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How to write a great CV

Learn what you need to include to make your CV stand out to the right people.

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We’ve all heard the terrifying statistics about the mere seconds employers spend looking over a CV (six seconds…six!). 

Get it right and you’ll sail straight to interview stage, 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.


How long should a CV be?

You don’t want to undersell yourself but, 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. 

This may seem restricting at first, but everything you include should be absolutely essential and written as concisely as possible. 

Keep going back to the application and asking yourself whether what you’ve included is truly relevant. 

How to layout a CV

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 around the layout of your CV are:

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.

Headers

Whitespace is your friend. Make sure each section is introduced with a clear header so the reader knows what to expect. Use bold and italics sparingly. They’re great for emphasis but overuse dilutes their impact. 

Proofreading

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. 

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. 

Cover letter or personal statement

The first and golden rule of sending your CV is never to send it into battle alone. 

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.

Name, professional title, 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. 

Education and qualifications

This section should include any education you’ve completed, including where you went to school, if you went to university, and any other relevant training or courses. 

You should list your qualifications from the most recent to 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.

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 your 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.

Nice-to-haves

Space pending, there are other useful sections which can be worth including. 

If the role you’re going for requires certain skills and proficiencies, include a ‘Key Skills’ section. Use it to list four or five core skills you have that you know the employer is looking for.

If you’re low on work experience, you may also want to include a section which outlines your hobbies or interests. Use this to show how your personal interests fit in with the industry or type of job you’re going for. 

You may also want to include a section which states that references are available on request. This is assumed by most employers, so only include this if you want to use up space. 


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. 

Take the time to make your CV and cover letter the best it 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 ApplicationsOr, 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.

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