Career Advice » CVs and Applications » How to write a CV – the complete guide

How to write a CV – the complete guide

5th November 2019

The complete guide on how to write a CV, includes how to structure your CV, what to include in your CV, what NOT to include, writing tips for CV success and a CV template to get you started. Create a killer CV today with these not to be missed tips.

In this ‘How to write a CV’ guide, you will find:

What is a CV?

Why are CVs important?

What is the main purpose of a CV?

How long should a CV be?

When should a CV be used?

How to create a CV

What to include in a CV

How to structure a CV

How to write a CV with no work experience

What should NOT be included in your CV?

How to format a CV

How to write a good CV – top tips

CV template

What is a CV?

Simply, CV is an abbreviation of ‘Curriculum Vitae’ which means “course of life” in Latin.

In short, a CV is a list of facts about you including your education, work experience and career history, qualifications and skills. CVs are used by individuals to apply for jobs.

People often confuse a CV with a resume, so what is the difference? Basically, it is the length. A CV is a detailed overview of your life’s achievements whereas a resume is a brief summary of your skills and experiences. A CV should cover your entire career.

Why are CVs important?

If you are looking for a new job, it is essential that you spend time creating a high-quality CV. Not only will this form the basis of your job applications, it is useful for understanding your key strengths and skills when applying for a job. It is your own marketing tool giving you the opportunity to sell yourself to potential employers.

Your CV is the first chance you get to wow employers and to make a great first impression.

What is the main purpose of a CV?

The main purpose of a CV is to highlight all your key skills and achievements to create the best possible chance of securing that all important interview. Your CV is the gateway to an interview. Employers will evaluate your suitability for the role you are applying for based on the contents of your CV.

It is essential you have a good CV when looking for a new job and it is worth taking your time to get it right.

It is your CV that gets you in front of employers, but it is up to you to convince them that you are the ideal candidate for the job.

The main objective of your CV is to show employers you are suited to the job and that you have the qualifications, skills and experience to undertake the role.

CVs are commonly used to set the agenda for an interview. It is therefore important that you study your CV and know the facts inside out, as you may be questioned on the contents.

How long should a CV be?

There is no set limit for a CV, although many recruiters will advise to keep it to two A4 pages or less.

If you are a graduate with limited experience you may not fill two pages. Focus on your education and the skills you have obtained so far. If you have an extensive work history, try limiting the amount you write on your earlier positions as employers tend to be more interested in your most recent and relevant career history.

Recruiters may look through hundreds of CVs to find the perfect candidates and they will only spend a minute or less looking over yours, so keep it concise and to the point. An overly long CV may do more harm than good.

When should a CV be used?

A CV is typically used in the following situations:

  • When a job advert specifically requests that applications are made via CV.

  • When a job advert requests that you apply in writing.

  • When you wish to make speculative approaches to companies (writing to a company who are not actively hiring, but who you would like to work for).

In all three scenarios, you should send the employer your CV together with a cover letter.

How to create a CV

There are plenty of tools to help you create a great CV. You can create your free CV online in minutes using nijobfinder’s CV template. nijobfinder makes it easy to create, manage and edit your CV online.

Simply create an account on nijobfinder, head to ‘Your Dashboard’ and navigate to ‘My CV & Covernote’ section to create your CV.

You will need to input your personal details, personal statement, work experience, qualifications and any additional information you would like to include, and we’ll put it together for you!

Once your online CV is complete, it will be easier and quicker to apply for jobs. Your online CV can be used to quickly apply for jobs without having to upload any files. You can update your CV at any time and download a copy should you need to.

Need some more advice on creating your CV? Read our top tips to create a professional CV.

What to include in a CV – 7 essential elements  

Your CV should include 7 essential elements:

  • Name and contact details

  • Personal statement

  • Work experience

  • Education and qualifications

  • Key skills

  • Hobbies and interests (optional)

  • References (optional)

How to structure a CV

It is important that your CV is structured in a way that is easy to read. Follow the recommended structure below when putting together your CV.

Name and contact details

Your name and contact details should be written clearly at the top of your CV so interested employers can easily contact you. Include a link to your LinkedIn profile too if it is up to date! The following details should be included:

  • Name

  • Address

  • Phone number

  • Email address

Personal statement

Also known as a personal profile, your personal statement is a short paragraph at the beginning of your CV outlining who you are, what you can offer/ your unique selling points, why you are suited to the role, and your career goals. It should be around 200 words and immediately capture the attention of employers. It is important to grab the employer’s attention so they will read the rest of your CV.

Begin your personal statement with mentioning your current role/core experience, what industry you have operated in and your key skills. Keep it factual, to the point and avoid subjective waffle such as “I am a dynamic team player”.

Top tip – include keywords taken from the job advert and avoid generic buzzwords.

Make sure you tailor your personal statement and CV in general to each job application!

