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How To Write A Good CV: A Comprehensive Guide

Written by Andrew Arkley

 

Your CV is your ticket to your next job interview - but only if you get it right! 

When looking at your CV, employers want to see a document that proves why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. They want to see what it is that will make you fit in better at their company than all the other applicants.

According to research by National Citizen Service, half of employers spend less than six seconds looking at a CV. That gives you six seconds to grab and hold their attention. But how do you do it?

If you want to avoid being relegated to the ‘no’ pile, it’s vital to make sure your CV contains all the important CV components, and includes the stuff that’s going to get you noticed above the competition.

To help you out, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that explains exactly what sections and content to include in a CV, and what features will make you stand out from the competition. 

 

How to make a CV: The essentials

 

Contact details

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to include important contact details on their CV.

The key personal details you need to include are your address, telephone number and email address, and you must make sure they’re all current. Put them at the top, right under your name, so they’re immediately obvious.

The hilarious email address you’ve had since you were a teenager won’t seem so amusing to potential employers – make sure your email address is appropriately professional.

If you have a website or blog that is relevant and will add value to your application, you can include its URL too.

 

Personal statement 

Sometimes called a profile or career summary, the personal statement sits at the top of your CV just under your name and contact details.

It’s arguably the most important part of your CV. As it’s the first thing a hiring manager will read, its strength may well determine whether or not the hiring manager reads on. 

Your personal statement gives you the opportunity to introduce your CV as if you were presenting it in person.

It enables you to distil the most important elements from your CV and draw the reader’s attention to them immediately.

It’s easiest to tackle your personal statement after you’ve put together the rest of your CV. That way you can draw on the best bits of the information you’ve already compiled.

It’s important to take time and care over your personal statement. This means tailoring it to each and every individual job application. Highlight particular skills and experience based on keywords in the job description.

What to include in a personal statement

A good way to structure your personal statement is to break it down into sections:

Who you are - Start off with a sentence or two summing up who you are in terms of education, experience and interests.

What you can offer - This is where you can talk about specific skills, knowledge and experience that fit the job you’re applying for. What have you achieved so far? What makes you an unusual or attractive candidate?

Your career aim - Finish with a line or two about the next steps you’re looking to take. What sort of role, organisation or challenges would be right for you?

Stick to the principle of show, don’t tell. Instead of blandly listing your qualities, include specific skills and experience which demonstrate that you possess those qualities.

 

Work experience

Your employment history should be written in reverse chronological order, with your current or most recent position first.

For each position, include your job title, the name of the company or organisation, its location, its website and the dates you were employed in that role.

Include a couple of bullet points highlighting your main responsibilities and achievements for each entry, so that potential employers can see at a glance how well your professional experience matches up to the role you’re applying for.

Don’t include jobs that are irrelevant to the role you’re applying for - unless you’re a graduate with little or no other work experience. In this case, find parallels between the job description and your responsibilities in any previous roles.

 

Your education and qualifications

It’s vital to include details of your education and academic qualifications, especially if they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for.

The information you provide here will vary depending on what stage you’re at in your career and what level of education you reached.

If you have a degree and years of work experience, you probably don’t need to include your GCSE results.

However, if you’re a recent graduate with a strong academic record, including some exam results may help you to stand out from your competitors.

 

Other skills, experience and achievements

This is where to list any other skills or personal achievements that demonstrate your suitability for the role.

If you can speak any other languages, list them here, ideally with an indication of what level. For example, French Level 5 (Upper Intermediate) or Level 7 (Fluent).

Detail any IT packages you’re competent with, and if it’s relevant, mention your driving licence or any first aid training. 

This is also a good place to mention any volunteering you’ve done, especially if you have limited work experience.

In terms of professional achievements, potential employers want evidence of what you’ve done to contribute to the growth of your team, department or organisation so they can gauge whether you’ll be an asset to them.

Use this section to highlight any relevant professional achievements, awards you’ve received and industry training you’ve participated in.

This can help your application stand out, and may make for a good conversation starter if you’re successful in getting an interview.

However, keep things recent and relevant to the job you’re applying for – a potential employer is unlikely to be impressed that you were East Grinstead’s under-13 falconry champion in 1990.

 

Use a professional tone

Don’t make the mistake of thinking an informal or ‘matey’ tone will ingratiate you with recruiters.

Failure to use a professional tone is up near the top of the list of CV habits that get on recruiters’ nerves.

