Everything you could possibly need to know to write the CV that will help you land the job

The perfect CV is a must-have if you're embarking on the search for your next role, but the thought of presenting the very best version of yourself to a potential employer can seem overwhelming. There are so many details, dilemmas and questions to work through!

But never fear, we're here to guide you through every step of the process. In this guide, you'll learn:

Components of a great CV

A job-winning CV contains all of these elements:

Contact information

You'd be amazed at how many CVs don't include any details on how to contact the applicant. But, assuming you're going to include these most basic details (and you should), this is what you need to show.

Name

Hopefully this will be one of the most straightforward parts of your CV, but you may still have questions that need to be answered. For example, should you include your full legal name or the name you prefer to be called? Well, your CV isn't a legal document, so you can call yourself whatever you like! You can call yourself either Andy Jones or Andrew Jones ‒ both are acceptable. Alternatively, you can include your preferred name in brackets or parentheses: 'Elizabeth (Liz) Smith'.

There's also no obligation to include your middle name. However, you may want to add it if you have a common name. Sarah Cassandra Williams is more memorable than plain old Sarah Williams, after all.

It's also wise to include any postnominals you've earned. We advise sticking to post-doctoral or professional credentials; one example would be 'Ayesha Naser FRICS'. As you do this, ensure that you maintain consistency across your CV, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, email signature and any websites you own. In addition to assembling a cohesive application, it's also a simple way to start building your personal brand.

Postal address

Gone are the days when your first contact from a recruiter would be via a letter in the mail. You also need to consider maintaining the integrity of your personal information, especially if you're thinking of uploading your CV to one of the many job boards online.

For these reasons, a full postal address is no longer necessary on your CV. As HR managers will still be interested in your location, simply include your town and the first part of your postcode.

If relocation is an option, you should make this clear. For example, you could say something along the lines of 'Currently based in Portsmouth, willing to relocate within the South East for the right opportunity', 'Relocating to Aberdeen in October' or 'Able to relocate internationally for the right role'.

Phone number

Your phone number is the most crucial element of your contact information, so make sure you double- (and triple-) check it! You should use your mobile phone number, plus the international dialling code if you're looking for work abroad. Don't forget to check that your voicemail greeting is professional in case you miss a call. You may also consider adding your Skype name if a remote interview is likely.

Email address

Make sure your email address sounds professional; something simple and with your name is best. However, don't use your work address. Create a new account specifically for your job hunt, if necessary.

Social media and online portfolios

When you're deciding whether to include your social media accounts on your CV, the key word is relevance. If they are professionally relevant, go ahead. If they mainly comprise photos of you and your mates on holiday, they're not really adding any value.

Personal websites or online portfolios of your work should be included if they would strengthen your application.

One link that you should definitely include, though, is the one to your LinkedIn profile. If you don't have a profile yet, now's the perfect time to create it. Ensure that the content online aligns with the information on your CV and tells the same story, whilst bearing in mind these key differences. As you do so, make sure that you're not making any of these LinkedIn mistakes, which could undo the good work you've done on your CV.

Professional title

As part of your header, consider your professional title. You could either include this alongside your name or at the top of your personal statement. The title will often be your current job title. If that's not appropriate, think about job titles that align with both your current role and the role you're looking to move into.

If you're looking at changing to a new sector, you may need to get creative here; find overlaps or more generic descriptions that show your value at a glance. For example, a Retail Assistant looking to move into a role in a call centre could position themselves as a Customer Service Professional.

Personal statement 

It used to be considered best practice to include an objective statement on your CV, outlining your hopes and expectations for a new role. This practice is now considered outdated, however. In a competitive jobs market, your CV should focus on what you can offer to a company, rather than what you want from it.

You can do this through your personal statement. This can be the most difficult part of the CV to write. Although positioned at the top, it can often be easier to write this section when you've already written the rest of the CV, as you'll have drilled down into your skills, unique offering, successes, achievements and abilities and gained clarity on what you want to communicate.

The goal of this section is to introduce yourself to the recruiter – your elevator pitch, if you like. Therefore, it's crucial to state concisely what exactly you do and why you do it well. Points to consider include your experience level, industry, USP (unique selling point) and examples of your key strengths and achievements. A good trick here is to take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of people in the type of roles you're targeting to see what makes them sound successful.

