Advice on writing CVs

Probably the first CV was written by Leonardo Da Vinci 500 years ago. You can view it here. Since then things have moved slightly on, and now it’s essential to have a well presented professional CV, but still many graduates get this wrong. The following page will give you all the tips to make an impressive CV

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 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 may have one).

What information should a CV include?

What are the most important aspects of CV that you look for?

One survey of employers found that the following aspects were most looked for
(From the brilliant 2010 Orange County Resume Survey by Eric Hilden)

45% Previous related work experience
35% Qualifications & skills
25% Easy to read
16% Accomplishments
14% Spelling & grammar
9% Education (these were not just graduate recruiters or this score would be much higher!)
9% Intangibles: individuality/desire to succeed
3% Clear objective
2% Keywords added
1% Contact information
1% Personal experiences
1% Computer skills

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.

British CVs don’t usually include a photograph unless you are an actor. In European countries such as France, Belgium and Germany it’s common for CVs to include a passport-sized photograph in the top right-hand corner whereas in the UK and the USA photographs are frowned upon as this may contravene equal opportunity legislation – a photograph makes it easier to reject a candidate on grounds of ethnicity, sex or age. If you do include a photograph it should be a head and shoulders shot, you should be dressed suitably and smiling: it’s not for a passport! See ourWork Abroad page for more about international CVs

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

Succinct, eloquent, well-structured.

Towers Hamlyn

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 emphasis on persuading and negotiating skills.
  • All of my work experiences have involved working within a team-based culture. This involved planning, organisation, coordination 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.

/www.kent.ac.uk/careers