How to write a CV
‘Absolutely no longer than two pages’ is the preference of most recruiters. This limit can be a challenge but ensures you tailor your CV to each job application, highlighting strengths and omitting irrelevant material. Candidates can summarise where necessary in order to save space, such as ancient qualifications, but do list any that are important to the job separately.
1. Personal details belong at the top of the CV: full name and contact details, including home a sensible email address, and mobile number. There’s no need to put date of birth. Put your name and contact details on the footer of page 2, in case they get separated.
2. Personal Statement or Career Objective comes next and should set out in one sentence, your current skills proposition and what you want to achieve in your next role.
3. Skills Summary should consist of your unique selling proposition (USP) - the skills and strengths that fit you for the advertised role. It can also be entitled Personal Profile, or an equivalent, and is written either in bullet points or in three or four sentences. A quarter of a page should do it. List responsibilities and achievements, such as details of financial budget you have charge of or team size. Make sure you back up any assertion with quantifiable evidence, such as: “I saved the department £X by implementing a new process”.
4. Work History: present this in reverse chronological order, detailing name of employer, your job title and dates worked. If your CV is to undergo criminal record bureau checks, you must include the month as well as the year. If you’re a mature candidate, you’ll be selling yourself on the basis of your experience rather than qualifications and so it’s acceptable to summarise. It’s unwise to miss off 15 or so years of your career history, though, in order to get a foot in the interview door as you’ll get a few raised eyebrows when you meet your recruiters.
5. Education: List in reverse chronological order educational institutions attended and period of study alongside qualifications and grades achieved. Don’t forget to include extra occupational training or professional qualifications. If you’re a graduate you can put this section immediately after your Skills Summary and ahead of the Work Experience section. It’s acceptable to summarise qualifications if they are numerous, very dated or you are selling yourself chiefly on experience.
6. Additional skills: A useful heading for flagging up added value you could offer an organisation or skills that are not included in your earlier USP section. Are you an expert in technology, is customer service your forte, do you speak other languages?
7. Hobbies and interests: this may be the last piece of narrative in the CV but is certainly not the least, so do not gloss over. It’s your chance to bring some personality to a document that is largely based around competencies and in danger of being a bit ‘samey’. Presenting a hobby in a way that shows an element of social engagement will work to your advantage if you are applying for a team role: “I am a member of a book club” will impress more than “I read books in my spare time”.
8. Referees: Include two including your manager from your current job and your previous job or a tutor, if you’ve graduated recently. If you think you may get a poor reference or are worried your current employer will discover you are job seeking, state ‘References supplied upon request’. This means they won’t be approached until you have a job offer, at which point you can have a discussion with your future employer.
Use a formal, easily legible one such as Times New Roman, Ariel or Verdana. Use bold text for straplines or subtitles that need extra emphasis, rather than underscoring, which can look messy. Black font is better than blue, as it photocopies better.
Keep it simple rather than spouting business-speak. Avoid using the acronyms of your industry as the person doing the first pass of CVs may not understand this. In other words, explain your role and responsibilities as you would to an outsider who has no inside knowledge. You will come across as a better communicator if you stick to plain English that everyone can understand. Proof-read for spelling and grammar.
Unless you’re applying for a modelling job, don’t attach a photo to your CV – it just looks tacky. Many employers avoid using photographs in order to comply with equal opportunities best practice. If they really want to see what you look like, they’ll probably browse the Internet for Facebook pictures.
It can be tempting to embellish when it comes to CVs and this is particularly the case when it comes to job titles and qualifications. The unanimous advice is not to mess with the truth as these facts are easily checked out by potential employers. Anyone who’s watched The Apprentice will know that candidates who tell ‘porkies’ on their CVs are found out and don’t progress as there’s a question mark over their integrity.
Declare any career breaks but try and give positive reasons for taking them. These may include: taking time out to care for a relative; extended gardening leave; taking a year out to travel after an intensive educational or work phase in your life. If candidates are truthful, they generally will get credit for this by recruiters. If you conceal facts, they may well be uncovered in a toe-curling manner at interview.
With thanks to our panel:
Simon Broomer, founder, Career Balance
Kathleen Saxton, The Lighthouse Company
Emma Blaney, global group HR director, Informa
Iain McAdam, associate director, Digby Morgan