Learn how to write a CV that stands out to employers, helping you land your dream job interview.
We’ve all heard the terrifying statistics about the mere seconds employers spend looking over a CV (seven seconds…just seven!).
Get it right and you’ll sail straight to the interview stage, but get it wrong and your hard work and experience will be in vain.
What your CV looks like and includes depends somewhat on the industry and role you’re going for, but all CVs should follow a similar structure.
Keep reading to learn how to write a CV you’ll be proud of, and in no time, you’ll be getting interview invitations!
If you want to build expert skills in areas such as CV writing and interviewing, check out our collection of business and management courses.
How long should a CV be?
You don’t want to undersell yourself but, as we’ve already established, you’ve got seconds to make an impression.
Ideally, keep your CV to two sides of A4, less if you can. When Reed surveyed recruiters, they found that 91% said that the perfect CV was two pages long.
This may seem restricting at first, but everything you include should be absolutely essential and written as concisely as possible. If you’re a recent graduate, you may even want to stick to one page.
Keep returning to the job application and asking yourself whether what you’ve included is truly relevant.
How to choose the right CV format
First impressions matter. If an employer picks up a CV and finds it visually confusing or overwhelming, chances are, that will be the last time they pick it up.
The key things to remember about how to write a CV and format it correctly are:
CV font size and type
Don’t go c r a z y here. Choose Arial or Calibri. Both fonts look good on paper and printed. Stay between 10 and 12-point font.
Whitespace is your friend. Ensure each section is introduced with a precise header so the reader knows what to expect. Use bold and italics sparingly. They’re great for emphasis but overuse dilutes their impact.
Proofreading your CV
Proofread your CV, then proofread it again. Then give it to someone else to proofread. Then proofread it two more times. Don’t lose out on a job because you left a typo in a word you know how to spell.
Want to learn more about perfecting your writing? Try our Understanding English Punctuation course by Whitireia New Zealand, or our all-encompassing English Grammar: All You Need to Know course by UCL.
What to include in a CV
For all the hours you pour into perfecting your CV, if it doesn’t hit the right touchpoints, your application won’t be given the attention it deserves. Look at your CV as a marketing opportunity for yourself and your skills – here’s what to include in a CV.
1. Cover letter or personal statement
The first and golden rule of sending your CV is never to send it into battle alone. Monster, a global recruitment company, backs up this claim with evidence – apparently, 86% of executives surveyed said that cover letters were valuable when evaluating job candidates.
Your CV requires context, and a cover letter helps you to express your personality and convince the reader you’re right for the role.
Writing a cover letter also means you don’t need to include as much descriptive information in the CV itself.
The letter should be no longer than 300 words and, where possible, addressed to the person who’s going to be reading it.
‘To whom it may concern’ doesn’t have the same impact as addressing your would-be manager. This may require some digging on the job application or the company website itself, but if you find a name then you’re already some way to proving your attention to detail.
The letter should explain:
- why you’re excited to see the job advertised
- why your experience matches the skills required
- why the company is somewhere you can see yourself working.
As always, have someone else proofread it for any spelling or grammar mistakes.
Make sure the cover letter is specific to the company and the role you’re applying to. If not, there’s no point in having one – the employer will be able to tell. Take a look at our full cover letter writing guide for more information.
2. Name, professional title and contact details
Your name should act as the title of your CV. Make sure it is prominent on the top of each page of your CV, alongside your current job role or professional specialism.
Don’t forget to include your email and mobile number so that your prospective employer has options for how to contact you.
You can learn more about the essentials of CV writing and your personal profile in one of our other articles about building the perfect CV.
3. Education and qualifications
This section should include any education you’ve completed, including where you went to school, whether you went to university, and any other relevant training or courses.
You should list your qualifications from the most recent to the oldest.
Include the name of the institutions you studied at and the years you were there, followed by the qualifications or grades you achieved.
If you’ve recently finished education, you may want to include more detail here, like any modules, assignments or projects relevant to the role.
If you’ve been working for longer and have lots of work experience, you may want to save space for more detailed explanations later on.
4. Employment history
This section is where you prove why your professional experience makes you right for the job. You can include any previous jobs, internships, volunteering and work experience.
Again, you should list your employment history from the most recent to the oldest as your current role is most relevant to the employer.
For each position, include your job title, the company, the dates you worked there and a short line which summarises the role in a bit more detail.
Underneath, include three to four bullet points which explain the skills you gained and the achievements you had whilst working in that role.
Use figures (eg. percentage of increased sales) and impactful verbs to show how you made a difference in your time there. Tailor these to the role you’re applying for. Think about what the employer needs from this role and show how you’ve already done it elsewhere.
Don’t include jobs irrelevant to the role – it’s distracting and may look like you don’t fully understand the skills required.
If you don’t want to leave a gap, include the role, company and date but don’t go into any more detail.
To dive deeper into the presentation of your education and employment history, take a look at the second article in our series about building the best CV that you can.
Space pending, there are other useful sections which can be worth including.
1. Key skills
If the role you’re going for requires certain skills and proficiencies, include a ‘Key Skills’ CV section. Use it to list four or five core skills you have that you know the employer is looking for.
2. Hobbies and interests
If you’re low on work experience, you may also want to include a section which outlines your hobbies or interests in the CV. Use this to show how your personal interests fit in with the industry or type of job you’re going for.
Top BBC talent executive, Ceri Rowlands, explains how this can be beneficial. She says, “by letting employers know that you volunteer at a children’s drama club, your willingness to give back to the community along with your leadership and teamwork skills are conveyed. [Consider] what couple of hobbies have “shaped your career goals” and win over the employer!”
Read the final article in our series about building the perfect CV to learn how to talk about your key skills, hobbies and interests in a resume.
3. CV references
You may also want to include a section which states that references are available upon request. This is assumed by most employers, so only include this if you want to use up space.
Try our free professional CV templates
Fancy making the whole CV-writing process even easier for yourself? You can check out our free CV templates in another article. They’re professionally designed, visually striking and, best of all, free to download.
Whether you’re looking to land a job interview in marketing, programming or teaching, we’ve got a template you can use.
On average, a corporate job advert will attract 250 CVs. Job hunting is hard enough without giving away your interview spot because of a lacklustre CV. That’s why learning how to write a CV is so important.
Take the time to tailor your CV and cover letter to make them the best they can be, and if you don’t hear back, you know you just weren’t right for that role.
If you’d like even more practice, join the University of Sheffield’s course, How to Succeed at: Writing Applications. Or, if the above helps you ace the application and you’re ready to face the next hurdle, try their course on succeeding at job interviews.