Writing a CV

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.

Top tips for success

  • As a general rule, keep your CV to two A4-sized pages as selectors 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 meet the recruiter's needs. Focus on relevant information and use the space well
  • Aim to get the most relevant information early in the CV. The selector will not search for it
  • Sell yourself - provide examples of the skills the employer is looking for, 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.

CV formats

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 diferent 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:

  • Personal details - name, address, email and phone is usually enough
  • Education - refer to relevant degree content and projects, and/or the skills you've gained
  • Work experience - include full/part-time, temporary and voluntary. Summarise your duties, achievements and skills
  • Positions of responsibility
  • Additional skills (e.g. languages or relevant IT skills)
  • Interests - keep this short but don't just list them. Use brief descriptions to show your personality
  • Referees - Normally two, one should be a university tutor and one other, ideally work related. Provide name, job title, address, email and phone number

Skills based

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.

Academic

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:

  • Contact information
  • Research interests
  • Education
  • Awards and funding
  • Research experience
  • Teaching experience
  • Academic administration experience
  • Relevant Training
  • Relevant research or technical skills
  • Patents
  • Professional Memberships
  • Publications
  • Conference presentations and posters
  • Referees (it is usually acceptable to put 'References available on request' if you cannot provide details of your referees)

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.

Length

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.

Personal details

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. 

Photographs

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.

Qualifications

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:

  • Ensure you follow any available instructions
  • Use relevant keywords that match the job description or person specification. So, for example, if 'team work' is asked for, make sure you include those words in your CV
  • Use standard fonts e.g. Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Tahoma, Verdana
  • Don't use headers and footers, tables, graphics and logos
  • Use clear simple headings e.g. ‘Work experience’, rather than ‘Professional expertise’
  • Provide the full titles of qualifications or organisations that you have worked for, along with abbreviations or acronyms, e.g. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
  • Add dates at the end of the line when listing your qualifications and work experience, e.g. Oxfam Shop, Sheffield - Part-time Sales Assistant, Sept 2015 - Jun 2016
  • Submit your CV as a word document (.doc), text (.txt) or rich text (.rtf) file. Only convert it into a PDF file if you are instructed to do so, or you know it will be read by a person rather than a system. If in doubt, check with the recruiter.

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:

  • Does your name stand out? You don’t need to write CV at the top
  • Have you ensured any jargon or acronyms are understandable to the reader?
  • If you have included details of your referees, have you asked their permission?
  • Hold it at arm’s length – does it look easy to read?
  • Check font size and line spacing. Is the format consistent throughout?
  • Have you double-checked your spelling and grammar?

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 an objective view. It's worth asking a friend who might spot any errors, or pick up on things where the meaning isn't clear.


Sample CVs

We have a number of examples to help you write your CV, but DO NOT just copy these. You need to make your CV individual to you so that it stands out from the rest.