Avoid using the first person, don’t include too much personal point of view and stick to facts and figures.

 

Use clear CV layout and formatting

The key thing here is not to overcomplicate the CV. In a survey of over 300 UK employers by jobs website Reed, 50% of recruiters said their most important consideration when looking at a CV is whether it’s laid out coherently.

This means listing your current role at the top of your career history, making relevant experience and qualifications prominent and dividing your CV into logical sections.

They also highlighted good formatting and an appropriate length as key deciding factors, with 91% agreeing that a two to three page Word document is the ideal format.

Bullet points, bolding, underlining and italics are acceptable, it’s just important to be consistent throughout.

For example, if you have had four previous jobs and have underlined three of them but not the other, it could look sloppy.

Don’t include too much text. Long paragraphs and tiny margins are likely to turn hiring managers off before they’ve even skimmed your CV. Lots of white space, short, snappy paragraphs and bullet points are the order of the day.

Avoid fancy fonts. Something simple, sleek and easy-to-read, like Arial, is the best option. Headers, footers, images or complicated formatting should also be avoided. All your presentation decisions should be driven by clarity - do whatever will make your CV easiest to read at a glance. 

Once you’ve got the formatting perfect, another tip is to convert and send your CV as a PDF.

This means that the formatting will definitely appear the way you intend it to – there’s sometimes the risk that if your employer is using a PC and you’re using a Mac, for example, then it could totally alter the formatting when he or she opens the attachment.

formatting

How to Make a Stand Out CV

 

Tailor your CV to the job description

Before you begin, gather as much information as you can about the job you’re applying for and the company.

Scour the job description and pick out important keywords that show what skills, qualities and experience the company is looking for. Research the company thoroughly, as well as the wider sector, to work out what their values are and what challenges they’re facing.

A generic CV won’t cut it in today’s competitive job market. Recruiters want to see that you’ve read the job description and are responding directly to it.

Your CV needs to show that you fulfil the requirements of the job. Demonstrate this by using keywords from the job advert and relating them to your experience and skills.

The more specific you can be the better, so back up your claims with real-life examples. It’s all about showing that your experience makes you exactly right for the job you’re applying for.

It may be time consuming, but employers need to see commitment to the role, so take the time to make your skills shine for each particular application. 

For the most impact, only include relevant work experience.The more relevant the job, the more detail you should include. Aim for three or four examples for the most relevant roles.

Sprinkle keywords from the job description throughout your CV in prominent places, like in the responsibilities and achievements listed in your employment history, and in your personal statement.

For more detailed information on how to tailor your CV, check out our dedicated blog

 

Include hobbies and interests

Including your interests is more applicable if you are job seeking early on in your career, as in the absence of an abundance of experience, you can demonstrate any personal activities and interests that make you suitable for a career in the industry.

However, interests displayed on the CV should always be constructive to your personal development. 

For example, only include your photography classes if you are going for a job in a creative industry where you may be required to take or handle photos.

For more senior or experienced individuals, interests can be a questionable benefit to include. 

Consider whether the space may be used best demonstrating your relevant experience instead.

 

Use power verbs and adverbs

Using power verbs and adverbs is an easy way to get your CV noticed. 

It brings out the qualities that employers are looking for, and creates dynamic mental images of how you work.

Similarly, don’t do yourself down by using the passive voice. Keep your sentences active to make the biggest impact.

Use action words like ‘generated’, ‘achieved’ and ‘implemented’. Verbs like these make it sound like things happened because of you, not to you.

Here are a few adverbs you may like to include:

 

Analytically- If you’re analytic, it gives the impression you are methodical and won’t jump on rash decisions and less prone to making mistakes.

Confidently - Employers like confidence, and put in front of verbs like ‘presented’ and ‘managed’ on your CV shows them you are great with people and you have good interpersonal skills.

Consistently - Consistency is something every employer looks for. Whether it means showing up on time or reaching targets it shows you are reliable and people know what to expect from you. Put in front of verbs like ‘reached’ ‘achieved’ your CV is on to a winner.

Resourcefully - Resourcefully shows you are a problem solver and a quick thinker. Paired with ‘organised’ ‘solved’ and ‘adapted’, who wouldn’t want you on their team?

Independently - Put in front of verbs like ‘organised’, ‘led’ and ‘accomplished’ you will have a powerhouse of words that tell the employer you can get the job done and not let anything phase you.

