have to offer
  • Must be carefully and clearly laid out : logically ordered, easy to read and not cramped
  • Has to be informative but concise
  • It is accurate in content, spelling and grammar . If you mention attention to detail as a skill, make sure your spelling and grammar is perfect!

If your CV is written backwards on pink polka dot paper and it gets you regular interviews, it’s a good CV! The bottom line is that if it’s producing results don’t change it too much but if it’s not, keep changing it until it does.

If it’s not working, ask people to look at it and suggest changes. Having said this, if you use the example CVs in these pages as a starting point, you are unlikely to go far wrong.

What mistakes do candidates make on their CV?

One survey of employers found the following mistakes were most common

  • Spelling and grammar 56% of employers found this
  • Not tailored to the job 21%
  • Length not right & poor work history 16%
  • Poor format and no use of bullets 11%
  • No accomplishments 9%
  • Contact and email problems 8%
  • Objective/profile was too vague 5%
  • Lying 2%
  • Having a photo 1%
  • Others 3% (listing all memberships, listing personal hobbies, using abbreviations)

How long should a CV be?

There are no absolute rules but, in general, a new graduate’s CV should cover no more than two sides of A4 paper. In a survey of American employers 35% preferred a one page CV and 19% a two page CV with the others saying it depends upon the position. CVs in the US tend to be shorter than in the UK, whereas the 2 page CV still dominates for graduates, but I do see a trend now towards one page CVs: as employers are getting more and more CVs, they tend not to have the time to read long documents!

If you can summarise your career history comfortably on a single side, this is fine and has advantages when you are making speculative applications and need to put yourself across concisely. However, you should not leave out important items, or crowd your text too closely together in order to fit it onto that single side. Academic and technical CVs may be much longer: up to 4 or 5 sides.

How do I get my CV down to two pages from three?

First change your margins in MS Word to Page Layout / Margins/ Narrow – this will set your margins to 1.27 cm which are big enough not to look cramped, but give you extra space. for how to do this.

Secondly change your body font to Lucida Sans in 10 pts size. Lucida Sans is a modern font which has been designed for clarity on a computer screen. For more on fonts see here A good rule of thumb is to have your name in about 18 points, your subheadings such as education and work experience in 14 points and your body font as 10 points.

Use bullets for content, rather than long paragraphs of text. (See the box to the right)

Finally, set line spacings to single space

Tips on presentation

Your CV should be carefully and clearly laid out – not too cramped but not with large empty spaces either. Use bold and italic typefaces for headings and important information

Never back a CV – each page should be on a separate sheet of paper . It’s a good idea to put your name in the footer area so that it appears on each sheet.

Be concise: a CV is an appetiser and should not give the reader indigestion. Don’t feel that you have to list every exam you have ever taken, or every activity you have ever been involved in – consider which are the most relevant and/or impressive. The best CVs tend to be fairly economical with words, selecting the most important information and leaving a little something for the interview: they are an appetiser rather than the main course. Good business communications tend to be short and to the point, focusing on key facts and your CV should to some extent emulate this. The longer and more dense your CV is, the harder it is for an employer to comprehend your achievements. As Mark Twain said:

“If only I had more time, I would write thee a shorter letter” .

Be positive – put yourself over confidently and highlight your strong points. For example, when listing your A-levels, put your highest grade first.

Be honest: although a CV does allow you to omit details (such as exam resits) which you would prefer the employer not to know about, you should never give inaccurate or misleading information. CVs are not legal documents and you can’t be held liable for anything within, but if a recruiter picks up a suggestion of falsehoods you will be rapidly rejected. An application form which you have signed to confirm that the contents are true is however a legal document and forms part of your contract of employment if you are recruited.

The sweet spot of a CV is the area selectors tend to pay most attention to: this is typically around the upper middle of the first page, so make sure that this area contains essential information.

If you are posting your CV, don’t fold it – put it in a full-size A4 envelope so that it doesn’t arrive creased

Different Types of CV

Chronological – outlining your career history in date order, normally beginning with the most recent items (reverse chronological). This is the “conventional” approach and the easiest to prepare. It is detailed, comprehensive and biographical and usually works well for “traditional” students with a good all-round mixture of education and work experience. Mature students, however, may not benefit from this approach, which does emphasise your age, any career breaks and work experience which has little surface relevance to the posts you are applying for now.

Skills-based: highly-focused CVs which relate your skills and abilities to a specific job or career area by

highlighting these skills and your major achievements. The factual, chronological details of your education and work history are subordinate. These work well for mature graduates and for anybody whose degree subject and work experience is not directly relevant to their application. Skills-based CVs should be closely targeted to a specific job.

Fonts

TIMES NEW ROMAN is the standard windows “serif” font. A safe bet – law firms seem to like it but it isn’t easy to read on the screen, especially in the small font size you may need to use to get your CV on one or two pages. If you do prefer to use a serif font, try CAMBRIA which has been designed for screen readability. See the example fonts to the right to see how much clearer Cambria looks than Times New Roman.

I personally prefer sans fonts – sans fonts don’t have the curly bits (called serifs) on letters. ARIAL is a standard Windows “sans” font and is now used by the BBC web site which used to use Verdana. As you can see sans fonts are cleaner and more modern than Times or Cambria and also look larger in the same “point” size (the point size is simply how big the letters are on the page). However Arial and Times New Roman are so common that they’re a little boring to the eye.

Classier choices might be VERDANA or LUCIDA SANS

which have wider letters than most fonts but, if you are running out of space, then Arial is more space saving, as is TAHOMA which is a narrower version of Verdana. Notice how, in the example to the right, Verdana looks bigger and easier to read than Times New Roman.

CALIBRI is now the standard MS Word font but is smaller and perhaps less clear than Arial, Verdana or Lucida Sans (see the examples to the right again).

Never use COMIC SANS of course!

FONT SIZE is normally 12 points for the normal font with larger sizes for subheadings and headings.

Or 10 points. My favourite CV body text font is 10 point Verdana or Lucida Sans with 12   or 14 points for sub headings.

14 points is too big for the normal body font – wastes space and looks crude and 8 or 9 points too small to be easily readable by everyone, especially in

Times New Roman which should not be used in sizes less than 11 points

Although many people use 12 points, some research on this suggested that smaller point size CVs (within reason) were perceived as more intellectual!

Most CVs are now read on screen rather than on paper. It’s no coincidence that Serif fonts are rarely used on the web – they are much less readable on screen (Times Roman was first used on Trajan’s column, 2,000 years ago!), and some fonts, such as

Verdana , were designed with screen readability in mind.

If you reply to a job advert, be careful about what information you give.

The following are not needed by employers but can lead to identity theft. Don’t include:

Date of birth

Place of birth

Marital status

Copies of birth certificate/passport documents or details of your bank

You only need to give your first and last names, not your middle name.

Emailed CVs and Web CVs

Put your covering letter as the body of your email. It’s wise to format it as plain text as then it can be read by any email reader.

Emails are not as easy to read as letters. Stick to simple text with short paragraphs and plenty of spacing. Break messages into points and make each one a new paragraph with a full line gap between paragraphs. DON’T “SHOUT”: WRITE IN UPPER CASE!

Your CV is then sent as an attachment. Say you’ll send a printed CV if required.