How to Write a Great CV
Introduction: CV Writing
A Curriculum Vitae (Latin: courses of life) or CV is a document that outlines your personal qualities, professional experience, responsibilities and achievements. A CV is important, as it is very often the first impression and actual description of you that a potential employer sees.
If a CV does not immediately grab the reader’s attention, or is badly written – with spelling and grammatical errors – it will be swiftly put aside and forgotten. Whether this reader is a small business owner, or an HR Manager from a large company, they will have read many CVs and will quickly decide whether to carry on reading – or not.
What should a good CV look like?
There are many different styles that can be used, as well as different fonts, alignments and layouts. There is no right or wrong style, but the CV must be clear and easy to read – any ‘effects’ that take attention away from the content will irritate the reader.
It can contain different sections, with different headings, but a good CV should contain:
Personal Details (Contact Details)
Profile (Summary, Executive Summary, Statement)
Key Skills (Technical Skills, Core Competencies, Areas of Expertise)
Professional/Career Achievements (Key Achievements, Career Successes)
Professional Experience (Work History, Work Experience)
Education and Training (Qualifications, Education and Professional Development, Courses)
Additional Information (Interests, Awards, Memberships, Honours)
References (References Available on Request, Referees, Supporting Letters)
Below is a list of general ideas of how to construct a CV to highlight your qualities, experience and achievements in the best way possible. It is not a definitive list, but if the CV contains most, if not all of them, then it will at the very least be read through and considered by employers.
These should be prominent, usually at the top of the CV. They are important because if there is to be any expression of further interest, the employer will need to know how to contact you.
Some candidates put their full address, phone number and email address, while some just put a phone number or email address. Some add their profession and a short description of what they do. The choice is yours:
Example 1: Gary Saverin 23 Starling Grove, Cardiff, C14 8LR email@example.com 07899 981598 ARCHITECT
Example 2: Name: Vincent James Address: 25 North Drive, Brighton, BN5 1ZQ Tel: 07812 566583 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Example 3: KEFIL LANDOU 49 Highcroft Place, Acton, London, W12 6PG Tel: 08764 596695 Email: email@example.com
All three are clear and come at the top of the CV, with the candidate’s name and details prominent.
This is possibly the most important section. It is the only section where you can describe yourself without restraint of dates, titles and education. The profile is the part of the CV that highlights what makes you unique, and why you are the best person for the job.
A balance has to be struck between what you would really like to say about yourself, the language you use to translate that for the CV and the conventions of CV content and style.
The profile needs to say what you are at present (Science Graduate, Project Manager, HR professional, etc), length of experience and your qualities – what makes you stand out in the crowd.
You can put an objective here also, giving an idea of what you are seeking. It may be worth putting one in and changing it for different posts you apply for (see First Person below). The profile can be done in different ways, but the main styles are these:
I am a highly motivated, entrepreneurial and ambitious professional with experience in event co-ordination, sales and managing my own business. I am energetic and have a creative approach to the planning, co-ordination and successful delivery of both day-to-day services and special events and functions.
Having obtained professional qualifications, I am able to use my skills in a variety of situations: my strengths are most prominent in special event management and sales – both routes I would be more than happy to follow in future positions. My employment to date has given me many opportunities to hone my talents in these areas.
Also, I have the ability to multi-task, managing performance and motivating staff on an individual basis, while leading and inspiring large teams to perform consistently at a high level.
My natural drive as a manager enables me to focus my abilities into a planned, organised approach in a given environment, where I strive to promote growth in sales, create profit through sound financial management, and maintain the highest standards of performance from myself and my fellow staff members.
I am now looking for a new position with an established and progressive business, offering opportunities for me to use my experiences and skills as an event co-ordinator and salesman.
This person is an event co-ordinator and has owned and managed their own business. Note that there is no repetition (I did this, then I did that, etc) and the words are purposeful and have focus.
It is worth building a word bank so that inserting the most appropriate word becomes easier.
Third person (altered)
A conscientious, versatile and motivated individual with wide experience within the automotive engineering industry, most recently as a diesel fitter with Qmac Machinery.
Able to respond effectively to a range of challenging situations and excels in a team environment, as well as being able to work independently and unsupervised. Has a strong work ethic and positive attitude, with dedication and attention to detail, particularly when following schematics and manuals.
Always determined to deliver an efficient and quality service to customers. Has well-developed communication and organisation skills, with the ability to supervise and instruct other staff and always fully committed to every challenge.
With good management skills, can adapt quickly to contrasting routines and deadlines. Relishes the opportunity to learn new skills and constantly strives to improve working practice.
