Writing a CV
A CV is a concise summary of your qualifications, skills and experience. It is a key marketing document that is often your first opportunity to get that interview! Unfortunately, busy employers receive a large number of CVs and may only spend 30 seconds reviewing each one in order to shortlist, so your CV needs to make a good impression.
Before you start writing, read the section on demonstrate you meet the criteria first.
While there isn’t one way to write a CV, remember that the key objective is to make it easy for the employer to see how you meet their requirements. Ensure your CV does just that by having a clear and professional format, tailored to the specific job and providing evidence of relevant skills and qualities.
Our top tips for success
To summarise here are our top tips -
- As a general rule, keep your CV to two A4-sized pages as recruiters won't have time to read more. If a job doesn’t require lots of qualifications or experience, a one-page CV may be fine
- While the choice of format is yours, the main thing is to show how you meet the job or course requirements. Focus on relevant information and use the space well
- Aim to get the most relevant information early in the CV. The recruiter will not search for it
- Sell yourself - provide examples of the skills and qualities required, whether that is through your studies, work experience or interests. Don't just list everything you’ve done. Instead, provide a bit of detail
- Consider using bullet points rather than paragraphs when describing your experiences and skills. Instead of using "I" every time, start each bullet point with a verb, e.g. "Organised...", "Liaised with...."
- Emphasise your actions and achievements
- Use simple language; avoid jargon and acronyms which may not be understood
- Ensure you include dates and locations (town/city) for education and work (if there are 'time gaps' explain them in your cover letter)
- Write in the past tense if it is something you have completed rather than something current
- Use common fonts and black text on a white background to make it easy to read
- Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation - any mistakes will put your CV into the rejection pile.
Try our interactive CV reviewer to rate your own CV.
Based on your responses, we'll rate your CV, and provide you with feedback! Once you have completed it, you will have the option to receive an email with all your results, so you can make any suggested changes in your own time.
Chronological / traditional
This type of CV is the most common and lists education, work experience and other activities within each section in reverse chronological order. This format can make it easy for employers to see your experience in a clear structured way. Use the sections to describe key duties and activities, and the skills and qualities you demonstrated.
The sections you create depend on your own background but can be presented in different ways. For example, if you are applying for a teaching job, rather than having a single ‘Work experience’ section you might separate ‘Teaching experience’ and ‘Other employment’ to emphasise the more relevant experience nearer to the top of your CV.
You should decide on your own headings but you might typically include:
A skills based CV is used to highlight transferable skills and can be useful if you have little work experience at all, or you're applying to a role without relevant experience, or you are changing career. Include a 'Skills' section with 4-6 sub-sections which describe examples of when you have demonstrated the required skills. Skills based CVs also have the same sections as a chronological CV but these should be brief, as your skills and related evidence appear in the Skills section instead. You can put the Skills section on page 1 if you don't have much formal work experience or your experience is not relevant to the job.
Use an academic CV if you are applying for a research or teaching role within a university. The academic CV follows the same principles as any CV but has a different style and focuses on academic achievements and activities, without a page limit (although you should still try to keep it as concise as possible!). As with any application consider what the job requirements are and tailor your CV to the job.
You might include:
CVs for the global market
If you are applying for work internationally, you need to do your research into the expected format and content of a CV for that country.
The length can vary from country to country. For example did you know that in the USA a CV (or resume) is usually only one side of A4, whereas in the UK it is usually two sides? In China it can be up to three sides and in Greece up to five sides.
Some countries within Europe and Asia require personal details such as nationality, gender, marital status or date of birth. In other countries e.g. the UK and USA, employment discrimination laws make this personal information unnecessary. You may wish to add your nationality, but only if you are applying internationally and wish to make it clear that the relevant visa requirements are fulfilled.
Different countries have different guidelines for adding a photograph. In the UK, you would not normally add a photograph, but in Europe and Asia, adding a photograph is often standard practice.
If you do need to add a photograph, use a 'head and shoulders' image and make sure it looks professional.
If you are applying internationally, you may wish to provide the local equivalent qualifications on your CV, so that the recruiter can understand your level of education. In some cases you will be required to produce evidence at the point of application.
Applicant tracking systems
Some larger organisations and job sites use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which do a first sift of applications using scanning software, looking for keywords and phrases that match the job description.
If you think your CV or application may be scanned by software then use our tips below to ensure your CV makes it through the first sift:
A final check of your CV
After working through our tops tips, and making sure you have followed the employers’ instructions, consider these questions to ensure your CV is as strong as it can be:
Note: if you are worried about factors such as exam re-sits or a lack of work experience e.g. due to illness or disability, you can explain these in your covering letter. See our separate section on covering letters.
It can take a number of revisions to get the best version of your CV for a specific job and if you don't have much experience of writing CVs, it's worth getting help.
We have a number of examples to help you get ideas of how a CV can appear, but DO NOT just copy the format of these. To be successful your CV needs to be individual to you by reflecting your experience, skills and achievements. It also needs to be targeted closely to the job or course you are applying for. So make sure you've read all the advice on this page and thought about what you want your CV to emphasise. Then use the examples to see some of the ways our advice can be put into practice.