Having a perfectly honed and well-written CV is a vital first step in getting that lucrative job offer.
If you aren’t sure how to write a CV or have not been actively job searching for some time, our ultimate guide to CV writing will answer all your questions. With only 2% of CVs making it past the first round, it is more important than ever to be up to date with the latest tips and tricks. This how to write a CV guide outlines the most important building blocks for creating a job-winning, attention-grabbing CV.
Stephen Covey coined the phrase ‘Begin with the end in mind’. Before you start writing your CV, it is important to spend some time to consider what are you trying to achieve with your CV. The answer is more simple than you might have originally envisaged – get you to the next stage in the hiring process – an interview. In fact we recommend you think of your CV as a sales brochure – a summary of your experience, skills and education – written to convince employers that you are the best choice for their vacancy or as a minimum, merit enough consideration to be called for interview.
Think of your CV as a sales brochure, not the story of your life. Overlay that with the fact that according to a study done by TheLadders, recruiters spend an average of 6 seconds glancing at a CV before moving on to another one.
How to Write a CV
The best CVs are concise and contain nothing but information that will get you an interview. Make sure your CV is well laid out, with clear headings, easy-to-read font and is free from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. CVs sent to employers with basic spelling and/or grammatical errors are almost always a cause for immediate rejection. Meticulous proofreading will immediately increase your chances of being called in for an interview!
Keep it clear, concise and relevant – ideally 2 pages. However, individuals with little experience or education may find that a single page is sufficient for entry-level jobs. On the flip side, a manager with decades of experience could conceivably write a CV that’s three pages long.
Share your CV with a trusted friend or family member for them to read & critique.
Read your CV out loud, check that it ‘sounds’ right or ‘speaks’ to you! Make sure your CV tells a story, shows you as a human being and hits all the important professional highlights.
Print it out, reading something on paper is better than skimming text on a screen.
Sleep on it. While always tempting to send off that application immediately, taking a break and considering it with a fresh mindset almost always pays dividends.
PDF the final version of your CV to avoid potential software readability issues.
PDF has the major advantage of clear universal formatting. The format doesn’t change regardless of where you view it, increasing its readability by most software systems. There are a number of online CV builders available, that can produce clean, concise and visually striking resumes in PDF format. Many organisations have adopted the use of Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS for short to help with the hiring process. With the amount of applications and potential employees coming in each month, employers are using automated systems to help with hiring. The task of an ATS is to analyze, filter (and sometimes score) your CV based on keywords defined by the potential employer, hiring manager or job-specific system parameters.
Use the services of an online CV builder to produce a technically functional visually striking CV.
Web and/or software solutions are specifically made for visually striking, technically functional and content-optimized CVs. By using a service/platform that is designed specifically for CVs, you can save time and avoid hidden problems. Different platforms have different pricing models, but most offer a very affordable trial, allowing you to create several different CVs – just be sure to cancel your subscription if you no longer require the service.
Don’t underestimate the ‘look’ of your CV to grab the recruiters eye during the short window that it will invariably receive.
The straightforward and linear structure of The Reverse Chronological Format CV takes advantage of the critical 6 seconds eye time of the recruiter by presenting your most recent and relevant positions first.
This format displays your professional experience and past work experience from most recent to oldest. It is not only the most common one, but also the most widely accepted among various employers and industries. The biggest benefit of a reverse chronological CV is its straightforward, easy to understand and linear structure.
Include the most important sections that showcase your professional experience and are likely to impress your employer.
What Sections to Include
Necessary sections always include:
- Contact information and basic personal information
- Summary (Personal statement or Objective)
- Employment history
Optional sections can include:
- Achievements and milestones
- Awards, certificates and organizations
- Hobbies and interests
(See Appendix I for detailed information to include in each section)
Do not include your social media profiles if they contain party pictures. Limit to your Linkedin profile or other work related portfolio profiles (github).