This person is a diesel fitter but wanted his wide experience incorporated into the CV. It is called ‘Third person altered’ because the sentences are detached and the subject of each sentence is missing.
- Extensive expertise in monitoring performance and operations of all departments of an organization
- Proven leadership ability in Human Resource Management and planning
- Expertise in corporate finance and budget management
- Demonstrated well developed counselling and advising skills to students and staff
- Recruited and placed many staff members for establishments in banking and hospitality
- Qualified psychologist and psychotherapist
- Involvement with etiology, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders
- Showed well developed teaching and counselling skills as a High School teacher
This person is a HR Manager. Bullet points convey the same information as the other examples, but in a more concise, direct way. Again adjectives and verbs are annotated as above.
Whichever you choose, the profile must not be too long: approximately 8–12 lines or bullet points. Think about what you want to say about yourself and select the best words to do it: ‘conscientious’ is better than ‘hard-working’, and use words like ‘initiated’, ‘motivated’, ‘implemented’ and ‘inspired’.
The tone is important also . Do not make the profile too ‘chatty’, but equally do not be afraid to use words such as ‘passionate’, ‘committed’ and ‘admired’, if you think they reflect what you want to say.
Whatever you decide to call these skills (see above), they need to be specific, particular strengths of yours and relevant to the position you are applying for. If they are too general, be prepared to expand at the interview.
Examples of general skills that need to be fully explained are ‘communication’, interpersonal’ and ‘organisational’. Everyone has those skills to some extent, so you must be prepared to explain what you do to merit their inclusion, by quoting examples of occasions when you have used them to good effect.
It is not wrong to include general skills (in fact, it could work to your advantage, when at the interview, to use them as a base to explain your suitability for the job) but make sure they are balanced by more specific, detailed skills.
If you have skills that are vital to the position (IT or medical), it is worth listing them here. It is also good practice to add a line or two of explanation about them.
Below are examples, with and without explanations:
Key Skills – Example 1 (with brief explanation)
- Excellent people and communication skills
Open direct and clear, two-way channels
- Strong verbal and written skills
Ability to adapt to different audiences
- Well-developed organizing and delegating skills
Create goals; prioritize and adjust as necessary
- Implementation of protocol requirements
Professional competence and knowledge
- Sharp analytical and problem-solving skills
Finding workable solutions to difficult issues
- Management of clinical projects
Authoritative – take responsibility as prime contact
- Ability to take initiative and lead teams
Lead team members to achieve objectives
- Ability to work under pressure to deadlines
Foresee problems and take appropriate action
Key Skills – Example 2 (without brief explanation):
- Customer service
- Knowledge of policies, systems and procedures
- Ability to lead and supervise staff
- Training, mentoring and coaching staff
- Understanding the ethos of the organisation
- Well-developed communication skills
- Proficient IT skills
- Knowledge of health and safety procedures
- Understanding of all relevant legislation
- Strong organisational and delegation skills
- Written reports and documentation
- Liaise with other agencies as necessary
These should appear on the first page of the CV if you have them. If you are applying for your first position, then obviously your career is only beginning; don’t be afraid to mention any college, school or voluntary achievements, though. They should be genuine achievements – over and above what your job description asks from you.
A general rule of thumb is that an achievement is something that exceeds employer expectations and is not something that others in your place of work can easily achieve. If achievements can be quantified, give details. Below is an example:
- Delivered new sales of £1.25M in 2020 and total sales of £1.9M, accounting for 20% of group sales
- Created the marketing strategy for the Australian market, delivering £2m of new business
- Delivered yearly growth; I was the first Sales Director to achieve sales in the Asia Pacific region
- Led the sales and marketing strategy for the Mexican market, securing and delivering national television interviews and the official ‘SQS Mexico’ launch with the Central Bank in Mexico
- Set up and secured a £2m distributor agreement for the Mexican market
- Targeted UK business growth; I achieved sales in the first year doubling UK turnover from £1m to £2m
- Managed numerous projects from start to finish, responsible for total sales of £8m, in a 3 year period
- Increased UK sales by 112%, the first growth in 3 years
This forms the biggest section of the CV, unless you are starting out. But as mentioned above, put as much experience as you have there. If you have carried out university or school fieldwork and/or responsibilities, holiday jobs, voluntary work or courses, list them and call the section University/School/Voluntary Experience.
Each position needs to have the name of the company you worked for, dates you worked there, your position, your responsibilities and any achievements. The norm is to list them in reverse chronological order (most recent first), as employers like to see what you have done recently (though this is not a hard and fast rule).
