How to write a good CV

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So, before you start drafting your CV, ask yourself ” if I was filtering through applications for these roles what would my screening criteria be? ” Highlight the key words and phrases that the recruiter is asking for. Now draft your CV as described below, incorporating the same or very similar key words and phrases. Go into specific detail only about skills that are relevant to the role and provide examples of where you have successfully used these skills in the past. This is explained in more detail in the career history section, below. First, let’s look at the overall design of the document.

The look of the CV

Use a standard word template, lots of white space with a clean look. In a standard font, type size no smaller than 11. Two pages please. Maximum three. Let’s look now at each component of the contemporary CV in the order they usually appear.

Personal details

Name and address: Make sure your address includes the first four digits of your post-code. Otherwise, your CV will be invisible if it is posted on job boards like this one and recruiters are searching its database. They start with a geographical restriction (eg 25 miles of IG10) in order to filter relevant CVs.

Telephone numbers:

You probably only need a mobile number. Put a personal voicemail on there, not just the factory setting. Recruiters like to hear your professional telephone manner and know they are leaving messages for the right person. If you are including a home number then ensure that other family members answer appropriately and pass on messages.

Email address:

Use a professional one that you monitor on a regular basis.

Nationality:

Not necessary to put anything unless it is obvious that you are applying from outside the UK/Europe in which case you might want to include information about your eligibility to work here – eg Nationality: Indian, Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) Migrant, eligible to work in the UK for 2 years. Photo: Don’t include one unless it is relevant to the job and you are asked to do so.

Personal statement section:

This statement or profile section at the beginning of the CV should state what you have done in the past, what you want to do next and the skills that bridge the two. It should sum up the whole document and explain to the reader why your application is relevant to them. Keep it simple and specific.

Remember that you are competing against many other candidates so this section should explain what makes you stand out. The rest of the document provides evidence of this.

When you have drafted it ask yourself if this has addressed the needs of the Recruiter. Does it explain what you have to offer them and what you are looking for as a next career move? Avoid unsubstantiated opinions of yourself and statements like “dynamic self-starter looking to contribute in a challenging environment”. Use specific statements like “HR Manager with seven year’s public sector experience specialising in employee negotiations, now re-locating to Edinburgh.”

Career history

For each of your jobs, include the company name, your job title and dates of employment (including the months as well as the year). Start with the most recent job first. You might want to put a line of detail about the company. If you were employed by “XZA Industries” a recruiter may not know who they are. So, you could say “UK and Asia Pacific based toy manufacturing business, employing 350 staff across 11 offices” You might also want to add in a line about your broad remit and who you reported to, to explain the context of the role.

  • “Reported to the MD and held P & L responsibility for driving sales of £7 million across the organisation”
  • “Reported to the Engineering Manager and responsible for maintaining mover 150 air handling units a week”

Describe your career history in terms of achievements for each job, and particularly for the most recent roles, include three or four bullet pointed achievements. Demonstrate what makes you stand out from other applicants. Remember to use the same or similar key words and phrases from the advertisement.

Here are some prompts to help you remember your previous achievements:

  • What have you done over and above your job description?
  • Where have you gone the extra mile?
  • Where have you demonstrated flexibility, creative thinking or innovation?
  • What projects have you been involved in and what was your contribution to the outcome?
  • What legacy have you left behind?
  • What problems did you solve?
  • What did the team/business look like when you left compared to when you started and what part did you play in that?
  • For example, if you are a PA, then don’t list all the duties you perform in your role – the recruiter knows what a PA does. Describe your achievements that contribute to your expertise: did you organise the annual conference, make complicated travel arrangements, manage a budget for the Christmas party, write a webpage etc? This is the information that makes you stand out.

    Include facts and figures

    The more specific detail you can include (and the less waffle) the better. The outcomes you have achieved, described factually. Costs, commercials, percentage improvements, key performance indicators met, targets met, costs saved, etc. “Increased sales turnover by 42% against a target of 35%, which made us the highest performer out of 7 teams” is much more effective than “excellent sales management skills” Be mindful of not revealing confidential company information.

    Make every word count

    Think “why I am telling them this?” If it isn’t relevant to the role you want next then don’t waste space telling them. “Works well in a team” is implicit if you have had a successful career working as a team member. You don’t need to spell it out. Do we need to know that you have a clean driving licence?

    Education

    The “why am I telling them this” rule applies here as well. Do you really need to put your GCSE results if you have a degree? If you are a Finance Director do I need your Maths O level results? Most people put their education after their career history, but if your education or professional qualifications are crucial to the jobs you are applying for you may choose to put education and training before your career history. Remember, there is no right or wrong way – it’s what works best for you. Wherever you put your education, most recent qualification should come first.

    Hobbies and interests

    Only include this section if it is relevant to the reader. Do they need to know that you like reading science fiction? If your hobby is fundraising for a local charity this may reflect the skills you need in your new role, so include it. Similarly, impressive results on the sports field may impress some employers. You may have extra-curricular activities or voluntary experience that relates to the field you want to move in to.

    References

    It is fairly obvious that they are available upon request, so this section is now superfluous and can be missed out. Finally check for typos, spell check the document. Then read it from left to right and right to left. Then get someone else to check it.

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