First impressions count, especially when applying for jobs. Discover how to write a good CV and uncover handy CV tips and advice
What is a CV?
A CV, which stands for curriculum vitae, is a document used when applying for jobs. It allows you to summarise your education, skills and experience, enabling you to successfully sell yourself to employers.
In the USA and Canada CVs are known as résumés, these documents tend to be a more concise and follow no particular formatting rules.
How long should a CV be?
A standard CV in the UK should be no longer than two sides of A4. Take a look at our example of a standard, chronological CV for inspiration.
To ensure your CV runs across the preferred two pages only include the main points of your education and experience. To save space make sure that you only include relevant information and don't repeat information provided in your cover letter.
As a recent graduate your CV may only take up one page and that's fine. Some medical or academic CVs may be longer depending on your experience.
What to include in a CV
- Contact details - Include your full name, home address, mobile number and email address. You do not need to include your date of birth or a photograph unless you're applying for an acting or modelling job.
- Profile - Placed at the beginning of the CV, a profile is a concise statement that highlights your key attributes or reasons for deciding to work in a particular field. Pick out a few relevant achievements and skills, while articulating your career aims. It must focus on the sector you're applying to, as your cover letter will be job-specific. You should keep it short and snappy - 100 words is the perfect length. Discover how to write a personal statement for your CV.
- Education - List and date all previous education, including professional qualifications, placing the most recent first. Include individual modules where relevant.
- Work experience - List your experience in reverse chronological order, making sure that anything you mention is relevant to the job you're applying for. If you have plenty of relevant work experience, this section should come before education.
- Skills and achievements - This is where you talk about the foreign languages you speak and the IT packages you can competently use. Whatever you list should be relevant to the job and not over-exaggerated, as you'll need to back up your claims at interview. If you have got lots of relevant skills you should do a skills-based CV.
- Interests - Simply writing 'socialising, going to the cinema and reading' isn't going to catch the attention of the recruiter. However, when relevant to the job, your interests can provide a more rounded picture of who you are and give you something to talk about at interview. Examples include writing your own blog if you want to be a journalist, or being part of a drama group if you're looking to get into sales.
- References - You don't need to provide the names of references at this stage. You also don't need to say 'references available upon request' as most employers would assume this to be the case.
For more help and advice on what to include in a CV take a look at our example CVs.
- Avoid fonts such as Comic Sans. Instead, choose something more professional, clear and easy to read such Arial or Times New Roman with font size 10 to 12, but nothing smaller. Ensure fonts and sizes are consistent throughout your CV.
- Section headings are a good way to break up your CV. Ensure they stand out by making them larger (size 14 or 16) and bold.
- List everything in reverse chronological order so the recruiter sees your most impressive and recent achievements first.
- Keep it concise and easy to read by using clear spacing and bullet points. This type of CV layout allows employers to skim your CV and quickly pick out the important information.
- If you're posting your CV, go with white A4 paper. Only print on one side and don't fold your CV - you don't want it to arrive creased.
How to write a good CV
- Use active verbs wherever possible. For example, you could include words like 'created', 'analysed' and 'devised' to present yourself as a person who shows initiative.
- There should be no spelling or grammar mistakes in your CV. Use a spell checker and enlist a second pair of eyes to check over it.
- Avoid using generic, over-used phrases such as 'team player', 'hardworking' and 'multitasker'. Instead, provide real-life examples that demonstrate all of these skills.
- Take a look at the company's website, local press and the job advert to make sure that your CV is targeted to the role and employer.
- Create the right type of CV for your circumstances. Decide whether the chronological, skills-based or academic CV is right for you.
- Don't put the term 'curriculum vitae' at the top of the page.
- Make sure your email address sounds professional. If your personal address is not appropriate create a new account to use professionally.
- Never lie or exaggerate on your CV or job application. Not only will you demonstrate your dishonesty to a potential employer, but there can be serious consequences too. For example, altering your degree grade from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is classed as degree fraud and can result in a prison sentence.
- If you're posting your CV online don't include your home address, as you could be targeted by fraudsters.
- You should always include a cover letter unless the employer states otherwise. It will enable you to personalise your application. You can draw attention to a particular part of your CV, disclose a disability or clarify gaps in your work history. Find out how to write a persuasive cover letter.
Get help with your CV
If you're a student or recent graduate then you can get professional CV advice from your university careers and employability service.