Your CV is your only opportunity to make a good first impression with recruiters or employers.
Research shows that on average, your CV may only be looked at by hiring managers for 30 seconds, with one study suggesting this is as low as 8 seconds, so take the time to get it right.
No matter what stage of your career you are at, it’s always good to thoroughly review your CV each time you’re looking for a new role.
The following tips and advice should be a good starting point, but it will always depend on what kind of job you are applying for, whether you have the opportunity to accompany it with a covering letter of if you’re simply registering your CV with recruiters.
Structure and content
The key here is to think logically. Put yourself in an employer’s shoes and ask yourself what information you would want to see clearly and upfront.
A good rule of thumb is to follow this structure:
Personal information – At the very least, you should include your first and second name, your current location, professional email address and telephone number. It’s up to you whether you include your full address and whether you have a full driving licence. You may also want to include a link to any online profiles such as LinkedIn, or your own website if relevant to showcase your work experience.
Personal summary or statement – A short paragraph about your key skills, experience and how you work. This is typically 50 to 200 words in length and can be written in first or third person. Think of it as your very own elevator pitch – all the best bits about you upfront.
Key skills – You may also feel that it is relevant to list up to ten key skills or attributes that will summarise your entire CV. You could include qualifications, industry experience, level of proficiency with certain systems or software, awards, key achievements and responsibilities.
Employment history – Starting with your most recent first, list your jobs going back at least 10 years or to the start of your working career. Include the company name, your job title, start and end date (month and year). You can then decide to summarise your role, responsibilities and achievements in a short paragraph or use bullet points. Try to include the roles most relevant to the one you are applying for, but if you’ve had several jobs, worked for more than 10 years, have been through a career change or experienced gaps in employment, then it may be worth explaining this in a short paragraph.
Education and qualifications – This section will be more relevant to some roles than others, as will the qualifications themselves. It’s up to you to make a conscious decision of what to include. Much like employment history, start with your most significant or recent qualification and grade and work backwards. It may be the case that the subjects you studied at A-Level and GCSE (or equivalent) become less important, so you could just summarise your grades – for example, 9 GCSEs at C grade and above.
Interests and hobbies – For many employers, cultural fit is just as important as the skills and experience of a candidate, so try and give them a glimpse of who you are outside of work.
References – Details of contacts are usually requested on the acceptance of a job offer. However, you can include the contact details of referees on your CV (at least two with one including your current or most recent employer or tutor if you are a student) or state that they are available on request.
Whatever you do, don’t lie. Employers still ask for proof of qualifications in many instances and false information can be considered fraudulent.
Language, formatting and design
You may want to make your CV stand out with fancy logos, fonts and colours, but the KIS rule still applies – Keep It Simple.
Use an easy to read, professional, sans serif font such as Times New Roman or Arial. Size should be around 10 or 11.
Making sure your CV sections stand out with bold or underlined headers is good, but don’t get too creative or colourful.
Ensure you use plain English and do not use abbreviations or slang.
Think carefully before including your picture unless it is required for identification purposes.
Avoid the use of capitalised words for emphasis.
Avoid clichés and overused descriptions such as ‘team player’ or ‘excellent communication skills’.
Your CV should be no more than two pages in length if possible.
Bad spelling, grammar and punctuation will not be accepted so ensure you check it thoroughly and ask someone else to proof read for you too.
Use a professional email address.
Finally, check, double check and then get someone else to check it for you. The tiniest of errors can ruin your chances of being selected for interview. At best, it looks like you don’t have an eye for detail and at worst, employers could assume you don’t care, are lazy or not bothered about the quality of your work.
Tailoring your CV
Reviewing your CV once before you start a mass-application process is not usually good enough, unless every role you are applying for is exactly the same.
You should aim to tweak your CV every time you apply for a job. Read the job description and job specification and amend your language accordingly. It could be that you are perfect for the role on paper already, but that the way you have described your skills and experience is not in line with the language the employer has used.
Wherever possible, use responsibilities and achievements within your personal summary or employment history that they will be able to recognise as easily transferable to their business.