Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to write a successful CV

Threatening Man with CV
  • What is a C.V.?
  • When should a CV be used?
  • What information should a CV include?
  • What makes a good CV?
  • How long should a CV be?
  • Tips on presentation
  • Fonts
  • Different Types of CV
  • Targeting your CV
  • Emailed CVs and Web CVs
  • Media CVs
  • Academic CVs
  • Example CVs and Covering Letters
  • Further Help

What is a CV?

Curriculum Vitae: an outline of a person's educational and professional history, usually prepared for job applications (L, lit.: the course of one's life). Another name for a CV is a résumé.
A CV is the most flexible and convenient way to make applications. It conveys your personal details in the way that presents you in the best possible light. A CV is a marketing document in which you are marketing something: yourself! You need to "sell" your skills, abilities, qualifications and experience to employers. It can be used to make multiple applications to employers in a specific career area. For this reason, many large graduate recruiters will not accept CVs and instead use their own application form.
Often selectors read CVs outside working hours. They may have a pile of 50 CVs from which to select five interviewees. It's evening and they would rather be in the pub with friends. If your CV is hard work to read: unclear, badly laid out and containing irrelevant information, they will just just move on to the next CV.
Treat the selector like a child eating a meal. Chop your CV up into easily digestible morsels (bullets, short paragraphs and note form) and give it a clear logical layout, with just the relevant information to make it easy for the selector to read. If you do this, you will have a much greater chance of interview.
An application form is designed to bring out the essential information and personal qualities that the employer requires and does not allow you to gloss over your weaker points as a CV does. In addition, the time needed to fill out these forms is seen as a reflection of your commitment to the career.
There is no "one best way" to construct a CV; it is your document and can be structured as you wish within the basic framework below. It can be on paper or on-line or even on a T-shirt (a gimmicky approach that might work for "creative" jobs but not generally advised!).

When should a CV be used?

  • When an employer asks for applications to be received in this format
  • When an employer simply states "apply to ..." without specifying the format
  • When making speculative applications (when writing to an employer who has not advertised a vacancy but who you hope my have one)

What information should a CV include?

Personal details

Normally these would be your name, address, date of birth (although with age discrimination laws now in force this isn't essential), telephone number and email.

Education and qualifications

Some employers may spend as little as 45 seconds skimming a résumé before branding it “not of interest”, “maybe” or “of interest.
BI Business School
Your degree subject and university, plus A levels and GCSEs or equivalents. Mention grades unless poor!

Work experience

  • Use action words such as developed, planned and organised.
  • Even work in a shop, bar or restaurant will involve working in a team, providing a quality service to customers, and dealing tactfully with complaints. Don't mention the routine, non-people tasks (cleaning the tables) unless you are applying for a casual summer job in a restaurant or similar.
  • Try to relate the skills to the job. A finance job will involve numeracy, analytical and problem solving skills so focus on these whereas for a marketing role you would place a bit more more emphasis on persuading and negotiating skills.
  • "All of my work experiences have involved working within a team-based culture. This involved planning, organisation, co-ordination and commitment e.g., in retail, this ensured daily sales targets were met, a fair distribution of tasks and effective communication amongst all staff members."

