What is the right CV writing format and style of a CV and how should it be laid out, is another popular question I’m asked.
That depends on a lot of things such as what your profession is, for instance an artist, actor or graphic designer are going to have different looking CVs to accountants, bankers or IT consultants simply because there is more of a ‘creative’ look expected of artists and designers than say an accountant whose CV is expected to be more formal and logical looking.
Split your CV into sections with clear headings that stand out so a potential employer can easily spot where each part of your life and history can be found. The employer may just jump straight to the bit they’re interested in, such as your work history or your education and qualifications, or they may just start off at the top, reading your profile and work their way down. You don’t have any control over which parts of it they read and when, so make all of it count and put things in the order that are most relevant to the job that your applying for, taking into account the job description and person specification, if there is one.
Education & Training
Another thing is whether qualifications are a pre-requisite for a particular job or not. A doctor, dentist, teacher or accountant are expected to be qualified to a certain level and so it’s paramount that these qualifications feature at the top of the first page of a CV and perhaps the ‘Education’ section will come first before ‘Employment History’. The obvious place for a qualification which shows that someone is an expert is after their name at the top of their CV: Job Bloggs MBBS, Jane Bloggs BDS, Joe Bloggs PGCE or Jane Bloggs FCA.
It’s great if you do have letters after your name because not only does it show that you are qualified for the job you do, but also it’s impressive and that is what CVs are all about, being impressive or rather making you look impressive. Some people are a bit shy about putting letters after their name which is quite a British reserved thing but I always say, if you’ve earned it and spent years getting those qualifications, why not put the letters you’ve earned after your name at the top of your CV and perhaps after your name at the bottom of your covering letters.
If you’re applying for a job flipping burgers for example, it might not be a good idea to put a long list of your qualification abbreviations after your name, as it may look a bit intimidating to the hiring manager and they may think that you’re not planning on making a career of it.
Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, a lot of these ideas are common sense and you do really need to think about what you are putting on your CV, where you’re putting it, in what order you put things, what prominence you give them etc.
So, what do you put at the top of your CV after your name? Some people put their full address, but these days that’s not the norm for privacy and security reasons, most people will just put their mobile phone number and email address. Obviously if an employer employs you, then you would need to provide your address details, proof of ID etc. and if that happens, then great as the CV has done its job.
Normally after someone’s name, I would suggest putting the ‘profile’ or ‘professional profile’ as I prefer to call it. Some still stick to ‘personal profile’ or even ‘personal statement’, both of these are a bit old-fashioned and to me not as impressive as ‘professional profile’.
If you don’t need qualifications to do your job and they are not a pre-requisite, then instead of putting ‘Qualifications’ after the profile, I would put the ‘Work History’ or as I like to call it ‘Employment Summary’. The reason why I would use the word ‘summary’ is that that is what it is and you cannot put all of your work history down in its entirety usually, as there’s just too much information and not enough space.
What order do you put your work history down on your CV? A lot of people start off with the dates, then sometimes the name of the employer and then the job title. Again you need to assess the information and see which bits of it are the most important and need to be given priority and prominence.
Generally speaking I would argue that the job title needs to come first and be highlighted perhaps in bold, as those job titles will stick out throughout your CV and those are probably what an employer is going to be looking for as they scan your CV (some people say that employers spend a few seconds scanning a CV).
Then after the job title, probably put the name of the employer and then the date. Having said that, if the name of the employer is a household prestigious name, you may want to give that priority and prominence or equal prominence to the job title:
Accountant Barclays Bank 2008 – present
Responsibilities & Achievements:
- Manage financial systems and budgets
- Undertake financial audits
- Provide financial advice
- Liaise with clients & provide financial information & advice
- Review the company's systems and analyse risk
- Perform tests to check financial information & systems
- Advise clients on tax planning & tax issues associated with activities such as business acquisitions & mergers
If your dates are good, meaning that you have long periods of employment for each employer and no or few breaks in your employment record, then make a song and dance about those too or perhaps give the dates prominence.
Listing job duties, responsibilities, or as I like to call them ‘responsibilities and achievements’, I would always list these and bullet point them as it makes them:
- Look tidy
- Appealing to the eye
- Easy to read for the potential employer
I don’t tend to put full stops at the end of a bullet point, but again it’s a judgement call. If the bullet point information are longish sentences that read like sentences, then maybe yes put full stops.
Education is usually very important and I would sometimes call this section ‘education and training’ if the person has a lot of training that is relevant to the job as well as education details.
Put your education down chronologically in reverse order so:
MA History - Merit Goldmsiths University 2010 – 2012
BA (Hons) History – 2:1 University of Birmingham 2005 – 2008
A Levels St Phillips 6th Form 2003 – 2005
GCSEs Bishop Challoner School 1998 – 2003
If you have good grades put them down as they impress people especially employers. You did the work after all and ‘achieved’ something worthwhile so why not make a song and dance about? If on the other hand you didn’t get good grades, mention what you did but perhaps leave out the grades. Remember only put things on your CV that will impress a potential employer, not underwhelm them.
Some people will also put ‘Key Skills’ and a list of what skills they have and this section sometimes comes after the ‘profile’ section or can be put lower down the CV, depending on what the job is and how important those key skills are.
It all depends how much space you’ve got and how long your career has been, remember 2 pages is the absolute maximum length of a CV I would argue. If you can’t sell your features and benefits on the first page of your CV, preferably at the top of your CV and ideally in the first line of your ‘professional profile’, then why should a potential employer, with possibly a pile of CVs to go through, read your second page, or if you have them, your third or fourth page?
Do you put interests on your CV? Again, if you have the space and you have some interesting and perhaps relevant ‘interests’, then yes. But quite often, people put down interests when they don’t really have any and sometimes make them up. I would argue, and it is particularly true these days, that perhaps ‘interests’ aren’t that important on a CV, as employers become increasingly short of time and let’s face it more mercenary about who they employ and why.
Finally references and I would say don’t put the contact details of your referees here, but I quite often see it on CVs. For one thing, you don’t usually have the space, but even if you do, I would argue that you don’t put your referees' contact details. After all you are sending your CV off to several employers, several employment agencies and uploading your CV to several web jobsites, or at least you should be if you are serious about trying to find your next job!
This means that there are perhaps hundreds of people with access to your CV and the information on it, including your referees’ contact details, if you have put them on it. And the last thing you need is any Tom, Dick or Harriet being able to contact your precious referees with daft questions about you and possibly putting off your referees from ever giving you a reference ever again.
Just put ‘references available on request’ or as I prefer to put ‘excellent references available on request’ – remember use ever opportunity to impress!
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