How to write a good CV?

Author: Hayley Daniells

It’s time for a new job and I think I’ve found a role that’s right for me, now all I need to do is send my CV and keep my fingers crossed. BUT WAIT – 

When was the last time I checked my CV? 

Do I even have one? 

If this sounds familiar, then we’re here to help! Here are our top tips for how to write a good CV, and if we can help you tick off the whole list then you’ll have the perfect CV! 

Some employers take just seconds to glance at a CV before deciding if it’s worth reading, writing a CV can be the biggest challenge of your job search and it’s time we set you up for success.

Don’t leave your personality behind. Have you considered switching it up? If you aren’t a fan of Times New Roman – try using an alternative font like Calibri or Verdana, or if you prefer something more traditional, Cambria or Garamond. It doesn’t have to be black either! Try a deep purple or a navy blue, but remember – don’t go crazy and use multiple bright, bold colours as these can be distracting but dark colours can look great. 

Try not to make it too ‘wordy’ – the ideal CV is about 2 pages. More importantly, is it tidy? When you look at the pages without reading the words, does it feel neat and organised or is it an overwhelming combination of words? Negative space is your friend, the white space between blocks and around headings will help your CV appear more appealing. 

Remember that you only need the necessities in your ‘contact details’ section and try to be security smart. At this stage, employers only need your name, a contact number, email address and a location (city or town). You don’t need to include your full address, national insurance number or passport number, too many details put you at risk of fraud. It’s also worth us mentioning that you should leave your date of birth off to protect yourself from age discrimination.

When we update our mobile number or email address, we spend ages making sure our friends and family know, so it’s easy to forget to update our CV. If you’ve ticked the boxes and your potential employer wants to invite you to an interview. They’re only going to try to get hold of you a couple of times and if your number isn’t right then you might have missed your chance, if you’re going to send your CV somewhere – check it every time.

On that note, do you still have your funny teenage email account? It’s alright, we all did it, but it’s probably time to set up a new email address for professional purposes, something simple like your name would do the job.

Your CV should always begin after your contact details with your personal profile, a difficult section for people who struggle to sell themselves. You have between 100 and 150 words to really make yourself stand out against all the other applicants for this role.

This section should be updated with every role you apply for, it should also align with your cover letter (which should also be updated for each role). Think of this paragraph as your personal sales pitch, you need to tell your potential employer why you are what they’ve been looking for. Relate to the job description and highlight some of the specific skills that make you right for the job.

Once you have the key bits noted, this can be a great place to add some career goals if you have enough space. Let the hiring manager know how you see this particular position playing a part in your long-term career goals. 

Consider your skills and achievements as a summary of yourself and what you do well – it’s your time to shine. Your skills should be prominent, highlight them away from the unavoidably wordy sections such as your work experience. Have you thought about listing them under your personal details to the side? Breaking skills into sections can be great too! However you chose to display them, the most important thing is making sure they’re clear.

It’s a given that you shouldn’t lie on your CV, but surely a little exaggeration can’t do too much harm – right? Unfortunately, wrong. Little white lies can show dishonesty to your potential employer and start you on the path to failure in your new job. Remember: if you’ve said on your application that you were responsible for setting up a system, your new employer might ask you to do exactly that – after all, you’re the one with prior experience of how to do it.

Finally, to echo what we’ve said twice already – keep your skills updated!

For some people, the educational section is filled with school pride and high grades, for others school wasn’t their best representation but they’ve excelled in additional qualifications. Under the headings ‘Education’ and ‘Additional Qualifications’ list them in reverse chronological order, with your most recent first. Include the dates and grades you achieved (or are expected to receive if you’re still studying), only include extra details in the relevant subjects or qualifications.

Many people don’t know that it’s actually illegal to lie about the grade you received if you completed a degree, for example saying you received a 2:1 instead of a 2:2. This is known as degree fraud and can result in job loss or even a prison sentence.