Here is an example of a personal statement for a Sales Executive role:

Sales Executive with over 5 years’ experience in the hospitality industry. Strong track record of gaining new customers and increasing sales revenue. Grew [company name] client base from 100-500 within one year and increased sales by 35%.

Work experience

Your career history should be displayed in reverse chronological order, this means putting your most recent job first.

In your employment history section include your full job title, the start date and finish date you were employed at each company, and a brief summary of responsibilities and achievements. This is the most important element of your CV and you must tailor this section for each job you apply for and include the experience from the role which makes you ideal for the job you are applying for.

It is not just about listing your responsibilities, it should mostly be about your achievements while you were in the role. The content must be relevant to the position you are applying for. If your current role is 80% analysing and 20% managing and the role you are applying for is a management focused position then you need to give more information highlighting the more relevant part of your experience, even if it is the lesser part of your current role.

Be specific when outlining your responsibilities, employers want to read about your duties, achievements and transferable skills. A great way to format this section is to bullet point your duties/responsibilities.

It is argued that the content within your employment history is the single most important part of your CV as it highlights why you should be a contender for the position you are applying for. Writing good content is the key to CV success and shows potential employers you have what it takes.

If you have limited work experience, then emphasise your personal skills.

Education and qualifications

You should list your education and qualifications in order of the most recent and relevant first. When listing your qualifications, you must include:

  • Course/qualification name

  • School/university name or academic organisation

  • Grades

  • Subjects and modules – if you feel a particular module or subject is relevant to the position you are applying for then you can include it in this section.

It is important to note, for those with limited work experience/school leavers or graduates, the education section may be positioned before the work experience section.

Key skills

The skills section is a vital part of your CV. This section should be specifically tailored to each job you are applying for. Check the job description and review the skills employers have outlined, then tailor your CV around them.

There are two main types of skills: soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are the interpersonal attributes you need to be successful in the workplace, they are usually transferable skills you develop as you progress through education or employment. Hard skills are usually job-specific/job-related skills that are learned through education and training.

The key skills section should mainly focus on your hard skills. Be sure to mention your soft skills throughout your CV though as a good combination of hard and soft skills is vital for CV success. If you are wondering what skills to include in your CV, there are a few examples below.

Examples of soft skills to include in your CV:

  • Communication skills – such as oral or written skills, shows you can communicate effectively in the workplace.

  • Problem-solving skills – shows your analytical and creative thinking abilities.

  • Time management – demonstrates your ability to work efficiently and to meet deadlines.

  • Teamwork – shows you operate well in a group setting.

  • Leadership – demonstrates you can guide others (an essential skill for management roles).

Examples of hard skills to include in your CV:

  • Computer skills – such as Microsoft Office Suite or HTML.

  • Data analysis – for example data mining and data management.

  • Copywriting skills – for example writing press releases or blog articles for SEO purposes.

  • Foreign languages – if you speak multiple languages, include these in your CV to stand out from the crowd.

  • Project management skills – such as risk management, scheduling and cost control.

Make sure you provide evidence of your skills either by including them in your work experience section or through your education/qualifications section.

Do not exaggerate your skills section as employers may ask you to demonstrate your skills at interview.

If you have plenty of relevant skills and limited work history, then you should do a skills-based CV.

Hobbies and interests (optional)

This section is about showing your personality to potential employers. If you have a sporting or artistic achievement, maybe you have a passion for volunteering, then these should all be included.

The benefit of including hobbies and interests in your CV is that it may help you stand out from the crowd.

Common hobbies and interests may include anything from blogging, sports, or music. It is important to only include hobbies and interests if they are relevant to the role.

If you cannot think of hobbies or interest to include then it is best to leave this section out. Remember you are trying to make yourself stand out, so avoid writing clichés such as that you enjoy socialising with friends or long walks.

Examples of hobbies and interests to include in your CV:

  • Community work

  • Society memberships

  • Blogging/writing

  • Coding

  • Tutoring

References (optional)

References are individuals, also known as referees, who can vouch for your abilities and skills to potential employers.

At this stage in the recruitment process, you usually do not need to provide the names of your references. However, some employers may ask for references as part of the application process. If this is the case then two referees would suffice – ideally one should be your most recent employer. If you have limited employment history you can provide your potential employer with a personal reference, this may be your university tutor. 

It is not necessary, but some people choose to include a line to inform the reader that references will be available upon request.

Bear in mind that references can make or break potential job opportunities.

How to write a CV with no work experience

If you have just left school, about to graduate or have limited work experience then it may be best to consider writing a skills-based CV. A skills-based CV, otherwise known as a functional CV, will allow you to focus on the skills you have acquired in various areas of your life such as university.

You should position your skills at the beginning of your CV (after your personal statement), making sure to match the skills with the role you are applying for and provide evidence of your skills. Good skills to include in your skills-based CV are:  resilience, leadership, communication, planning and teamwork and interpersonal skills.

What should NOT be included in your CV?

