How to write a CV

You've seen a job advertised that looks perfect for you. Great! It's time to make an application. Don't worry - this guide will help you put together a great CV to get your application off to the best possible start.

Let's discover what a CV is, how to write one and the pitfalls to look out for. This will be someone's first impression of you, so let's make it count.

What is a CV?

Your CV is a simple summary of who you are, your skills, your experience, and your interests. A well written CV can boost your chances of getting an interview, so you should use it to emphasise your strengths and make your application stand out.

How you present your CV is just as important as what you write in it. Make sure the content is displayed in an easy to read and concise way. This will not only help the person reading your CV, it will also impress them with your presentation and communication skills.

Have a look at the illustration to see the various sections you should include and click on the tabs below for more information about each one.

Contact details

Starting things off simple, the contact section is there to let companies know the best way they can get in touch with you.

Do

  • Be professional, and easy to get hold of
  • Write your full name at the top of the page as an overall title, so it stands out on the page
  • Include your home town or city, a phone number, and your email address.

Don't

  • Don't create the wrong first impression by having an unprofessional email address or answerphone message
  • Don't include your LinkedIn profile unless it's fully up to date and relevant
  • Don't use unusual fonts or blocks of colour

Personal statement

This is a few short lines that sum up who you are and what you hope to do. Think about the job you want and what the employer is looking for. Make your profile sound like you're the right person for the job.

Do

  • Use plain English and write naturally
  • Tailor your personal statement to the job that you're applying for
  • Write about your skills and experience relevant to the role
  • Use details that will be of value and add credibility
  • Add in any relevant qualifications, and details of any volunteering work
  • Use the last sentence to sum up your reasons for applying, so that the reader understands your motivation

Don't

  • Don't make this section too long. Aim for 50 - 100 words or 5-7 bullet points
  • Don't use the third-person, like he, she or they - use a first-person narrative, such as 'I have the skills to…”
  • Don't use clichés like 'good at working in a team, as well as on my own'
  • Don't be inconsistent, make sure your CV reads like it was written by one person, at the same time

Transferable skills and achievements

Skills are a vital part of your CV. They are key to showing an employer that you are qualified to do the job. Skill types can be broken down into two categories: soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are personal attributes and qualities that affect how you do the job. Hard skills, on the other hand, are part of the essential skill set needed to do a job successfully, and as a result, are job specific. Sometimes called technical skills, they are quantifiable and are often learnt through formal courses and training.

Do

  • Highlight skills that show your key experience, especially if you're looking to switch roles or applying for your first job
  • Organise your bullet points in this section with the most relevant at the top
  • If you're aged 16+, use our Find Your Potential tool to help you identify, and describe, your key skills
  • If you don't have work experience or limited work experience, call this section “Transferable skills” and list out four to five key skills you have developed during your time at school, college or university

Don't

  • Don't include irrelevant information – keep it to a few statements that explain how you fit the needs of the job
  • Don't make this section too big, keep it to six or seven bullet points overall
  • Don't make anything up, you'll get caught out in the interview

Job history

Include work placements, volunteering and any paid jobs you’ve held. If you’re applying for your first job, you can focus on skills you’ve learned through projects, part-time work, school work experience, internships, placements or volunteering.

Do

  • Give a brief overview of your roles and responsibilities and use bullet point information to show how you match the skills required
  • List specific examples and achievements, such as how you achieved something and what the outcome of that was – for example, money saved, process improved, better teamwork
  • Use numbers and data to back up your achievements, such as achieving a 5% increase in sales because of something you did

Don't

  • Make it hard to understand your job history - start with your current job and work backwards

Education history

This section can be added after your personal profile when you’re early on in your career or if you do not have much work experience. Whatever order you choose, you’ll need to give the names and grades of your qualifications

Do

  • List more recent qualifications first, and any courses or qualifications specifically relevant to the job should be included in your personal statement
  • Summarise your school qualifications in one line, for example, 8 GCSE Grades A-C, list your English and maths grades specifically as this is what employers look for

Don't

  • Don't add dates or names of your schools

Things to consider

Here are some other top tips on how to make a great CV.

Do

  • Include anything that can help to 'build your personal brand'
  • Write about any outside interests that you have that are relevant to the job's requirements - this might include community work, volunteering or even some relevant hobbies
  • Ensure you spell check your CV for spelling and grammar

Don't

  • Don't include a photo
  • Don't leave any CV template instructions visible if you use one

Pitching the right tone

When writing your CV, the language you use should be professional and concise. Use 'power verbs'. These describe what you do in the workplace with a positive tone – 'managed', 'reduced' and 'supported' are all power verbs and will give your CV more impact.

Keep your sentences short and to the point as you can go into more detail in your interview. If something doesn't add value, don't put it in. Avoid jargon and read your CV aloud. Does it make sense, or have you overcomplicated some of the content?

Check it, and check it again

Check, check and then check again! Don't rely on spell checker to spot any spelling mistakes or typos. Once you've finished creating your CV, give yourself some time away from your screen and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Take your time reading through everything you've written. Reading aloud can also help you to notice anything that needs to change. Ask a friend, parent, teacher, or colleague to check over it too.

Remember your CV needs to be a fair reflection of you and your skills. Don't make anything up, you'll get caught out, especially in your interview. CVs are often used as the basis for interviews and may have a strong influence on the topics discussed, so you're likely to be questioned on any information you include in your CV.

Tailor your CV for each job you apply to

If you're already in a job, make sure you keep updating your CV. It makes things easier when you apply for a new role and means you won't forget to include important information.

Make sure that you tailor your CV for every role you apply for. All the information you provide should be relevant for the job and show you have the ability and experience in the areas needed - review it against the job advert if you're unsure. A great, simple exercise is to highlight all the key experience needed in the job advert, then check your CV has clearly outlined where you have that experience or transferable skill. Finally, but important, keep the document name simple, such as “Joe Bloggs CV.doc”

Download CV template (59kb .doc)

No work experience yet? We've got you covered.

If this is your first CV and you don't have any work experience, don't panic! Think about:

  • Projects you've led or supported on at school, college, or university
  • Extra-curricular activities and hobbies – what skills did you develop?
  • Any part time jobs, volunteering or work experience you've gained
  • Your qualifications or any learning you've completed yourself, such as online courses

Now you have your CV prepped and ready it's time to start preparing for that interview. Have a look at our help with interviews guide to get started.

Take a look at our interview guide