What is a CV?
A CV is a document you use to apply for jobs. CVs outline your experience, qualifications, and skills, and you send them to organisations or companies hiring for positions you’re interested in. Your CV should show why you’re the best person for the job, and you should tailor it to each position you apply to.
The ideal CV length is two pages long and lets you expand on why you’d be an ideal candidate. However, if you’re a school leaver or have just graduated from uni, one page may be enough, because you might not have enough experience to fill two pages yet.
Here’s how to write a professional CV that makes interviewers eager to meet you.
What should a CV include?
A CV layout should include the following sections:
Begin the CV writing process by noting down what you believe your top career-related skills, achievements, and qualifications are.
Once you’ve got a good idea about what to include in your CV, it’s much easier to start writing it. Here’s how you should organise your CV sections:
1. A CV title with your name and contact details
The heading of your CV sits at the top of the first page and includes your relevant personal information. This information includes your:
- name (don’t use ‘Curriculum Vitae’ as your title — it’s a waste of space)
- target job title
- email address (use a professional email address like [email protected])
- mobile phone number
- link to a professional profile or LinkedIn page
You no longer need to include your postal address on your CV because most companies will ring you if they want to schedule an interview.
A good CV title can include a splash of colour. For instance, this example draws the attention of recruiters with its green and grey background:
Don’t just pick your favourite colour though. Professional colours like dark green or blue are fine, but hot pink is too casual.
2. A CV personal statement
An effective CV personal statement summarises your key accomplishments, qualifications, and skills. It should be short: three to four sentences or bullet points is enough.
By adding a personal statement to the top of your CV, you make it easier for interviewers to decide if you’re worth asking in. They can quickly scan your personal statement before deciding whether to read the rest of your CV.
Additionally, use numbers in your personal statement to quantify your achievements. Numbers related to your previous occupations provide the employer with context, and show them what you can achieve for them.
Here’s an example personal statement with numbers:
Graduate of Northumbria University’s Nursing Science Registered Nurse (Child) BSc programme with a 2:1 honours degree. Provide quality health care on a 20-patient ward, including daily monitoring, recording, and evaluation. Interface daily with ward sister and 7 other nurses concerning patients’ treatments. Commended twice by the local NHS Trust for ability to deliver bad news to patients and their family members.
3. Relevant work experience
If you already have some work experience, list it in your work history section. If you haven’t accumulated much work experience yet, you can put down volunteering, internships, and work experience placements you did during secondary school.
Whatever experience you have, list it in reverse chronological order. In other words, your most recent job goes first — then work backwards from there.
Just like with your personal statement, use numbers as much as possible in your work experience section. If you don’t have exact numbers, make an educated guess — but don’t exaggerate. Your future employer might ring your former employer and ask about what you’ve said on your CV.
List your job title, the company’s name and location, and the dates you worked there.
Greggs, Bristol Cabot Circus / January 2018–present
- Handled 100+ transactions per hour during busy lunch periods
- Upsold drinks to customers, leading to 47p increase on average for each transaction
- Maintained 100% balanced till
- Helped train 2 new members of staff
4. Your educational background
The education section of your CV showcases all of your relevant academic qualifications. Along with your work experience, your educational background gives employers a sense of what your specialities are.
List your highest qualification first. Qualifications should generally be listed in this order:
- Master’s degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- A-Levels (or Highers/Advanced Highers in Scotland)
- GCSEs (or N5 in Scotland) or vocational equivalents
You don’t need to list all of your GCSEs if you have a university degree or A-Levels, but many employers require candidates to have at least Grades A–C (or Grades 9–4 under the 2017 reform) in English, Maths, and IT or other subjects, so you should mention these details. For example:
11 GCSEs A–C, including English, Maths, and IT
Here’s what a full education section would look like for a university graduate:
University of York, York
BA (Hons) German, upper second class honours (2:1), 2020
Key modules studied: German Language, Translation for Professional Purposes, German for Business, Weimar Germany, German Reunification, Contemporary Austrian Politics, Germany and the European Union
Dissertation: East German Influence in the European Union since Reunification
Downbridge Comprehensive School, Boston, Lincolnshire
A-Levels: German (A), English Literature (B), Philosophy and Ethics (A), History (B), 2016
GCSEs: 11 Grades A–C, including English, Maths, and IT, 2014
5. A list of key CV skills
List your main professional skills on your CV. Make sure you include technical skills as well as skills that show you work well as part of a team.
Technical skills are those you specifically learn. You might have a certification or licence to prove you have such skills.
