People often ask me what makes a good CV. Well that is both a simple and difficult question to answer, as each CV is as unique as each person - they are all different.
CVs are also very subjective. What one person likes, another doesn't. If you ask too many people their opinions on what makes a 'good CV', you'll get lots of different answers, some of them contradictory and conflicting, even from the same person!
I also get asked what are the 'rules' for creating a good CV and again I often give a contrary and conflicting answer. There are no rules. If there are, show me the rule book!
Having said that, there are rules of common sense that most writers of good CVs will follow and these are:
It should be well laid out, pleasing on the eye and easy to follow. It should be in a nice 'normal' font such as Ariel, Times Roman or similar and not too big or too small. Size 11 or 12 is good and easy to read for most people. Remember the size will define how much information you can fit into a page or two pages, so you might have to play around with the size to fit. If I'm writing in size 12 font and the CV goes just over the page and I don't want to adjust my margins, then I might reduce the size from 12 to 11 and then it should fit nicely. Conversely if I have a lot of white space, too much space, then I might increase the size a little, but not too much.
You don't want it looking like a child's story book!
The CV should have lots of white space around the margins and in between the different sections, which also makes it easier to read, look at and follow. It should be no more than two pages long but should fill at least one page. Try to avoid doing a page and a half or a page and a bit - it doesn't look great. Besides, you should be able to write enough about yourself and your career to fill at least one page and if you've got a long career history, at least two full pages, but not too densely packed information. If it's too dense it won't look inviting to the reader and may give them a headache just looking at it, for example:
Your CV should be divided up into sections: name & contact details; profile; skills; employment history; education & training; & interests, although not necessarily in that order and not all of the above categories need to be used, depending on who you are, what your experience is and what job you are trying to get.
And let's not make any bones about it, your CV exists purely for you to gain paid employment...usually. You may also be asked to submit your CV along with an application to university or college or some other submission that requires a description of your life to date. Let me go through each sub-section of a good CV.
Some people write 'CV' or 'Curriculum Vitae' at the top of their CV. I don't think it's necessary as it should be glaringly obvious what it is just by looking at it. Also the context within which you are sending your CV, i.e. to employers or recruitment agencies or uploading to job databases means that it's obvious what document you are sending. The other reason, is that it pinches some valuable space which you might need and also steals a bit of the limelight of what you are selling i.e. YOU!
Name and Contact Details:
Some people actually write 'name and contact details' as a sub-heading at the top of their CV and then add, surprise, surprise, their name and contact details underneath the heading. There's obviously no need to do this, just put your name, phone number (preferably mobile) and your email address at the top of the first page of your CV just underneath your name. By the way, your name should be in a bigger font and in bold - it is you that the CV is about after all, so make your name a feature. If you have letters after your name such as BA (Hons) or MA or even at the front of your name such as Dr, then add those as well. You did work hard for those letters and they immediately convey to the reader something about you that is special and they also show that you've got brains - a commodity all employers want and need.
Some people put their address and this used to be the case 10 or 20 years ago, but these days people are worried about who has access to such sensitive information, and it's not necessary to add your address at this stage of your job seeking endeavours. Your prospective employer, if they are interested in you, will ask for this information at a later stage. You can put something like 'London based' or 'New York' or whatever town it is that you live in, just to give whoever's looking at your CV some idea of where you live, which may be an important issue depending on what job you are applying for. Remember, once you send your CV off to dozens of employers, recruitment agencies, and upload it to dozens of job websites, which you should be doing if you are really trying hard to find a job, you have no idea who is looking at your CV and who has access to it.
The reason why I put 'preferably mobile' above is another area where you have to be circumspect when it comes to personal information on your CV. These days it is commonly accepted that most people will put their mobile number and not their landline telephone number. There are a few reasons for this. One is that most people carry their mobiles with them wherever they go, and so are always easily contactable if an employer or recruitment agency is trying to contact them with possibly an offer of an interview or hopefully a job offer! The other reason is that you don't want unsolicited calls to your landline number, well I don't, so I tend to put my mobile out there which means that I get a lot of unsolicited calls along with the ones that I really want to receive - that's just a fact of life these days. But you really don't want unsolicited calls on your landline when you're just sitting down to dinner or to watch your favourite TV show. Some people may disagree with this and say you should put down all of your contact details if you are looking for a job, so that an employer or agency has every opportunity of getting through to you. Again, remember, there are NO rules, except common sense rules. Do what you feel comfortable with and what you think is going to help you get the job you are looking for.