Interests and achievements

Writing about your interests

Reading, cinema, stamp-collecting, embroidery
Suggests a solitary individual who doesn't get on with other people. This may not be true, but selectors will interpret the evidence they see before them.
Reading, cinema, travel, socialising with friends.
A little better. At least a suggestion that they can get on with other people.
Cinema: member of the University Film-Making Society
Travel: travelled through Europe by train this summer in a group of four people, visiting historic sites and practising my French and Italian
Reading: helped younger pupils with reading difficulties at school.
This could be the same individual as in the first example, but the impression is completely the opposite: an outgoing proactive individual who help others.
  • Keep this section short and to the point. As you grow older, your employment record will take precedence and interests will typically diminish greatly in length and importance.
  • Bullets can be used to separate interests into different types: sporting, creative etc.
  • Don't use the old boring cliches here: "socialising with friends".
  • Don't put many passive, solitary hobbies (reading, watching TV, stamp collecting) or you may be perceived as lacking people skills. If you do put these, than say what you read or watch: "I particularly enjoy Dickens, for the vivid insights you get into life in Victorian times".
  • Show a range of interests to avoid coming across as narrow : if everything centres around sport they may wonder if you could hold a conversation with a client who wasn't interested in sport.
  • Hobbies that are a little out of the ordinary can help you to stand out from the crowd: skydiving or mountaineering can show a sense of wanting to stretch yourself and an ability to rely on yourself in demanding situations
  • Any interests relevant to the job are worth mentioning: current affairs if you wish to be a journalist; a fantasy share portfolio such as Bullbearings if you want to work in finance.
  • Any evidence of leadership is important to mention: captain or coach of a sports team, course representative, chair of a student society, scout leader: "As captain of the school cricket team, I had to set a positive example, motivate and coach players and think on my feet when making bowling and field position changes, often in tense situations"
  • Anything showing evidence of employability skills such as teamworking, organising, planning, persuading, negotiating etc.


  • The usual ones to mention are languages (good conversational French, basic Spanish),computing (e.g. "good working knowledge of MS Access and Excel, plus basic web page design skills" and driving ("full current clean driving licence").
  • If you are a mature candidate or have lots of relevant skills to offer, a skills-based CV may work for you


  • Normally two referees are sufficient: one academic (perhaps your tutor or a project supervisor) and one from an employer (perhaps your last part-time or summer job). See our page on Choosing and Using Referees for more help with this.

The order and the emphasis will depend on what you are applying for and what you have to offer. For example, the example media CV lists the candidate's relevant work experience first.
If you are applying for more than one type of work, you should have a different CV tailored to each career area, highlighting different aspects of your skills and experience.
personal profile at the start of the CV can work for jobs in competitive industries such as the media or advertising, to help you to stand out from the crowd. If used, it needs to be original and well written. Don’t just use the usual hackneyed expressions: “I am an excellent communicator who works well in a team…… “
You will also need a Covering Letter to accompany your CV.

What makes a good CV?

There is no single "correct" way to write and present a CV but the following general rules apply:

  • It is targeted on the specific job or career area for which you are applying and brings out the relevant skills you have to offer
  • It is carefully and clearly laid out: logically ordered, easy to read and not cramped
  • It is informative but concise
  • It is accurate in content, spelling and grammar. If you mention attention to detail as a skill, make sure your spelling and grammar is perfect!

If your CV is written backwards on pink polkadot paper and it gets you regular interviews, it's a good CV! The bottom line is that if it's producing results don't change it too much but if it's not, keep changing it until it does.CV
If it's not working, ask people to look at it and suggest changes. Having said this, if you use the example CVs in these pages as a starting point, you are unlikely to go far wrong.

How long should a CV be?

There are no absolute rules but, in general, a new graduate's CV should cover no more than two sides of A4 paper.
If you can summarise your career history comfortably on a single side, this is fine and has advantages when you are making speculative applications and need to put yourself across concisely. However, you should not leave out important items, or crowd your text too closely together in order to fit it onto that single side. Academic and technical CVs may be much longer: up to 4 or 5 sides.

Tips on presentation

  • Your CV should be carefully and clearly laid out - not too cramped but not with large empty spaces either. Use bold and italic typefaces for headings and important information
  • Never back a CV - each page should be on a separate sheet of paper. It's a good idea to put your name in the footer area so that it appears on each sheet.
  • Be concise - a CV is an appetiser and should not give the reader indigestion. Don't feel that you have to list every exam you have ever taken, or every activity you have ever been involved in - consider which are the most relevant and/or impressive.
  • Be positive - put yourself over confidently and highlight your strong points. For example, when listing your A-levels, put your highest grade first.

