One of the biggest challenges to any new jobseeker is figuring out how to write a CV. It’s tough to know where to begin, how much to say, what’s better left unsaid – it can be a real nightmare! Luckily for you, we’ve created this CV writing guide that covers what to include. We’ll run you through everything from start to finish: what a CV is, what you need to add, how to create a good CV layout, as well as some extra tips and tricks. With our help, you’ll be an expert at how to write a CV before you can say ‘hired’.
What is a CV?
First let’s start with the basics: what is a CV? It’s essentially a document that covers everything a potential employer needs to know about you. CV stands for ‘curriculum vitae’, which literally means ‘the course of your life’. It’ll show them your work and education history, as well as any skills you have that are relevant for the job.
You submit a CV as part of your application for a job, usually alongside a cover letter. The recruiters or hiring managers then use this information to decide if you seem like a good fit for the role. They’ll base their decision to invite you to an interview on whether your CV ticks their boxes. That’s why it’s so important to know how to make a convincing resume.
There are different types of CVs you can make, depending on what kind of job you’re applying for. The most common (and the one we’ll focus on) is a chronological one, that goes through your experience in order. You can also write a skill-based CV that focusses on your abilities rather than what you’ve done. This is a great option for anyone with limited experience. Finally, we have academic CVs, which are used for applying to jobs within academia.
What to include in a CV
A good CV will give recruiters and interviewers a well-rounded view of who you are before you even say a word to them. Because of that, there are certain key elements that you need to include. Let us get into the basics of how to make a CV for any job before we get too detailed.
1. Contact details
There’s no point in giving employers any information about you if they can’t even get in touch. Our top CV writing tip is to have your contact details at the top of your CV. That way it’s as easy as possible for them to reach you about coming for an interview. Your full name, email address, and phone number are enough, although some people like to add their address too (your town or city name is enough). Don’t bother adding a ‘Curriculum Vitae’ title, just use your name instead.
It’s typical to start with a brief summary of who you are when writing a good CV. That way, anyone can see your highlights and key points with just a quick read. It shouldn’t be any more than about 50-80 words – it’s just a summary after all. Focus on a few key skills, and mention some of your main career goals.
Creating a CV is absolutely key for showing employers that you’re able to do the job they’re advertising. The easiest way to do this is by demonstrating your knowledge of the field, aka your educational background. Depending on the level of job you’re applying for, you don’t have to include absolutely everything. A hiring manager for a graduate role won’t care where you went to primary school, but they will notice your university qualifications. Give the dates you attended each institution, and any certifications you acquired there.
4. Work experience
Just like with education, your work experience shows that you have what it takes to do the job. It’s an easy way to show off your skills without having to list them all individually. Are you new to the workforce? It’s a common problem figuring out how to write a CV with no experience, but there are ways to work around it. Things like childminding, volunteering, and internships are all great alternatives, especially if you want to write a CV as a student. Don’t forget to add rough dates of when you did each job, as you did for your educational background.
5. Skills and achievements
This section is devoted to persuading the reader that you’re the absolute ideal candidate who has everything needed to succeed in the role. That’s not to say that you need to be an expert in everything, but you can give a solid list of your most useful skills. Things like speaking different languages or using various software programmes will enhance your CV, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Achievements show that other people recognise your abilities too, so they’re good for adding credibility when writing a good CV.
6. Hobbies and interests
A lot of people think hobbies and interests don’t belong on a CV, but they’re actually quite an added bonus. The interviewer can get a better sense of who you are through how you spend your spare time. For example, if you do a lot of art, you’re likely a creative person. If you play a lot of sports, you probably work well in teams. The best way to write a CV is to use your hobbies and interests to your advantage by persuading the person reading that you’re the ideal candidate.
Someone reading your CV could think ‘OK but are they really this great? How can I know for sure?’ That’s what you need to include a set of references to vouch for your skills and abilities. They can be past employers, teachers, family friends, or anyone else who knows you well and understands what kind of person you are. Avoid using friends or close relatives in your resume writing, though; that can come across as questionable and dishonest.
Those are the key elements you need to include when creating a CV. Anything else is just taking up too much space and adding unnecessary clutter. Recruiters often only spend a minute or two browsing your CV, so keeping it simple is key.
What should a CV look like
Once you know what you’re including, you need to know how to lay out your CV. There’s no set layout that you have to follow, although things are typically done in order of importance. That means that important things like education and work experience go first, and hobbies are down the bottom. Use headings in a larger font to make it super clear what each section is about. Use bullet points in every section (except your introduction) to avoid unnecessary waffle.
When you’re listing your work and educational background, always put the most recent experience first and work backwards. Employers want to be up-to-date with who you are, so starting with the latest lets them have the freshest information.
You don’t want to send in a plain-looking document that has no personality. That’s certainly one way to be forgettable! Wondering how to make a CV look attractive without going overboard? Stick to neutral colours and clean lines. The font should be professional and easy to read, like Times New Roman or Calibri. Let’s avoid Comic Sans – this isn’t your primary school classroom, after all.