Whether you're a recent university graduate or senior executive, your level needs to be immediately understandable by the reader, so ensure you pitch this section appropriately according to your experience. Merely plonking a new job onto your original CV every time you're promoted won't do you any favours ‒ if you're aiming for an executive position and still have an entry-level personal statement, you'll be underselling yourself from the off. Emphasise the scope of your role and your achievements to upgrade your CV to the right level. 

Core competencies / areas of expertise / key skills

The next section should be your Core Competencies, also known as Areas of Expertise or Key Skills. No great detail is required here; it is meant as a snapshot rather than an in-depth analysis. There are two types of skills to consider when creating this section: hard skills and soft skills. But which should you focus on?

Hard skills versus soft skills

Hard skills are job-specific. They are skills that you've learnt and developed to execute your role, such as computer programming or accounting.

Meanwhile, soft skills are those that can be transferred into any number of different roles. (That's why they're also known as transferable skills.) Examples include teamwork, problem solving and communication. The Key Skills section is usually focussed on hard skills, unless you're looking at changing careers or have limited work experience.

Keywords

The Key Skills section is also a great opportunity to feature industry- and role-specific keywords. Incorporating these terms will not only make you sound more capable and knowledgeable, but it will also help your CV to rank highly with applicant tracking systems (ATS). To identify which keywords you should include, analyse the job descriptions of your current and target roles to see which words and phrases keep cropping up. Again, a sneaky peek at relevant profiles on LinkedIn won't hurt!

Work experience / professional history / career summary

The career summary will make up the bulk of your CV unless you're looking for your first role. 

Begin each role with a subheading containing your job title, employer name and dates of employment – just months and years is sufficient. Below each sub-heading, include the key responsibilities of your role and a summary of your achievements, strategically using bullet points to call attention to the most important details.

Many people make the mistake of including every last detail of their jobs, but that often results in a bland and uninspiring CV. And don't even consider doing a copy-paste of your job description! The best role summaries are those that are concise, relevant and focussed on the scope and key elements of the role.

Freelance or self-employed work can be included on your CV in the same way as any other role. Instead of an employer name, you can specify 'Self-Employed' or 'Freelance for XYZ clients'. Feel free to name drop any impressive clients or projects, but there's no need to list every single one of your duties. It's likely that, by essentially running your own business, you've worn many hats ‒ marketing, customer service, finance and so on. Just select the details that are actually relevant to the job you're applying for. 

Remember, this is your personal sales document, so there's absolutely no need to include everything that's happened over your career. If it doesn't sell you, ditch it. As a general rule, only the last 10 years of your career are of interest at this stage. Summarise everything prior in a career note, so that the reader can see your progression without getting bogged down in detail. If your CV begins last millennium, it's fine to completely eliminate entire jobs. Including them will highlight your age, rather than your abilities.

Impactful vocabulary and action verbs

Your word choice when writing can significantly improve the impact of your CV. Grab your thesaurus, ditch the repetition and upgrade your vocabulary.

Help the recruiter to engage with your CV by making it interesting to read. If you were 'responsible for this, responsible for that and responsible for something else', you need to up your game. Consider high-impact verbs such as managed, performed, delivered, achieved, succeeded, oversaw, pioneered, coordinated, led, enabled and so on.

Start each bullet or sentence with a different verb and do your best to not repeat that verb. Additionally, don't be tempted to use CV cliches such as 'enthusiastic and hardworking', 'works well independently and as part of a team' or any of these other unnecessary phrases.

Volunteer experience

Should you include voluntary work on your CV? The answer is almost always yes. However, the amount of detail you include and the emphasis you give it will change as you progress through your career.

Early on, voluntary work may well comprise the majority of your experience. In that case, feel free to go into detail to convey your transferable skills and experience. Later in your career, the skills you gained from voluntary work will become less important than your professional experience, so you won't need as much information. However, voluntary work in any capacity is generally considered a positive, so it still deserves a line or two.

You can split your work experience into separate Professional and Voluntary sections. if you have a solid career history. Or, you can amalgamate the two if you're early in your career or trying to cover a gap between jobs.

Education

Your education is a key element of your CV. Generally, you should list all university-level qualifications. If you didn't go to university, add your highest academic qualification. Details should include the level, subject and year of completion, plus the name of the university. There's no need to include school or college names. Recent graduates may like to show off their knowledge by listing relevant modules, projects, and titles of dissertations and theses, as well.