    Choose a sensible email address!

    Here are some (slightly changed) graduate email addresses:
  • Be honest: although a CV does allow you to omit details (such as exam resits) which you would prefer the employer not to know about, you should never give inaccurate or misleading information. CVs are not legal documents and you can't be held liable for anything within, but if a recruiter picks up a suggestion of falsehoods you will be rapidly rejected. An application formwhich you have signed to confirm that the contents are true is however a legal document and forms part of your contract of employment if you are recruited.
  • The sweet spot of a CV is the area selectors tend to pay most attention to: this is typically around the upper middle of the first page, so make sure that this area contains essential information.
  • If you are posting your CV, don't fold it - put it in a full-size A4 envelope so that it doesn't arrive creased.

Research by forum3 (recruitment and volunteering for the not-for-profit sector) suggested:

  • Graduates sent out 25 letters per interview gained.
  • The average graduate will send out about 70 CVs when looking for their first graduate job. Of these, the average number of responses will be 7 including 3 to 4 polite rejections and the remainder inviting the graduate to interview or further contact.
  • There was a direct link between the number of CVs sent out and the number of interviews gained: the more CVs you send out the more interviews you will get.
  • Applicants who included a covering letter with their CV were 10% more likely to get a reply.
  • 60% of CVs are mailed to the wrong person: usually the managing director. Applicants who addressed their application to the correct named person were 15% more likely to get a letter of acknowledgement and 5% more likely to get an interview
    “To say things like ‘I get on well with people’ is meaningless unless it is backed up by example”
    Selector for a retail bank
  • Applicants sending CVs and letters without spelling mistakes are 61% more likely to get a reply and 26% more likely to get an interview. "In the age of the spell checker, there is no excuse for spelling mistakes". The most common mistakes to not show up in a spell check were: fro instead of for, grate instead of great, liased instead of liaised and stationary instead of stationery.
  • Set your spell checker to UK English (assuming you are British) or you will get center
    instead of centre, and color instead of colour.
  • Other turn-offs include:
    • misspelling the name of the company or the addressee,
    • not having a reply address on the CV
    • trying to be amusing.
    • Using lower case i for the personal pronoun: "i have excellent attention to detail"

Why you need to use a spell checker

  • I would like a job in the servillian police
  • I am applying for a mini-pupiledge
  • i am a prefectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.
  • Proven ability to track down and correct erors.
  • I have good writen comunication skills.
  • Lurnt Word Perfect computor and spreadsheet pogroms.
  • Develop an annual operating expense fudget.
  • Good custermer service skills.
  • In my 3rd year of BA houners English.

And why you must read it carefully as well

  • I was a prefect and pier mentor
  • I would like to do a law conversion cause
  • Extra Circular Activities
  • But I was not aloud to be captain
  • At secondary school I was a prefix
  • In my spare time I enjoy hiding my horse
  • I hope to hear from you shorty
  • I have a desire to work with commuters
  • Dear Madman (instead of Madam)
  • My hobbits include - instead of 'hobbies'
  • I am sicking and entry-level position
  • I have a friendly manor
  • Oversight of an entire department
  • Restaurant skills: Severing customers
  • In charge of sock control - instead of 'stock control'
  • I’m an accurate and rabid typist
  • Over summer I worked for an examinations bored.
  • Abilty to meet deadlines while maintaining my composer
  • Cleaning bathrooms and hovering hallways.
  • Have made speech's at Open Days
  • I can make models using a verity of different materials
  • Instrumental in ruining an entire operation for a chain operator
  • I was an administrator in a busty office.
  • Suspected to graduate early next year
  • For a PR job: I have a long term interest in pubic relations
  • I want experience in a big sex practice
  • Vox pox for BBC Radio, which enhanced my ability to analyse and synthesise information
  • A ' full shit system’ instead of ‘a full shift system’
  • Enthusiasm was needed in order to communicate information in an interesting manor.
  • I own and maintain a volts wagon beetle.
  • As indicted, I have over 5 years of analysing investments.
  • On an application to work with teenagers – I am experienced in teaching marital arts
  • Relevant work experience’: followed by ‘Irrelevant work experience’
  • My role included typing in details of accounts, customer liaison and money-laundering duties.

