CV & Cover Letter

How to Write a CV

Guide Overview

What is a CV?What is the purpose of a CV?What is the difference between a CV and a resume?How long should a CV be?What to include in your CV How to format a CVHow to bridge a COVID employment gapHow to Make Your CV Stand OutSample CVsCV Mistakes You Must AvoidLearn More!

Guide Overview

Despite the fact that the recruitment and job search process has changed significantly during the last decade due to technology, candidates are still required to submit their CV as part of any job application. In fact, the CV concept remains largely unchanged since the late 15th century, when Leonardo Da Vinci created the first one.

If you find CV writing confusing, we are here to help! This guide on CV writing will help you understand the basics, giving you tips on the best practices of writing, formatting, and structuring a resume.

What is a CV?

CV is an acronym for Curriculum Vitae, which means “course of life” in Latin. A CV is a fact-based document that outlines a candidate’s relevant experience, achievements, skills, education, and certifications in relation to a vacancy. The scope of a CV has evolved from a broad document focused on the candidate to a laser-focused one tailored to recruiters and hiring managers.

What is the purpose of a CV?

The purpose of a CV is to demonstrate a candidate’s ability to do a particular job based on their past experience, their achievements, and the proven skills they have acquired along the way. It is based on the common belief that past performance can be an indicator of future success or failure. CVs can be pivotal during your job search, as employers use them to assess applicants and decide who will be called for an interview, opening the door to a job offer.

What is the difference between a CV and a resume?

Candidates are often confused when it comes to using the terms CV and resume, as the terms have different meanings around the world. We’ve broken down the meaning of each term per geography to help professionals achieve clarity.

1. UK and continental Europe

British and other Europeans use the term CV for both  industry and academia. Industry CVs are shorter and focus on results while academic ones are longer and highlight someone’s research experience. The term resume is not commonly used in Britain or continental Europe.

2.North America

In the US and Canada, industry professionals refer to a CV as a resume. However, academics use the term CV. As in Europe, industry documents are shorter and focused on achievements while academic ones are longer.

3. Rest of the World

In most countries in Asia, Latin America, Australia, and Africa, people use the terms CV and resume interchangeably for industry-focused documents and the term CV for the ones targeted to academia.

How long should a CV be?

As a rule of thumb, a CV needs to be succinct and concise. Important and relevant information needs to be highlighted, other relevant information should be summarised, and everything that is not directly related to the candidate’s target jobs should be excluded from the document. However, the ideal length of a CV also depends on the candidate’s experience and target geography.

In the UK, a CV should be 1-2 pages long. Typically, graduates and junior employees may be better off with a 1-pager, while mid-career and senior professionals could benefit from a 2-page document. However, we suggest exercising judgement and making a decision based on your individual circumstances.

Related: How Long Should a CV Be?

What to include in your CV

As you may have heard, content is king. When it comes to a CV, we recommend adopting a structured approach based on best practice. Details are outside the scope of this document, however, we have outlined key sections to include in your document. If you are looking for more details, make sure to check our CV layout guide.

1. Personal Details

This should be the top section of your CV. It doesn’t require a heading and its scope includes your personal information. Include your name using a large font size (14-18) followed by your location, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn URL. If you have a personal website or online portfolio, include a link to this too.

2.Professional Summary

Your professional summary follows your personal details and is a key CV section, as it is what recruiters and hiring managers will read first. Your professional summary should clearly reflect your candidate value proposition, i.e. the value you bring to the table in relation to your target jobs. Start with a hook sentence to attract attention and move on with 2-3 sentences outlining key achievements, proven abilities, and experience. Close off with a sentence summarising your ideal next career step.

3. Key Skills

According to a report by PwC, 74% of the CEOs are worried about the lack of skills in the job market. Your key skills section lists your most important and relevant skills in line with your target jobs, helping recruiters and hiring managers to understand you are qualified for the job. Make sure you analyse job descriptions of interest to include the right keywords.

