In our series on what to include in a CV, we take a closer look at some of the essential sections. Here, we look at some of the basics, as well as how to write a professional profile.
Writing an effective CV or resume is a skill that can make your job search a whole lot easier. Mastering it now can save you time and effort further down the line. What’s more, once you’ve created your document, you can simply add to it as your career progresses. But how do you know what to include in a CV?
In our series of articles on creating your CV, we’ve covered each of the main sections in detail. With this information, you can craft a stand-out document that will help you with your job search. To start with, we take a look at some of the basics of CV writing, as well as how to create your professional profile.
In a separate article, we outlined a range of CV templates for different professionals, helping you get a feel for the various areas you should include. This one, on the other hand, focuses more on the finer details of what’s needed in each section of a CV, which can help you when writing applications and preparing for interviews.
Before we get to the sections themselves, let’s first take a look at some of the basics of what to include in a CV. As well as the contents, you also need to think about several other points:
A lot of people stress about how long their CV should be. And, depending on where you look, you might get slightly different answers. In reality, it depends a fair amount on you and the types of roles you’re applying for. Rather than trying to aim for a particular length, you should focus on a few general rules:
- Keep it concise. Don’t waffle on.
- Keep it relevant. If you’re applying for a starter role, you can give more detail on your education and work experience. For those with career experience, focus on the most recent and relevant positions.
- Tailor it. Each CV you send should be based around the job you’re applying for. Rather than duplicating information, pick out the key requirements for the role and cover them in your document.
- Don’t cram. Many recruiters only skim read CVs, which can be challenging if you present them with a wall of text. Make sure there’s enough white space on the page.
With all that in mind, your CV should end up around one to two pages long, with exceptions for things like academic roles.
Format and length are often closely tied together. People will often try and lengthen or shorten their CV by increasing or decreasing the font size and margin. Although there are some instances where this works, it shouldn’t be avoided where possible. Focus on these points instead:
- Use a font size somewhere between 10 and 12. Make sure it’s a professional-looking and easy-to-read font. You could choose one that’s either serif (such as Times New Roman) or sans serif (such as Arial or Calibri). Your name and headings can be in a slightly bigger size (around 14).
- Use section headings and bullet points. To make your CV easier to read, try and break up the sections. Remember, many hiring managers are only good to scan your document during the initial stages, so you want to make sure the essential info stands out.
- Be consistent. Whichever font and size you choose, make sure it’s consistent throughout. The same applies to headings and how you capitalise them.
- Use reverse chronological order. Your most recent and relevant experience and education should be at the top of the corresponding sections. Again, this makes it easier for recruiters to see.
We know that you need to be concise and relevant when writing your CV. But the words you choose and how you structure your sentences are also worth considering:
- Use active language. You want to show your initiative (as well as keep the reader’s attention), so use active verbs where possible. Terms such as ‘I created’, ‘I achieved’ and ‘I devised’ show that you are performing the action with show clarity and show control.
- Choose a perspective. Whether you write in the first person or the third person, make sure you’re consistent throughout. First person can sound more personal and direct, but has the potential to come off as boastful or subjective. Third person can sound more professional and objective, but has the potential to seem stilted or pretentious.
- Avoid clichés. Avoid including meaningless and overused phrases. ‘A great team player’ who ‘enjoys socialising with friends’ describes the bare minimum you’d expect from an employee. Instead, get creative, show your achievements, and write something to make you stand out.
- Don’t exaggerate. It can be tempting to overstate your responsibilities and experience (some people even make things up), but you should avoid doing so. If you make it to the interview stage and you’re questioned on it, it could soon get embarrassing.
- Perfect your spelling and grammar. Check, re-check, and then get someone else to check your spelling and grammar. Simple mistakes can be hard to spot when you’re writing but can be the difference between getting an interview and not.
What to include in a CV
Now that we now know about some of the basics you should consider when creating your document, let’s turn our attention to what to include in a CV. We’ll start with the sections that will likely appear right at the top:
Of course, this section is mandatory for any CV. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require some thought and planning. Your details should give a headline view of who you are, but you can also use it as an opportunity to catch the eye of whoever is reading it.
Here are some of the points you’ll want to include in your personal information section:
- Your name. Your name should be one of the stand-out parts of your CV. Include it at the top in a larger font size than the rest of the text.
- Your address. This one is only really necessary if you’re applying for a job with a defined location. For freelance/remote roles, you can potentially get away without including it.
- Your contact details. You’ll want to provide a contact telephone number and email address. Try not to use the one for your current job, as that has the potential to end in disaster! When it comes to your email, make sure to use one that’s professional.
- Your LinkedIn URL. LinkedIn plays an important role in effective networking, so include a link to your profile and make sure it’s completed and up-to-date.
- Links to your portfolio/blog. If you’ve got a body of relevant work to show off, include a link to your portfolio or blog. Depending on the role, this can be a vital piece of information when it comes to showing your potential.
There are also several things you shouldn’t include, such as:
- Your age
- Your marital status
- Your nationality, race or religion
- Your sexual orientation
You might also see this section referred to as a personal profile or, personal statement or other, similar names. However, its function is the same no matter what you call it. Essentially, it’s your chance to market yourself and your skills in a succinct and creative way.
Although not every CV will have them, they can be a useful tool in getting the recruiter to keep reading about your experience and skills. Here are some tips on how to structure this section:
- Make it brief. Less is better here, as space is at a premium. Keep it to the main points you want to cover and spend time rewriting it until it’s as punchy as possible.
- Relate it to the job. Pick out the essential skills and experience that you think are most relevant to the role you’re applying for. You want to highlight why you’re the best candidate for the job.
- Pick out examples. If you can use facts and figures that demonstrate a time where you’ve excelled, these can go a long way to impressing whoever is reading. Phrases like ‘increased conversion rate by x%’ or ‘graduated with a 1st degree in y’ quantifies your achievements.
- Use natural language. Ultimately, you want to show some of your personality in this section. Try to make it flow and seem authentic, rather than overly stiff or robotic.
When you’re deciding what to include in a CV or professional profile, you need to think about what the person reading wants to see. You can use the job description and information about the company to find out what kind of candidates are going to stand out.
The opening sections of your CV can make or break your chances of getting an interview. Recruiters spend an average of around eight seconds scanning CVs and resumes, so you’ll want to grab their attention from the off.
Your personal details are essential, of course, but you can also squeeze in some links to your portfolio or website. On the other hand, your professional profile should be the section that summarises why you’re a candidate they need to give an interview to. Like the rest of your document, it needs to be concise, persuasive, and sell all of the relevant skills you’ll bring to the role.
In the rest of our articles on what to include in a CV, we take a close look at other sections, such as employment history and education, and key skills and interests.