Article by Rox Newsome

Senior CV Analyst & Writer

Author of The Irresistible CV & The Irresistible CV Profile

CV Writing Basics

A Short, Practical CV Guide 

If you have never written your CV before or are just not sure what to include in your CV and in what order, this is a basic guide about what to put in your CV and how to structure your CV. Here, I will outline what to include in your CV, in what order and how to write it.

 

Remember that you are aiming for 2 pages max. Planning, writing and experimenting with layout and fonts takes time, so don't try to write your CV in a rush.

 

What to put in a CV

  • Your name

  • Your contact details

  • A personal profile that describes your personal qualities and skills in a work context

  • A list of key and technical skills specifically related to the job role you are applying for

  • A work history section that contains details of when and where you have worked, job title and achievements

  • A section on education. qualifications and relevant training

How to write your name in a CV

This is fairly straightforward. You don't need to be too formal and can use the shortened version of your christian name, or even your nickname if it is appropriate, for example Chris instead of Christopher or Christine. Some people go by their middle name and this is fine but there is no need to include your middle name.  Due to anti-discrimination policies, employers are not allowed by law to ask your marital status, so avoid designating yourself as Mrs, Miss, Ms or Mx if you are a woman - just your name will do. If you have a professional title such as Dr., you can include it but nobody will think any the worse of your CV if you don't. Writing a list of letters after your name to identify qualifications and memberships can come across a little pretentious and like you are trying too hard, but if the job specifications mention particular qualifications or memberships then these are likely to be keywords so should be included somewhere.

Make the font (text) of your name bigger than the rest of your text, only don't go overboard and make it massive. That is taking attention-seeking to a scary level!

What contact details to include in a CV

This is pretty straightforward but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. You should always include your phone number and email address in your CV. Nothing more is actually needed. However, you may wish to include the URL of your LinkedIn profile, if you have one. Links have an awkward habit of not behaving (it's a problem I find quite often) so don't add it specifically as a link but just a URL, which can be copied and pasted. This will avoid any problems with the link that might cause frustration.

It is inadvisable to include your full address and totally unnecessary because, these days, nobody will be writing to you. This, for me, is a safety issue as well as a space-saver. Candidates can be very trusting when submitting their CV, even when they know that there are scam artists out there dying to get their hands on as many of their personal details as possible. One way to be careful is to not provide full address details.

 

Not only that, some employers will discriminate based on postcode, unfortunately. This discrimination may not be due to them having a negative opinion on where you live, but because they might favour candidates who live closer to the place of work.

What to write in a personal profile for a CV

Writing a profile or personal statement for a CV is one of the aspects of CV writing that people find daunting. It can be very difficult writing about yourself.

Your personal profile is the first thing a hiring manager will notice - it's your intro -  so it needs to hook them in and make them want to read on. Despite advice you may see to the contrary, a couple of sentences is not enough to get the right message across effectively. However, it should be just one single paragraph of between 100 - 150 words, give or take.

The main thing to remember when writing your CV profile is that it needs to be sharply focused on the job role you are applying for. Many people make the mistake of just giving an overview of their career when they really should be targeting their profile for their next career move. 

Write your profile as if you are already in the role. To do this, analyse the specifications of the job role you are interested in to find out what is important. Not all job descriptions are well written and some don't give much away at all. If this is the case, look at a bunch of similar roles to see what they have in common.

Don't focus too hard on your technical skills and achievements in your personal profile. You can write about those later. The employer wants to get a feel for you, so make it more about your attitude, attributes, qualities and approach to tasks. 

How to write about skills in a CV

When writing about your skills in your CV, it is important to remember that the employer is not just looking for technical skills, sometimes called hard skills. They also want to know about soft skills as these are essential in any and every job role at any career level. Hard skills are learned whilst soft skills are generally ones were born with and part of our personality, although most of us begin to recognise more soft skills in ourselves and develop them over time when we have new experiences, like becoming a parent, for example

Some examples of hard skills 

  • Using a computer

  • Reading and writing

  • Using tools and operating machinery

  • First Aid

  • Driving

Some examples of soft skills are:

  • Verbal communication

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Potential to learn

  • Empathy

  • Creativity

These are very simple examples of hard and soft skills that the majority of us possess to some degree. What changes from job to job is how we use both natural and learned skills and which ones.

 

Before starting your CV it is useful to make a skills inventory. Basically, spend some time thinking about all of your skills and make a list. It is good idea to ask your friends and family about what skills they think you have too, because we take many of our own skills for granted because we use them without thinking and stop noticing them.

Once you have your list, however, do not just list them the same way in your CV. Instead, you should expand on them a little, so they make sense in terms of the specific job role you are going for.

Imagine you are applying for the role of Retail Assistant...

