What is a CV?
When should a CV be used?
What's the purpose of a CV?
How should I start writing a CV?
Are there any general guidelines?
How long should it be?
What should I include?
The most common mistake
What is a CV?
Your CV or curriculum vitae is your personal advertisement which markets you to employers. Your CV should contain those facts which are likely to interest an employer rather than comprehensive listing of every single fact about yourself.
Different employers may be interested in different things, particularly if they are recruiting for different types of work. So target your CV on a particular type of work or type of employer, stressing what is most relevant to the job you want. If you intend to apply for completely different types of job, you may need to develop more than one CV, each with its own emphasis.
There are many different ways to write an effective CV. So don't feel you have to create your CV in any one particular way. Experiment until you are happy that your CV gives the relevant details in a clear and persuasive way.
The sole purpose of the CV is to secure you an interview, so it’s vital that you send the right messages. Your CV is not simply a record of your career history, it’s a sales document which is aimed at enticing the consumer (employer) to buy the product (you!). An effective CV sells, as well as tells.
When should a CV be used?
A CV should be used when:-
The advert asks you to apply by CV or “in writing”
The advert does not specify either application form or CV
You are sending a ‘speculative’ application to an employer
It should not be used when an application form is requested, or as an accompaniment to an application form – unless specifically required. Some employers give the opportunity to attach a CV to their on-line application forms for example.
Unlike an application form, your CV is very much under your control and can be used over and over again (although will need modifying depending on the jobs for which you are applying). It is important that it is designed and presented well.
When writing your CV, try to keep its purpose in mind. Many advertisements attract an immense number of responses from graduates. Your first concern is to make sure that your CV conveys the kind of information that the employer will be looking for and that this information stands out and is easily seen at first glance. As with a newspaper, for example, your CV will be scanned quickly and, unless something interesting grabs the reader within the first few seconds, they will probably not bother reading it further.
What the purpose of your CV?
The purpose of your CV is to market yourself to an employer.
Your CV should, therefore:-
draw attention to your strengths
be easy to read
be immaculately presented
provide evidence that you have what they are looking for
How should I start writing a CV?
Don’t jump in at the deep end and start writing your CV in its final form straight away. Instead, list everything you can think of about yourself and your experiences and then think about how you are going to group and prioritise them. There may well be clues about priorities in the employer’s own information, or in the occupational information you have read prior to making a speculative approach. Think about what you want to include and then how you are going to present it in the most effective way.
Some experiences could be placed under more than one heading, e.g. being captain of your school hockey team would fit neatly under “Sporting Interests” but might be better highlighted under “Positions of Responsibility”, depending on the personal skills and attributes which the job advert is asking for.
On the other hand, some of your experiences will be more relevant than others. You will need to consider how you are going to bring these to the employer’s attention to achieve the greatest impact. For example, by placing a sporting interest where you are captain, before one in which you are only a team player; making sure a degree-related work placement appears on the front page or in a distinctive section of your CV.
IF AN EMPLOYER ASKS YOU TO APPLY USING AN APPLICATION FORM, DON’T SEND YOUR CV INSTEAD - IT WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE FILED STRAIGHT INTO THE BIN!
Are there any general guidelines?
There are no absolute rules for writing a CV. There are, however, a few general principles which should be followed. It should
- always be accompanied by a covering letter
- be word-processed on white/pale paper (2 sides max.)
- be well organised and easy to read
- be concise, emphasising your achievements
- be distinctive (demonstrating the kind of person you are by evidence of your experiences, skills etc.)
- be truthful (exaggerate a little, leave things out, but never lie)
How long should it be?
Quality not quantity
How you say something can be just as important as what you say. The same is true when writing a CV. You need to be positive, professional and enthusiastic in your CV. Stay within 2 sides of A4!
Choose words with an impact that will convey your ability to achieve. The best words to use are ACTION words. Examples are:-
Start your sentences with these action words rather than overusing the word “I”. Try to keep your sentences short as this has the effect of making your CV sound punchy and concise.
