How to write a CV

How to write a cv

Why do recruiters choose some candidates over others, even where there is little difference in qualifications and experience? It’s all down to having a great CV. What’s more, a great CV can get you an interview even if you don’t meet the exact job specification – and even if other candidates have a more desirable background. In this guide, we’ll show you how to write a CV that gets you interviews – from the bare basics through to adding pizzazz.

How to write a CV: length

Typically a CV should be no more than two pages. Recruiters don’t have a great deal of time so only spend a few seconds looking at each CV. They need a short succinct summary of your experience and qualifications that gives them just enough detail to convince them you are potentially a good candidate.

For some high level positions, more pages may be appropriate. An example would be a medical position for which details of your contributions to journals and other publications would help to establish specialism in a particular field.

How to write a CV: style

Your choice of CV template depends on the type of role you are going for. For most administrative and professional roles, a basic CV template with no fancy graphics or unusual fonts will be appropriate.

For roles where there is an element of creativity, it may be more appropriate to choose a creative CV template.

How to write a CV: format

A typical format will be:

  • Name and personal details (at the top of the CV)
  • Objective
  • Work experience
  • Qualifications
  • Skills
  • Hobbies and interests
  • References

With the exception of your name and personal details, each section should be presented under a heading. This makes it easy for the recruiter to locate the information they need.

For example:

Example of CV format

How to write a CV: personal details

The personal details that you MUST include are:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your phone number(s)
  • Your email address

You may also want to include the following if relevant in some way to the position:

  • Full clean driving license
  • Your website address
  • Your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts
  • A photo

Unless directly relevant to the position, you should not include:

  • Your date of birth and/or age
  • Your gender
  • Your race/nationality
  • Your religion
  • Your marital status or orientation
  • The number of children you have
  • Any disability
  • The fact that you are pregnant or have just had a baby

The only time this information would be included is if it is highly relevant to the job (for example, a French teacher might want to mention that they are actually French). Under the Equality Act 2010, whilst employers aren’t legally allowed to discriminate against you on any of the above grounds, you don’t want to give them any opportunity to do so.

How to write a CV: Objective

Your objective is a brief summary that tells recruiters who you are, what you offer, and what you’re looking for.

Some people choose a different title such as ‘Objective Statement’, ‘Career Goal’, ‘Career Objective’ or ‘Summary’.

The objective should be between 2 and 4 lines (3 is ideal).

With hundreds of potential candidates, recruiters often scan this section for key information so keep it snappy and make it count. The key way to write this part of your CV is to look at the job specification and spell out how you meet it. Here is an example, using an actual real-life job advert.

The advert states:

Commercial Property Solicitor – the successful candidate will have:
3+ years PQE
A sound technical knowledge of all commercial property matters
Experience of managing a team is desirable
Able to evidence ability to prioritise and manage a varied workload
Strong communication skills
Excellent attention to detail
Experienced user of Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint
Excellent time management, organisational and administrative skills
Team player but self-motivated and able to work autonomously

You could write:

“I am a Commercial Property Solicitor with 4 years PQE. I have excellent time management and organisational skills, allowing me to manage a small team of 3 whilst handling my own busy and varied caseload. I have a sound technical knowledge of all commercial property matters together with strong communication skills and excellent attention to detail.  I am an experienced user of Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook.”

Note that this statement DOES NOT copy word-for-word from the job advert. Instead, the requirements of the advert have been rephrased, but you will note that every single requirement is mentioned. The above represents a very strong objective statement for the job specification and (subject to the rest of the CV being acceptable) would very likely land the candidate an interview.

How to write a CV: Work experience

The work experience section tells prospective employers who you have worked for in the past, including your most recent position.

Some people use other titles for this section, such as ”Employment History’, ‘Work History’ or ‘Professional Experience’.

It should be presented chronologically with the most recent experience first. Note that if you are still in the position, you should write (2011 – date). If you write (2011 – 2017) this implies that you have left the position in the current year.

A typical layout would be as follows:

Work experience example

Carefully review the job specification for the role you’re interested in, before writing this section. Add more detail for the work experience you’ve had that is directly relevant to the role you want.

You will notice above the inclusion of ‘achievements’. This shows the recruiter that you not only carried out the responsibilities you were given, but that you can also get results.

How to write a CV: qualifications

Qualifications are listed highest to lowest. So for example, if you have GCSEs, A Levels, an undergraduate degree (BSc) and a Post Graduate degree (MSc), you would put the MSc at the top, followed by the BSc, then the A Levels, then the GCSEs.

Some people don’t bother listing GCSEs/A Levels if they have higher level qualifications (undergraduate/post graduate degrees). Alternatively they may just reduce lower level qualifications to one line and summarise them – it all depends on how much space you have, how many qualifications you have and what your grades were. Exceptional grades may be worth mentioning, even for lower level qualifications. You also typically list where you obtained the qualification although this may be omitted for lower level qualifications.

