Why do recruiters choose some candidates over others, even where there is little difference in skills and experience? It's all down to having a good 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 the skill of CV writing - from the bare basics through to adding pizzazz.
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. Your CV should contain just enough detail to convince them you are potentially a good candidate.
For some high level positions, such as a medical position, more pages may be appropriate. In this case you might detail your contributions to journals and other publications. This will help you to establish specialism in your field.
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 will be appropriate. This should contain minimal or no graphics, and no unusual fonts.
For roles where there is an element of creativity, it may be more appropriate to choose a creative CV template.
A typical format will be:
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.
The personal details that you MUST include are:
You may also want to include the following if relevant in some way to the position:
Unless directly relevant to the position, you should not include:
Under the Equality Act 2010 employers aren't legally allowed to discriminate against you on any of the above grounds. However, you don't want to give them any opportunity to do so. 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 a native French person.
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:
The employer only spends a few seconds on each CV. The objective should therefore be between 2 and 4 lines (3 is ideal).
With hundreds of potential candidates, recruiters often scan this section for key information. The best objectives are snappy and straight to the point.
The best way to write this part of your CV is to:
(a) look at the job specification, and then
(b) spell out how you meet it.
Here is an example, using an actual real-life job description:
Point to note: Your cover letter will be similar to your objective, but with a little more detail. It will introduce yourself and explain how you meet the requirements of the job. Click here for our cover letter guide.
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:
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. If you have a lengthy work history, you may wish to include only relevant work experience.
You will notice above the inclusion of 'achievements'. This is because the recruiter is not only interested in the responsibilities you were given, but also in your results.
Qualifications are listed highest to lowest. So for example, if you have post graduate qualifications, the correct order is:
Top: Post graduate (e.g. MSc)
Second: Graduate (e.g. BSc)
Third: A-levels or equivalent
Fourth: GCSEs or equivalent
Some people don't bother listing GCSEs/A Levels if they have higher level qualifications (undergraduate/post graduate degrees). This is because lower level qualifications can take up valuable space.
Alternatively they may just reduce lower level qualifications to one line and summarise them. What you choose to do depends on how much space you have. It also depends on how many qualifications you have and what your grades were. Exceptional grades may be worth mentioning, even for lower level qualifications.
It's also usual to include where you obtained the qualification. However, 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)
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.
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. Consequently, there's a right and wrong way to incorporate soft skills into your CV. Our top tips for getting this right are:
Below we have listed some examples of soft skills that you could include on your CV:
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 effectively prioritise tasks. I also delegated 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. I met all deadlines and exceeded all sales targets for our team."
Handling difficult people/situations : "My role required me to deal with customer complaints. I always ensured the customer had a satisfactory resolution."
Communication : "It was my responsibility to chair monthly meetings and conduct brainstorming sessions. I also prepared all meeting agendas, recorded minutes and compiled 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. I also delivered effective presentations to prospective customers."
Creativity and innovation : "My ‘Sweet like Chocolate’ leaflet campaign ran over 2 weeks at a client’s flagship store in Soho. This saw an increase of 64% foot traffic for its duration. It also earned me a nomination for Best Print Leaflet Campaign 2017."
The hobbies and interests section is often dismissed as one of the least important sections of a CV. Sometimes it is excluded altogether! However, this is the part of your CV where you can show the employer something of your personality.
This section is also a great opportunity to tell your employer that you take your health and fitness seriously. Such employees are desirable because they usually have less sick days.
Include 3 - 5 hobbies in a bullet point list and avoid any hobby which might be seen as a negative. It's best to avoid anything too quirky at this stage as well. Such hobbies should be saved for when you've got to know your colleagues better!
Here are some examples of activities that you might want to include:
Here are some examples of activities that you should never include:
They should not be included because they translate to a Monday morning hangover from your employer's perspective.
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. Indeed, they may do so before they've even given you an interview. Many candidates don't tell their current employer that they're job hunting. For this reason, if you're still working, it's best to simply write "references available on request" instead of listing contact details.
There are a great many more sections you can include in your CV. Whether you should include them depends on:
(a) how relevant the sections are to the role; and
(b) the amount of space you have (keeping within the 2 page limit for most positions).
Some ideas include:
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. Logically, if you want the best exposure, your CV needs to include the right keywords. Therefore 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 the keywords:
This covers all bases because the recruiter may search for either.
If the job requires that you are a "Fellow of CILEX", ensure your CV includes the keywords:
This is needed because the recruiter may search for any of these combinations to filter relevant CVs.
Now you know how to create a CV, why not choose your perfect CV template? We've also got lots more articles on CV writing to help you below.