It is no longer necessary to include your date of birth or marital status!
Customise your personal profile part of your CV for each individual application – your personal profile is your best chance to add some colour, life and personality to your cv. It demonstrates your determination, positive outlook and brings some emotion to dry facts.
Try to avoid common clichés such as team player, dependable, committed, etc
State the level of your qualifications (e.g. Diploma, Degree, Masters) – many organisations have minimum requirements for certain roles.
Include professional memberships and any other relevant training.
In our era of accessible information and technology, your education listing should include online certificates, professional diplomas, bootcamps, & specialized seminars.
Ensure that all of the most important information is listed first and filter out anything that is not relevant.
Tailor your CV to the job you are applying to, matching your own experience as best you can to the experience and skills required. Always read the job description from start to finish and highlight keywords. Try to find out the aspects of the job you can satisfy and those you can’t.
While you don’t need to be a 100% perfect fit in order to have a good chance of getting an interview for the role. The person reading your CV wants to know if you can do the job and if you are a good fit for the company’s corporate culture. Remember, hiring managers tend to ‘skim’ the content and have to read a host of applications, they are focussed on experience and keywords within your CV that are relevant to the role that they are trying to fill.
Include any charity or volunteer work, employers like to see candidates that are willing to ‘give back’.
Contact information and basic personal information
This should include Name, Address, Phone Numbers, Email Address.
Summary (Personal statement or Objective)
A brief introductory paragraph to highlight your suitability to the position, your relevant soft skills and where your previous experience matches the current requirements.
Education & Professional Qualifications
Your education should showcase your most recent and impressive academic achievements first. While the education section is one of the most important sections in your CV, with many employers insisting on minimum qualifications for roles, it varies in importance depending on your profession and industry. Professions like lawyers, doctors and hard-sciences positions (chemist, biologist etc.) will have a very strong emphasis on formal education. You may even want to include scientific or similar publications in your CV for some of these (in your Education section or in a separate category). Other professions like IT or Web based roles, there may be a greater emphasis on up-to-date skills like online certificates, bootcamps, specialized seminars or courses and so on, with the industry changing so fast.
Work experience: professional experience
This is not only the place where you list your most impressive past employment, but you may also elaborate on each position by giving important facts, achievements and figures that describe you as a great professional. It’s not necessary to include your entire employment history . Tailor your job mentions so that you impress your future employer with the most relevant work experiences for this specific job ad. This also keeps your CV short, clean and concise.
Each position should be outlined in the following approximate format:
- Outline in detail your work history beginning with the most recent.
- Use bold font to highlight company name, the position you held, and dates of employment.
- Use bullet points to list responsibilities and achievements.
- Remember to include your start and finish dates
- Explain any ‘gaps’ in employment (e.g. Return to full-time education or Travelling).
Focus on key achievements because achievements tell the recruiter not just what you have done but how well you have done it. Use action verbs in the past tense such as led, managed, increased, reduced, etc.
Use quantified achievements e.g. 1) Achieved 110% of sales target in my first year. 2) Awarded ‘Student of the Year’ in 3rd-year Mechanical Engineering degree programme. 3) The only member of the team to be awarded for outstanding customer service levels in each quarter of 2021.
Hobbies & Interests
Outline what you like to do in your spare time – many organisations like to see a healthy work-life balance and often your leisure interests say a lot about the type of person you are. They may also reflect the qualities relevant to the role you are applying for.
Should your CV include references?
While references were once considered a mandatory section within a CV, in today’s hiring world the section is considered optional.
If the job description requests references on a CV, they must be included, but if references are not requested it doesn’t mean that they may not contribute to your application.
We would recommend including references if your references are industry leaders / high profile and display your breadth of business development contacts.
Once again assuming the job description has not asked for references you are probably best not to include them if you are new to the field or haven’t managed to ask permission from your referees. In this case you are best off just adding ‘references available upon request’.