Writing a CV… sooner or later, we all have to do it. However, trying to craft the perfect CV can seem like a daunting challenge. People worry about how much information to include, how their CV should be presented, and how to stand out from the crowd. What’s more, different people seem to have very different ideas about what a good CV should look like.
While CV writing can seem like a minefield, we have some handy Do’s and Don’ts to help you through the process:
- Tailor your CV
- Give relevant detail
- Make it look good
- Overload your CV with irrelevant information
- Be boring or repetitive
- Let anything slip through the net
These Do’s and Don’ts are broken down below to help you create the perfect CV for your situation and catch the attention of the people you need to impress.
1) DO tailor your CV
The most important thing to remember is that when it comes to writing a CV, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A good CV shouldn’t just be unique to you, but also to the application you’re making. What information you choose to include should relate directly to what the person reading you CV needs to know. The sifting of CVs into piles labelled “no” and “maybe” can be done very quickly so make it sure you provide the employer with all the information he or she needs to make the right decision. If a job requires you to have a degree for example, you must make it clear that you have one, or are expecting to have one by the time you start work.
Obviously, there are some core facts which are relevant to every CV, such as education, especially any university courses or postgraduate qualifications or your most recent grades from school if you have not completed a degree If you do not provide information, such as the class of your degree, an employer is likely to assume the worst.
You will also want to list the jobs you have held so far, and your current job. If you’re applying to be the CEO of a multinational company, you probably don’t need to include the Saturday job you had as a sixteen-year-old. On the other hand, if you’re a university student applying for a retail position, that Saturday job might be a really important part of your employment history. It is important not to leave any gaps – if there was a time when you took a “gap year” for example, say so. How much further detail you include depends on how relevant the experiences you had are to the post you are now applying for.
For each version of our CV, you need to make a judgement about which information is relevant and which is not – CV Library offer some handy tips on how to do this. The main thing is to remember that your CV should always to be tailored to a specific situation.
2) DO give detail
Many people will tell you that a CV should not be too long or have too much information – this is very true, as we discuss below. However, this does not mean that a CV should not be detailed, and the last thing you want is for your CV to just read like a list of facts.
As with choosing which information to include, choosing how much detail to go into is a personal judgement which depends on what the CV is for, but here are some general tips:
- Spell it out – A job title doesn’t necessarily explain what you did in a particular role and it certainly doesn’t cover any additional unique responsibilities and opportunities you had. The same goes for university courses. Explain these things clearly.
- Think about who’s reading – Don’t assume knowledge on the part of the person reading your CV. Consider what they might not know and also what they do know, so that you can include or leave out details where necessary.
- Give more detail when it’s relevant – If certain details are particularly relevant to the position, course or opportunity you are applying for, then it makes sense to include them. Some posts will require you to have obtained certain qualifications or to have picked up a certain set of skills from earlier employment. If so, make it quite clear how you meet these requirements.
- There are some skills that are relevant to many jobs – if you had to deal with members of the public in a previous job, emphasise that – even if the new job doesn’t require this you will be meeting a lot of new people and an employer will be pleased to see that you are the kind of person who will not be worried about that.
Giving detail in your CV is really important because it allows you to show something of your individuality and unique experience. The trick is to be constantly aware of your audience when deciding what to include and what to leave out.
3) Make it look good
The content of your CV is obviously vital, but so is the presentation. In fact, the importance of having a well-formatted, stylish CV cannot be overstated. Remember, most CVs are read at speed, and so the information needs to be instantly accessible and clearly categorised. What’s more, a polished CV makes a great impression on whoever is reading it.
What does this mean in practice? Here are some pointers:
- Don’t leave lots of blank space – Not only will you CV look fuller and more exciting, but the reader will be able to take in more information more quickly.
- Use different font sizes – Larger font sizes or bold text are useful for section headers (g. “Employment History”) and for key information. The most important facts should stand out clearly to someone who is scanning the document. Remember that people reading CVs are not expecting to be entertained, so avoid “comic” fonts,anything that is too quirky or attempts to make people laugh. You want to stand out but in a good way.
