A guide to writing a great CV, from someone who actually used to look through CV’s for a living.
After I graduated from University, I really struggled to come up with A Career Plan. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life – at. all. So I did what all the other lost graduates did – I spent a few months doing absolutely nothing until my Dad told me off for being lazy and found a local office job in the paper to apply for. I’ll now make a straight up confession here – he wrote my cover letter for me.
Words can’t describe the amount of gloating he did when I got invited to an interview. The interviewer said that she didn’t initially think that I had the right kind of experience but she was so impressed with my cover letter that she wanted to give me a chance. To this day, Dad still insists that I owe him for my whole career. The local office job turned out to be an admin position at a recruitment agency which is basically a company that finds other people jobs. So all of the people that I ever found jobs for in my three year career in recruitment also owe my dad and his covering letter because without it I wouldn’t have blah blah you get the point.
Life lesson number 1 – don’t let your Dad apply for jobs for you, OR YOU WILL NEVER BE ALLOWED TO FORGET IT.
But that’s fine, because I’m going to show you how to write a really great CV. When you spend three years looking through other people’s CVs all day, you become a bit of an expert on how they should be written. My friends always ask me to take a look at their CVs and it has made me realise how much of a daunting task writing one can be, especially if you haven’t been on the job market for a long time or if you are just starting out after education. There are a lot of mixed messages out there – (your CV should only be a page long, make sure you put your picture at the top, don’t put a picture at the top etc. ??) so I’m going to take you through the whole thing properly and give you all the insider tips and tricks of the trade. So let us begin 🙂
What is a CV?
Your CV tells a potential employer how suited you are to do a particular job. Therefore:
You can’t possibly put all of your skills and experiences onto one CV – so only write about what’s actually relevant to the job you are applying for.
If you want to apply for a graphic design job, you don’t really need to write about that summer you spent babysitting your Auntie’s cat.
You should also remember that the employer probably has about 50 other CV’s to sift through, so they should be able to very clearly understand who you are, what you do and what you are looking for. If they can’t get a clear picture of that within a minute of reading, they are more than likely to pass over to the next one.
CV Section 1: The Header
This might not seem like a major part of your CV but it’s an important place to start. A lot of people put ‘CV’ at the top but this is wasting valuable space. An employer will know that this is your CV, you don’t need to point it out. Having your name at the top is fine, and you should then include the town you live in, your mobile number and email address in the lines underneath. (sensible email address please, a recuiter will never take an applicant seriously if their email address is email@example.com):
Hastings, East Sussex
firstname.lastname@example.org 07885 455 455
So far, you’ve only taken up three lines and you have loads of space left to add excellent, valuable information to your CV. You don’t need to provide your date of birth, your landline number, your photograph, your current salary or your whole address. If you live far away from the job you are applying to, it might be worth mentioning that you are willing and able to travel for the right opportunity as this can sometimes cause doubts for employers and they will often pick candidates who live closer to the job location.
CV Section 2: A Brief Summary
You want to include a short paragraph that introduces yourself, and explains what sort of job you would like. For example:
“An experienced and passionate Graphic Designer with a BA in Illustration and Design, who is looking for a new position within a dynamic organisation that will offer the opportunity to work on challenging creative projects. Available to start immediately, and excellent references can be provided on request.”
CV Section 3: Key Skills
Here, you should provide two columns of bullet points of your key skills and experiences which can be easily read by the employer. This should be the most flexible part of your CV – where you can add or remove skills depending on what job you are applying for. You should also avoid generic things like ‘proficient at Office Word and Excel’ or ‘strong organisational skills’ – you want to include things here that make you stand apart from other people:
- Proficient at using Photoshop
- Excellent Creative Writing Skills
- Extensive Social Media Experience
CV Section 3: Education
This section is pretty simple – keep it clear and only provide relevant information. Follow the following format which is the easiest for employers to read:
Sep 2006 – June 2009
University of Reading 2:1 BA History
- Modules included The Cold War and The Industrial Revolution
- Captain of the Girls Rugby Team
Sept 2004 – June 2006
Hailsham College A – Levels
- Modern History: A
- Politics: B
- French: C
CV Section 4: Work Experience
This is the most important section and it is actually the first place I would usually scroll to when I first open up a CV. If I was trying to fill a Project Manager role, I probably wouldn’t waste too much time on an applicant who looks like they had most recently been a PR assistant. I’m looking for someone who has the right experience and I will usually be able to make a quick judgement about how much experience they have by looking here. I get it, it’s a problem if you haven’t got the right experience but don’t worry, I’ll be writing a whole other post on that next week.
Again, keep this section clear and to the point, following the same format that you used in the education section:
April 2009 – Present
Bananas Media Agency Social Media Marketing Executive
- Being responsible for managing the social media channels for the agency’s clients. My role included content creation, post scheduling and developing paid ads. (The first bullet point should always clearly summarise your role.)
- Successfully grew a major client’s twitter following organically from 300 to 2,500 within two months. (The following points should show how you added value to the company)
- Worked effectively within a medium-sized marketing team of to deliver a successful Christmas campaign on a national level. (this sounds better than ‘I am able to work well as part of a team’ because you are giving an example.)
- Something sporty – playing a sport tells the employer you are motivated, energetic and pro-active. Things like football or Zumba classes show that you are sociable and that you work well in a team. Marathon training or swimming shows that you are dedicated and self-disciplined. If you are not sporty, even saying that you really like walking with your family in the countryside or along the seafront is a good shout.
- Something creative or intellectual – this shows that you enjoy developing new ideas, learning new skills and progressing your abilities outside of work. Do you write a successful blog? Do you like making home made cakes? Are you going to language classes? Throw these things in there!
- Something social – by including a social hobby, you are telling an employer that you will fit in well with everyone in the office, and that you are just a generally fun person. People like working with fun people! Do you have a favourite band that you like to go and watch every other week? Do you get together with a group of friends on a Saturday morning for coffee and cake and make bunting for your local hospice? Do you sing in a choir? Do you like going for weekends away with a group of mates to visit different cities? These are great examples.
Hopefully this has gone some way to help with your CV writing. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message and I am happy to help! I’ll be writing a few more posts over the next week or so with more job hunting advice, so watch this space!
Hope you all have a good week!
Be happy, be bright, be you xxx