It is worth remembering that employers will probably have to be quite ruthless at the initial selection stage since they may receive vast numbers of applications. They will have to plough through all of these and reduce them down to a manageable number for shortlisting for interview. Imagine that they can only spend about 30 seconds glancing through each CV first of all - headings, the use of bold and clear spacing will help to guide their eye to the right places (remember you’re in control here!). It is better to include less detail spaced out neatly than trying to cram in everything, overwhelming the reader with surplus information.
While writing your CV, keep in mind, the kinds of posts for which you are applying. You may need to produce 2 or 3 CVs, depending on the emphasis on experience and skills required for each.
Your CV is evidence of your personal skills and achievements and should provide proof of these through selected details of your degree, work experience, extra-curricular activities, etc.
Positions of Responsibility
Publicity Officer, University Sailing Club
Initiated a campaign to attract new members.
Successfully convinced the Club ‘exec’ to back my campaign
Used a mix of posters and leaflets and succeeded in doubling the Club membership.
This candidate has given solid evidence of their achievements and shown what has been gained from this position. It is better to focus on specific, concrete actions, rather than making airy statements which don’t mean anything to the employer.
The appearance of your CV is almost as important as its content. A well-designed document will be more appealing than a scruffy, jumbled one. The look of a CV conveys a strong impression of the commitment of the candidate and sets the tone for a more detailed consideration of the contents – not to mention the level of the skill used in the organisation of the material.
The major practical consideration is that the information should be easily accessible. The different headings should be separated and identified clearly. The different fonts and formats available on a PC can help you (e.g. use of bold, enlarged type, italics, etc). Don’t overdo it though - and be consistent.
The overall aim of your CV should be to produce a well balanced document, giving a range of useful and accessible information in a concise form. Sometimes a particular experience is so rich in evidence about your potential value to an employer that it requires a much larger proportion of your CV. For example, if you are trying to enter a profession where relevant work experience is absolutely essential (e.g. working in the media, environmental work) you will need to concentrate a large proportion of your CV emphasising your own experience (voluntary or paid).
What should I inlcude?
There are no absolute rules as to what your CV should contain, but there are strict(ish) rules about presentation and organisation. It is expected that your details will be presented under headings (which makes the CV easier to read), Which headings you choose, however, what information you put into each section and how much space you allow will be entirely your own decision, depending on how you wish to organise your details.
General areas to cover:
- Personal details
- Work experience
- Skills and qualities
- Leisure activities/interests
- Personal details
The easiest part of the CV! Include your name, address (home and term-time if appropriate, with relevant dates at each), telephone number, email address, Details of your date of birth and nationality are usual. Marital status, place of birth are not relevant, so need not be included.
It is normal to start your CV with what you are doing right now. For the majority of you this will be your University education. Placing your qualifications in reverse chronological order means that your most recent and highest qualifications are seen first and that you establish yourself as a graduate straight away. Of course, if you are applying for casual work you may wish to play down your high academic status, in which case putting your degree last might be more preferable.
Some people like to separate place of study from their qualifications. This makes it harder for the employer to tie them together and wastes space, so is not advised.
You can list your GCSE and A levels across the page, rather than down it. You need not include your GCSE grades if you don’t feel they are necessary but if they are brilliant there’s really no need to leave them out. On the other hand, you may choose to list a selection of the most relevant or informative. Don’t be too brief with your degree course details (or too lengthy either.):
Consider the following example:
|2009 - 2012
||BSc (Hons) Economics
||Major course: Economics; macro and minor economic principles; statistics; econometrics
||Project: ‘The impact of the ECU on Business Success’ – involved working in a team of 4 students researching information and interviewing small UK businesses. Written up as 10,000 word thesis and presented orally to the department.
||King Edward VI School, Ipswich
||A-level: Biology(A), French(B), Maths(D)
||GCSE: 10 A-C passes including Maths and English
Giving an overview of your degree course is adequate unless you are applying for an academic position or Masters course, in which case listing out your subjects is a more relevant exercise. It is still very important, however, to include any group work, major dissertation and/or project undertaken during your studies. This will enable you to demonstrate how you are able to put your knowledge into action and will also provide evidence of some of your skills (e.g. analytical, research, team-working, communication, etc) which are what employers are really looking for.