As you progress through your career, you can start to remove detail from this section. Certainly, CSEs and O-levels should never be included as they would immediately age you, and even graduation dates can be eliminated if you fear they could lead to age discrimination.

If you're still in the process of completing a qualification, by all means, include it – your learning so far is valuable! Simply state 'in progress' or 'due to complete in [year]' for clarity. Courses that were never completed should not be included.

Professional development

Closely tied to your Education section is one for Professional Development. This includes all non-academic learning you've completed since finishing your formal education – courses, certificates, training, workshops, conferences, seminars and so on would all fall into this category. If your Education section is looking dry, it's perfectly acceptable to merge the two under one 'Education and Professional Development' header.

As with your education, you should include the subject and the year of completion. For accredited courses, you can also include the name of the awarding body, such as IOSH or CIPD.

References

References are no longer required on a CV. They are rarely contacted in the first stages of the recruitment process, and your referees will be grateful that you are keeping their details confidential – particularly if you upload your CV online.

If references ‒ either professional or character ‒ are required further along in the process, you can provide details then.

Qualities of a great CV

'Achiever' positioning that shows value

The very best way to elevate your CV above every other applicant's is to emphasise your achievements, successes and contributions to each business you've worked for. By showing the value you can add, you're immediately positioning yourself as an attractive proposition. To do this, you need to position yourself as an achiever, rather than a 'doer'.

To show off your achievements without sounding like you're bragging, try to quantify them. For example, instead of saying you 'increase beverage sales', say you 'increased beverage sales by 20%'. Explaining how you did it will help the recruiter to understand how you approach tasks, so you could expand this to 'increased beverage sales by 20% through online marketing and development of a new cocktail menu'. By adding these objective details, you are showcasing your accomplishments without sounding boastful.

Admittedly, not every job lends itself to quantifiable achievements, but that doesn't mean you haven't added value. Consider the impact you've had on the business, positive feedback you've received, awards you've won, processes you've improved and so on. If you're able to, have a discussion with past and current colleagues, as they'll often be able to contribute ideas you hadn't considered. Past performance appraisals are also helpful reminders of your successes.

No matter your role, tracking your achievements at work is a great habit to get into. That way you have all your information consolidated and ready for the next time you need to update your CV.

Appropriate length

Always a hot topic for CVs is their length. There's no one correct answer for how long a CV is supposed to be, as it depends entirely on where you are in your career.

A recent university graduate who has limited relevant experience should not go beyond one page. Those who are settled into their career can extend to two pages. The exception here would be professionals who have held many similar roles, or just one long-term role, and can use just one job header to avoid repetition.

Three pages? Only in exceptional circumstances. Three-page CVs are usually reserved for board-level professionals with an extensive career history who would be undersold by trying to cram everything onto anything less. Contractors occasionally also fall into this category, when they've had many short-term contracts with very different scopes, outcomes and objectives.

If your CV is longer than recommended, try being more ruthless in editing the less important, less relevant information and more concisely summarising your earlier career. Alternatively, if you're having trouble filling the appropriate space, try including more detail on your career history. If your CV is only a few lines too long or short, simply alter the margins, design and layout to achieve the perfect spacing.

Proper format

There are three main CV formats, each suited to a different type of career history.

Chronological

More accurately called Reverse Chronological, this is by far the most common CV format ‒ and the one we strongly recommend for most circumstances. Listing your career history and education in reverse chronological order shows the reader your most recent experience first and gives a clear view of your progression. This is the format preferred and expected by recruiters and applicant tracking systems. That said, it isn't always ideal for those with gaps or looking to change career paths.

Functional

The Functional, or Skills-Based, CV focusses on your skills rather than your career progression. Experience is grouped by skill headings such as Customer Service or Leadership rather than by date and employer. Your employment history is simply summarised at the end.

This format is best used for those wishing to change careers and can also help cover long career gaps. However, it is generally not favoured by HR managers – it can be obvious that you're trying to hide something in your history.

Hybrid

As the name suggests, Hybrid, or Combination, CVs are a mixture of the Chronological and Functional formats. They include both an extensive skills matrix and a comprehensive career history. These CVs can suit candidates with an inconsistent career history and are great for highlighting transferable skills, but they are much longer and generally unsuited to those with little professional experience.