Don’t be disheartened if your grades weren’t what you hoped – it’s never too late to learn. There are loads of paid and free courses available online that can help you prove to an employer that you are trying to better yourself and increase your existing level of education. The most common qualifications that employers look for are Maths and English, you can improve these skills via Learn Direct below or contact your local college or university to see if they offer functional skills courses. 

Learn Direct – 

We’ll start by reminding you of the running theme throughout your CV – be honest. Include your daily tasks and responsibilities in the description of each experience. Start with your job title and the company you worked with, then include the dates you served that company, not all of your work experience has to come from paid opportunities, volunteering and interning still gives you experience that will be relevant here.

If you’re lucky enough to have lots of real-life experiences in the industry which you are applying, we’d recommend switching this section with the education and qualification section above as it’s most likely that these experiences will be of more interest to a potential employer.

It’s always great when somebody has stayed in a previous role long-term, this is seen as an advantage to some employers. This doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if you’ve moved around a bit, it just means you might have more explaining to do. To avoid being pre-judged for your ‘job swapping’ make sure you explain why you’ve switched in your cover letter, it’s unlikely you’ll have the space to explain your reasoning in the 2 pages of your CV. This also stands for gaps in your timeline, did you take time out to care for a loved one or travel the world? Answer these prospective questions in your cover letter, in case you don’t get the chance to have a phone call or interview to explain.

Moving on to the ‘Hobbies and Interests’ paragraph, what do employers want from you here? They want to know what you do that’s interesting and proves you could be a good culture fit for their company. Similarly to your personal statement above, this paragraph is almost like a sales pitch – but this time, to your friends! Why would someone want to be friends with you, what do you do outside of work that might make people be friends with you?

We need to find a balance here, watching TV and walking your dog doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to a company. In an ideal world, you’d be applying for a role in an industry where you have a genuine interest and possibly partake in favourable activities away from work already. Take a look at this handy little guide we’ve created that helps you see how your hobbies can translate to employers: 

What you say your hobby is…What that means to employers…
I’m on a sports teamYou’re good at teamwork and collaboration
I write my own blogYou’re creative and have good communication skills
I enjoy puzzles or chessYou’re a problem solver with analytical skills and a critical thinker
I play a musical instrumentYou’re focused, determined and dedicated
I enjoy puzzles or chessYou’re self-disciplined and have mental resilience and patience

This is the first section where you can save yourself some words and some space on the page. It’s always better to include them in advance as your potential employer is certainly more likely than not to reach out to them. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to just write “available on request” – as long as you’re prepared and have their information ready to hand as soon as you’re asked for it.

Before we tell you who to include here, make sure you have permission from your desired references. They must be comfortable speaking on your behalf and be happy for you to pass on their details. It’s good practice to include their full name, professional title, company name & address and their contact details, phone and email.

Only ever ask people you know to be your reference, they should know what it’s like to work closely with you on regular occasions. Your current manager is a great place to start and then include former bosses or subordinates, this is not the time to include family members or somebody who fired you. 

We’ve already convinced you to keep your CV updated and the only way to know is to keep checking it! A second pair of eyes can never do any harm, ask someone to proofread your CV before you submit it, a co-worker or friend can really help.

Run it through a spell checker and utilise the free online tools such as Grammarly that can check for grammatical errors too. Once you’ve started submitting your CV, you can always ask for feedback on it – if you were rejected at the first stage, find out why – was your CV missing vital information?

Two pages isn’t a lot of space to convince someone that YOU are who they’ve been looking for, make use of the extra space in your cover letter and back up your claims with stats if you have them. Don’t just say that you helped improve reach on social media, tell them you increased the reach across different platforms by 30% in 6 months. Be specific.

It’s harsh but it’s true, if you don’t believe in yourself – then why is a prospective employer going to believe in you? Be your own advocate and be proud of your successes.

Job hunting is exhausting and daunting, and unfortunately, it won’t always go the way you want it to. We’ll leave you with this final reminder, don’t give up hope and stay true to yourself. If you’re looking for full-time employment then you’ll spend approximately 2000 hours a year at work, so take the time to find a job that’s right for you and do something you’ll enjoy – at a company that respects you.

We hope this blog has helped you with how to write a good CV.

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