Some people write 'Personal Profile' or 'Personal Statement' or they put headings in CAPS (capital letters). Personally I don't like CAPS when it comes to writing anything on your CV, even headings or your name. If you think about it, when do we use CAPS these days? People tend to use CAPS in texts or social networking or emails when they are simulating SHOUTING. IT'S NOT VERY NICE WHEN YOU ARE READING SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE SOMONE IS SHOUTING AT YOU! So I would say avoid using caps, it's more gentle, soothing and easy to read when it's written like this and it won't annoy your potential next employer.
Your profile should be a short description of you that introduces the reader to you and your CV and should summarise what you are about and what you are looking for in a future job role. Try not to duplicate what you are going to say in other parts of your CV which can be difficult. The Profile is probably the hardest thing for people to write because it needs to be punchy, to the point, be selling you and what you can do, but shouldn't be too long and it should avoid cliches like 'hard-working', 'reliable' etc. An employer expects you to be hard-working and reliable, that's a given. This is where a good CV writer like CV Guru, Adrian Caffery, comes in.
The 'profile' is probably the first thing an employer is going to read so, as in all first impressions, it needs to be well written and invite them to read on, otherwise your CV might end up at the bottom of the pile or in the 'reject tray'.
The problem that a lot of people seem to have, especially the British, not so much Americans, is blowing their own trumpet! You need to blow your own trumpet. You need to sell yourself and market your skills, qualities, experience and achievements in your CV and some of this information should be in the 'Profile'.
Avoid using the first person, 'I', because if you don't then every sentence will start off with "I am a highly experienced..." and then it just sounds boring and all about me, me, me or in this case you, you, you. I know it kind of contradicts the previous paragraph about 'blowing your own trumpet' but there are different ways of doing it.
Generally more accepted these days is the use of the third person, "A highly experienced...". You might say, well every sentence will start "A this that or the other..." but you can start sentences differently such as "Someone with extensive knowledge and skills in..." Use variety in the way that you start sentences to make it more interesting to read for your potential employer. You are also displaying one of your key skills: being able to communicate well in writing.
I would say that a good 'Profile' should be a paragraph no more than about six or seven lines and possibly even less. Be succinct & get straight to the point, brevity is best. Try to think like a journalist & stick to the facts, emphasising the most important facts first & then the second most important & so on in your 'story' - the story being you, your skills, qualities, qualifications, achievements & your career.
How do you do this? You need to write, edit, proof-read and then repeat over and over again until you are happy with it. Obviously you need to avoid spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes - these will only annoy employers and your CV could end up in the bin.
If you're not confident about your English language skills, then use a CV writing professional like Adrian Caffery, www.cvguru.co.uk. You may say CV writing services are too expensive but how much is a job worth to you? If a CV writing service costs £100, £200 or even £1,000 (or your currency equivalent) and that CV gets you a job that pays your bills and sustains your lifestyle for you and your family for months, years or decades to come, isn't it worth it?
Some people confuse 'Key Skills' with their 'Profile' and quite often just repeat what they put in their profile or vice versa. How do you differentiate the two? I would say, and this is only my opinion of course, that a 'Profile' describes who you are and 'Key Skills' describe what you can do. So when you are writing both sections, keep asking yourself, is this who I am or is this what I can do?
Bullet points are very important in CVs and make it easier for employers to read a list for example of what your 'Key Skills' are:
- A people person who is client-centred and employs an eclectic array of approaches to his work with excellent presentation and communication skills, including: active listening skills; aural; verbal; written; presentation & interpersonal
- A pro-active person who takes responsibility, organises their own workload, is resourceful, flexible & committed to Life Long Learning & personal development
- A team worker who believes in partnership working with key stakeholders in the community, locally, nationally and internationally
- Good IT and administrative skills including: MS Office; Word; Excel; PowerPoint; Outlook; internet & the web, social networking, blogging, email & good touch-typing ability at approximately 50 words per minute
- Very good organisational skills and an ideas person who can think outside of the box
- Excellent writing, editing skills with lots of ideas and a passion for the written word
- A fast worker who can work to tight deadlines and enjoys meeting a challenge with gusto
- Fully enhanced DBS certificate that is portable dated May 2017
- Full clean driving licence and own car with business use insurance
Above is an example of the 'Key Skills' I have on my CV, although I describe them as 'Key Attributes'. Again, there are no rules. You can play around with what you call each section on your CV, depending on how accurate you think it describes that section.
