How To Write An Amazing CV
Last Updated on 25th November 2020 by Freddie Chirgwin-Bell
The prospect of writing a CV is daunting. No question about that.
It’s really difficult to summarise who you are and all of your experience and accomplishments on just 2 pages of A4.
Not only that, there is so much riding on this tiny document. Jobs, Careers, Promotions, Hopes, Dreams.
The pressure is intense.
As we have said before;
- Your CV doesn’t get you the job.
- Your CV gets you the interview.
- The interview gets you the job.
So how do you get to that magical document to be perfect?
Here is your 1 stop shop for all of your CV writing needs.
- Writing a CV: Start Here
- The Two Types of CV
- Writing a CV: Sections
- Proofreading Your CV
- Quick CV Tips
Writing a CV: Start Here
Writing a CV is difficult.
It’s not an exact science so there are no clear, black and white, “do this – do that” instructions.
There are, however, key principles you need to follow.
You have to do what is best and what suits you and your application.
We’re a recruitment agency, so we have seen a lot of CVs.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
Your CV is one of the most important documents you will need throughout your career.
If it lacks impact, it is unlikely to stand out amongst the competition.
So, how do you ensure your CV is at the top of the pile?
Before You Start
There are a few key things you need to look at before you start writing your CV.
Research the job and the company
Before you start writing your CV you should know what you’re applying for.
The more research you do into the job, the role, the industry and the company the better.
It will give you a clear idea of what to include in your CV and how best to show off the skills they want.
Beware Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Unless you’re going through a small business directly, you will probably have your CV scanned by an ATS.
It stands for Applicant Tracking System and this nifty little feature scans CVs for particular keywords and skills matching them to a job description.
That’s why it’s doubly important to thoroughly read the job description.
Ensure you are putting the right words and phrases in to pass this first initial screening of your CV.
You have probably heard of the scary statistic that the average recruiter spends just 7 seconds when looking at a CV.
You need to make sure that you capture their attention and interest in that time.
So you CV should be short, sharp, and easily SKIMMABLE!
A clear, well laid out CV certainly has advantages over a scruffy and lengthy document.
Your CV has to appeal to a wide and varied audience ranging from a junior recruitment consultant to possibly a CEO.
That’s why CV templates are often a really good idea.
However, there are lots of fancy CV templates with graphics, images, infographics and more.
While these look great to a human and are great for creative industries, to a computer or ATS they won’t be able to read it properly.
So remember to have a simplified Word version as your base so that should you encounter issues, you can send that instead.
These templates are only guides but they will give you a good idea of how a CV should look, be formatted, and which one suits you and your expertise.
Despite this, there are things you should know.
Yes, skimmable. Remember, that time is not enough for a thorough inspection.
Your CV has to grab the attention of the recruiter/hiring manager quickly and not let go!You have just 7 seconds to capture a recruiters attention! Make sure your CV can do that. Click To Tweet
The most commonly recommended length is two pages.
We have found in our personal experience this works for almost everyone.
While some industries may require more information, this is a good rule of thumb to get into your head.
Unless you are in a very specialised or technical industry, two pages work best.
Clearly mark the beginning of each section with a header.
You want to make your CV as easy to read and scan as possible.
The recruiter shouldn’t have to look hard or dig for any answers, they should be easy to spot.
This helps the recruiter find all of the relevant information skim reading at speed.
Don’t go fancy.
No comic sans or handwriting fonts.
Keep it as a plain yet professional font.
Microsoft Word’s default font of Calibri works really well. As does Arial and Helvetica.
We would recommend you keep to only one or (at most) two fonts.
Even then, one font for headers, one font for text.
This keeps everything looking neat.
You need your CV to be easily readable.
We recommend that you use around sizes 10-12 for the main body of your text and 14 for your headers.
Doing this gives you plenty of room on the page to convey your experience whilst being clear enough to easily skim read.
Tailoring Your CV
Your CV is not just a single document.
One size does not fit all!
It should constantly change and evolve to suit the job your applying for.
This is for several reasons but the main two are humans and computers.
A lot of large employers and recruitment agencies use software that scans your CV for particular keywords that would be useful for the role.
If you haven’t tailored your CV to meet these expectations then you won’t even get past this phase.
Secondly, a human will always end up reading your CV. It is painfully obvious when you haven’t tailored a CV to a job description.
This will put the recruiter right off, so take your time and read the job description so you are ready when it comes time to writing your CV.
Saving Your CV
We recommend you make two copies of your CV. Save one as a Microsoft Word Document (.doc or .docx) and one as a PDF file (.pdf).