Strategic targeting

So, now you've sorted out the content of your CV, right? Well, kind of. Hopefully you've created a solid master CV that is focussed broadly on your intended next step. However, it will still need to be tailored to every role you apply for to ensure that you're presenting the best version of yourself each time you apply.

It's not as much work as it sounds. Keep your master CV saved as your template and save a new version for each application. Each new version should directly address the requirements of the job advert, including important keywords and removing irrelevant details. That should only be the work of a few minutes.

The majority of tailoring happens in your personal statement, where you'll need to check that it's aligned with the specific requirements of the role and the company's needs. Again, it's only the work of a few minutes, but a stronger application is well worth the time invested.

Correct file type

Never send your CV in any format other than a PDF or a Word document. Even so, whilst a PDF has the advantage of retaining your original formatting, this file type can introduce errors when the CV is read by an ATS, so only send these if you know your CV is going directly to an HR manager. Word files are universally read and perform well on ATS scans, so we recommend sending your CV in this format (unless the job advert specifies otherwise).

Appealing (but not distracting) design

Design and layout can be a controversial topic – after all, what one person loves another may hate. Yes, your CV should be a reflection of you and needs to stand out from the crowd, but there are still guidelines to follow to ensure that the design doesn't negatively impact your job hunt.

The key is in keeping your CV simple to navigate with a clean, modern design. Creativity isn't necessarily the best way forward for your CV; your ultimate design objective should be to make it easy for the reader to find the information they need, with no distractions. 

This can be achieved by maximising white space, using wide margins and choosing a widely available font between 10 and 12 points.

Additionally, there are some points to bear in mind to ensure that your CV is accurately read by the ATS:

  • Avoid images; this includes logos, photos, graphs and infographics. (If you're desperate for these to be part of your job hunt, your LinkedIn profile or personal website is a better place for them.)

  • Text boxes and special characters should be omitted.

  • Whilst the use of headers and footers is fine for your name, don't use them for critical information such as contact details as they could be ignored.

CV deal breakers 

So now you know exactly what to do to build a strong CV, but do you know what NOT to do? The biggest CV red flags are spelling mistakes and typos, which indicate a lack of attention to detail and a certain carelessness about your work.

We caution against using obscure or complex acronyms, which could be unintelligible to the HR team or a non-specialist recruiter, as well as solid walls of text, which just look off-putting.

Our experts have weighed in and shared their opinions on the most common CV mistakes and faux pas, from what makes a recruiter cringe to how you're sabotaging your job hunt and the things you really need to remove from your document. You've done the work to perfect your wording and formatting, so don't let these mistakes hold you back. 

How a professional CV writer can help you

Hopefully you're now feeling confident enough to write a knockout CV that will help you to secure your dream job.

If, on the other hand, you're still feeling overwhelmed at the prospect, help is at hand. Professional CV writers are experts at identifying your value, uniqueness, expertise and selling points and conveying that effectively on paper. You only have an average of six seconds to make a positive impression on HR managers, so calling in the pros is worth it.

Signs you need a professional rewrite

Professional CV writers can improve your chances of landing a job, as well as save you time, frustration and anxiety. Consider these signs that you may need help:

  • Your current CV isn't getting results. If you've been firing off applications to jobs you can do with your eyes shut but have had no luck, it's time to get another pair of eyes on the job

  • You don't have confidence in your writing skills. Wobbly spelling, grammar or vocabulary is an immediate black mark against your CV, so an expert will ensure that your wording is clear and correct.

  • You're having trouble conveying your achievements. Professional CV writers have the words and techniques to help you sell yourself without sounding boastful.

Investing in a professionally written CV

True, a professionally written CV won't come free. You may be wondering if it's worth it – after all, you know your history better than anyone else! Rest assured that a professional CV writer will work collaboratively with you to create a strong, bespoke document that accurately reflects your career and sets you on the path to both job satisfaction and increased pay.

With that in mind, the investment is well worth it. You'll probably spend more on coffee for your daily commute in the first month in your new job! And with the time you save by outsourcing the task, you can focus on building your network and searching for jobs.

If you think your CV would benefit from professional help, learn more about getting a professional rewrite. Or, start with a free critique for expert feedback on your CV. Submit your document here.

Now that you have everything you need to know about writing a CV, it's time to move forward in your job search. Good luck!

Increase your chances of landing a new job by ensuring your CV is at its best. Work with a professional CV writer today!

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