Seeing as there are so many threads on this, I though it best to have all advice in one place. Post your CVs here for a critique, or just post general helpful advice for those in the process or making or updating a CV.
Tips For CV Writing by Good Bloke:
As an interim measure, here is my first draft of a contribution to TSR's forthcoming career advice section. If you expect to get advice about improving your CV you will need to demonstate that you have followed the initial advice given here (as far as I am concerned).
Tips for writing a CV
These tips apply to general CV writing. In a few very specialised cases (the performing arts or modelling, for example) they may not apply entirely. But you won’t go far wrong in following them as a starting point.
Occasionally, an employer will give specific directions which will contradict this advice. In cases like this you must always do exactly what the employer requests or risk being overlooked. Remember, if you demonstrate that you can’t follow simple instructions you are likely to be marked down immediately and, possibly, irreparably.
What format should I use?
It is important to realise that a CV is an exercise in selling yourself in a highly constrained and abbreviated format. Write one that is too long, or in the wrong format, and you run a serious risk of it being binned without a reading. It is not a document for the verbose or for the essay writer. Rather like poetry and script writing, condensation is all-important. Include only what is relevant and positive. A CV is not anything like a UCAS personal statement, so don’t start off by cannibalising one. A resumé (which is shorter) is not generally used in the UK for job applications.
Order and content
You won’t go far wrong if you include the content detailed here in the order outlined below. The key is to give the most relevant information first, and follow on with less important information, or information that will be used later by the reader.
Notice specifically what should not be included:
1. Your name (typically centred in larger letters as a heading)
2. Telephone number(s) and email address (on the next line under your name) - the employer will, you hope, need to find this easily and quickly
3. A profile of you as a potential employee, drawing out your best assets (usually factually, in bullet points or short sentences)
4. Your education history from secondary school onwards, including your major qualifications, most recent at the top
5. Your employment history, in reverse chronological order, outlining:
a. Employer’s name
b. The job you did
c. The dates
d. Your responsibilities
e. Your achievements
6. Personal details, including:
a. Professional qualifications
b. Relevant post-education training received
c. Other relevant facts (such as the possession of a full, clean driving licence, language skills, generic IT skills)
d. Your postal address (on one line)
Each of the sections (profile, education, employment history, personal details) should have a heading. Numbers 4 and 5 (education and employment history) should normally be reversed once you have some post-education work experience – remember, the most important information should come earlier and this can change as you go through your career. Later on your, as your career progresses (though not in academia, of course) education can even be condensed to a single line in the personal details section. At this stage much of your early career might be condensed very considerably as it is no longer very relevant to what you will be applying for.
It is important to ensure that you review a standard CV each time you send it out to make sure it is still correct, reflects the current situation and that all the information is relevant to the job for which you are applying. Remember, it is not necessarily important to include everything for every application.
1. The words or heading curriculum vitae – it is obvious what the document is, so don’t waste the spaceAnd don’t forget, this document is all about what you have already done, not what you are predicted to do or hope to do in the future. Such matters should be reserved for the covering letter.
2. Your address at the top of the page – it is not necessary, and is a distraction if you place it there
3. Any mention of references – they are not needed at this stage and the employer will ask for them when they are required
4. Anything more than a line or two about your interests and hobbies, unless you know that it will be especially relevant. If you are short of space this should be the first information to be taken out entirely
5. Repetition of any information – this is both unnecessary and irritating to the reader
6. Headers, footers and page numbers (or any other extraneous information such as document names or version numbers)
7. Page borders, title pages, binders, covers
8. Reasons for leaving previous jobs
9. Salary information
10. Irrelevant information
11. Negative information
Follow generally-accepted typographical conventions:
1. Use a serif font for body text and, perhaps, a sans serif font for headings
2. Do not underline headings (or anything else) – use bold text or a different font size for headings
As a school leaver or recent graduate, keep the CV to a single side of A4. Treat this as an absolute rule. In mid-career you would be able to use a second sheet. When you become an old lag (i.e. a highly experienced senior executive), with decades of experience and expertise to offer, you may permit yourself the indulgence of a third side.
Because space is so tight, you will sometimes have to place several pieces of information on one line (for example, company name, job title, dates), separated by tabs. This may offend your sense of what looks good, but don’t worry about it – it is entirely conventional and makes good use of space.