For example, if you’re applying to become a delivery driver, you need to state on your CV that you have a driving licence. For example:
Full clean driving licence (category B)
You can also list skills you’ve gained from vocational qualifications on your CV. For example, if you have an NCFE CACHE Level 3 Award in Child Care and Education, you can list ‘Child Care’ among your skills. Other common technical skills include:
- Graphic design skills
- Programming languages (for example, C++, Java, SQL, and Python)
- Accounting tools (SAP, Oracle, and Intuit QuickBooks)
- Data modelling (SQL Server Management Studio and MySQL Workbench)
You should also add some ‘soft skills’ to your CV. Soft skills are related to your personality, and show that you’re good at working in teams. Here are some examples of the soft skills employers are looking for in candidates:
- Customer service skills
- People skills
- Communication skills
- Organisational skills
For each of your skills, include an example of when you used that skill in your work experience section to show employers how you’ve applied it in the past. For example:
- Honed strong customer service skills by closing sales for an average of 47 customers per week, earning £740 per week more in commission than colleagues.
6. Other relevant information and hobbies
Employers appreciate some insight into your personality, so if you have space at the bottom of your CV, add a hobbies and interests section. Try to include hobbies that reflect well on your personality and show employers your positive attributes.
- Being on your local football team shows you’re capable of teamwork
- Duke of Edinburgh’s Award shows your independence, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving abilities
- Being a regular gym-goer shows your commitment to a goal (in this case, increasing your strength, losing weight, or toning up)
You can also use this section to add any extra skills or information that aren’t required for the job but that improve your job application. For example:
- If you live in a rural area, showing you have a driving licence might reassure employers that you’d be able to make it into work without relying on public transport
- If you’re applying to a job where you might interact with tourists, being able to speak other languages looks good on your CV even if language skills aren’t listed as a requirement
7. Proper CV formatting
It’s not only compelling content that’s important on a CV, but also how you format it. Follow these tips to format your CV properly.
Successful CVs have great content, but often also have eye-catching formatting that makes a positive first impression on employers. Because employers might get dozens or hundreds of job applications for an open position, a splash of colour could give you an advantage by making your application more visible.
Don’t use graphics on your CV, including infographics. Firms use software called applicant tracking systems (ATS) that scan CVs for specific keywords to gauge whether you’re qualified for the job.
ATS software often can’t read graphics, so if your CV is an infographic CV, the ATS will likely reject your job application.
To make sure your CV gets past an ATS, always use plain text.
Use a businesslike font for your CV to show that you take the job application process seriously. Any of these fonts is fine for a professional CV:
- Times New Roman
CV writing tips
If you’ve included each section we’ve outlined in this piece and filled it out with information relevant to the job you want, your CV should be almost ready to send out. Here are a few last-minute tips to make your CV extra effective:
Use action verbs to describe accomplishments
Many job seekers make the mistake of using the same generic phrases to describe their work duties:
- Responsible for
- Tasked with
- Entrusted with
By using these phrases, you’re naturally going to describe your duties rather than your accomplishments. Describing your duties has the unfortunate side effect of making you seem more like someone who simply takes orders, rather than someone who can solve problems and contribute at a higher level.
Check out this example of what not to do:
- Responsible for answering phone calls from members of the public
This type of CV bullet point tells employers nothing about whether you were successful at your job. To combat this problem, use a strong action verb. An action verb is a compelling sentence starter because it makes you seem like a proactive employee:
- Handled average of 47 inbound phone calls a day
Repeat keywords from the job advert
Applicant tracking systems (ATS), which scan CVs before passing them onto the recruiter, look for keywords on your CV. You can boost your chances of bypassing the ATS by adding keywords from the job advert.
Pay close attention to the terms that the job advert uses. For example:
The underlined terms are skills, experience, or qualifications that the company is looking for.
In this case, you must refer to your organisational skills, administrative skills, detail-oriented personality, and all the other skills mentioned here if you’re to impress this particular employer.
Add these words and phrases to your CV — whether in your personal statement, skills list, or work history — to make sure the ATS doesn’t block your job application.
Proofread your CV
It’s easier than you think for mistakes and typos to make their way into your CV. After you’ve finished writing your CV, read it over again a couple of times.
Try reading your CV out loud to really help you notice any mistakes. Run your spell-checker on your CV, and check what it recommends.
Once you’re done checking and double-checking, give your CV to a friend, family member, or form tutor to look at. Often, a fresh pair of eyes will spot any problems you initially missed.
How to finalise your CV and pair it with a cover letter
Choose an appropriate file format
Once you’re happy with your CV, save it as either a DOCX or PDF. These two file formats are the most common file types to use for CVs. Because all companies have the right software to view these files, they’ll be able to read your CV properly.
Write a compelling cover letter
You also need to write a cover letter, unless the job advert says not to include one.
While your CV lets recruiters and employers see your past successes, a cover letter links your accomplishments to the company you’re applying to. For example, if you’re applying to a pub that’s opening in your village, you can use a cover letter to directly tell the landlord you’ll help them train new bar staff.
While your CV just quickly touches upon such work experience, your cover letter makes you seem more like a person who can come in and do the work.
When your cover letter and CV are ready, you can print them out or email them to companies. Happy job hunting!