IT CANNOT BE EMPHASISED TOO STRONGLY HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO DEMONSTRATE YOUR SKILLS IN YOUR CV.
The most obvious skills are technical, e.g. computing, language, driving licence. The less obvious are your personal skills, which will be equally important to the employer (e.g. self-awareness and management, interpersonal, oral communication, organisational, team working, problem-solving). As a graduate it is likely that your work experience is disparate and not very relevant to your application (e.g. shop work, bar and factory work is quite common). Allocating a special section to the skills you have developed in a range of work (including voluntary work) and extra-curricular and study experience can serve to consolidate this information. –. Include no more than 4/5 skills in this section giving evidence under each type. For example:
My contribution to the University netball team and involvement in group project work has developed my ability to work well in a team
Work in a local pub required the ability to deal with people from all parts of the community and in various states of consciousness
Effective writing and presentation skills developed through projects carried out during my degree course
Whilst at University it has been necessary to organise my time to fit in my casual work and academic studies
Able to carry out a number of different projects to meet deadlines
Organised a social event for 50 people when I was secretary of the University netball club.
Computing: wordprocessing (Word 6); databases (Access); Spreadsheets (Excel)
Languages: French (fluent); Spanish (working knowledge)
Full, clean driving licence
If you consider that your skills and qualities do not stand up to the scrutiny of a dedicated section, make sure that they are covered by the way you address them through your other sections.
Note that the point of your CV is to tie it to the job for which you are applying, so if the advert specifies the ability to ‘manage’, ‘market’, ‘organise’ etc. try to tailor your CV to include these skills and others which might be relevant, such as ‘computing’, ‘communication’.
The purpose of the work experience section is to demonstrate to employers the skills (technical, personal, etc) you have acquired whilst in the work place. It will also give them an indication of your potential. Any work experience is valuable whether it is directly related to thepost for which you are applying or whether it is casual vacation work. Whatever jobs you have held, think carefully about them and analyse the skills and personal qualities they required.
Shop Assistant (John Lewis) Summer 2011
Dealt with a wide cross-section of the public - enjoyed the contact and was successful in making sales.
Assisted with stock and sales records giving me an insight into administrative systems.
This candidate makes specific points about the experience of being a retail assistant, so illustrating the skills they can demonstrate. Even though the candidate may not be applying for jobs in the retail business, the interpersonal skills, willingness to learn and interest are all factors which will impress employers. Their reasoning is that if you can communicate well, or work in a team in one situation, it is evidence that you could transfer these personal skills to another environment or work place.
ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND THE SKILLS AND EXPERIENCES REQUIRED BY THE EMPLOYER AND TAILOR YOUR CV ACCORDINGLY
You can highlight what you consider to be your most important work experience by placing it first under your heading. This may present a problem of consistency, however, if you have presented your education in reverse chronological order, when you will need to maintain the same approach to other sections of your CV, so as not to confuse the reader. To work around this, you can introduce sub-headings to your work experience section (e.g. ‘Administrative-related experience’, ‘Retail Work’, ‘Voluntary Work’ and so on).
The more substantial and relevant your work experience, the less important are your leisure interests. To date, however, you may have a limited amount of work experience under your belt and so leisure interests will be important in demonstrating any other skills you have acquired. Leisure activities can be revealing to an employer, because they show what you like to do when you have a choice and can indicate levels of commitment. Are you a team leader (captain), do you join in team games or prefer individual activities (reading, swimming), do you have a personal interest in a certain topic (e.g. salsa, conservation, sci-fi, music)?
Again, you may feel that certain activities are particularly relevant to the job you are applying for and these need to be highlighted. It is not necessary to list interests in chronological order - they could be sub-sectioned in a number of ways: for example, separating School from University; having a travel section, grouping sporting achievements, etc.
It is usual to supply the names, (and addresses) of two referees at the end of your CV – and, subject to their agreement, other contact details if appropriate. Ideally, one will be associated with your academic background and the other with any work or outside activities you have been involved in (e.g. previous employer). Whoever you decide to use as a referee it is polite, as well as being more productive, to ask the person’s permission first. Give them a copy of your CV and try to keep them in the picture about the types of jobs you are applying for so that they can give you the most appropriate reference possible.
