When recruiting, an employer in the UK will typically only spend a few seconds on each CV before moving onto the next. It’s an incredibly brief snapshot of your experience, education, achievements and skills – so it’s worth investing time into making it clear, concise and easily digestible.
This guide takes you through a solid structure to follow when putting your CV together, a few pointers and a checklist to make sure you’ve done everything you can to make your CV stand out from the others in the stack.
Structuring your content
- Start with the basics – your name and contact details (email and phone number).
- A concise personal statement can be a good opener, but remember that blocks of text discourage the reader, so keep it short and sweet. It should focus on the sector you’re applying for and could highlight any particular relevant skills, experience or career aims. Remember that in most cases a covering letter is required too, which is the right place for more narrative text.
- Your experience, in reverse chronological order. This can include all relevant experience and not just employment ie internships, unpaid work experience, voluntary work or even relevant university work. Include the job title, name of the organisation, when you started and finished there and outline key responsibilities. Highlight any achievements from those experiences, rather than going into too much detail about your duties. For example, any awards or recognition you received while there.
- Your qualifications, again in reverse chronological order. List all previous education and professional qualifications without going into too much detail – just the qualification type, what institution or employer it’s from, the grade you achieved and when. If you’re still studying, include a predicted course grade.
- List your key and most relevant skills, along with examples of how you’ve evidenced them. These should be a mix of hard and soft skills. So, specific technical skills, and those that are more transferable. This is where you might include any IT packages you’re proficient in or second languages you speak.
- Briefly include relevant interests. You might have personal projects that highlight your ambition and drive – an ongoing business venture for example. Or, if you’re applying for a job that involves a lot of writing, you might want to mention a blog. Hobbies and interests are a good talking point in an interview, but only include them if they’re relevant.
TIP: Make sure your CV really answers the job description. It’s a good idea to make adjustments to your CV specific to each role. That way, the employer can tick off the skills or relevant experience they’re looking for on your tailored CV.
What not to include
- Absolutely everything. By squeezing everything you’ve ever done into the 1 or 2 pages will make it difficult to digest. Focus on the most relevant skills and experience by matching up with the job description for the role you’re going for.
- Including links to relevant online content is fine – your LinkedIn page or an online portfolio for example – but don’t include links to your social media or personal website unless they’re relevant to the role. And, remember to double check any links you include are working correctly before sending off.
- Personal details like your date of birth, nationality or address. Too much personal information might lead to an employer being less objective. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination on the basis of their race, religion, age, disability, sex, sexuality, gender reassignment or marital status.
- A picture. What you look like has nothing to do with the value you’d have for any role. So, unless you’re going for a modelling job or something in performance, there’s no need for them to see your picture.
Layout and formatting
- Make sure your CV is in keeping with any other documents you might be sending as part of your application. Doing this makes it easier for the reader to connect your cover letter or portfolio, for example, to you. Simply by keeping the font, colours and layout style aligned will give your documents a visual identity that makes you easier to remember.
- The easiest to read fonts are Calibri, Aerial or Times New Roman. Don’t deviate from these and keep your font size consistent throughout the document. Between 10-12 will mean the reader can easily skim read.
- Use bullet points to make it skimmable, rather than blocks of text. Use a good amount of spacing around them too.
- Clear and distinct sections with bolded headings will also help break up the document. When it comes to titling your CV, just going with your name at the top is a good idea.
- Think about the best way to format the text, considering the audience who’ll be reading it. For example, could columns work better than left to right? Or using text boxes might be a good way to break up the text.
- Before you send or upload your CV, name it appropriately. Rather than eg ‘Document1′, go with something like ‘Joe Bloggs CV Barclays’. And unless the employer asks for it in a particular format, save it as a .PDF file extension so that it can be opened on any machine.
TIP: Put yourself in the readers shoes. If your CV is the 25th they’ve read, what might make it stand out? Remember to consider your audience – for example if it’s a creative role, use colour or an interesting layout. If it’s a corporate role, a more traditional format might be appreciated.
How long should your CV be?
This really depends on how much experience you have. For a standard UK CV, you should aim to keep it no longer than two sides of A4. If you’re just starting out in the world of work, you should probably keep it to one side – it’ll be much easier to digest and you can focus on the key highlights of your experience. Once you’re applying for more senior roles, you’ll have gained much more experience across multiple jobs and therefore can stretch to a third side.
Make sure you can fill the number of pages you’re going for. If you do go onto a second page but have too much space, don’t just try to fill it – instead, focus on including only the most relevant skills and experience in a concise way on one side of A4.
- Have you been as specific as you can be about the skills and experience you’ve gained? See if you can expand on any generic terms like ‘hard worker’ or ‘great leader’ with brief examples to add some colour to these.
- Triple check for any spelling or grammar issues. Reading through your CV out loud is the most thorough way to proofread it. You can use free services like Microsoft’s spelling and grammar checker or you can download browser extensions like Ginger or Grammarly.
- Ask a friend to read through your CV. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes – they might spot something you’ve missed.
- If you’re including any web addresses, check to make sure the short URL you include is working.
- Is the email address you’re including professional? If it’s inappropriate, it’s time to get a new one set up.
- You don’t know whether your CV will be read on screen or printed off. So, it’s worth printing off a copy to check how it looks on paper. Is the text large enough? Is there enough contrast between any colours used? Are the borders too wide?
- It might be an obvious one, but don’t lie on your CV. There could be serious consequences and aside from that, you need to feel comfortable enough with what you’re claiming on your CV that you can back it all up during an interview.
- If English isn’t your first language: There are some great resources out there on CV writing for non-native English speakers – LinkingLines.com and Cavendishprofessionals.com for example. Muse.com also have a great list of powerful action verbs for CVs.
- If you need a template: Microsoft Word and Canva have plenty of resume templates that will do the job. If you do want to opt for a template an employer mightn’t have seen before, there are templates builders like this one online. Just bear in mind they aren’t all free.
- For CV examples: Prospects.ac.uk has 100s of example CVs across all kinds of industries. You can search by the type of CV too – for example, a Law specific CV, or a school-leaver CV. Or you can take a look at our bad CV examples (what not to do) guide.
- Help with writing a personal statement: This might be one of the more challenging parts to write, but it’s important to get it right. Prospets.ac.uk has lots of great advice and tips on writing yours.
Read more: CV Guidance & Help