Now we're getting to the nitty gritty. One of the most important parts of your CV, although every part is important. Here it is best to list your jobs in reverse chronological order, so for instance, you would put the last job you did or your present job first, and then work backwards:
CV Writer Jan 2017 – present
Working self-employed for www.cvguru.co.uk
- Writing CVs for members of the public
Careers & Higher Education Adviser (temporary contract) Nov 2015 – Jan 2017
Westminster Kingsway College
- Providing impartial careers and course education, information, advice and guidance to students at a further and higher education college in Central London
- Helping students and teachers with UCAS applications and processes
Why do we do this you may ask? An employer is most likely more interested in what you are doing now or what job you did last, than what you did 5, 10 or 15 years ago because it's probably more relevant to the job you are applying for and let's face it, things change so rapidly these days that what you did 5, 10 or 15 years ago has probably changed a lot.
There are several important things to consider when writing your work history. By the way, the heading of this section could be 'Work History', 'Employment Summary' or whatever you think accurately reflects your career history. Some people title it 'Work Experience'. This may be appropriate if you are a school or college leaver who has had no paid work and has just had voluntary 'work experience' in order to get some experience of the work place, but does it accurately describe a 'paid' career history?
The next thing is what do you put first, job title, dates, name of employer? Well again, it depends. Remember, there are no rules, except common sense rules. As a rule of thumb, I would say the job title needs to go first, then possibly the dates and then the name of the employer, although this depends on the nature of the job and who the employer is or was. If the employer is a household name, then it's probably a good idea to give it some prominence. Remember you are trying to attract the eye of a potential employer, so the most important bits need to go first and near the top. After all, native English speakers tend to read left to right, top to bottom, so I would say put the most important things top or near the top and the less important points of your CV lower down. If your best bits are at the bottom of your CV, then a potential employer might not get that far, before deciding you're not for them and discarding your application. So for example:
Cabin Crew Virgin Atlantic Sept 2016 - present
I would highlight in bold the job title and maybe even the employer's name, but be careful because if you highlight too much, then you are not achieving your object, which is to highlight certain things. If everything is highlighted, then nothing stands out.
The next issue is job duties, responsibilities and/or achievements. This is where you use bullet points again to make a list of duties or responsibilities easier for an employer to read:
Cabin Crew Virgin Atlantic Sept 2016 - present
- Ensuring that health, safety and hygiene standards are maintained at all times
- Liaising and creating empathy with crew, colleagues and customers
- Serving food and drinks and selling merchandise to customers on board
- Making sure that customers & crew are kept happy, solving any problems as & when they arise
The number of bullet points and list of your job responsibilities or indeed achievements depends on how complex the job was/is, how long you were there, and how relative it is to the job you are applying for. Normally, the latest or current job is linked to the job you are applying for and so you would add more information there and as you list your jobs in reverse chronological order, the less information you would need to provide, especially if previous jobs are not relevant to the job you are currently applying for. But all of this depends on what you do, what you are applying for, how many jobs you've had, the length of your career etc. Clear as mud?
Qualifications, Training & Education
Does this section come after employment history or before? Well this depends on what you do for a living. If you're a teacher, doctor, nurse, lawyer etc. it's very important that you are trained and have the qualifications necessary to do the job, so in this case I would put my 'Qualifications, Training and Education' before my employment history. Qualifications are a pre-requisite for these kinds of jobs and so it's important to put these near the top of your CV on the first page to make this explicitly clear. When I worked as a professional careers adviser, it was necessary for me to have a degree and post-graduate degree in career guidance as a pre-requisite for the jobs I was applying for, along with a clean police record, so I always put that information at the top of the first page of my CV just below 'Key Skills' and above 'Employment Summary'.
Having said that, the first page of your CV is the most important and I would always make sure that my last job or present job was on that page along with the 'Profile', 'Key Skills', and 'Education' so that an employer has all of the necessary information they need to progress my application without having to go on to read the second page.
