What is a CV?
A CV stands for Curriculum Vitae. That’s a Latin phrase which simply means the story of your life. It’s a short document used to show employers your previous experience and skills.
It shows whether you’re suitable for a job and if you have the skills and experience required for it.
Usually, normal CVs are only one A4 page. Some CVs may be longer if you’re applying to university or for a research role.
If you’ve never written one before, it can seem a bit scary at first. Once you know what to include, you’ll find your CV is written before you know it. That’s why we’ve broken down all of the key parts of a CV below. We’ve also included some helpful tips to make sure your CV ends up at the top of the pile.
What information should it contain?
CVs usually follow a standard format and contain important information. Employers use this information to decide whether to hire you.
No matter what kind of job you’re applying for, we all include the same basic information in our CV.
Below, we’ve created a checklist of all the important information you need to include in your CV. Feel free to print this off and tick off each item once you put it in your CV to make sure you don’t leave anything out.
- Your full name.
- Your home address.
- Your phone number (this can be both your home landline and your mobile number).
- Your email address.
- Your education history from high school onwards.
- Any qualifications you have. This can be things like a certificate from a training course or a degree from university.
- All your work experience.
- Any skills you have. These can be things like computing skills or targeted skills that are relevant to the job.
- Contact details for your referees.
- Any other achievements you have that might be relevant for the job. You can also use this section to include relevant hobbies of yours or other good things you do in your spare time. If you volunteer at your local church or with a kids’ football team, this is a good time to include it. This will show employers your character.
It is completely up to you how you arrange this information and where you put it in your CV. The most important thing is that it is all there to help the employer learn more about you.
Before you start your CV
To save yourself some time writing your CV, there are some things you can prepare before you start.
Print off our list above and grab a pen. Try brainstorming and writing down all the different jobs you’ve had and what skills you have. This will save you lots of time when you actually start writing the CV. It will also make sure you include everything you want to.
- Format. The first thing you should do is choose a format for your CV. A format is the CV layout that you want. If you want to use a basic format, then that’s up to you. If you would like something fancier, Microsoft Word have a lot of good templates you can use to build your CV.
- Personal details. List your name, address, telephone number and email at the top of the page. Make your name the largest out of everything. You can make it stand out by using a bold font and a larger font size. After your name, usually your address, telephone number and email appear underneath it. They usually appear in a smaller font. You can choose to put this information in the centre of the page or on the left or right hand side.
- Personal profile. This is a sentence or two where you sell your skills, experiences and personal qualities. It should be original and it should sum up your background and character in a positive way. This is a good place to use buzzwords that paint you in a good light and relate to the job you’re applying for. Some examples of these buzzwords are: organised, dedicated, reliable, efficient, good with people. Accurate, adaptable, hard-working, responsible, confident Etc.
Think about what skills you have here and how they match the job you’re applying for. This will help you write the personal profile.
- Education and qualifications section. Where you put this on the page is up to you. It can come first before all other sections or it can come at the bottom after your work experience section. This is usually written in reverse chronological order. This means you start with the most recent thing then work backwards. For example, if you went to university you would write this first, and then your secondary school. Usually you include the name of the college, what dates you attended it, what course you studied and what grades you received. Also, people don’t tend to go further back on their CV than A Levels or GCSEs.
- Work experience section. This will either go above or below your education section, depending on how you want to lay things out. You should include the company name, the dates you worked there, what your job title was, and what you did. This works the same way as the education section. You should start with your most recent job and work backwards. If you find you have too much experience, then only include the relevant things.
- Skills section. This section will probably be much smaller than the work and education section. You can put your skills into a smaller text box and arrange it at the side of the page, away from the main sections. This section will usually include your computer skills like Excel or Word Processing. It will also include any specific skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
- Interests and/or achievements section. This will probably also be a small section of only a sentence or two. This is a chance to show off any volunteering you do or any relevant interests you have. If you coach a local youth sports team, this is something that will help you appeal to an employer.
- ‘Other’ section. This is an optional section you can use if you need it. If you want to explain something to an employer then this is the place to do it. For example, if you’ve taken a long career break and you want to explain to the employer why, do it here. Similarly, if you are applying for a different career than normal, this is a good place to explain why.
- Referee contact details. You will need to provide referee contact details for any job that you apply for. You should include their names, job titles, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.
- Save the document. Now that you’ve finished your CV it is time to save it. Usually, you should save CVs in a PDF format so that it looks the same no matter what computer opens it. This is easy to do. When you hit ‘save’, a box will appear asking you what document name you want to use. You should first save the file under the name ‘Your Name CV’ to help the employer link it back to you if they lose it. It also looks more professional. Below the document name, you’ll find a drop-down menu which allows you to choose which format to save your CV in. You should see PDF as an option. Save it as both a PDF and again as a word document, so you can edit it in the future.
CV writing tips
- Research the job well before you start. Keep the job in mind while you’re writing your CV. Try to make sure you’re including information that will grab the employer’s attention. It is important to include everything, but give more space to the things that are useful for the position.
- Make sure your contact details are up to date. The last thing you want is including an old phone number and missing a call from an employer!
- Make sure your CV is free of spelling and grammar mistakes. This sounds simple, but it can be a mistake that costs you the job. There are plenty of free spellcheckers, like on Microsoft Word and others online. You can even get a friend or family member to check this for you as a fresh set of eyes.
- Be professional on your CV. Try not to include anything that might see unprofessional to an employer. This could be an old email address you’ve had since you were a child. It could also be something like an unprofessional interest or hobby on your CV.
- Make sure it is in an easy to read format. Try printing off your CV and glancing at it, to see how it will look from the employer’s point of view. If your CV is too overwhelming or if the layout is confusing, the employer might be less likely to read it properly.
- Cut out any extra words. The shorter the sentences and the less text your CV contains, the better. This will help it seem easy to read and straight to the point.
- Try to read CV as the employer, what would you think about it? If you look at it from their point of view, it might help you make some final corrections and edits.
- Only use one font colour or two at most. This will keep your CV easy to read and make sure it looks professional.
- Similarly, use one consistent font throughout. Times new roman or arial is best. Avoid things like Comic Sans as it can seem a little unprofessional.
- Bullet point formatting is best to help keep the layout simple and to the point.
- Don’t be lie on your CV. If you aren’t honest on your CV, the employer is likely to find out and this will ruin your chances at the job.
- Use active verbs wherever possible like ‘created’ ‘analysed’. These show that you really had an impact in your job.
- You don’t need a photo attached to your CV. This was an older practice which isn’t needed for job applications nowadays.