Thesaurusitis (using the wrong synonym!)

  • I demand a salary commiserate with my extensive experience
  • I am a strenuous student.
  • Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave
  • i am a conscious individual with good attention to detail (Kent graduate)
  • Received a plague for salesman of the year.
  • I was formally in a music group in which I performed in three conservative years.
  • I have a degree in orgasmic chemistry.


Unnecessary use of complex words or hard to read fonts gives a bad impression: people who use simple, clear language are rated as more intelligent.
  • TIMES NEW ROMAN is the standard windows "serif" font. A safe bet - law firms seem to like it! 
    A more interesting serif font might be GEORGIA.
  • ARIAL is the standard windows "sans" font. 
    Sans fonts don't have the curly bits on letters. As you can see they're cleaner and more modern than Times orGeorgia and also looks larger in the same "point" size (the point size is simply how big the letters are on the page.) However Arial and Times Roman are so common that they're a little boring to the eye.
  • A more classy choice might be VERDANA which has wider letters than most fonts.
    or GENEVA - these are both common sans fonts.
     Don't use Comic Sans!
  • FONT SIZE is normally 12 points for the normal font with larger sizes for subheadings and headings.
  • or 10 points. My favourite CV body text font is 10 point Verdana or Lucida Sans with 12 or 14 points for sub headings.
  • 14 points is too big for the normal body font - wastes space and looks crude.
  • and 8 or 9 points too small to be easily readable by everyone, especially in Times New Roman which should not be used in sizes less than 11 points
  • Although many people use 12 points, some research on this suggested that smaller point size CVs (within reason) were perceived as more intellectual!
    The Recruitment and Employment Commission says that about half of all CVs received by recruitment consultants contain spelling or grammatical errors.
    Candidates aged between 21 and 25 are most likely to make these mistakes and graduates in this age group are twice as likely to make mistakes as those who did not go on to university. See
  • Most CVs are now read on screen rather than on paper. It's no coincidence that Serif fonts are rarely used on the web - they are much less readable on screen (Times Roman was first used on Trajan's column, 2,000 years ago!), and some fonts, such as Verdana, were designed with screen readability in mind. This web site is set in Verdana which, as you can see, is clear and easy to read.
  • If you find fonts interesting see this BBC article and this "Periodic Table" of Typefaces

Different Types of CV

  • Chronological - outlining your career history in date order, normally beginning with the most recent items (reverse chronological) . This is the "conventional" approach and the easiest to prepare. It is detailed, comprehensive and biographical and usually works well for "traditional" students with a good all-round mixture of education and work experience. Mature students, however, may not benefit from this approach, which does emphasise your age, any career breaks and work experience which has little surface relevance to the posts you are applying for now. See an example chronological CV here
  • Skills-based: highly-focused CVs which relate your skills and abilities to a specific job or career area by highlighting Application form spellingthese skills and your major achievements.The factual, chronological details of your education and work history are subordinate. These work well for mature graduates and for anybody whose degree subject and work experience is not directly relevant to their application. Skills-based CVs should be closely targeted to a specific job. See an example skills-based CV here

If you are applying for posts outside the UK, remember that employers in other countries are likely to have different expectations of what a CV should include and how it should be laid out. The "Global Resume and CV Handbook" (available from Reception) and the Prospects website will help you prepare CVs for overseas employment. See our work abroad page.