Do not use esoteric fonts (such as script fonts or Comic Sans), coloured text, boxes of any kind, tables (even those that do not have borders around them), drawn lines, borders or any other fancy embellishments. Just don’t – they are distracting, can ruin the layout, and many readers will find them irritating. The last thing you want to do is irritate the reader.
Make sure there are no spelling mistakes, colloquialisms, grammatical errors or punctuation errors. Don’t rely on your word processor’s spelling checker to spot these – get the document checked by someone you can trust. Do not fall into the common trap of capitalising common nouns such as subject names. Make sure that your columns and tabs are all aligned as you intend.
Don’t tell any lies. After you are employed you can be fired if the employer finds out that you have lied on your CV. And being caught out in a lie at the interview is likely to be fatal to your chances. You’d be surprised how many recruiters personally know the man you are claiming to have worked for previously – it is a very small world in recruiting. And many are not averse to ringing these contacts for an impromptu discussion about a candidate. In any event, most employers will formally follow up references in writing.
Make sure there is a reasonable amount of white space on the document. This makes it easier to read – and you do want it to be easy to read and understand, don’t you?
If you are sending or delivering your CV in hard copy format, use a good quality paper rather than ordinary photocopy paper, though avoid card or coloured or embossed paper.
Make strong, brief, condensed statements (excluding personal pronouns) such as “Successfully implemented a system to blah blah…” in preference to “I successfully blah blah…”.
Do not make unsupported statements (such as “I can/am able to blah blah” or “I have blah blah”). It is much better to demonstrate what you can do by outlining where you have previously done it (and with what success).
Use strong, active verbs such as “implemented”, “achieved”, “planned”, “initiated”, “developed”, “launched”, “improved” where relevant – avoid the wishy-washy. You must, however, back up your claims with events or numbers.
Do not write essays. There should be no paragraphs or mini-essays at all.
Avoid industry jargon unless you know the reader can understand it.
Avoid a naïve style of writing – you are trying to impress in the world of adult work and the phraseology should reflect this.
Tips for writing a covering letter
This advice applies to the situation in almost any industry. However, there are a few specialist situations in which the case might be different (the performing arts spring immediately to mind), in which case you should take specialist advice from within that industry.
Never send a CV without a covering letter.
Tell the reader that you are writing to apply for a job, not that you are interested in applying. And be specific – do you want a summer internship, a permanent position, a vacation job, a contract position, or are you enquiring about future employment possibilities?
State that you are enclosing (or attaching, if it is an email) your CV.
Make a point of mentioning how you learned of the opportunity – mention the advertisement (including the name of the website or publication), agency or whatever, including any reference number.
It might also be appropriate to mention the name of anyone who suggested that you write a speculative letter.
The main task of the covering letter is to entice the reader into looking at your CV before they throw it in the bin. It is the first document that will be read, in all likelihood, and it must, therefore be very well written and tailored specifically for that employer and opportunity.
It should be obvious that it must be flawless in terms of spelling and grammar, and should be written in an easy-to-read mature style. Avoid buzzwords and convoluted or clever-sounding words and phrasing.
Always highlight what it is about you and your background - education, skills, experience - that is relevant to the position you are seeking. Again, be specific and use examples to demonstrate what you are claiming. You might expand on something in your CV here.
Always make sure that you provide (and/or refer to) any information that has been specifically requested and is not appropriate to include in the CV. This might include your availability for interview (which should always be mentioned in any event), or an enclosed sample of your work. In general it is not appropriate to include anything that has not been requested, and do not expect to receive back anything that you do send.
Always state that you can be contacted (and how) in the event there are any queries with the information you have provided.
The whole letter should be brief – never more than a single side of A4 paper – and 300 words is a good guideline to aim for.
Always try and write to a specific individual, and style the letter appropriately and conventionally.
Do not include (unless specifically requested):
- Your age or date of birth
- Your current salary
- Your salary expectations
- Any mention of references
- A photograph
- Any amusing anecdotes
If you are asking here for advice about a covering letter, please tell us what you have been asked to include. Better still, post the link to the job advertisement so that we can see the full context.