The 10 essential steps to writing a professional CV

There are often subtle differences between a good CV and a great CV – but how do you cross over that line and ensure your credentials are showcased in the very best light?

To help you create a CV of the highest quality, we’ve compiled a list of 10 essential steps you need to consider before you send off your application to prospective employers:

1. Tailor your CV 

You should always tailor your CV to the role you are applying for, and that goes for if you are sending your application to numerous employers. It doesn’t matter if you are applying for three different jobs which are all the same – you should still write a different CV for each one, even if there are only subtle changes.

Although a role may be similar, the job advert is always different, and each employer will have different views on what they are looking for. One of the best ways to tailor a CV to a job is to use keywords from the job advert itself, and make the employer notice that you’ve recognised exactly what they want.

A generic CV sent out to many employers is going to stick out like a sore thumb, and the hiring manager can easily spot those that have not taken the time to appreciate what they are looking for.

2. Keep it to the point – and to two pages 

The average time taken for a hiring manager to read a CV can be as little as 10 seconds before they decide whether or not to put it on the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile. The manager doesn’t have time to read the vast amount they receive in depth, so a quick skim read is often applied.

If your CV contains too much waffle and doesn’t get straight to the point with short, snappy and concise sentences, you are very likely to end up on the ‘no’ pile. Typically you want to stick with two pages; however there are some roles that require three – like a medical CV for example.

The standard two pages will force you into making sure you only write about what matters, saving all the best bits of your work experience for the reader. Remember; if you get it write at this stage, you will have an opportunity to expand further during the interview.

3. Don’t leave employment gaps 

Having a gap in your employment history is going to cast doubt and suspicion, so it is always best to be honest and fill it with what you were up to. Put down any voluntary work or courses you may have been doing during that time, as this is always acceptable and encouraged and something the employer likes to see.

Voluntary work and/or a course obviously shows an employer that you filled your time well and kept busy, constantly looking to develop yourself in between your last job and your new one. If you were sick during that period, again it is always best to be honest and state that you were unable to work due to personal reasons.

It is completely up to you if you want to state the exact reason why you were unable to work, or it may be something you’d prefer to discuss in the interview. No matter what the reason, you should always be honest as it prevents the employer from making a wrong assumption. 

Here’s a great take on handling employment gaps:

4. Include a Cover Letter or Personal Statement 

A covering letter or personal statement can be extremely powerful when attached to a CV. It shows that the applicant cares a lot about the job and is clearly making an effort. If you compare this with a CV that doesn’t have one attached, you can instantly see that it can gain the upper hand against the rest of the competition.

The cover letter is the more popular choice to attach with a CV; however a personal statement can sometimes have more of an impact because of its more obvious ‘personal approach’. If you are unsure of which one to choose, our advice would be to go with a cover letter, as it will be the more professional full proof approach.

Click here for our guide on writing a winning cover letter.

5. Always keep your CV up to date 

Keep CV up to date

Always keep your CV up to date and NEVER submit an out-of-date CV – it shows lack of effort.

If something significant happens in your career you should always make a note to either adjust your CV at a later date, or edit your CV immediately. It’s all too easy to relax into a job that you’ve been at for many years, and assume that you won’t need your CV ever again.

However, your circumstances can change at any moment and you don’t want to be left in the situation of having to rush to get your CV out for a new job. It could be a promotion, a new skill, or even a new qualification. Make sure you add this to your CV so it isn’t forgotten.

6. Always be honest 

One of the worst things you can do on a CV is exaggerate the truth, and you will always be found out in the end. Whether it’s a qualification, skill or work experience, you should never claim to have or know what you don’t as you will only get caught out in the end.

Even if you get past the interview stage you could very quickly be fired on the spot if you have deemed to have lied on your CV. It’s unfair to the employer and the people you work with, and will have wasted everyone’s time. There is nothing wrong with showcasing your talents and putting them in the best possible light, but stick within the realms of truth to ensure everybody’s happy.

Contradictions, in any communication, are the first stepping stones of mistrust.

Source: Paul Babicki, President at Tabula Rosa Systems and author of Netiquette IQ – A Guide to Improve, Enhance and Add Power to Your Email

7. Avoid errors 

When an employer is faced with so many applications to narrow down, it could just take one small spelling mistake for yours to end up in the bin. It doesn’t matter how suited and qualified you are for the role, as you will most likely be up against many other applicants who are just as skilled as you are who haven’t made any silly errors.

One of the best ways to ensure your CV is free of any errors is to have another pair of eyes look over it. Ideally you want to choose someone who has extensive experience in reading applications and has worked as a manager for many years. Not only will they be able to give you another set of eyes to check your CV, they will also be able to check the quality and presentation of your CV – win win!

Around half of all CVs received by recruitment consultants contain spelling or grammatical errors, and these are most likely to be made by those aged between 21 and 25. In this age group, graduates are twice as likely to make mistakes as those who did not go on to university.

Source: Recruitment and Employment Commission (REC) in the Guardian

8. Don’t be afraid to show results 

Showing results in CV

Showing real results is far more powerful than telling someone how good you are.

Rather than writing about how great your sales skills are, why not put down the actual numbers for all to see? There may have been numerous times during your work experience that you achieved greater turnover, whether it’s directly through your sales, or via a new system you implemented. No matter how you did it, you should always put down the numbers you achieved and anything else that you accomplished that benefited the company and the customer.

Cold hard facts and results look great on a CV, and will get noticed. Far too many applications waffle on about how great they are, but don’t actually prove it. Don’t wait for the interview to provide these fantastic results – get them all down on your CV today.

9. Use keywords and jargon 

The very best keywords are often found within the job advert itself, and cannot be underestimated. Industry jargon is also another great way of making your CV memorable and relevant. If you talk the same language as the employer you instantly appear to know what you’re doing, and may offer the company more than anyone else who applies.

Using the same keywords as the employer has within the advert can also be beneficial if the hiring manager decides to use the search function with Word. With so many applications to look through it can often be a lot quicker just to CTRL + F through them to get to the important parts. Not only do you want to be on the same page as your employer, you also want to make their lives easier by pointing out the obvious comparisons with your CV and their job advert.

The most important tool you have on a resume is language.

Source: Jay Samit, Disrupt Yourself! (2015) p.65

10. Use a CV template 

Presentation is the first aspect an employer will notice when reading your CV. It won’t matter what’s contained within if yours doesn’t look good, as it could instantly end up on the ‘no’ pile just for the way it looks.

There are literally hundreds of ready made professional CV templates to choose from online. Not only will they look great, they will also save you a lot of time and effort that could be better spent writing a fantastic CV. It can be very stressful and time consuming writing a great CV, so why not take some of the burden off your shoulders and choose a CV template.

ALL of our CV templates are completely free for personal use – there’s no catch!

Click here to see our CV template collection.

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