This section needs to be clear and easy to read. The potential employer is now looking at what you have actually done (not what you would like to do, and how good you would be doing it). Use bullet points and be concise. Do not mention every single aspect of your job, only the most pertinent and relevant.
Achievements need not be breathtaking, but over and above your expected role. Below is an example of part of a candidate’s professional experience. Note the use of bold font, italics for explanation and dates set away from the text so that they are easy to refer to:
Seaside Glazing (Worthing)
October 2019 – October 2020
- Maintained a high quality relationship with existing clients
- Demonstrated sample products daily for clients enhancing possibility of sales
- Sold 110% of the units that were sold the previous year
- Increased revenue on products by 10% on a monthly basis
C2 Imaging LLC (Brighton)
June 2018 – June 2019
Account Executive/Outside Sales
- Sourced new accounts and serviced current accounts
- Managed a high level of detail across multiple clients and project simultaneously
- Sold 100% of monthly quota
- Increased revenue by 25% from past and new accounts
Falmer Bar – University of Sussex
January 2015 – May 2018
Promotions Manager (during university studies)
- Oversaw and coordinated all musical guest bookings for events
- Liaised with various agents of acts and bands
- Reduced payroll and benefits administration costs by negotiating pricing and fees
- Ensured the continuation and enhancement of services
- Cut costs by 30% through astute negotiation
James’ Power Wash (Brighton)
2012 – 2020
- Operated a power washing business, founded when aged 16
- Recruited employees to grow the company and maintain excellent profits on our services
- Analysed potential business opportunities
- Oversaw all administrative affairs, including wages, appointments and equipment inventory
- Generated enough revenue between 2002 – 2010 to pay for equipment and supplies
Entrepreneurs Society (Uni of Sussex)
September 2015 – December 2017
- Implemented and coordinated all society functions and programmes
- Formulated and maintained the society calendar
- Oversaw the programming council
- Assumed all duties in the absence of the society President
- Re-elected for a second year of office because of exceptional leadership qualities and event programming
Education and Training
Again, clarity is the key. Put down your educational achievements clearly (in reverse chronological order) with school/college/university name, dates (or date graduated) subjects taken, grades and/or class of degree.
Depending on years of experience and background, some candidates only put down higher education qualifications. Professional training can be listed underneath in the same way. See example below:
Introduction to Securities and Investment, Securities and Investment Institute
Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing, Chartered Institute of Marketing
BSc (Hons 2:1): Management and Business Studies, Bradford University, Management Centre, Bradford
3 A-Levels (Economics- A, History – A, English Lit – B) SEEVIC, 6th Form College, Benfleet, Essex
10 GCSEs (A-C), Sweyne School, Rayleigh, Essex
- Effective Client Management & Emotional Intelligence 2010
- Project Management Methodology (KPMG) 2008
- Lean Six Sigma (introduction) 2008
- Benefits Management course 2007
- Business Process Improvement course 2007
- Transformational Mapping 2007
- Change First (Foundation qualification) 2006
- ITIL Foundation qualification 2005
- Negotiation Skills course 2005
- Performance Improvement 2000
Here is the opportunity to add any extra information about you that is interesting, relevant and has not been mentioned elsewhere. Putting your interests or hobbies is up to you, but I would only mention them if they are serious, long-term aspects of your life away from work and a little explanation here would also help.
Other information here could be voluntary work, memberships, awards and/or prizes (whether during or after education) and any other achievements outside of your professional life: sporting, artistic, musical and so on.
The information will not necessarily ‘help’ in the employment and interview process, but it will add colour to your CV, contribute to making you unique, memorable and maybe form part of some final wind-down questions at the interview. Example:
I am married with two daughters. I enjoy motor bikes, windsurfing and economics. I am also a pyrotechnician having built and fired numerous displays in the local area. I own and manage a chalet in Quebe).
- Chartered IT Professional (CITP)
- Member of British Computer Society (MBCS)
- Member of the Association of Project Managers (MAPM)
British Red Cross, Clifton, Bristol
Administration Assistant 2012 – 2013
Enabled communications between donors to the organisation
Created a database, analysed and evaluated information using accounting skills and statistical reports
Processed 50 day-to-day loan transactions on the authority of project co-ordinators
The accepted convention is to simply write: ‘References available on request.’ Then, if an employer is interested, he or she will contact you to ask for their details. You can, of course, put referee contact details in – as many as you think might help your cause, but no fewer than two, preferably professional or educational connections.
Otherwise, keep them ready and wait for the call!