Again, the order and priority of things is important in 'Qualifications and Education'. Did you go to a prestigious school or university? If so that needs to be given prominence? Did you get a good degree or good grades or good training qualifications, again likewise? So for example:
Qualification in Career Guidance (post-graduate Level 6) Sept 2006 – July 2007
Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent
As you can see, the name of the qualification is emboldened, the date is put on the right as it's not as important as the qualification itself and the name of the university below. However, if it was somewhere like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Yale University for example, and other prestigious educational institutions, I would probably put the name of the university first, emboldened, then the date and the name of the qualification below or, if I can fit it, all on the same line. If you have particularly good grades, always mention those on your CV too:
'A' Level English Language - Grade A* Primrose School Sept 2014 - June 2016
Again put the order in reverse chronological order or the qualifications that are most relevant to the job you are applying for, depending on the situation.
All relevant qualifications and training should be listed, unless it goes on for pages and pages, in which case you will need to edit the information and pick and choose which are most relevant to the post you are applying for.
Which reminds me, every time you apply for a job, you should be re-writing, tweaking and re-editing your CV to suit the job that you are applying for. It sounds like a pain but you should at least review your CV before sending it off, because there might be glaring errors in it, or information that is not relevant to the job you are applying to.
There's nothing wrong with having different CVs for different industries to avoid having to re-write your CV all of the time. Many of us have more than one string to our bow and increasingly so, as the changing patterns of work and careers and the ever more prevalence of freelance work or the 'gig' economy.
This part of your CV is quite contentious as more and more people are leaving this section out, especially if space on the page is tight. I personally think that if you can fit it in, it's nice to show a potential employer what your interests and hobbies are, as this makes you sound like a more 'rounded' person and not someone whose existence revolves entirely around work. Some people disagree and say it's not relevant. You would have to decide on what you feel comfortable with. If nothing else, your interests can be a good ice-breaker at interview.
If you do decide to put down your interests or hobbies, then don't go over-board. It may be that you want to show how interesting and diverse a person you are, but to write paragraphs or as I have seen with some clients in my career, pages on your interests is inappropriate and will ensure that your CV is put firmly in the reject pile. A line or two is sufficient.
I didn't list 'references' as a sub-section of your CV and really they aren't. An employer will expect you to have references from your existing or last job, and you will need to provide their contact details if you are successful in either being offered the job or perhaps being invited for interview. There is no reason to provide your precious referees' contact details on your CV. Remember we talked about your CV being sent all around the place to all kinds of people, perhaps hundreds reading it? You don't want your referees disturbed unnecessarily, especially when you want your referees to write a good reference for you and continue to write good references for you. Simply put:
'References Available on Request'
Or if you really want to blow your trumpet, do what I do and put:
'Excellent References Available on Request'
But only do this if they are, indeed, excellent references. Some people don't put any reference to references on their CV as it is naturally implied that a person applying for a job will have references.
What I used to do is, have a word-processed page on my computer of my referees and their contact details including address (work address not personal unless it's a personal referee), their phone number (mobile?), and their email address (preferably work email or at least a sensible email address). Then when an employer or agency wanted my references, I could then just email this one page with all of the required information on it, and then I don't have to scrabble around frantically trying to find past employers' details.
Obviously, it goes without saying that you should contact your referees before-hand to make sure that they are happy to provide a good reference for you. It would be a bit embarrassing if they weren't and a prospective employer got wind of it.
Put your age, date of birth, nationality, race, religion, children, disability or inside leg measurement. They are none of the employer's business and also invite people to discriminate against you, whether it's consciously (which is illegal by the way) or unconsciously, but stick to the relevant facts and sell the features and benefits of you as a human being, who happens to be looking for a job.
I'm sure that I've missed something out about CVs and I've had discussions, debates and even arguments with fellow professionals about what constitutes a good CV, what goes in it, and what stays out of it. As I've said, CVs are very subjective and every person including employers, recruitment agencies and even professional CV writers will have their own opinions. My philosophy is simple: if it works, keep doing it the way you are. At the end of the day, the acid test is: does it get you job interviews? And what do employers and recruitment agencies say about your CV, do they think it's good? Ultimately, it's the person who hires you whose opinion really matters.
Never send your CV without a covering letter or covering note in your email when applying for a job. My next blog post will be about how to "write a good covering letter".
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