When it comes to what a CV should look like, the most important thing is that it looks clean and neat. You want it to be easy to read to make the recruiter’s life easier – it’ll work in your favour. Still need some inspiration? Check out some examples of CVs that we’ve come up with.
7 tips on how to write a good CV
Other than the basics of what to include and how to lay it out, there are other things you can do to make sure your CV gets noticed. How do you write not just a good CV, but a great one? By following these extra little tips:
1. Tailor your CV to the job
Resume writing is a sneaky science; you don’t need to have just one CV to apply to all the jobs you’re interested in. Every company is different, and will prioritise different things. Look at each vacancy and what they ask for, and edit your CV to match. Only add things that actually apply to you, of course – you don’t want to be caught in a lie.
2. Be honest about gaps in your history
Did you have to take some time off working? No worries, that’s life! The important thing is not to try and cover a gap in your CV, but instead make it an asset. You can talk about skills you picked up during that time, or any volunteering you may have done. You don’t have to tell recruiters every detail of your personal life when creating your CV, but being honest and positive about the experience will work in your favour.
3. Check it, then check it again
The number one thing that will get your CV thrown out immediately is grammar and spelling mistakes. If you can’t even be bothered to proofread your own CV, why should a recruiter be bothered to read it? Go over the document with a fine-toothed comb, print it out to see how it looks, and ask a friend or family member to check it too. They might pick up on something you missed, or give you extra suggestions. This is probably one of the most important CV writing tips out there.
4. Keep it active and engaging
When you’re writing a good CV, using active verbs to talk about the tasks you did at a job, or some of the hobbies you do, is key. Why? Because it keeps you as the focus of attention, as you’re the one completing the task or activity. You want the recruiter or hiring manager to think of you as a go-getter who’s going to work hard, so get active!
5. Looks don’t matter
Having a photo of yourself on your CV might seem like a nice way to personalise it, but we don’t recommend it. Employers don’t need to know what you look like in order to know if you can do the job. Unless you’re going to a casting for TV, keep your face off your CV. There are strict anti-discrimination laws that mean companies can’t hire based on race, gender, appearance, etc. Employers prefer not to have a copy of your photo so that they can prove their hiring process was free from discrimination. Let your history and skills speak for themselves when creating your CV.
6. PDF is your new BFF
You don’t really know what’s going to happen to your CV after you send it; will it be printed and passed to other people? Only viewed online? Formatting and design choices can change when opened with different programmes, but not when it’s .pdf. To make it easy on recruiters, save your CV as a PDF file unless it specifically says otherwise. Then it can be viewed, printed, and forwarded quickly and easily. While it’s not exactly a CV writing tip, it will earn you bonus points with recruiters (or at least not make them hate you).
7. A professional worker needs a professional email
You know that random email address you came up with when you were 12? Something like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com? Trust us when we say that your future employer will not appreciate the humour in it (or your love of the Premier League). Keep your email simple, like a variation of your name with a few numbers. It’s not technically a CV tip, but it is one of the first things seen on the document; do yourself a favour and keep it professional.
How to write a CV: in short
It’s easy to get in a panic about how to write a CV; it’s an important document that’s the first step in landing you a new job. But, there’s no reason why you should let the stress get to you, especially when you have all of our handy advice. Once you’ve got all the basics covered, you should already have a pretty good-looking document. Don’t forget to use our extra tips to make your CV stand out from the rest:
- Edit your CV to align with the job you’re applying for.
- Don’t cover up gaps in your CV, instead use them to show off new skills.
- Triple check your spelling and grammar, and get a friend to help.
- Use active verbs to keep the attention on you and your work.
- Don’t bother with a photo, as the focus should be on your achievements.
- Save it as a .pdf to make it easier for recruiters to open it.
- Use a professional email address, both on it and to send it.
Still not convinced you have a shining CV that’s going to land you a job? No worries, you can use our CV template to make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes. Or, better yet, use our free CV maker to save yourself the hassle. We’ll do the hard work for you, so you can focus on preparing for your interview.
FAQs about how to write a CV
How many pages should a CV be?
How do you start a CV?
What should you not include in a resume?
How do I write a CV for a job application?
The general rule is that you want to keep things as short and sweet as possible. While you want to give a full picture of yourself as a candidate, your CV shouldn’t be more than a page. It can go on for two if you have a lot of relevant history to mention, but it has to be valuable and not waffle-y.
Your CV should begin with your contact details, so the recruiter or interviewer know who you are right off the bat. You can use your name as a heading to make it super clear. Next should be a short introduction, summarising some key points about yourself, followed by the rest of the sections.
There’s nothing really wrong with adding things that you think are relevant. That being said, it’s generally advised not to include your age, relationship status, or religion (if applicable). These are things that aren’t typically relevant to your job or performance, so the employers don’t need to know them.
It can be a real pain trying to make a CV from scratch. That’s why our free CV maker is an absolute lifesaver. All you have to do is pop in your details and we’ll create a stunning CV that you can send off in your job applications. Try it out!