These two are the most common file formats and are perfect for sending to recruiters.
If you don’t have a Microsoft Word or Office subscription don’t worry!
They’re free, easy to use and you can download your files as .doc, .docx and .pdf directly.
If you are sending your CV to a recruitment agency, then send your CV in the Word format.
This is because recruitment agencies will often ask you to edit or change certain parts of your CV to make it more applicable to the role and to the company.
Take their advice and make the changes.
Recruitment agencies want to get you the role, so trust their advice.
If you are applying directly to the company then send your CV in a PDF format.
This makes sure your formatting and CV are kept in pristine condition and ready for reading.
What NOT to Include
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are not allowed to ask about your age, date of birth or marital status.
Because of this don’t include them on your CV.
Other than those legal binding exemptions, you can put almost anything on your CV.
However, unless requested, keep it simple.
Another thing is do not include salary details, which are very sensitive information.
This should only be put in a targeted covering letter if requested.
Most CVs won’t need a headshot however, if the client requests it, attach a photo.
The Two Types of CV
All CVs can be boiled down into two distinct types; the Chronological CV and the Skills-Based CV.
There are hundreds of sub-types of these two CVs but knowing these two will be enough for almost every situation.
Consider them the Swiss army knives of CVs.
This is the most common type of CV.
If you have ever seen or written a CV before, you probably wrote one of these.
All of the information is logically and neatly presented in reverse chronological order and includes all of your experience in the industry.
Whenever you see a “How to Write a CV” guide they probably are referring to a chronological CV.
Suitable For: Almost Everyone
This type of CV is not as common but is useful for those looking to change career or for technically skilled roles such as computer programmer.
The format is very similar to the chronological CV aside from instead of an emphasis on your work experience, there is an emphasis on your skills and proficiency.
Suitable For: Career Changers or Highly Technical/Specialised Roles
There are always pros and cons to using either CV, however, we recommend using the chronological CV as this is the swiss army tool of the job hunting world.
Remember, these formats and styles are not set in stone.
For example, an academic CV looks a lot like a chronological CV but will have special sections for your published papers, academic achievements, etc.
Writing A CV: Sections
Every CV is different. Every CV is the same.
This may seem like a contradiction but this is the truth about every CV that we receive.
Although the people and the experience and the words are different there are universal sections that every CV has.
These sections give you the fundamental building blocks of your CV.
- Personal Details
- Personal Statement
- Work Experience
- Hobbies & Interests
- Extras To Include
Word Of Warning
DO NOT LIE ON YOUR CV!
For a start it’s illegal.
It could get you fired, permanently damage your reputation and even lead to potential jail time for fraud.
Recruiters and employers take this very seriously so don’t think changing your university degree from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is harmless.
It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to include their name, email, contact phone number and address.
These need to be up at the top of your CV and easy to read. You want the recruiter to remember your name and know exactly where to find your contact information.
Personal Statement / Profile
Although it is at the top of your CV, this should be one of the last things you write on your CV.
This short statement should help clarify what you have written, really show off and exemplify your skills and help you stand out from the crowd.
This should only be a short paragraph of roughly five succinct sentences.
Whether or not you need a personal statement is hotly debated by recruiters, however, honestly, it’s all down to personal choice.
For us here at Morgan Jones we recommend you write one as it helps give a nice snapshot of your personality as well as a neat summary of what’s to come on your CV.
To write your personal CV start with 3 bullet points:
- Where am I and what do I want?
- What is my Unique Selling Point (USP)?
- What can I give this company and role?
Keep your answers short and note form initially. You want to get your ideas down on paper.
Where am I and what do I want?
This should be a quick statement saying where you are in your current point in your career and what you want to do as your next step.
A classic example is “I am an experienced sales manager looking to further my career”
Apply this to who you are and your situation.
This should only be a sentence long.
What is my Unique Selling Point (USP)?
Here’s a quick exercise: Think of yourself as a business.
What is unique about you that would make people buy from you?
Try and distil this down into a sentence or two.
The whole point of a CV is to sell yourself to the employer or recruiter and bearing in mind you only have 6 seconds to impress, make sure your elevator pitch is perfect.
What can I give this company and role?
Following on should be a short summary of what you can give to the company in this new role.
Can you give tangible, real results and benefits? Can you fulfil your responsibilities and expectations?
Once you have answered these three bullet points, write them in a paragraph that flows and makes sense.
Ta-Da! You now have an amazing Personal Statement that is tailored and appeals directly to the recruiter/employer.
Here’s an in-depth guide to writing an amazing personal statement.
