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.
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.