How To Write A Good CV

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Are you looking for a job, but having trouble getting an interview no matter how many job ads you apply for? Your CV probably needs an overhaul. Here’s how to write a good CV.

Your CV is your one chance to sell yourself

There’s serious competition out there for jobs – which makes it more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. We show you how to write a good CV to help get you that job!

Top things to remember

  • Your CV is your one chance to sell yourself
  • Keep it clear and concise (no more than two pages)
  • Use it as a tool to demonstrate to your potential employer that you’re right for the job

What’s your CV style?

Chronological

This is the most commonly used format for your CV. You set it out so your work experience is listed in reverse order, starting with your most recent or current job.

Education and qualifications normally come next, followed by your other skills/interests and references.

This style will showcase your recent work history, and is a good CV style to use if you’re looking to get a job in a related sector to where you currently work (or have worked).

Functional

This is great if you want a career change, or are looking to return to work after a break. Instead of a focus on dates and past jobs, you highlight the transferable skills you have – though make sure you include real life examples to prove your point. (For example, don’t just say you are “Skilled at managing budgets” – say something like “Skilled at managing budgets – achieved 15% efficiency savings in my last role”).

Also include some sort of list of your previous employers, dates and job titles – but keep it short.

Qualification-based

This is best for people looking to showcase recent qualifications gained – placing these before your work history.

The National Careers Service has examples of each different type of CV, which can be helpful if you’re putting together your CV from scratch. Prospects and the Open University also have useful examples and guidance on the different types of CV styles you can use.

How to write a good CV: Key ingredients

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There is no industry-wide standard for writing CVs that everyone needs to follow. It really depends on how you want to present your skills, qualifications and work history.

A good starting point is to look through some sample CVs. Google sample CVs in your chosen occupation e.g. ‘Admin CVs’ or ‘Retail CVs’. Not all of them will be great, but once you’ve read this article you’ll be able to spot a good one!

Contact details

Including your full name, address (although including your address isn’t compulsory), mobile number and email address is usually sufficient.  You don’t need to include your nationality or date of birth.

Avoid using work email addresses or phone numbers – and if your personal email address might come across a bit too informal (e.g. [email protected]) change this to a more professional sounding one (e.g [email protected])!

Perfect profile

Studies show that many employers make a decision about a candidate’s CV in as little as five seconds!

So, summarise the most important information about yourself in the first paragraph of your CV. This ‘profile’ should highlight the main skills, experience and ambitions you can bring to the position.

For example, you might say something like: “A customer service representative with four years’ experience looking for opportunities that will lead to a management role.”

Work history

Anyone can reel off a list of jobs and main duties, but to really impress you need to go into a bit more detail. Show off your big achievements while at that particular job e.g. promotions, leading big projects, awards, how you exceeded your targets etc.

Anyone can reel off a list of jobs and main duties, but to really impress you need to go into a bit more detail. Show off your big achievements while at that particular job e.g. promotions, leading big projects, awards, how you exceeded your targets etc.

You can’t just say you’re ‘well organised’ – you have to prove it with a great example. For every skill or achievement you put on your CV, try and back it up with a real world example.

Education/qualifications

Include the subjects you studied and the grades you achieved. If you have a lot of qualifications, you don’t need to list them all individually – for example, you could put something like ‘8 GCSEs, all A*-C’. But it can be worth highlighting any qualifications that are directly relevant to the job you’re applying for (e.g. highlight any Maths qualifications you have if the job asks for someone who is ‘numerate’ or ‘has a head for figures’.)

Other skills/hobbies and interests

Put together any practical skills you’ve got, such as typing speeds, shorthand, languages etc.

If you want, you can add some hobbies to help give an impression of your personality. Tread carefully with this one though – coaching the local netball team shows leadership and a sense of community, but going on about how much you love your local pub might not do you any favours.

References

Here you can either list your referees or simply say ‘available upon request’

Keep it simple and to the point

A simple, to the point CV is best. Employers don’t want to read long sentences full of jargon, they want short, sharp sentences that clearly show what you want to say. Think bullet points! (Remember most employers spend less than a minute looking at each CV!)

You don’t need to include everything you’ve ever done in your work history – especially when it’s not relevant.

Employer’s main focus will be on what you’ve done in the last 3-7 years (but don’t leave any unexplained gaps in your work history).

Tidy up the gaps

It’s common to have one or more gaps in your employment history. This could be because you decided to start a family, were in full-time education, went travelling, or were simply unemployed for a period of time.

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When you’re looking at how to write a good CV the important thing to remember is how you choose to explain any gaps to potential employers.

First, you need to tell the truth and fully acknowledge them. Don’t just hope the employer won’t notice!

When explaining your absence from the workplace, try to put a positive spin on the things you were doing during that time. This doesn’t mean lie; you just need to pinpoint the skills learnt and experience gained that might prove useful in the job you’re applying for.

For example, did you learn a second language while travelling, or take the initiative in a community childcare scheme?

If there was a good personal reason for your absence, don’t be afraid of explaining the situation clearly and succinctly. Caring for a sick relative or taking maternity/paternity leave are both perfectly valid reasons not to be at work. Just don’t leave a gap unexplained!

Particular presentation

CVs need to catch an employer’s attention – but fancy coloured swirly fonts and neon paper isn’t the way forward!

Stick to a standard font like Arial or Times New Roman (no smaller than size 11), avoid italics and leave space so it’s easy to read.

Always remember to spell check too. It’s amazing how many CVs contain spelling or grammar errors. Use a computer spell-checker on your CV once it’s written – but get a friend to read over it as well. Mistakes will make you look lazy at best, and illiterate at worst!

Use ‘power words’ so you come across as positive and decisive. Avoid saying things like “I feel I have good sales experience”… say you have them and back up with an impressive example (“I have extensive experience in improving sales performance – in my last role I increased sales by over 20%”)

Professional CV help

Still worried whether your CV is good enough? Struggling to get through to the interview stage? It might be worth getting a professional CV service to help.

Companies like The CV Centre will have your CV polished up in no time. A CV expert will put in the extra effort and add any chances until you’re completely satisfied.  You’ll pay between £33-£60 for this service but you can get your CV reviewed for free here.

With these services you tend to get what you pay for. Watch out for cowboy companies that just quickly churn your details through a basic CV template and charge you for the privilege.

Create the best covering letter

You’ve nailed your CV – now to just write that killer covering letter.

You’ll boost your chances dramatically if your CV and covering letter are in tip-top shape.

It’s your opportunity to show you’ve done your research, and read the job description carefully. Don’t waste their time with the same shoddy standard covering letter for each job.

Cover each criteria point they ask for and show why you’d be best for the job with fitting examples. Keep it fairly short though – usually around six paragraphs.

Try to find out who will be reading the letter and address it to them if possible. If in doubt use “Dear Sir/Madam.”

Get your dream job!

You’ve got a brilliant CV and cover letter, saved in a compatible version of Word, now just to get applying and keep those fingers crossed. Good luck!