When you’re searching for the perfect job, you often make a decision whether it’s the job for you based on the job advert. Likewise, when a business is looking for the perfect candidate, they make the decision whether to offer you an interview or not based on your advert, that is, your CV. What’s more, employers make this decision in less than a minute, which means your CV needs to impress—quickly. It needs to showcase the best of you in concisely and effectively.
This can seem like a daunting task at first. How do you know what managers and potential employers are looking for? And how do you convey it in just a few pages? Have no fear. Having recruited hundreds of people in the UK employment market, I know what employers are looking for, and I want to share that insider information with you so you can ensure your CV is perfect. Just follow my comprehensive guide below…
- The Basics
It should go without saying by now, but there’s some simple rules that if ignored, will land your CV straight in the bin. These might seem glaringly obvious, but believe me I’ve seen some horrors… (a six-page, triple-line spaced CV with a 4-inch border and as much information as you could fit on a postage stamp!).
So first things first, let’s get the basics right!
Know your job market. Are you applying for jobs in the UK, the USA, or elsewhere? CV standards vary widely between countries, and a CV in the UK is totally different to the U.S. resume. This guide is for UK-style CVs, so if you’re applying elsewhere, look for a guide specific to your location of choice.
Remember the 2-page rule. Unless you’re applying for a medical job or a very senior management position, your CV should fit nicely into 2 A4 pages.
- Too long? If you’ve been in the job market a long time and you’re struggling to contain it to 2 pages, remove anything not relevant to the role you’re applying for. You can also use nifty tricks such as making your page margins narrower and putting lists of qualifications or training all on one line, for example…
If you’re using these tricks, just make sure your CV doesn’t look too cluttered!
- Too short? If you’re new to the world of work, pad out your CV with other experience that demonstrate your skills, such as youth groups, work experience, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and the like.
Get the layout right. The following sections should be included in your CV:
Name: Your CV should be headed with your name in a larger font than the rest of the document so it stands out. You don’t need to include the words Curriculum Vitae or CV, so don’t waste space on them.
Personal details: Next comes your contact details…
- At the least you need to provide a telephone number and an e-mail address. Make sure it’s a sensibly named e-mail address i.e. not firstname.lastname@example.org, and a phone number with a polite answerphone message.
- You don’t need to include your full address if you don’t want to, but at least include your city or town so they know where you’re generally based.
- You don’t need to include your date of birth if you don’t want to.
- Don’t include your gender, height, weight, shoe size (yep, I’ve seen this in CVs), or a photo unless you’re applying for a modelling or acting job, obviously.
Personal profile: This should be three or four lines written in the third person not the first person i.e. “An impeccable timekeeper” not “I’m always on time”. It should concisely sum up your best qualities and unique selling points. More on how to discover these later… The final sentence should briefly explain the type of role you’re looking for, such as “Seeking an administrator position in an established HR department”.
Key Skills: This should be around 5 bullet points summarizing your key skills more specifically.
Employment: The employment and education sections of your CV should run in chronological order from most recent to oldest. Many people make the mistakes of putting the oldest stuff near the top. Remember employers want to know what you’re doing now.
Education: Include your qualifications, levels, grades, and the year the qualifications were achieved. Depending on the type of role you’re applying for, this section might be better before your employment section, for example, if the job advert states a degree as a requirement.
Training: This section is for any relevant job-related training courses you’ve undertaken, such as Recruitment and Interview training. Include the course title, date achieved, and level. If you don’t have any, don’t include this section.
Additional Information: Here you can include any relevant information that might interest the employer if you want to. I stress the word relevant. Don’t tell them you’re married with three kids. Don’t tell them your hobbies, unless they relate to the role or make you particularly interesting. Use this section to showcase your personal achievements not related to the previous sections, for example:
- Interested in improving quality of life for others, and volunteered for a homeless charity for two years.
- Secretary for local rotary club, including arranging events and dealing with finances.
- Set up a sports team to encourage young people to improve their fitness.
- Fluent in English, Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu.
- Voluntary online mentor for help and support website.
- Full UK driving licence, have own transport, and am willing to travel for work if required.
- Organised community projects such as bake sales to support local charities.
References: Employers like it when you include references up front. It shows that you’re transparent, and that you’re confident your references will be good. So it’s good to include two references, usually your last two jobs, and make sure you add contact information such as an address, phone number, and email address if possible.
If you haven’t had any jobs yet, ask your professors or someone you know who will be comfortable vouching for your abilities.