- Use consistent formatting – Present information in the same order and format every time. For example, don’t write “27/1/2018” in one part of the CV and “3rd July 2018” in another. Likewise, you should not switch between fonts in one document or between font sizes in a passage of text. Keep the House Style consistent.
- Simple is effective – The best-looking CVs are simple but clear. Use a font and a font size which make the CV easy to read while also allowing you to pack lots of information in. Monster.co.uk offer some helpful tips on how to achieve this.
How your CV looks is not just a superficial matter, but absolutely vital in how it is received. A well-formatted CV not only creates a good impression, but also allows the reader to access the most important information quickly and easily. Make sure too that the employer knows how to get in touch with you – be sure to provide an e-mail address and a telephone number where a voicemail can be left if you are not available. If an employer cannot reach you to invite you to an interview, they may choose someone else. If you do get an invitation to an interview, respond promptly; again if an employer doesn’t hear from you they may assume you are no longer interested and look elsewhere.
4) DON’T overload your CV
Your CV needs to give a wide range of information, from education to job history to special skills and experience. However, as mentioned above, it also needs to be concise so the person reading will not waste any time on irrelevant information.
A good rule of thumb is that your CV should not be longer the two full pages of A4 paper. If you’re young or if you don’t have much experience yet, one side of A4 is fine, while if you’re more experienced and applying for a high-level position, you may need to go onto a third or fourth page. However, two sides of A4 is a good size to aim for in general.
You should also make the language you use on the CV concise. For example, when describing your responsibilities at a particular company, it is more efficient to say “I was responsible for online marketing” than it is to say “My responsibilities included administering the company’s online marketing strategy”. Never forget that CVs are usually scanned very quickly – get to the point swiftly and clearly.
5) DON’T be boring
While it is a good idea to make your content as efficient and concise as possible, that doesn’t mean your CV has to be matter-of-fact and dull. Creating a CV that stands out from the crowd is important if you want to make sure your unique qualities come across to potential employers.
With this in mind, here are a few ways to spice things up:
- Use dynamic language – There is a big difference between, “I was involved in improving the company’s growth” and “I boosted the company’s growth”. Make yourself sound active and positive.
- Sell yourself – Some people worry that they will sound arrogant if they emphasise their achievements, but that is what a CV is all about. Don’t be afraid to big yourself up a little and talk confidently about your unique qualities. Biginterview.com have some useful advice about this which can apply to writing your CV.
- Beware templates – Using a CV template is often a very good idea, but it is only a starting point. Don’t slip into using ill-suited generic formats or clichéd phrases.
- Include something interesting or unusual – A good CV is always concise and to-the-point, but it is also a good idea to include something interesting or unusual about yourself to catch the reader’s attention. Make sure that it isn’t too strange or irrelevant, but anything where you can show that you worked as a team with others or have taken the initiative to change things for the better, whether at work, or doing voluntary work, or raising money for charity for example, can show that you will be the kind of person who will be good value to an employer. Hobbies too may be relevant, but only if they are related to the kind of job you are applying for.
6) DON’T let anything slip through the net
This may sound obvious, but people often forget to do it: read your CV, re-read it, and then read it again and again to make sure there are absolutely no mistakes. These could range from spelling and grammar issues to inaccurate information, and they create a poor impression for the person reading the CV. It is also a good idea to get friends and colleagues to proofread your CV, as there will always be things that you miss when checking it yourself.
Speaking of incorrect information, it is also vitally important to keep your CV up-to-date. When you tailor your CV to a specific job or opportunity, you also need to make sure all the details are still accurate and that you continuously include the new skills and experience that you have acquired. Don’t be tempted to invent experiences you haven’t had. You may be caught out at interview or when an employer checks your references.
Applying for that dream job might be the moment to tidy up your social media profile – a Twitter feed related to your area of professional interest can be mentioned on your CV and may help you to land that job. Public Facebook posts showing you and your friends behaving badly or using inappropriate language may have the opposite effect.
As mentioned earlier, there is no fixed set of rules for creating the perfect CV. Every situation requires something different, and you will need to make judgements on what information is required or what format is most appropriate. However, following the above Do’s and Don’ts is a great way to get you on track to crafting the best possible CV for your unique circumstances. Good luck!