CV Writing Tips
Your CV may only get a 10-second glance during the initial screening stage – so make it count!
Here are some tips on how to write a CV that will take you through to the interview stage.
Where to start
Gather your information
- Gather all the documentation that you have about your work history and education.
- Organise your information by creating a Word document or by downloading an Information Gathering Worksheet or the full Pro-CV Pack.
- Identify the key requirements of your target job(s). Read and analyse advertisements, job specifications, or other information about your target job(s). Jot down the jargon and buzz words/phrases that are used. Note the job titles and corresponding key criteria for each type of position.
- For each key criterion, write down the way(s) in which you qualify – through work, study, or outside-of-work activities.
- Write a rough draft of your work history and education. Include dates, job titles, company names, your day-to-day responsibilities, and your achievements. Elaborate on the achievements that relate to the target job’s key criteria.
- Don’t think you have any achievements? Ask yourself if you were given enhanced responsibilities, worked late or covered shifts (beyond the call of duty), got on well with your colleagues, mentored a new employee, and/or solved escalated problems for colleagues or supervisors. Are you always punctual or consistently accurate? These are all achievements!
- Use the design and formatting tips below to edit and add to this draft.
- Create your a document and save it as .doc or .rtf. The file extension .docx is not universal yet, so if you are using Word 2007, save your document as Word 97-2003. When you have a final version of your CV, you should also create a copy of your document in plain text (.txt file) for copying and pasting into emails and online forms. An Adobe .pdf version is also handy for printing. If you do not have the software to create .pdf documents, you can use an online service.
Design & Layout
- Even if you are a word processing expert, be frugal with the use of lines, colours, borders, shading, ornate bullets, and unusual fonts when designing a CV for electronic submission. Do not put crucial information, such as your name and contact information, in headers, footers, tables, and text boxes. This is because you cannot be sure that the software used to view the CV will display the information within these features. Use an uncluttered layout with clearly titled sections to ensure that your CV will be scanned into databases properly.
- Use section headings in a larger font size than the body text so that the reader can find the information they need quickly.
- Use bullet points to emphasise the action verbs and key words that match the job criteria.
- A 2-page CV is long enough for most occupations. At least 1/3 of the second page should be filled.
- Longer CVs are appropriate for some occupations, such as senior executives, and are usually required for consultants, medical doctors, and academics.
- Clear and concise content is more important than length, so your CV should be as long as needed to present your relevant experience and qualifications for the position.
Sections of a CV
- At the top of the CV, place your name, postal address, telephone number (your mobile or landline), and your email address. Your email address for job hunting should be professional-sounding, such as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Profile / Summary of Qualifications
- Consider naming this section with a job title that reflects your experience and your target job(s). For example, “Sales Manager – Food & Beverage Sector.”
- The profile statement is a short summary of your experience, qualifications, and personality. It should contain some key criteria, such as number of years of experience and at what level; breadth of experience; and related achievements. It should showcase the value you offer by highlighting your strengths and abilities.
- Inject some of your personality here. Use this space to show how or why you are helpful, flexible, accurate, patient, or other attributes that are relevant to the target job.
- This synopsis at the beginning of your CV is particularly important today because many documents are reviewed on a Blackberry and the page may not be viewed as a whole. It also allows you to move key words into the first 250 words, which can be important if your CV is entered into certain databases or appears in a search engine.
Key Skills / Key Competences / Career Highlights / Selected Achievements
- Augment your profile with a list displayed in a one-, two-, or three-column style. They should address the target job’s key criteria. Use this section to bring forward skills acquired, or achievements realised, at various times in your career.
Experience / Employment History
- The work experience section discusses your day-to-day responsibilities, with emphasis on skills and achievements that are transferable to your target job. Points should include why you were hired, what challenges you faced, and most importantly, the accomplishments you achieved while working for each employer.
- Your work history should be listed in reverse chronological order. That is, start with your most recent job. Use months and years to indicate start and finish dates and include the name of the company (with a short description, if required). Use a bold and/or uppercase font for your job title if it is related to your target job. If you are changing careers, do not emphasise the job title.
- Write an introductory paragraph (up to five lines) for each experience. Briefly, tell the reader what you were hired to do and/or what you actually do or did. Include an overview of the challenges you faced and your sphere of influence, such as the number of staff you supervise.
