Ultimate CV guide

Creating a CV doesn't have to be the arduous task people make it out to be. After all, what's better than consolidating all of your achievements into one impressive document? Let us take you through exactly how to do it.

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What your CV should contain

Look, it would be wrong for us to definitively list exactly what your CV should have. Each person has a different life story. We can’t assume you’ve been to university. We can’t assume you’ve had clear-cut work experience relevant to the industry you want to apply for. However, in terms of structure, there are a few classic sections you might want to think about including.

Personal Statement / Brief Summary

This is where you sum up, in the briefest way possible, your job-seeking intentions. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. If you think about it as your Twitter or Instagram bio, there are a lot of creative ways to turn a short summary into a statement with impact.

The first line of a book is the one that gets you hooked – so you have to get it right on your CV, too.

One thing to keep in mind is the placement of your personal statement. As it will likely be at the top of your CV, it’s basically a make or break moment for your CV’s ‘noticeability’ factor. You may have heard rumours about recruiters skimming applications for less than ten seconds – though good recruiters will obviously spend more time, there’s an element of truth to that.

In the Western world, we read from the top, downwards, and from left to right. The first line of a book is the one that gets you hooked – so you have to get it right.

Your CV will be full of bullet points. Trim your personal statement down to a maximum of two, flowing sentences.
Try dividing your personal statement into two parts: who you are, and who you want to be. For example, ‘content marketer with 3+ years experience seeking a varied and fast-paced content editing role in the recruitment industry’.
Be as specific as possible. As you are creating a new version of your CV for each role, this section should be the one you tailor the most to the role you’re applying for.
Avoid buzzwords. It is so tempting to describe yourself as ‘passionate’ or ‘innovative’ but really, in two short sentences you can’t prove your passion. Keep it to the facts. You don’t want to cause recruiter eye-rolls this early in the game.

Work Experience and Employment History

Cue a big, resounding, ‘duuuuuuuuuh’ – because of course your potential employer would want to take a gander at your previous work experience. This will give them the best indication of whether you’d be equipped with the skills for the new position.

But wait a minute… If this is your first job, wouldn’t this cause a chicken-and-egg scenario that will end up in unemployment and tears? If you don’t have any kind of traditional work experience, don’t panic just yet. We’ve written a guide to writing a CV with no work experience, so read that before you continue on your CV journey.

This section is also the best place to highlight specific examples that will reaffirm you as the perfect person for the job. Make sure you look through the job description of the role you’re applying to. Pick apart the person specification, and respond to those points in this section. If they are looking for someone with great presentation skills, talk about a time where you applied these skills to a tangible result. Always back-up your examples with either numbers, or a result. If you managed to improve ticket sales for an event by 50% from the previous year, write it down! This will give your potential employers a clearer picture of your ability.

Remember, keep it relevant. If you are making a lateral career move (changing industries, for example), pull out examples from your work history that are skill-based. If you have engineering work experience but are moving into product design, think about the soft skills both industries require. Organisation, attention to detail and creativity are necessary for both industries, so pull out examples from your previous experience to reflect that.

Education History

Some employers, like EY, have eschewed education requirements altogether in favour of a more holistic form of recruiting. This is a fantastic step forward – as not everyone will choose to go to university. Apprenticeships are on the rise, and more and more young people are going down alternative career paths. However, this change is happening slowly. Many companies will still aim to look for candidates with a strong academic background.

So, until a major shift occurs in the recruitment industry, a good university degree, strong A Levels (or equivalent) and a Maths and English GCSE minimum will probably still be in vogue. One day, pals, one day it’ll be different.

Having said that, you could definitely use this section to your advantage. Have any awards? Did particularly well in a university module and want to highlight it? Pull out the best out of your education experience to furnish this section. Especially if you’re applying for your first job – you’ll be especially reliant on your education if this is the case.

Contact Details and References

This may seem obvious, but make sure you’ve got a clear call-to-action encouraging recruiters or potential employers to get in touch with you. A simple ‘I can be reached by [method]’ will suffice. Usually it’s an email address and a phone number you’d be comfortable to give out.

As for references, you may have seen ‘available on request’ on some CVs. This is of course, acceptable, but it would be even better if you have two or three to hand. Contact the people you’ll be using in advance to let them know you’ll be using them as references. No one likes to be caught by surprise, as sometimes having to refer someone is a long process. Don’t share their contact details without consent. Instead, their name and current job title would be sufficient.

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CV do’s and don’ts

Celebrate your skills and experience in the right way, and make sure your carefully crafted CV doesn’t end up in a recruiter’s Recycle Bin.