The most common mistake
The most common mistake is thinking that a CV is a quick and easy way to apply for a job, and sending out tens (or even hundreds!) of copies unsolicited to employers. Yes, there are many unadvertised jobs, and yes, many people get them through speculative applications. But if you don’t do enough research on the employer to know what sort of job they’ve got, you haven’t got much chance of explaining why you’re the world’s best candidate for it, and thereby persuading them to give you that all-important interview, have you?
There are a variety of computer packages available to help you write your CV, such as templates in Microsoft Word. They prompt you with questions about your education, work experience etc, then print a CV based on your responses. Using such a package can help you structure your thoughts, but it usually won’t help you think of the most relevant information to include in your CV or how to express it. They simply reproduce in a standard format the information you provide. The result may be a rather stilted CV that does not present you in the most appropriate way. The better ones can be more flexible in the way they handle your information and may be able to provide various style options. So, beware of packages and make sure you have control of the end result, rather than the package dictating to you.
Commercial companies charge clients to produce CVs which are usually very attractively presented. A word of warning, however - companies often have their own ideas about how a CV should look and may force your details into their framework in a way that may not suit your specific needs. The result can sometimes be impersonal and may not do you full justice. Some employers claim they can spot a CV produced by an agency. If you do decide to use an agency, ask to see samples of their work and then make sure they write your CV in the way you want it, not in the way they decide you ought to have it.
- Write out all the facts about yourself which you might want to include in your CV. Think carefully about all your experiences and be careful not to leave out important information. Casual work (even if it’s only factory work) will tell the employer something about you (ability to work with non-graduates, working in a team, using your time effectively). Short-term but very relevant experience such as work shadowing and voluntary work should also be included.
- Consider the experiences, interests and skills which you have written down and think about what they say about you. Are you a team leader, a loner, self-motivated, active, analytical? You should be able to demonstrate at least some of the competencies needed for the kinds of work for which you are applying.
- Decide how best to group all these facts under suitable subheadings. Some of your experiences may not fall comfortably into one particular category so you will need to decide where they are best placed. For example, playing hockey for the university could be placed under the following subheadings: leisure activities, sporting activities, teamwork skills.
- It all depends on the job you are applying for and how many of your experiences you are able to place under each heading. There is little point creating a “sporting activities” heading with only one example underneath it. Equally, if the job advert does not ask you to give specific evidence of teamwork skills there is little point creating a heading for it. You will probably need to experiment with your groupings until you feel you have achieved the best effect.
- Having grouped your information you now have to decide in which order each heading should be placed. Personal Details are usually first, followed by Education and Qualifications. Because you are a graduate (or a postgraduate) it is advisable to present your education in reverse so that your highest qualifications appear first.
- Work Experience could follow next and may contain details of a work placement, voluntary or casual work. If you have no work experience you will need to place more emphasis on your skills, interests and other activities. Each experience or interest should include a little extra detail about them - how much detail and space you provide will convey their degree of importance.
- Draft out the CV and see how well the information and headings fit the paper. At this stage in your career employers prefer to see two sides of A4. If, however, you have a lot of experiences and information seeming to require 3 or more sides of A4, you will need to present this as concisely as possible, without omitting important experiences to reduce its length. Use the space on each page of your CV effectively. For instance for a 2-page CV, don’t fill the first page and finish in the middle of the second - try to spread the information equally on both sheets.
- Once you are happy with the layout of your CV, reread it and check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Re-assess what the reader learns about you from the CV. Is it interesting? Is it easy to read (with clear and appropriate headings, good use of spacing, bold, underlining etc)? Does a picture emerge of someone who could do the kind of job for which you are applying?
- Once you have compiled your CV and you’re happy with it, why not show it to someone else and see if they can pick out all the points you are trying to convey easily. An objective view is always useful for any piece of written work. Survey your CV from time to time and check that you are still happy with it. It is quite normal to look at a document a week later and want to alter it slightly.
Other sources of information
- CV workshops - held at frequent intervals throughout term-time (sign up at jobs.lancs.ac.uk) )
- Your guide to…employability, employer requirements and applications (CEEC briefing sheet)
- Reference books in Careers Information Room
- Your Future