Related: 10 Most Important Skills that Every CV Needs to Show

4. Professional Experience

Arguably the most valuable section of an experienced candidate’s CV, the professional experience section should outline your work history with a focus on duties, responsibilities, and achievements. Use a reverse chronological order starting from your current or most recent position and working backwards.

As a rule of thumb, your most recent, relevant, and senior experience should be highlighted, while older, more junior experience should be summarised. We suggest excluding irrelevant experience from this section and adding it to the additional experience section, which you can find below.

5. Additional Experience & Voluntary Experience 

We suggest adding these sections to your CV only if it enhances your candidacy. For example, you can add additional experience to briefly cover irrelevant experience so that your audience knows you were employed. Also, you can add relevant volunteer experience to showcase skills related to your target job. 

6. Education & Professional Certifications

The professional certifications section comes after the experience. It should only be included if you need to showcase industry certifications that are required or desirable for your target job(s).

The education section should be the last one for experienced professionals. It should summarise your higher education only, including the name of the institution you attended, the title of your degree, and the respective dates. You can also include your grades if these were excellent.

However, the education section is crucial for junior candidates without rich industry experience. In this case, place your education before your professional experience and include additional information, such as course, your dissertation topic, and other relevant projects.

Related: CV Mistakes To Avoid At All Cost

How to format a CV

Apart from the content of your CV, formatting is another consideration, as a clean and readable document can make the difference between being invited to an interview or receiving the dreaded “we regret to inform you” email. Here are some high-level tips to keep in mind.

1. Font Size & Style

The font size and style can impact the readability of your CV. Using a very small or large font may make it difficult for your target audience to understand your content. This is also true for unpopular font styles. With this in mind, we suggest opting for a 9-11 font size for the body of your CV using one of the below fonts:

  1. Helvetica
  2. Garamond
  3. Arial
  4. Times New Roman
  5. Cambria
  6. Calibri

Related: Best Font For a CV

2. Margins

To ensure your CV is well presented, make sure margins are uniform on each side of the document. We suggest using wide margins to accommodate more content. However, make sure there is also some white space, as it can help the document “breathe”.

3. Line spacing

The line space in your document also plays a key role in the presentation of your CV. Use it wisely, as no spacing can make a document look crammed, while excessive spacing would not allow you to add all the required content in the document. As a rule of thumb, we suggest a spacing of 1.15, but make sure it is aligned with your content to create 1 or 2 full pages.

How to bridge a COVID employment gap

The pandemic had a catastrophic impact on the job market, leaving many professionals unemployed for months. Since employment gaps are likely to be part of any candidate’s career journey at some point, let’s have a look at some tips on how to bridge them.

1. Massive Open Online Courses

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are one of the best options to fill a gap in your employment and your CV. In fact, MOOCs saw an unprecedented surge during COVID with increased demand by both students and working professionals. If you have an employment gap, we strongly recommend looking for an online course in your domain and pursuing it. Not only will this make your CV better, but it will also enhance your expertise and help you catch up with new trends.

2. Temporary employment

Taking up a temporary job is another effective way to fill in employment gaps in your CV. You could take up a temporary job in your area of expertise or try out a different domain. For example, many professionals opted for essential jobs during the pandemic to keep themselves busy, pay their bills, and help humanity during this unprecedented situation. Plus, even if your job is in a different industry, you can always highlight the transferable skills you gained through temporary employment.

3. Freelancing

Just like MOOCs, freelancing also witnessed an increase during COVID-19. If you are currently unemployed, you could check out platforms like Fiverr and Upwork to find work that suits your areas of interest and expertise. Freelance jobs fill in gaps in your CV while having the potential to be a great source of well-paid, flexible work.

How to Make Your CV Stand Out

A great CV is more than correct formatting. Here’s how to make your CV really stand out.

Tailor your CV for each job

If you’re applying for multiple jobs, you’ll want to tailor your CV for each job. But rather than make broad changes, small tweaks may be all you need to do. Be sure to incorporate the same keywords that are in the job description and your skills, titles and certifications that match the position’s needs.