That being said, some people just don’t feel comfortable including references on their CV before they’re offered an interview. If that’s the case, you can put “References available upon request”.
The Visuals. In the same way as you physically dress to impress, your CV needs to look equally stand-out. So here’s a few tips…
Font. Gone are the days when everybody used Times New Roman, and you can make your CV look more appealing using a different font.
- For example, for analytical or financial roles, Calibri and Calibri Light look clear and efficient.
- For more creative or artistic roles, Cambria and Georgia look stylish.
- For administrator or managerial roles, Verdana, Tahoma, and Arial are striking.
There’s no set rules on font—just ensure it looks clear and readable.
Font size. Depending on how much information you’re including, use…
- Between font size 10-12 for the body text
- 12-14 for the section headers
- Your name should be around size 18-20
Styles. Use a mixture of bold, italics, and underline to make the sections headings stand out. Don’t overuse the styles though, as it can look too much.
Lists. Make use of a mixture of paragraphs and bullet point lists to break up the information and keep it visually interesting.
- The Content
Unique Selling Point. Particularly in your personal profile and key skills section, you need to demonstrate your USP. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t actually know what their USP is. Here’s how to find out … think back to your previous jobs and ask yourself the following questions:
- How did I add value to and improve my organisation? Did I implement safe-working practises, or introduce policies that reduced staff absence, reduce the number of complaints?
- What quantifiable effects did I have on the department or business? For example, did I reduce stock loss, improve sales, increase customer awareness?
- What effect did I have on my colleagues? Did I improve team morale, increase effective communication, ensure my team are all sufficiently trained?
- What aspects of my job am I best at?
Some themes should start to emerge from these questions. Maybe your miraculous motivational skills, or your ability to train other staff. Maybe your persistence that ensures all jobs in the team are completed on time.
Think about your team’s dynamic and the role you usually play—are you the one who comes up with the ideas? The one who turns the ideas into reality? The one who keeps everyone informed? The one who steers the team in the right direction and keeps them on track? The one who ensures deadlines are met?
If you’re still struggling, look back through your recent appraisal or PDR and see what qualities your manager highlighted about you. Ask friends, family, or colleagues what your best characteristics are. Your USP is in there somewhere!
Sell yourself. One area often neglected in CVs is selling yourself, and by that I mean quantifying what you’ve achieved. This isn’t possible in every role, but usually you can break your USP and your job responsibilities down into a few measurable achievements. When you’re detailing your employment experience and skills, be specific. Don’t just say “Great communicator”, say “Superb communication skills via telephone, e-mail, and face-to-face as rated by 98% of customers in after-call survey”. For example:
- Reduced stock loss by 25% over 6 months by documenting faulty goods and hiring security guard.
- Improved my team’s morale ratings according to employee annual survey from 60% to 90% over a year.
- Introduced new grievance policy that reduced formal grievances from 25 last year to 10 this year.
- Increased sales in my department from £1000 to £3000 per week on average.
- Reduced response time to complaints from 3 days to 1 day on average.
Make every word count. Read your CV through and remove any wishy-washy or vague words. If a word sounds a bit bland, look for a synonym but make sure you’re retaining the same meaning. Remove or improve any words that don’t add value.
Tailor your CV to the job vacancy. When you’ve written everything you possibly can about yourself, go through the job advert (and job description if there is one) and highlight all of the skills, experience, and qualities they’re looking for. Then go through your CV and cross-check which of those skills, experience, and qualities your CV includes. Tick off them off on the advert, then focus on those without ticks. Do you have those skills or that experience either from work or other activities? If you do, make sure you include them!
However, it’s important not to lie on your CV, so if you don’t have those things, don’t include them or the employer will see straight through it at interview. Likewise, don’t be disheartened if you don’t have everything they’re looking for in the ad. We’re not all superheroes, and most of us have gaps in our knowledge and skills. Remember that employers are often only looking for a 70-80% match at the CV stage unless they’re particularly over-subscribed for the vacancy, so don’t feel you need everything that’s stated.
- Last Checks
Before sending your CV to a potential employer, do some final checks…
- Proofread your CV to ensure there are no errors, or get someone to proofread it for you.
- Read it as if you were the manager—would you hire you just on the basis of your CV?
- Ask a friend to read it. They not only might pick up on errors you’ve missed, they might see a quality in you that you didn’t realise you had.
- Regularly update your CV to ensure it stays relevant.
If you still need more help with your CV, I can improve your CV for you via PeoplePerHour.