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Your CV is your ticket to your next job interview – but only if you know how to write a CV that makes your skills, experience and personality stand out!
When looking at your CV, employers want to see exactly why you’re the perfect candidate for the job and what makes you better than all the other applicants.
Research has found that employers spend an average of seven seconds looking at a CV. That gives you seven seconds to grab and hold their attention. But how do you do it?
To help you create a stand-out CV, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that explains exactly how to write a CV, covering what sections and content to include and how to do it.
The key personal details you need to include are:
You must make sure they’re all current and it’s worth checking there’s no typos that might hinder employers reaching out to you. Put your contact details at the top, right under your name, so they’re immediately obvious.
Make sure your email address is appropriately professional and if not, set one up dedicated to job hunting.
If you have a LinkedIn page, a website or blog that is relevant and will add value to your application, you can include its URL too.
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.
In your personal statement, you need 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.
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.
Perfecting your personal statement is the key to how to write a CV that gets noticed rather than binned after a cursory glance.
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, 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 internships, volunteering roles or school/university extracurriculars.
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 don’t need to include your GCSE results, as this will waste space and won’t reflect on your ability to carry out the role.
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.
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 with an indication of what level you’re at so that the hiring manager knows your limits. For example, write French Level 1 (Beginner) 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.
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 put recruiters off.
Avoid using the first person, don’t include too much personal point of view and stick to facts and figures.
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 – a one to two page document is the ideal format.
Bullet points, bolding, underlining and italics are acceptable, it’s just important to be consistent throughout. For example, bolding some job titles and not others shows a lack of attention to detail.
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 ideal.
Also avoid fancy fonts. Choosing 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 alter the formatting when they open the attachment.
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.
They can tell when you’ve simply sent a CV or cover letter you’ve used for another role with the company name changed, and will ignore your application in favour of someone who has taken the time to make sure their application shows exactly why they’re a great fit for the job at hand.
So, how do you write a CV that’s tailored to the role and company?
Before you begin, gather as much information as you can about the job you’re applying for and the company. Research the wider sector, to work out what their values are and what challenges they’re facing.
Then, scour the job description and highlight important keywords that show what skills, qualities and experience the company is looking for.
Your CV needs to show that you fulfil or exceed the requirements of the job. Demonstrate this by using keywords from the job advert and using them to relay your experience and skills.
The more specific you can be the better, so back up your claims with real-life examples.
It may be time consuming to tailor each application, 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 to the job you’re applying for. The more relevant the job, the more detail you should include. Aim for four or five 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.
A good tip for how to write a CV that shows your personality is by considering including hobbies and interests.
However, including your interests is more applicable if you are job-seeking early on in your career, as in the absence of experience, you can demonstrate any personal activities and interests that make you suitable for a career in the industry.
Similarly, 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.
Read our dedicated blog on hobbies and interests on a CV here.
Using power verbs and adverbs is a good way to get your CV noticed as it 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.
Here are a few adverbs you may like to include:
Analytically– if you’re analytic, it gives the impression you are methodical, won’t make rash decisions and are less prone to making mistakes.
Confidently – employers like confidence. Putting ‘confidently’ in front of verbs like ‘presented’ and ‘managed’ on your CV will show them you have good interpersonal skills and can be trusted with clients.
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’ and ‘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 without needing to be overly managed.
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 authority if they’re backed up by tangible evidence, and is a great way how to write a CV that shows you in a creative dimension.
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 or niche terms used by your particular workplace only.
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 on your CV.
This will also show employers any recommendations and endorsements you have. If you post articles or participate in groups, even better.
Almost half (48%) of employers said they either would check or do check an applicant’s LinkedIn profile, so directing them towards your profile could help them to make a decision to invite you to interview.
If you’re active on Twitter and have a large follower base, you could 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.
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 if you know how to write a CV correctly.
So now that we know what to include in a CV, let’s go over a few things you should leave out.
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 on your CV.
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.
It can be tempting to lie on your CV to make yourself look more impressive – but this is actually illegal – called ‘fraud by misrepresentation’.
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
This is a big debate in discussions of how to write a CV, but we advise against putting your salary expectations on your CV.
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, or in some cases, lower.
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.
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 for them to bin your CV.
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.
We hope our guide has helped you understand exactly how to write a CV that stands out to employers. The key is to think about things from the hiring manager’s perspective – what’s going to make them think you’re the perfect person for the job?
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.