How to write a CV

How do you make your CV stand out from the crowd? What are the essential elements of ensuring that your CV will win you the role?

What is a CV?

A CV (curriculum vitae) or a resume is the paper based tool that will get you an interview for a job. A CV is not a biography and is not intended to be a record of every thing you have ever done. Think of it as a targeted direct mail, targeted directly to the one person who is going to decide whether or not to interview you.

The Golden rules

If you pay no attention to anything else, then remember these rules:

Your CV should be no longer than 2-3 pages. Remember less is more, so two pages is much better than three. There are almost NO circumstances under which a CV should be longer than three pages. Most CVs contain information that is unnecessary and makes it look messy and cluttered. If you have paid attention to the two-page rule, chances are that more important and relevant information has been missed.

All recruitment consultants have horror stories of the six, nine, ten, even 14 page CVs. Candidates with 14 page CVs will remain candidates with no interviews for a very long time.

What is an employer looking for?

He or she will have a clear idea in their own head of the background and skills they’re looking for. The first thing they will look at is the last employer you worked for and what job you were doing. If that experience is relevant, they will look deeper at your CV at what other experience you have.

The information must be presented in a clear and immediately accessible way. We would always suggest using bullet points. If the information is buried deep in several pages of closely typed, poorly laid-out, badly spelt text, then no one will have an interest in taking your application further.

How to organise a CV?

There are two main types of CV:

Time-based CV
The traditional and preferred layout: Arrange your career history with your current/most recent job first and work backwards from there. Make the job title and your employer clear. If your job title does not really explain what you did, then expand on it to provide enough detail. Jobsheld more than 15 years ago should be very briefly dealt with.

Skills-based CV
This type of CV is organised around your skills. It may be more appropriate for someone who has moved jobs a lot or has significant experience from other areas, such as voluntary work. Also useful for candidates contemplating a major career switch so that previous experience needs to be put in context to make it relevant. This is not a popular format with recruiters.

What to put in your CV


Only the facts:

Whatever format you adopt, stick to the facts. Tell the employer what you did, what your achievements were and provide the evidence for it. Avoid jargon and do not go off at tangents Always use bullet points where possible.

Things you can safely leave out:

The following list is not definitive. And don’t forget, this kind of information can be presented later in the application process if you make it to the interview list.

• Number/ages/names/sex of children
• Details of your primary school
• Your O/GCSE level subjects and grades
• Marital Status
• Any exams/qualifications you failed
• Place of birth

If you follow these rules carefully, your CV should be strong enough to get you a foot in the door.