The following would be an acceptable way to present qualifications:

MSc Microbiology (Merit), 2013 – 2017
Kings College, London

BSc Science (Upper Second Class Honours), 2009 – 2013
University College London

3 A Levels (Chemistry – A, Biology – B, Physics – A)

9 GCSEs (all grade C and above)

How to write a CV: skills

Skills may be divided into hard skills and soft skills, although you don’t need to label them as such. Hard skills are measurable skills such as typing or using software. You can view a list of hard skills here.

Soft skills are important skills that are not specifically measurable, such as communication.

As you can imagine, if you simply make a long list of the soft skills you have, an employer will at best just ignore the section. At worst, they may view your application as disingenuous or perhaps arrogant. The correct way to incorporate soft skills into your CV is to:

  1. Read the job specification and pick out which soft skills are required.
  2. Incorporate brief examples of how you have demonstrated those skills in your work experience section.
  3. If you feel it appropriate (particularly if the skill is fundamental to the job role), also mention particular skills in the skills section.

Below we have listed some examples of soft skills that you could include on your CV:

  • Communication
  • Presentation
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Interviewing
  • Selling
  • Influence/persuasion
  • Teamwork
  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Handling difficult people/situations
  • Networking
  • Negotiation
  • Timekeeping
  • Organisation and multitasking :
  • Prioritising
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Learning
  • Self awareness
  • Self confidence
  • Emotion management
  • Stress management
  • Patience
  • Resilience
  • Persistence

Here are some examples of how these skills could be incorporated into your work experience section:

Learning : “Although I came to the role with no knowledge of the industry, I now train both new team members and team leaders.”

Prioritising : “My extremely heavy work load required me to prioritise tasks, delegating routine work to junior members of the team where appropriate.”

Networking : “Through attendance at conferences and networking events, I brought 4 major customers to the firm in the first 6 months.”

Leadership :  “During my time at XYZ Corp I led a team of 5 people, meeting all deadlines and exceeding all sales targets for our team.”

Handling difficult people/situations : “My role required me to deal with customer complaints and ensure the customer always had a satisfactory resolution.”

Communication : “It was my responsibility to chair monthly meetings, conduct brainstorming sessions, prepare all meeting agendas, record minutes, and compile post-meeting reports. This  required the ability to communicate common goals to a diverse team.”

Presentation : “My role frequently required me to present the results of monthly reports to senior management, and to deliver presentations to prospective customers.”

Creativity and innovation : “My ‘Sweet like Chocolate’ leaflet campaign which was ran over 2 weeks at a client’s flagship store in Soho saw an increase of 64% foot traffic for its two week duration. It also earned me a nomination for Best Print Leaflet Campaign 2017.”

How to write a CV: Hobbies and interests

The hobbies and interests section is often dismissed as one of the least important sections of a CV – and sometimes excluded altogether! However, this is the part of your CV where you can show the employer something of your personality. It’s also a great opportunity to tell your employer that you take your health and fitness seriously (which equates to less sick days).

List 3 – 5 hobbies and avoid any hobby which might be seen as a negative. It’s best to avoid anything too quirky at this stage as well – save it for when you’ve got to know your colleagues better!

Here are some examples of  activities that you might want to include:

  • Any sports activity
  • Fitness activities such as jogging or going to the gym
  • Outdoors activities such as walking and hiking
  • Creative activities such as painting and drawing
  • Musical activities such as playing the guitar

Here are some examples of activities that you should never include:

  • Drinking
  • Socialising
  • Partying
  • Hanging out with friends

The above translates to a Monday morning hangover from your employer’s perspective.

How to write a CV: References

Typically, you would offer one reference from your most recent employer and one personal reference. The personal reference could be your university tutor or a friend, preferably a professional.

Employers don’t always ask first before contacting your references and may do so before they’ve even given you an interview. If you haven’t told your current employer that you’re job hunting, it’s best to simply write “references available on request” instead of listing contact details.

How to write a CV: optional sections

There are a great many more sections you can include in your CV, depending on the amount of space you have (keeping within the 2 page limit for most positions) and how relevant the sections are to the role.

Some ideas include:

  • Volunteer work (this can go in with your work experience if you don’t have much in that section)
  • Awards or recognition (from school, work or professional organisations)
  • Relevant memberships
  • Publications (if you have contributed to magazines or journals)

How to write a CV: keywords

A great many vacancies these days require that you submit your CV via email or through an online platform. This gives recruiters the opportunity to search CVs for relevant keywords. It stands to reason that if you want the best opportunity of exposure, it’s important for your CV to include the right keywords. This means tailoring your CV to the exact job specification for each role.

For example, if the job requires that you have a “CIM” qualification, ensure your CV includes both the keywords “CIM” and also “Chartered Institute of Marketing” as the recruiter may search for either.

If the job requires that you are a “Fellow of CILEX”, ensure your CV includes the keywords “FCILEx”, “Chartered Legal Executive”, “Fellow” and “Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives”. A recruiter may search for any of these combinations to filter relevant CVs.

Now you know how to write a CV, why not choose your perfect CV template?