The wrong way to list skills in your CV

  • Strong communicator

  • Problem solving

  • Teamwork

  • Organisation

  • IT skills

  • Fast learner

The right way to list skills in your CV

  • Excellent communications skills with the ability to engage confidently and positively with diverse customers

  • Addresses problems patiently and appropriately, remaining calm and professional, with a positive outcome in mind

  • Supportive team member who will always help colleagues when needed to ensure team goals are achieved 

  • Outstanding self-management skills with the ability to plan and prioritise tasks to make the best use of time

  • Competent in using IT, including customer and product databases and EPOS (electronic point of sale) systems

  • Ability to develop product knowledge quickly and adapt to new roles and responsibilities with ease

Expanding on your skills​ in this way shows you really understand what skills are needed for the role and why you may need to use them. This will give the hiring manager confidence that you have a well-rounded idea of the role and it also sounds more professional to boot.

How to write about experience in a CV

When writing about your experience in your CV, you should include dates of when you worked in a role, your job title and the name of the company. Jobs should be listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first and going back in time). Aim to include measurable achievements and not just a list of responsibilities so the employer gets a good idea of how well you performed in a role, rather than what you did on a day to day basis. 

Many people, especially at earlier career levels, struggle to pinpoint their achievements. What you have to remember is that with few exceptions, a job role exists because it makes business sense and that business sense revolves around profit. Most jobs exist to make or save the company money.

Think about your current and previous roles and how you performing that role benefited the company. Stuff like finding new ways of doing things that saves time or getting good reviews from customers all count more than you might realise. 

Finding new ways of doing things that save time might not seem much of an achievement if you have found a way to do something just 10 minutes faster each day. However, that 10 minutes a day saves 50 minutes a week that can be devoted to other tasks instead, increasing productivity. When you have passed on your new method to 10 colleagues, that saves 500 minutes a week, adding up to a whopping 24,000 hours over a year. If the company is paying everyone a rate of £8.50 ph, that adds up to a saving of £204, 000 annually when you convert time to money. See how even seemingly insignificant achievements work?

Getting a great customer review goes a long way to maintaining and building the reputation of a company. Having a good reputation is important to retaining customers and growing the customer base. A good review and reputation encourages word of mouth recommendations is basically free marketing and not to be sniffed at when most companies spend at least 10% of their revenue on advertising. Good reviews may allow the company the leeway to reduce their marketing expenditure and 10% of £1m is £100k! That is a measurable achievement!

Understanding the purpose behind your current and/or previous roles is key to figuring out how you made or saved the company money. It's true of almost every job role so don't think you haven't accomplished anything for the company. You did or you would have been sacked or made redundant.

When you write about your work experience, it is much better to write it in bullets rather than paragraphs. This is simply because it is too easy for a hiring manager to overlook important points in a sea of text. Bullets are easier and faster to read and relevant information stands out more.

Examples of how not to list work experience in a CV

In this role my duties involved picking orders and serving customers at the till. I made sure the store was tidy and presentable for customers, cleaning up spills and broken items immediately for health and safety. There was a lot of customer service in my role so I dealt with customers in a polite and professional manner.I checked product availability on the database and returns if a customer brought something back. 

OR

  • Processing customer orders

  • Maintaining the product database

  • Providing customer service

Example of how to list work experience in a CV

  • Consistently met targets leading to overall improved productivity resulting in more orders being processed hourly

  • Identified how to save time completing an administrative task and shared best practice resulting in 24.000 saved man hours annually

  • Encouraged customer feedback and recommendations across social media, contributing to increasing our rating from 2 to 4 stars on Facebook within 4 weeks

Avoid ​the temptation to add irrelevant information to bulk your CV out. Seriously. Hiring managers are only interested in what matters to them, not what matters to you, so it is a waste of space, time and effort including stuff they are not thinking about.  Keep it focused, sharp and relevant. And don't waffle.

In general, recruiters will focus on recent experience which means no more than 10 years. Avoid the temptation to list every single thing you have ever done in minute detail in your CV. Experience from more than 10 years ago can just be listed as companies you have worked for or your job title and companies you have worked for. Be confident and trust that if you just say. at the end of this section "Additional details of featured and previous roles can be provided on request or found on LinkedIn" an interested recruiter will definitely ask for more information and/or look you up on LinkedIn.

How to list qualifications in a CV

This is easy. These generally come last in your CV, even when you are a graduate because theoretical knowledge is no substitute for experience and, in the case of graduates they want to know you are employable, not just knowledgeable.

For simplicity and ease of reading, put all education, qualifications and certifications under one heading. They all amount to the same thing in a hiring managers eyes.

Don't forget to list unaccredited, in-work or casual training. This can often be more relevant than even a degree. If you are working in a manufacturing environment which is more relevant? A degree in English Literature or an understanding of Health & Safety in a work environment? 

Certifications and memberships belong here too, as they are directly related to knowledge.

Unless you have very recently graduated and this is the first job in your field, do not go into detail about course modules, papers or research. Even if you are pursuing your first role after graduating, this is most often unnecessary. Keep it simple and easy to read. Instead, just write something like "Details of relevant modules, papers and research can be supplied on request." 

CV writing is a complicated business and I hope this article has answered some basic questions for you. We have additional articles you might find useful on our blog page

Why not check out our Professional CV, Cover Letter, LinkedIn and Job Application writing services?  We also provide a free CV reviews! Just go to the top of the page to see the menu.

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