When writing your CV, you may be tempted to include lots of irrelevant information, but to get through to the next stage in the recruitment process your CV needs to be immaculate. Avoid the following bad habits.

10 things you should NOT include in your CV:

  1. Irrelevant personal information such as a photograph, date of birth, nationality and marital status. Only include your contact details, do not include anything that could be used to discriminate against you.

  2. Spelling errors, bad punctuation and poor grammar. Remember to proofread your CV, ask a friend or family member to check through your CV to limit mistakes.

  3. Unexplained gaps in employment. Having unexplained gaps in your employment history will raise questions.

  4. Misleading information or lies. It is likely you will be found out as employers are increasingly conducting vigorous background checks on potential employees.

  5. Irrelevant work experience. You must tailor your CV to the job you are applying for, do not be afraid to cut irrelevant details from your CV. As a general rule, you do not need to include work experience from over 10 years ago.

  6. Formatting errors. Keep it simple, choose a professional font, set out your CV in a logical order and use bullet points where possible. A badly formatted CV is unprofessional and may hinder your chances of getting through to the next stage in the recruitment process.

  7. Personal social media accounts. Links to your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest page should not be included. However, it is good practice to include the URL to your LinkedIn profile.

  8. Salary information. Do not list your current salary or the salary you would like to earn. You can discuss your salary at interview.

  9. Annoying buzzwords. Avoid using terms such as go-getter, synergy and hard worker as these terms can be off-putting to employers.

  10. Too much information. Keep your CV to the point and avoid writing more than two pages.

How to format a CV

Not only does your CV need to be well written, it also needs to be presented professionally. Here are a few tips on how to format your CV:

  • Keep it short. Keep your CV factual and to the point. Avoid jargon. Your CV should not be more than two A4 pages.

  • Present things in a logical order. Your CV should be in reverse chronological order to keep it clear. Highlight your most recent role and achievements.

  • Divide your CV sections clearly. Make your CV easy for employers to read.

  • Use bullet points. Draw out key information by using bullet points, this will keep your CV organised and will enable employers to pick out key information quickly.  

  • Choose a professional font. Some of the best fonts to use are Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri. Your font size should be between 10 and 12 points. You can make your section headings larger or bolder to stand out.

  • Decrease your CV page margins. Minimise black space and decrease your page margins to fit more content in at the top.

How to write a good CV – top tips

Top 10 tips to remember when writing your CV:

  1. Tailor your CV for every job you are applying for. Emphasise your experience and skills that are most relevant.

  2. Present your CV in reverse chronological order. Showcase what you have done recently.

  3. Include soft, hard and transferable skills.

  4. Use active verbs.

  5. Make sure your CV is aesthetically pleasing.

  6. Be consistent. Stick to a style/format.

  7. Check spelling, punctuation and grammar.

  8. Keep it concise.

  9. Check, check and check. Avoid errors by checking your CV multiple times.

  10. Update. Regularly update your CV and make sure you meet the requirements of the job you are applying for.

By following these tips, your CV will create a great impression and help you sail through to the next stage in the recruitment process. Make your CV bulletproof by following these five simple ways to boost your CV.

Ready to write your CV?

Writing your CV from scratch can be tough, if you are in need of a sample CV to give you a head start, check out the following CV template from nijobfinder.  

CV template


Name

Address

Phone Number

Email


PERSONAL STATEMENT

Professional administrative assistant with extensive experience in the hospitality industry, seeking a managerial position. Highly trained and organised, recent achievements include increasing efficiency by 30% through providing exceptional support to managers.

WORK EXPERIENCE

Employer Name

Administrative Assistant

02/2015 – Present

Responsibilities & Achievements

  • Providing clerical and organisation support
  • Preparing and editing letters, documents and emails
  • Producing reports for senior staff members
  • Training new members of staff

Employer Name

Receptionist

09/2012 – 02/2015

Responsibilities & Achievements

  • Greeting and welcoming guests to create a friendly first impression
  • Providing exceptional customer service at all times
  • Answering, screening and forwarding incoming phone calls
  • Ensuring reception area is tidy and presentable, with all necessary stationery and material

QUALIFICATIONS

College/School Name

2010 – 2012

A Levels

Mathematics (C), English (B), Psychology (C)

School Name

2005 – 2010

GCSEs including Maths and English (Grade A-C)

KEY SKILLS

  • 75 words per minute typing

  • Proficient in Microsoft Office, including Excel, Word and PowerPoint

  • Data analysis and database management

  • Time management and prioritisation

  • Communication skills (written and verbal)

  • Bilingual in French and English

HOBBIES & INTERESTS

Volunteering at the local community centre, planning and organising events to bring the community together. Raised £5,000 last month for the centre.


In need of some more advice? Head on over to nijobfinder’s career advice area where you’ll find everything from tips on preparing for an interview to advice on starting your new job.

Are you searching for a new job? nijobfinder lists thousands of NI jobs on site at any one time, with new jobs added daily.

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