Be specific

Showcase your experience by including specific accomplishments, awards and key projects. Include industry-specific language to demonstrate you have industry knowledge. Recruiters also want to know your skill-set beyond what’s mentioned in the job description, so work these into your work experience summary or in your skills section, as applicable.

Include soft skills, too

Recruiters look for candidates who will fit into the corporate culture and work well with existing employees. Examples of your teamwork, problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills provide a glimpse into your personality. You want to show that you’re a well-rounded employee who is both easy to work with and can help achieve company goals.

Sample CVs

So what does all this look like? Here’s an example of an ideal CV. (Feel free to use this format!)

Margaret Smith
Limmeridge House, 82 Middlemarch Rd, Fulchester, SE20 7EU
+44 1632 960959
margaret_smith807@gmail.com

ROI-driven marketing professional who is equal parts creative and analytical. Experienced in Marketo, Google Analytics and driving 27% year-over-year traffic growth.

Key Skills

Soft Skills Hard Skills
Brand Positioning Google Analytics
Project Management Marketo
Team Leadership Salesforce
Communication Excel

Work Experience

Umbrella Corp.

Dec. 2016 – Present

Marketing Intern

  • Collaborated with a team of 4 people to brainstorm 3 major creative campaigns which ultimately drove 100,000+ website visits and a 27% year-over-year increase in traffic
  • Drafted copy for 3 ebooks and associated email marketing campaigns, resulting in 10,000 downloads and 3,000 new leads generated
  • Analysed data from Google Analytics and Marketo to optimise marketing efforts moving forward, leading to a 24% increase in downloads from campaign 2 to campaign 3

Coffee 2 Go

Sep. 2012 – Dec. 2016

Barista, Shift Manager

  • Served 50-100 customers per day, driving roughly £600 per day in sales
  • Consistently upsold offerings and daily specials, resulting in an average yearly revenue increase of 12%
  • Trained, managed and coordinated schedules for a team of 6 in order to ensure top-quality customer service

Education

University of Muncaster

Sep. 2012 – Dec. 2016

Business Management BA, upper-second class honours

Relevant modules: Introduction to Marketing, Marketing Theory & Practice, Marketing Strategy, Advertising Fundamentals, Business Analytics

Additional Experience

  • Recipient of the University of Muncaster Marketing Society’s Rising Star Award, April 2016
  • Volunteer, Muncaster Animal Rescue
  • Avid cyclist and jazz piano player

CV Mistakes You Must Avoid

It’s all too easy to make mistakes on a CV. Here are five common mistakes job seekers make, and how you can correct them.

  1. You’re including items that don’t belong. While a CV is a detailed document, it’s possible to get too detailed. Age, nationality, criminal record, marital status, gender, and hobbies that don’t relate to the job shouldn’t be included. If you’re not sure whether something belongs, put yourself in the employer’s shoes: Would you care to know it? Edit your document accordingly.
  2. You didn’t have anyone else read it before you submitted it. The best way to catch errors on your CV—such as spelling and grammar mistakes or missing information, for example—is to have someone with fresh eyes read it over. Plus, even if they don’t catch any actual errors, it’s great to have someone offer a different opinion on how to structure a particular bullet point or reword a sentence in order to take your CV to the next level.
  3. You used pronouns. Pronouns—including “I” and “my”—generally don’t have a place on a CV. While some recruiters think they’re OK to use, others don’t, so it’s best to avoid them.
  4. You focused on functions, not results. If your CV reads like the original job description you saw when you applied, it’s time to spice it up. Instead of talking about the day-to-day, describe the big picture impact you had. If you can, include numbers to quantify results where possible.
  5. You included an objective. If your uni’s career counsellor ever told you to put an objective such as, “find an entry-level position in marketing” at the top of your CV, don’t! Don’t just say you want a job—show recruiters why they should hire you with an awesome personal statement.

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