Writing a CV

A well-presented CV is your key to getting an interview. Employers receive hundreds of CVs, they make snap decisions on whether or not to interview you based on its appearance and content. So, how do you put together a CV that will get you an interview?

Content and presentation

Your CV is the tool you use to market or ‘sell’ your skills and abilities to an employer. It is your chance to show them that you are the right person for the job. Also, bear in mind that there are ways how to write a CV with no experience, so keep an open mind and don’t be disheartened!

Some golden rules

  • keep it brief – no more than two sheets of A4. Imagine an employer with a big pile of CVs to read – less is definitely more!
  • you do not need to put ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ at the top – it is obvious what it is, so use that space for your name instead
  • include only relevant and current information, and give the most important information first
  • do not be tempted to bend the truth – employers are checking information more carefully now, so you will only get caught out
  • use active verbs which highlight your achievements, such as ‘achieved’, ‘organised’, ‘produced’ and ‘designed’
  • make sure it is easy to read with space between each section
  • avoid large areas of text – use note form instead of long sentences. Break up text with bullet points
  • print your CV on white A4 paper and stick to just one style and font, avoid gimmicky or flashy formats
  • check your grammar and spelling – then check and double-check again!
  • ask someone to check it through for you and get help with your word processing if you need it
  • print out a copy of your CV to keep yourself. A potential employer will use your CV to form interview questions, so it’s useful to remind yourself of what you’ve written!

Getting started

First of all, think about how your skills, education and experience compare with the skills needed for the job. If the job description does not give you enough information, ask the employer for more detail. Spend some time researching the job you are interested in as well as the company. This will help you catch the employer’s eye and show that you are suited to the job. If you have followed the exercises in the ‘Beginning your job search section’, you will have compiled information relating to your skills, experience and qualifications.

Note: Each job is different, each company is different, and your CV needs to change too. The basic structure can stay the same but think about the job you are applying for and adapt your CV to show how your skills and experience match the requirements of the job.

Choosing an appropriate CV format?

There are three main styles of CV:

  • the reverse date order CV (also known as the reverse chronological CV)
  • the functional CV
  • the targeted CV

The Reverse Chronological CV

The most popular format is generally the one preferred by the majority of employers. It presents your most recent (and probably most relevant) experience or qualifications first and works backwards. For example, if you have just finished your ‘A’ levels, these are mentioned first and underneath your GCSEs and grades.

The basic structure is:

  • personal details – name, address, phone number, e-mail address and date of birth. Rather than heading the page ‘Curriculum Vitae’, which does not really need saying, simply use your name.
  • personal profile – this section is optional. It is basically a very brief summary of your skills, experience and achievements. If you choose to include this, keep it to just a few lines – you can highlight examples of your skills in later sections.
  • qualifications and education – keep this relevant. Do not put down your 100 metres swimming certificate unless this is required for the job!
  • work history – this can include for example work experience, paper-rounds, Saturday jobs, and voluntary work. Start with your most recent experience and work backwards. List your major responsibilities and achievements for each job.
  • leisure interests and other activities – only include these if they are relevant to the job. Do not make things up here as you may well be questioned on them, particularly if the interviewer shares those interests.
  • references – these are the names and contact details of two people outside your family who know you well. You may choose to ask a teacher/lecturer or previous employer. It is not essential to include these, but it may be useful if you have enough space. Otherwise, just write ‘available on request.

The functional CV

The functional CV is a useful format if you have little or no employment experience because it gives you the scope to emphasise strengths, achievements and skills gained elsewhere.

The structure of a functional CV is usually as follows:

  • personal details
  • details of skills, abilities and achievements under relevant headings
  • work history – just dates, company and position held
  • education
  • other relevant information

(If your educational qualifications are good, you may want to place these before the skills section)

The targeted CV

This is similar to the functional CV in that the emphasis is on skills and achievements. However, with the targeted CV, these are listed under headings which relate to the job or field of work you are applying for. For instance, if you are targeting a job in retail, you might list skills and achievements under headings relating to customer service skills, numeracy/cash handling, computer skills and so on.

If you choose this type of CV, make sure you are absolutely clear about the specific requirements of the job.

Further information

Useful books

  • The Right Way to Write Your Own CV, J. Clarke (2001)
  • How to Write a CV That Works: A Concise, Thorough and Comprehensive Guide to Writing an Effective Resume, P. McGee (2006)
  • How to Write a Great CV: Discover What Interviewers are Looking for, Focus on Your Strengths and Perfect Your Presentation, P.McGee (2006)
  • How to Write a Winning CV: A New Way to Succeed, A. Jones (2001)

Useful websites