This is fairly self-explanatory.
You put your current and/or most recent job first.
This should include; Your Job Title, Company Name, Dates Worked.
Under this, there should be a description of the role, your responsibilities and what you have achieved in that role.
Recruiters want to hire people who can be the best at the job and make the biggest impact.
An easy formula to keep in mind is “I did X that resulted in Y”
- I was responsible for financial administration saving £5000 in potential lost revenue.
- I implemented a social media strategy that led to a 5% increase in sales
- I managed a sales team that increased average order value from £25 to £47
Be specific, be accurate (and truthful) and use the simple formula to show that you can get the job done.
If you’re struggling to know what to include in this section, have a look at the job description.
Do they ask for any responsibilities or tasks that you already perform? Do they request knowledge of software that you use every day?
Use the clues in the job advert to help you write this sections.
If you are writing a Chronological CV this is an optional section.
However, if you’re writing a Skills-Based CV this is going to be the biggest section.
You need to highlight the skills mentioned in the job advert as these are what the recruiter is looking for.
The first step in writing this section should be to write down the skills you have to give the company.
Then under each skill provide a short list of proof that you have these skills.
Where you can provide examples of this using the “I did X that resulted in Y” formula.
Use the clues in the job advert to know which skills to prioritise. Remember you need to wow a recruiter quickly so put these at the top.
This is a completely optional section but is a good chance to show off the application and successes you have had throughout your career.
This is best done in bullet point or list form with no more than a sentence helping explain the achievement if needed.
This is another self-explanatory section where you detail your education.
Your most recent course of study goes first.
For most it will go like this:
- A Levels
You shouldn’t list every detail of your qualifications.
Keep things brief and relevant.
Hobbies & Interests
This is another optional segment on your CV.
This section helps show the recruiter there is more to your life than just work, and that you actively engage with the larger community.
If you can, we recommend that you use hobbies that help enforce what you have written in your CV
For example “I am a team player” – “I enjoy playing for my local football team at the weekends keeping me fit”.
For the vast majority of cases using the phrase “Available on Request” is perfect.
Unless the job description states that you must include references, use this phrase to save space on your CV for other sections.
Extras To Include
Any extra information, such as reasons for a career change or reasons for gaps in career history should also be included as required.
Highlight that you’re the right match for the job by outlining:
- The specific skills you have to offer the employer
- Relevant accomplishments and achievements
- The work and educational experience you have in their field
- Personal qualities that will make you right for the role
- An understanding of the job requirements
Proofreading Your CV
Once you have written your CV, don’t forget to proofread.
This is such an important step.
A single mistake will put a potential employer off.
So make sure your CV is thoroughly proofread before submitting it.A single mistake on your CV can cause it to be thrown in the bin! So make sure your CV is thoroughly proofread before submitting it. Click To Tweet
Remember – Keep it short and snappy.
Two pages are perfect for most people, however, three pages are acceptable for senior executives and highly technical staff.
Aside from this make sure that you have shown your personality and your accomplishments.
You are trying to sell yourself to the employer.
- Does my CV inspire the reader to contact me for more information and invite me to the interview, or is it boring to read?
- Will someone scanning this be able to easily extract the relevant information relating to the role I am applying for?
- Does the formatting look clear and concise?
- Are the skills that I have to offer highlighted enough and are they easy to pinpoint?
- Have I included too much or too little detail?
- Will recruitment consultants and HR personnel understand what I do and how I meet their job requirements?
- When I am at the interview, will my CV prompt the interviewer to ask me the right questions which will allow me to further ‘sell’ my relevant skills?
- If I was the interviewer would I get an interview or would I be discarded?
- Are my contact details correct and easily found?
- Have I explained any gaps in my employment history?
Check for these:
Don’t use unnecessary words. A long, drawn-out sentence may make you look inefficient. Try being short, sharp and to the point.
For example, instead of ‘I was the sales manager and I recruited and managed a team of 12 sales staff across UK, France, Germany and Switzerland’ you could put ‘ Hired and managed a team of 12 sales staff across several European locations’.
Include your highest level of education.
Ensure the recruiter will be able to easily build up a mental picture as to what you do and how relevant you are for the role they are recruiting for.
Check thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors.
For a thorough Pre-Application Checklist you can use click the link below!
- Facts, Stats, and Evidence – The Secrets To A Powerful, Impressive CV - 27th May 2021
- Flexible Working – Passing Fad, Nice To Have, Or The Future of Work? - 11th May 2021
- The Best Indicator Of Success In A New Job? Culture Fit - 12th February 2021