 

Showcase your work

If you can, add a link to an online portfolio or examples of your work. This could include reports you’ve written or press releases you’ve produced, for example.

If you managed your company’s blog or have your own website, add a link to it. If you coordinated a marketing campaign, include examples of marketing collateral you produced. If you spoke at an event, add a link to a video.

Your assertions that you’re highly skilled will have more clout if they’re backed up by tangible evidence.

 

Informed use of industry terms or ‘jargon’

Your CV is an opportunity to show that you’re knowledgeable and well-informed about the industry you work in, and a good way to do this is by using key industry terms.

In a quick scan of your CV recruiters want to see that you know your stuff, so be liberal with industry keywords.

Many employers now use CV reading software to filter out unsuitable candidates. Using job-specific terms will increase your chances of making it past this stage and getting your CV seen by human eyes.

However, make sure the terms you are using are widely known in the industry, and not casual terms used by your particular workplace only. 

 

Show you’re connected

Your social media activity can be a great way to show that you’re enthusiastic and knowledgeable about your industry.

If you have relevant connections on LinkedIn, add a link to your profile. This will also allow you to show off any recommendations and endorsements you have. If you post articles or participate in groups, even better.

If you’re active on Twitter and have a large follower base, throw in a link. Of course, you should only do this if the content you share is relevant to your industry.

Establishing social relevance in this way will help to establish you as an authority in your field, and demonstrate to hiring managers that you’re passionate and committed.

For more information on using social media to enhance your CV, check out our dedicated blog.

 social media

What NOT to Include in a CV

 

As well as all the good stuff you should include, there are certain CV pitfalls you should avoid at all costs.

Sometimes, a single mistake is all it takes to put recruiters off your CV. Fortunately, most of these mistakes are easily avoided.

So now that we know what to include in a CV, let’s go over a few things you should leave out.

 

Personal details

This includes things like your age and marital status. It’s illegal for employers to ask you for this information, so there’s no need to include it.

Similarly, only send a photo if specifically requested by the employer, you do not need to include one in your CV.

 

References

If potential employers want references, they’ll ask for them. There’s also no need to write ‘references available on request’ - this goes without saying, and wastes valuable space.

 

Misleading information 

It can be tempting to lie on your CV to make yourself look more impressive. 

However, you’ll be found out either in the interview, when your employer contacts your previous workplaces, or worst-case scenario, when you start the job. 

Still tempted to exaggerate or lie on your CV? For more information on why this is a bad idea and the possible implications, check out our blog

 

Salary expectations

You can negotiate this after you’ve been formally offered a job; employers might be put off if your expectation is higher than what they are willing to offer.

 

Clichés

Recruiters see hundreds of CVs, and all too often they see personal statements riddled with the same tired old clichés.

Here’s an example:

"An enthusiastic and hard-working team player with extensive marketing experience. Possesses excellent communication skills and strong attention to detail. Thrives when working under pressure and relishes the opportunity to solve problems."

This is exactly the sort of personal statement recruiters see time and time again. Although it’s fairly well-written, it offers almost no information.

It’s easy to claim you’re a team player with excellent communication skills - lots of people do. But without evidence to back up those claims, they’re just empty words.

Instead of blandly listing your qualities, include specific skills and experience which demonstrate that you have those qualities.

 

Spelling and grammar mistakes

In a recent poll by vocational higher education provider GSM London, poor spelling and grammar came out top of a list of recruiters’ CV bugbears.

There are some hard-line sticklers out there, and sometimes even one small spelling or grammar mistake can be enough to incur their wrath.

Don’t risk it - double, triple and quadruple check your CV for typos and grammar mistakes. Get someone else to check it over as well, just to be safe.

 

How to write a good CV 

 

We hope our guide has helped you get your CV looking its best. The key is to think about things from the hiring manager’s perspective - there may be a detail you’re dying to share, but if it doesn’t show the hiring manager how you can help them, they’re not going to want to know.

An alternative way to maximize the impact of your CV is to have a professional CV written for you. Here at PurpleCV, our writers know how to write CVs that get results. Each one is written from scratch to give you the best shot at getting a job interview.

We provide our professional CV services at fair and realistic prices - from as little as £25, our writers can help you make a great first impression on prospective employers. For more info, check out our CV Writing Service page, Contact Us or give us a ring on 0800 228 9003.

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