Top 10 tips for writing a great CV

Writing a great CV - Image credit: Thinkstock

CV tips and advice from our expert recruiters

If you are applying for a job your CV is the first opportunity to impress and position yourself ahead of other candidates. Ensuring your CV includes the right sort of information, in a clear and ordered structure, is all-important. Here are our ten top CV tips to help you on the way:

 

CV tip 1: choose an appropriate length

A hiring manager considering your job application will only have a limited time to look through the information you have presented, so it is important to be concise in what you say. Any CV which extends beyond two pages is too long - the hirer will simply not be able to digest everything you have written.

If your career history is so fantastic that two pages cannot possibly do you justice, the rule still applies. You need to be selective in what you include, focusing on quality over quantity. Simply edit out some of the less important points. Indeed, writing a CV must never become a vanity exercise - it is all about you selling yourself to a potential employer, rather than celebrating your own success.

CV tip 2: tailor your CV to the job

Circulating a generic CV around potential employers is unlikely to bring you success - it is important to tailor this document to each individual organisation/job. This does not mean starting again from scratch, but it may mean shifting some of the information around to focus on the points most relevant to each application.

Hiring managers want to be sure each applicant has a genuine interest in the role they have applied for, and see that they have clearly spent time on their submission. Otherwise it can give the impression you have been going for jobs indiscriminately, and this is simply one of many applications.

CV tip 3: make the key points most prominent

On a related point, you should always strive to position the most relevant details - your key qualifications, experience and skills - high up on the CV. Depending on the role you are applying for, and its varying demands, this information may change slightly.

When writing about skills and experiences, it is important to use the present tense - these are attributes you have, not those you acquired in the past but then lost due to lack of use. It is important to give the impression that you have a bank of skills which can be called upon when required.

CV tip 4: include relevant information

Hiring managers will be interested in your professional and higher education qualifications, along with information on your A-Levels and school exams. They may also be interested in where you studied.

Your CV should also show any recent vocational training you have undertaken, and include any genuine foreign language skills and unusual interests you may have. Even if they are not particularly relevant to the job, these hint at your ability to learn and develop new skills. And they could form the basis for an interesting conversation topic at interview, which allows you to show off your personality.

Similarly, it is wise to omit some information, such as your present salary, mundane interests, level of computer skills, and race/nationality/politics. Nor should you list every training course you have ever attended - simply focus on what is most important, and most relevant to the job you are applying for.

Activities you undertake in your leisure time may still be worth including, if they help demonstrate the potential value you could offer to an employer. But as always, be selective.

CV tip 5: avoid clichés

There is no harm in including a brief personal summary, explaining who you are and what you do. But this should include objective information - based upon facts - rather than subjective statements which are impossible to quantify. Employers may be looking for 'team players', 'natural leaders' and 'good communicators', but writing these clichés down on your CV proves nothing about you and your level of ability.

It is possible that every application a hiring manager receives includes these phrases, however each individual would have a different level of competency. So if you want to draw attention to your collaboration skills or leadership potential, do so through your listed achievements and experiences. Never make wild claims which could come back to haunt you at interview - a high-pressure scenario where they could easily be disproved.

CV tip 6: order your CV chronologically

The most conventional form of CV is chronological rather than functional. This means presenting your career history in reverse date order - including dates of employment - starting with your current job. As you describe your roles and responsibilities, allocate more space to the most recent positions, as these are typically where your key achievements are found. Otherwise, you risk giving the impression that you have 'gone off the boil' somewhat in recent times.

CV tip 7: tell the truth

If you embellish your CV in any way - by exaggerating achievements, or by making them up altogether - don't be surprised if this comes back to haunt you. Employers typically undertake background checking when considering job applicants, which may expose any untruths in your resume.

If you feel you have to lie on your CV in order to meet the required criteria, the chances are this is not the job for you anyway. Unless you have the qualifications, skills and experiences an employer is looking for, your chances of outperforming all other candidates are very slim. And even if you do successfully negotiate the interview and get the job, there's a good chance you could be exposed as a fraud in your first week.

CV tip 8: check spelling, grammar and formatting

One of the worst things you can do as a job applicant is submit a CV or covering letter containing spelling or grammatical errors. Having spent time arranging all the key information to suit the requirements of a job you want, the least you can do is spend a few minutes sub-editing the document. If in doubt, get a third-party to look over your CV to ensure there aren’t any glaring mistakes which could reflect poorly on you with the hiring manager.

If you are emailing your CV to a potential employer, this needs to be sent in an appropriate file - potentially as a PDF - to ensure the format does not change when it is opened. If the programme you have used is not available to the recipient, they will not be able to view the document as you have created it. Paragraphs, borders and spacings could be altered, making your CV look messy and rushed.

CV tip 9: build your CV

If your CV lacks depth and detail, you need to consider whether you have been proactive enough with your professional development. Have you attended courses to develop new skills? Have you undertaken work experience at appropriate points? And have you earned promotions with your current employer?

If you find yourself with little to write about, and have a relatively bare CV, consider the impression this may give potential employers. They may view you as being somebody who does not take their career seriously, and as such, will overlook your application irrespective of your competency and suitability for the job.

Building a great CV is all about being involved, and spending time and effort developing skills and expertise in your chosen field. Being able to report a wide range of professional experiences - both paid and voluntary - gives hiring managers the impression you are a serious operator, and somebody worth meeting in person.

CV tip 10: keep your CV up to date

Your CV is an evolving document, which you should be constantly tweaking and adding to. As you progress through your career, some of your early experiences and achievements will become less relevant, and these can be removed from the document to make room for something else.

It may be worth keeping multiple copies, if you have tailored your CV to suit a particular role. Should a similar opportunity arise in future, it will be easier to work from the modified CV as much of the key information will already be in place, in an appropriate order. This can save you time, and enable you to focus on preparing for - let's hope - your interview.

If you're updating your CV or tailoring it to a specific job application, try our online CV template. The easy-to-use tool will create a new CV for you to save and edit as needed.