What is a good CV?

Busy managers don’t have time to wade through pages of information – make sure your CV gets their attention and makes an impact.  These are some tips to help you to stand out from the crowd;

  • Don’t create more than two A4 pages.  If you’re a recent graduate one page is fine, use a sensible layout to make it look professional with appropriate headings.  If you’ve a long career behind you summarise your key skills and list your major achievements.
  • Remember the purpose of a CV is to get you an interview – not to get you the job.  It’s your ‘sales pitch’ – make sure you focus on the key skills and experience that relate to the role you want to obtain.
  • Whilst an objective is not essential it does make you stand out.  Don’t write lots of waffle – state your objective clearly and simply at the top of the CV.
  • Don’t waste the top third of your page with your name, address, phone number, etc.  Think of your front page as a letterhead – your name in bold at the top with two lines underneath – your address and your phone and email contacts – big enough to read, but small enough not to take up too much space. 
  • You do NOT need to include – marital status, age, date of birth, number of children, sexuality, race, religion, nationality (unless there is an issue with a work permit or the job requires you to visit a country where you may not be given entry), whether or not you have a driving licence (if the job requires it, you should not be applying if you don’t have one).
  • Your qualifications should show only the highest level – for example if you have GCSEs (GCE O level), A levels and a degree – only the degree need be listed.  If you have more than one degree in different subject areas include all of these.  Include professional qualifications and list any vocational courses you may have done.  Don’t let these take over the whole page, however, if you’ve done a number of in-house programmes in other roles then they can be listed:

    Time management (2003), Communication skills for managers (2005), Finance for the non-financial manager(2005), Negotiation skills (2006).

  • Your employment record should start with the most recent and show start and finish month/year; your role title and the company name and location (not the full address).  A brief description of any activities undertaken that are not obvious from the job title and any key achievements in the role.  This description should not exceed 5-6 lines.
  • It’s unnecessary to go back more than 10 years.  Anything prior to that is likely to be out of date.  If you have had similar roles in different companies don’t repeat the same description, just list the dates, role title and company.
  • You do NOT need to give reasons for leaving any of your previous roles.
  •  If you have a range of key skills and abilities that are not obvious from your job record and may be relevant to the role for which you are applying, add a section and list these.
  • If you have experience in several industries you can add an ‘Industry experience’ section (after your employment record) listing these.
  • Leisure interests can be helpful to a potential employer in ascertaining whether you have additional skills that may be transferable into the work place.  Consider what you include here; watching videos and socialising may not impress a future employer!  However, do not put anything down that is not true or that you have not been active in over the past year – if you get caught out, you will simply get labelled as unreliable at best.  This section should come at the end of your CV.
  • You do NOT need to include references or referees.  When you get to the stage of being offered the role the employer will ask for the contact information for references.
  • Stick to simple language and short sentences – don’t make the reader have to work too hard.  By all means demonstrate a knowledge of the industry, but don’t pepper your CV with jargon.  Short sentences and paragraphs and white space will improve the chances of your CV being read and remembered.
  • CV’s are generally scanned rather than read.  Key information needs to go on the first page, the second page will probably only get a cursory glance.  Ensure that each section has clear headings e.g. Objectives; Qualifications and training; Employment; Key skills, Industry experience, Leisure interests.
  • Choose one font and use it in different sizes, bold for your headings and front page header.  Don’t mix serif (e.g. Times New Roman) and sans serif (e.g. Arial) fonts.
  • Create your CV in a Word format then save it as a pdf file.  This ensures that any formatting remains in the right place and you retain the professional image you want to create.  Whilst pdf files may be slightly larger than Word files, today’s computers can easily manage these.  It may be worth sending a text version in case the recipient has a different version of the application to the one in which it has been created. 
  • If you’re sending your CV in paper form use good quality paper.  Standard printer paper is 80gsm, aim for at least 100gsm.  Cream or pale yellow paper will differentiate you from most other CV’s, but stay away from brightly coloured paper, it’s much harder to read the text from a strong coloured background.
  • In the UK a photo is not expected or necessary.  In some countries a photo is a normal addition to a CV – if in doubt, leave it out.  Better still – ask if it is required.
  • You should include a covering letter or email stating why you are interested in this role, where you heard about it and covering any additional areas mentioned in the role profile that are not obvious from your CV.  A covering letter should not exceed one page including the address and sign off (or around 4 paragraphs in an email).