A modern CV should be no longer than two or three pages, aimed at selling yourself to the recruiter in less than 30 seconds.
Remember, they are busy people, inundated with CVs, and your CV should be no more than an advertisement of your key skills and experience.
"The CV is used as a process of elimination. It should cover one or two pages, as any more can be quite off-putting to have to look through. Even people with a lot of experience should try to put all the relevant information on one page," says Catherine Fleming from Career Psychology Ltd.
Before you begin, you need to have a clear idea of what you are aiming for. It may have been several years since you last wrote out your CV, so make a few notes about your strengths and weaknesses, areas you excelled in during your current or previous position, your ideal working environment, your mid- to long term professional goals etc.
Recruiters will be looking at your CV to find out whether you have the right skills and quantifiable experience, suitable interpersonal and communication skills, the ability to flourish in the company's environment and the competence and confidence to adapt to the job. These are the attributes you need to put across when writing your CV.
There are two types of CV format and you should use the one that suits you best:
- Chronological CVs are more traditional, they list previous employers and job roles in detail, and are suited to professionals who have a formal history of experience.
- Functional or skills CVs: are better suited to contractors, graduates, people who have moved around a lot, or taken time out to pursue charity work or similar activities. They are also useful when making a complete career change. These types of CVs are more descriptive and focus more on skills and direct experience.
Attention to layout and economical use of space has a big impact on the weary eye of a recruiter. The traditional CV style wasted an enormous amount of space and included unnecessary information.
Use a letter head style to include your name and basic contact details. Leave out date of birth, marital status, National Insurance number, driving licence and nationality details etc. These particulars can be included, if necessary in a brief personal summary at the end of the CV.
THE SUMMARY PAGE
The summary page should make an immediate impact on the recruiter, and it gives you a chance to show off your personality and personal attributes. It comprises the following, in the order that they should appear on the page:
A descriptive profile of your professional designation (e.g. a chartered accountant or web designer), backed up by key features of your professional self, including your immediate ambitions. Ideally this should be punchy, precise and no more than three (15-word) sentences.
Key skills listed as bullet points. Eight points is sufficient. Make sure they're relevant to the particular position and concisely written. This will include your formal training and workplace acumen (e.g. proven skilful negotiator). Make sure you quantify your results (e.g. increased turnover by 40 per cent), and be careful of meaningless phrases (e.g. good team player). Try to avoid single words spilling over on to a new line as this wastes space.
Achievements should be presented in the same manner as skills, although about three significant achievements are enough.
Recent job experience which would be basic details of your most recent, or most important, role so far. Include your job title, name of the company and date of commencement. This should be followed by a two-sentence description of the role and about six bullet points with your key responsibilities, tasks and achievements in the role.
This should full up the first page. If you've done a good job, the recruiter will be reaching for the phone to call you in for an interview before even reading the second page.
Secondary work experience and qualifications can appear on the second page. If you have a long, important, career history then you can indulge yourself in a third page.
Details of jobs held more than 10 years ago, minute details of more recent jobs, reasons for leaving a previous job, current and past salaries and details of referees can be left out entirely.
Remember that less is more, avoid squeezing too much onto the page, use white space to effect and choose a font that is easy to read.
Carefully selected adverbs and adjectives can turn a dull CV into an articulate masterpiece. It says something for your professionalism and communication skills. Make use of our list of power words.
Avoid jargon, clearly state what you were accountable for and quantify or back up your claims. Including insignificant detail and non-relevant experience is a dead give-away.
Don't worry if your CV has a few 'holes' in it from a year abroad or a study sabbatical. Today's recruiters are very understanding providing you have a good explanation to back yourself up in the interview.
At the end of your CV you can include a brief personal profile, a descriptive piece that details any non work-specific attributes and activities such president of your local Rotary club, public speaking, hobbies, volunteer work etc.
Recruiters like to see the 'human' aspect of a candidate and often you can make a further impact by mentioning commendable attributes of your character.
Each time you apply for a job your CV should be customised to suit that position. By looking at our examples of CVs you can see how clear and simple layout contributes to the appeal of a CV. You can begin by downloading a chronological or skills-based CV.
For more details visit our CV wizard.
Checking your CV is possibly the most important part of the entire process. A small error, or misleading information, can seriously undermine all your effort. At a professional level, grammar, spelling and punctuation should all be impeccable.
- Is it easy on the eye?
- Is the appearance consistent and suitable for the specific role (i.e. formal presentation for accountants, 'bells and whistles' for a designer)?
- Have you checked the grammar, punctuation and spelling?
- Are the names of all proper nouns correct and capped up?
- Are all the details you've given on this particular CV relevant to this application?
- Is it concise, punchy and informative, using power words?
- Are your examples specific and quantifiable?
- Is there too much detail?
- Is the personal summary meaningful? If not, leave it out.
Try to print out individual copies of your CV rather than sending out photocopies. It may suggest that you are desperately sending your CV out to anyone you can.
It's perfectly acceptable to email your CV, but send it as a Word document (preferably in Word '95 format). For more details visit our section on checking a CV.
Writing a good covering letter is equally important, as without it your CV may not even get read. Keep it formal and concise and address it to a named individual. The covering letter should comprise three paragraphs as follows:
An opening paragraph introducing yourself and your job title (possibly mentioning a unique skill applicable to the role), and a reference to the job advertised.
A main paragraph outlining why you think you would be suitable for the role, the benefits you can bring to the prospective employee and a few firm attributes which make you an ideal candidate.
A closing paragraph with contact details and a firm commitment to follow through on the application within a specified time limit.
For more details visit our section on writing a covering letter.
And finally, remember that your CV is a direct reflection of your professionalism and should be well written and free of mistakes. By keeping it brief, you have shown the recruiter that you have forethought and an understanding of priorities.
A good CV should contain:
- An attention grabbing summary page
- A clear, uncluttered layout
- Active and precise description
- Job specific information
- Articulate, concise language
- No mistakes
- No more than three pages
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