CVs vary greatly from person to person. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some golden rules to remember and follow. Celebrate your skills and experience in the right way, and make sure your carefully crafted CV doesn’t end up in a recruiter’s Recycle Bin.

Do create a master CV so you can chop and change that one file to fit different jobs

There is no need to re-invent the wheel every time you craft a new job application. Set a date in your diary for one weekend, and sit down to write your master CV. Remember when we said CVs should be tailored to each job role? Instead of re-writing your CV, you could write a version of your CV filled with every single bit of experience you have.

Of course, for your CV to be properly tailored you’ll have to make sure it is as relevant as possible. But we reckon it’ll still save you tons of time during your job search.

Don’t use an unprofessional email address as your point of contact

For the love of jobs, don’t use i_am_batman1996@yahoo.co.uk. In fact, the email address you use should be as close to your first name and your last name as possible.

Also, something to keep in mind is the email provider you use. Gmail or a Live Outlook address will reflect well. Why? Because they look modern and up-to-date. Yahoo, AOL or even BT Internet might look slightly old-fashioned.

Do make sure you create a new version of your CV for each role you apply to

Each time you apply for a new role, make a new copy of your master CV and save it under the company’s name. A format we like to go for is [Name]_CV__[Company] for example. Then instead of adding loads of bits, you can save time by just editing your master CV down. Genius.

Don’t go over two pages for your CV

Ain’t nobody got time for more than two pages. Especially if you’re applying for an entry-level position. If you were hiring for a C-Suite level position (as in Chief Executive Officer etc.) your CV is allowed to go over that limit. But not for a graduate scheme.

Let’s break it down. A recruiter will probably only shortlist two to three candidates for a single senior level position. This will give them the capacity to take a deep dive into their years of experience, and they’ll probably spend a lot of time on each candidate.

But for a graduate scheme? We’re talking World War Z wall of zombies level competition. Thousands will apply, leaving very little time for a recruiter to spend on each one. Keep it short, impactful and sweet, and you’ll have a winner.

Do think hard about the layout and design

When we say ‘design’ we don’t mean slapping some Microsoft WordArt on your CV and calling it a day. Like we mentioned earlier, think about the way someone might read your CV. In fact, if your mates are up for it, do a CV swap. Think about where your eyes are drawn to, and why.

There is a good argument for using creative CVs for certain positions. However, if you’re 1) not a natural-born artist and 2) the job you’re applying for is something like engineering, don’t go too crazy. Simple coloured accents like coloured bold text will go a long way. The most important thing is that it’s clear and easy to read, and looks good in black and white and colour (just in case recruiters want to print your CV out).

Don’t include irrelevant hobbies and interests

Nobody needs to know about your hang-gliding expertise if you’re applying for an entry-level account management role…

Nobody needs to know about your hang-gliding expertise if you’re applying for an entry-level account management role. Hobbies and interests make you interesting, but perhaps save it for the interview. Instead, bulk up your CV with the purely professional. Hobbies might be the space-waster that will cost you an opportunity.

Do proofread your CV before you send it out

Because there is nothing more damning than having grammatical mistakes in your CV. It shows a lack of care, and will be a huge red flag for your potential employer.

A second pair of eyes will do wonders. Having a third party observer pick apart your application will help you highlight mistakes you may have missed, or things you should include.

Don’t describe yourself in a self-deprecating manner

It’s tempting to say, “I may have a lack of experience in this area,” but we couldn’t advise against this more. Negative language indicates a lack of confidence. Showing any kind of self-doubt at this point might convince a recruiter you might not be ready for the job you’re applying for.

Do save it in a compatible format

Either save your CV in a printer-friendly PDF, or in a Microsoft Word document. Anything else might risk a compatibility failure on the recruiter’s computer. Imagine, if a recruiter wanted to open your amazing CV but couldn’t because they didn’t have the software.

If you’re saving your CV on Microsoft Word, make sure you’re using a common font, such as Helvetica or Times New Roman. If you’re using a font you’ve installed yourself, the recruiter might not have the same font and your CV won’t look exactly as you’ve designed it.

Don’t include a photo of yourself

Different countries have different requirements, but in the United Kingdom, including a photo isn’t the norm. Just don’t do it.

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Download our professional-looking CV template

Maybe you’re lacking inspiration, or perhaps all of this advice has overwhelmed you and now you’ve got brain freeze. Don’t fret – we’ve come up with a downloadable CV template you can customise to your needs. Don’t say we don’t take care of you now.

Download CV template (PDF)

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