How to write an effective CV: best practice tips for job success

By Robert Half 25th November 2017

A good CV is essential, regardless of how long you’ve been in your job. It acts as your first contact with potential employers, showcases your skills and can easily cost you an opportunity if not well-written.  

Even if you already have a CV, it’s extremely useful to touch base with best practice writing techniques to keep your skills and qualifications updated. It will also help you identify whether you’re applying for jobs with a flawed CV without realising. 

Here’s our advice on how to write a cv, including best practice to help you avoid common CV mistakes and examples of a good CV.

Best practice for CV writing

Selling yourself as the ideal candidate for a job means showcasing your qualifications, skills and personality in way that instantly appeals to recruiters. Here’s a guide to writing best practice and how you can sell your skills for each job application by following an example of a good cv: 

•    Structure it with strategy

The ideal CV structure is one which starts with all the ‘need-to-know’ details, like name and contact information. Make sure they’re at the top, in bold, and are easy to read. Don’t forget to check phone numbers and email addresses to make sure they’re correct.

Personal details

Next comes your personal statement. This is your chance to sell yourself to a hiring manager or recruiter and show why you’re well-suited to the job. 

Try to keep your personal statement to a length of one or two short paragraphs (written in first-person tense) and tailor it to each job application you make. You can do this by looking at the job ad, picking out the skills and daily tasks the employer is looking for, and highlighting your own relevant experience in these areas.

You can use this same approach when writing your job application cover letter, too. 

Personal statement

Below your personal statement is your work history or work overview. This should run in chronological order, starting with your most recent job role and ending with your first job.

You should try to list up to 10 years of employment history, including company names, positions, dates and a brief overview of responsibilities, skills and tasks you were involved in.

If you’re trying to learn how to write a cv for a job with no experience, you can use this section of your CV to include placements and academic achievements you’ve received that prepare you for the role. It’s also important to avoid leaving gaps in your employment history, too. 

Work history and qualifications

After listing your work history, you can add some extra appeal to your job application by including qualifications, training and benchmarks you’ve reached within your career or academic background. 

Be careful not to go overboard—stick to current, ‘evergreen’ achievements or job qualifications that are relevant to the specific role.

Your interests

Employers are looking for candidates who are a good fit for the company culture as well as the job. You can demonstrate this by finishing your curriculum vitae with a short round-up of your personal interests, hobbies and pastimes. 

•    Easy-read length

HR managers are typically pressed for time. Combine this with the volume of CVs they’ll received for each vacancy, and you aren’t left with long to impress. 

Try to keep your CV to a maximum of two pages, following the structure above. You can maximise how readable your CV is by writing it in short paragraphs, using headers for each section (work history, qualifications, interests etc.) and keeping information in bullet points and short statements. 

•    Preferred writing style

Your personal statement and cover letter should be written in the present tense, for example: “I am flexible and find it easy to work fluidly on several projects at once.” It should sound current and direct.

Your work history should be written in the past-tense, as it is no longer current: “I was responsible for analysing product market trends”.

We recommend that your whole CV is written in first-person (me, I) so it sounds both personal and direct. 

•    Format of a CV

When you submit your CV, make sure it’s saved as a PDF file. This will make it look far more professional and is generally the preferred format. 

•    Check for errors

One in three job seekers ruin their CV with a typo or spelling error, so when you’ve finished your CV writing, check it for errors. It’s useful to enlist the help of someone else to thoroughly check it, too. This way you’ll get the benefit of a second pair of eyes to catch any CV mistakes you might have missed.

How to write an effective CV: The do's and don'ts

Do Don't
  • List your professional, higher education qualifications and O/A Levels with school details.
  • Indicate race/ nationality/ politics, etc.
  • Show recent vocational training.
  • Indicate your computer skills.
  • List every training course you have ever attended.
  • Say 'O Level French' if you can't hold a full conversation.
  • Include genuine foreign language skills.
  • Put down mundane interests.
  • Include your unusual interests.
  • Include present salary details.
  • Add a note of any publications and/or external positions you hold.
  • Give references.

Download our CV template to make sure that all the essentials have been included and that your CV writing format is correct for a successful job application. When you’ve finished, submit your finished CV to the Robert Half website and increase your chances of being hired.

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