- Follow with bullet points detailing how well you actually did the job. Start each bullet with an action verb and then explain the situation or challenge. Describe your action(s) and illustrate the results and/or benefits of those actions. Qualify or quantify these accomplishments, whenever possible.
- Write more about your most recent and relevant work experience and less about your past experiences. The past 10 to 15 years of experience is of most interest to potential employers and earlier experience may be excluded or stated briefly. For IT positions in fast-changing environments, it is only necessary to give detailed information about your past five years of experience.
- If you are a recent graduate, or if your qualifications are more relevant than your work experience, place your education section ahead of your work experience and include your grades. Include the name of the institution(s) you attended, as well as start/finish years, the course(s) that you took, and the qualification(s) that you attained. Add your extra-curricular activities if they are relevant and/or if you have little or no work experience.
- If you have at least a few years of relevant work experience, provide only a brief summary of your degree(s), diploma(s), or certificate(s). Include the name of the institution(s) you attended with start/finish years and the qualification(s) that you attained. Include the course(s) that you took only if highly relevant.
- If you have some work experience and a university degree (tertiary education), there is usually no need to include your secondary school education. There is never any need to include primary school education, no matter how prestigious the school.
- Interests and hobbies are rarely required on a CV. However, if your activities or pursuits show a side of you that is relevant to the target job, such as leadership, industry knowledge, or communication/interpersonal skills, then mention them briefly if these points cannot be covered elsewhere in your CV. If you choose to include your interests, write about them in terms of the skills you used or developed. Never mention vague activities like reading, cinema-going, and socialising. Do not include activities in which you no longer participate.
- If IT/computing skills are a job requirement, detail them in terms of the programs used (and for what purpose, if required), your level of competency, and frequency of use. If not a specific job requirement, mention potentially relevant programs in which you are competent in order to demonstrate your computer literacy.
- Other information, such as your driving licence, affiliations/memberships in professional organisations, volunteer work, and non-professional awards can be mentioned if they are relevant to the target job.
- Indicate your knowledge of foreign languages if you would be comfortable using the language at work, such as speaking on the phone or writing an email. If the language is a job criterion, detail your level of competency in both the spoken and written forms.
What not to include
- It is not necessary to state that “References are available upon request” at the bottom of your CV because you have no choice – you must present your references upon request.
- Although references are not usually submitted along with a CV, a separate reference sheet is an important element of your job seeking portfolio. For each referee, include their full name, job title and company name (if applicable), postal address, telephone number, and email address.
- Enhance your reference sheet by adding a short paragraph below each entry that tells the reader what the referee will be able to say about you. For example, you could use a quote from your appraisal.
- Prepare your referees for the job of giving you a good reference. Give them a copy of your CV and target job information. Let them know in writing how and why you are qualified. For instance, remind them about how you demonstrated certain skills and about what you achieved when you worked for or with them. Be sure that they are willing to be a referee and that they are interested in helping you realise your career goals.
- Download a worksheet and a template. Further reading is on the Update Your References page.
Too Personal Information
- Nationality, citizenship, and/or your residency status are generally not required, but can be in some circumstances. For instance, if you are applying for jobs in the European Union, include your eligibility to work if you haven’t got most of their education and experience in the EU. You may find that recruiters/potential employers will ask about your eligibility to work. Also, you will notice that many on-line application forms won’t let you get past that question. If you do need a work permit, don’t mention it here.
- Marital and family status and/or information about your spouse/partner and children should not be part of your job seeking documentation. One of the few exceptions is a job at a boarding school at which your children’s places would be included in the job benefits.
- Health and age information should not be included, however, if physical fitness is required for the job, you could allude to this in the “Work Experience” or “Interests” section.
- Minor qualifications, especially those relating to your personal life (e.g., sports) and those that are not relevant to the target job, should not be included because they distract from your focus on the target job.
- References should be presented on your CV or resume, but should be presented when you are specifically asked to supply them. Wait to be asked.
- Salary history information should not be in your CV or resume unless you are specifically asked to supply it. If you are, include it as requested, but also include an explanation in your cover letter. For instance, “My salary requirements are negotiable because I am far more interested in challenge and potential for career development. However, in my previous three positions, my salary ranged from £40k to £50k.”