Targeting your CV

If your CV is to be sent to an individual employer which has requested applications in this format, you should research the organisation and the position carefully.
If your CV is to be used for speculative applications, it is still important to target it - at the very least, on the general career area in which you want to work. Use the Careers Information Room or general careers websites such as to get an idea of what the work involves and what skills and personal qualities are needed to do it successfully. This will enable you to tailor the CV to the work and to bring out your own relevant experience.
Even if you are using the same CV for a number of employers, you should personalise the covering letter - e.g. by putting in a paragraph on why you want to work for that organisation.
For example CVs, application forms and covering letters see with notes highlighting points relating to the content and style.

Emailed CVs and Web CVs

How NOT to do it

One graduate had emailed out over 80 CVs without getting a single reply and was puzzled as to why.
I asked him to show me what he had sent out. He had sent identical CVs and letters to all the companies in one mass email. Recruiters opening the email could see the names of the 80 companies he had applied to in the "To: " box of the email!
  • Put your covering letter as the body of your email. It's wise to format it as plain text as then it can be read by any email reader.
  • Emails are not as easy to read as letters. Stick to simple text with short paragraphs and plenty of spacing. Break messages into points and make each one a new paragraph with a full line gap between paragraphs. DON'T "SHOUT": WRITE IN UPPER CASE!
  • Your CV is then sent as an attachment. Say you'll send a printed CV if required.
  • PDF (portable document format) is perhaps becoming the most widely used format now . There are PDF-readers for all platforms (Windows, MacOS, Linux). This also guarantees that the CV will look the same, no matter what reader is used to view the document. Modern versions of Microsoft Word contain a PDF export function or you can download a free pdf converter such as Cute pdf you install it and then "print" the document to a folder on your PC.
  • You can also use MS Word (.doc) format, however .doc format is not guaranteed to be compatible among different versions of Microsoft Word, so a CV might look garbled when opened with an outdated or newer version of Word. Also .doc files may not easily open on computers using Linux and Apple platforms. .doc-files may also contain sensitive information such as previous versions of a document perhaps leading to embarrassment. MS Word documents can contain macro viruses, so some employers may not open these. Send the CV in .doc (Word 2003) format, rather than .docx (Word 2007) format, as not everyone has upgraded to Word 2007, or downloaded the free file converter.
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf), or html (web page format) are other alternatives.
  • If in doubt send your CV in several formats. Email it back to yourself first to check it, as line lengths may be changed by your email reader.

Web CVs and Electronically Scanned CVs

The credit company Iprofile recommended that CVs posted on-line should not contain your date of birth, place of birth, marital status, address and phone number as they can allow fraudsters to carry out identity theft and perhaps open bank accounts or apply for credit cards in your name.
When emailing your CV to a potential employer it's probably wise to leave out your date of birth, place of birth and marital status if you have any doubts about the validity of the organisation you are applying to. Due to age discrimination legislation in the UK you no longer have to disclose your age on a CV but if you wish to, you could give this rather than your date of birth.
Web CVs use HTML format. You can include the web address in an email or letter to an employer. They have the advantage that you can easily use graphics, colour, hyperlinks and even sound, animation and video. The basic rules still apply however - make it look professional. They can be very effective if you are going for multimedia, web design or computer games jobs where they can demonstrate your technical skills along with your portfolio.
Electronically scanned CVs have been used by Nortel, Ford and others. Resumix is one package used for this: it has artificial intelligence which reads the text and extracts important information such as work, education, skills. For more information on this see our page on on-line applications

Further Help

  • Our example CVs, application forms and covering
  • Learning and Skills Council online CV Builder can help you build your own CV in just 12 steps. Very good!
  • phrase dictionary provide useful phrases for CV writing, letters of application, and business letters in 14 languages including French, German, Spanish, Polish, Chinese and Japanese.
  • The Careers Service runs talks and workshops on CV preparation throughout the year. Ask at Reception for details.
  • If you are having difficulty your CV, you can consult the duty careers adviser from 10.30 am - 12.30 pm and from 2 - 5 pm, weekdays.
  • Booklet: "Making Applications". Ask for your free copy from Careers Reception.
  • "Looking good on paper" On-line Video. Kent students can view this here

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