Eight steps to a killer CV

Almost every job you apply for will require you to send a CV. A CV is a document that states your academic and work achievements, giving potential employers a quick reference point to base their decision of whether to offer you an interview or not. 

This is usually your first contact with the employer, whether it’s on paper, via email or uploaded to an online portal, so it’s important you make yours as good as possible. A CV is a great way for you to show the employer you are right for the job, even before an interview. To try and maximise your chances of being successful in your job applications, you need to know what makes a good CV. Here are eight easy points that you need to consider when CV writing:

1. Presentation

You have to make the content of your CV unique, yet this doesn’t mean for you to have an elaborate presentation to stand out from the crowd. You can't afford for a recruiter to reject your CV because they don't get on with your font or layout, so make sure the document is well presented but has a basic layout.

Suggestions include:

  • Use a simple business font (Arial, Calibri, or Verdana)
  • Use bold or italics to emphasise text (like job roles) rather than underlining
  • Use bullet points, numbering and dashes to format content
  • Aim for two pages in length
  • Use a high quality A4 paper (should the recruiter want a hard-copy)

2. Personal details/header

This is standard and required by all employers. Don’t included everything though; things that you shouldn't write down are; your date of birth, marital status or gender. Also, don't include the header 'curriculum vitae' it’s a waste of space and looks rubbish, after all the recruiters should already know what the document they’re reading is. 

The personal details you should include are:

  • Name
  • Postal address
  • Email address
  • Telephone number(s)

3. Personal profile

This is a section that shows the employer you’re focused and determined to pursue a career in their industry/ field. This usually is a summary of expertise and suitability. Don't fall into the trap of making bland statements (i.e. "I am hardworking") that should be obvious from the content of your CV. Make this a factual and relevant selling point.

It should:

  • Be no longer than 2-4 sentences
  • Have an overview of your current situation - "I have just graduated with a degree in ..."
  • Detail what it is you want to do - "I am looking for a job as a ... in the field of ..."
  • Be different for each application You should make it specific to the job and the employer

4. Education

Education is important for your first graduate CV. Start with your most recent education and work your way back your years of academia. Your recruiter/ employer wants a snapshot of you as an academic, not a summary of 15 years' worth of your school reports. Focus on university grades, specialisations and extra-curricular experiences to start with; this is your time to throw light on those skills which might include leadership, project management, communication and presentation skills. 

Essentially the education section should contain:

  • All qualifications in reverse-chronological order
  • The dates you attended each establishment
  • Degree subject, type, grade and establishment
  • Detail on specialisation/university experience
  • A level grades, subjects and establishment GCSE grades and establishment (subjects not necessary, unless otherwise specified)
  • Other skills - computer literacy, languages etc.

More on TSR: 
Here are some job interview tips and common questions, take a look 
Check out the apprenticeships and altenatives to university forum now! 
Ever considered going travelling? We have a place that you chat about it

Woman working at desk

5. Work experience

You might think that at this stage you don't have much in the way of work experience - but don’t panic. This is the part where you can include everything you have done from internships to voluntary work and schemes to summer placements. As long as you have developed business skills, then it is worth putting on your CV. Don’t write essays about part-time work with limited responsibility. Similar to education, this should be listed in reverse chronological order. 

Your work experience will be comprised of:

  • Company or organisation, dates and job title
  • A sentence outlining the role you performed
  • Bullets summarising specific responsibilities
  • Bullets backing up specific achievements whilst in this role

6. Interests and activities

Now’s the time to say a little bit about you as a person, outside of work. You can mention any activities or hobbies you have - but obviously keep it appropriate; There are certain things that a graduate recruiter just won't want to hear, so use initiative. 

Some things you could include here are:

  • Sports teams/ societies/clubs
  • Travel
  • Hobbies
  • Awards (particularly good as they can suggest a high achieving and competitive nature)

7. References

Two references are usually ample for your entry-level graduate CV. One can be academic and the other from a period of work experience. You can choose to leave out the contact details if, for example, one is a current employer or you would prefer to contact them first.

8. Proof-reading and final notes

Is your CV well presented? Has it conveyed all of your accomplishments as well as an idea of you as a person? Have you missed anything out?

Try out some of the following proofing methods:

  • Leave it overnight - you will find that fresh eyes spot new mistakes
  • Don't forget the obvious - I'm sure we don't even have to mention spell-check, do we?
  • Read it out loud - this can help identify tone, check the flow and ensure you haven't just constructed a wordy list
  • Ask everyone you can to have a look! - peers are good, but professionals in the industry are even better.
  • Be prepared for a little criticism because, after all, you want the best possible CV.

One more important point - don't be tempted to 'stretch the truth' in your CV. Getting your foot in the door would be worthless if, once you are at interview, you can't back up your claims. You want an employer who wants you for all the unique skills and experience you can bring. 

More on TSR: 
If you've recently graduated, take a look at the graduate discussion thread 
50 interview questions to help when you're preparing for an interview 
Still struggling to write your CV? Take a look at the CV help forum