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How to write a CV

A well-written, concise and visually appealing CV is essential to help you to stand out from the crowd. Prospective employers often receive hundreds of applications, so submitting a CV which is hard to read, which doesn’t sell your skills or experience, or which contains easily avoided errors, may well mean that you end up in the discard pile.

So how to avoid falling at the first hurdle? First, it’s vital that you check your CV thoroughly for spelling and grammar errors: even a small mistake can suggest that you’re lazy or slapdash in your approach, immediately creating a bad first impression. Use a spellchecker (but don’t make the mistake of simply accepting all changes without reviewing them, or you may find that it makes changes you really didn’t intend!) or ask someone else to look over it with a fresh pair of eyes.

Keep it short, succinct and to the point. Most CVs should be no longer than two sides of A4: including all of your key selling points and leaving out unnecessary information or irrelevant skills makes it easier for recruiters to identify you as a suitable candidate. Read the description of the job for which you’re applying to help you tailor your CV to the position; using the same language in your CV as the prospective employer uses in the job description will make it easier for the HR professional reading your CV to see how your skills and experience match their spec.

Do make sure that your contact details are included and are up to date: there’s nothing worse than getting an interview but giving a company no way to let you know! And do make sure that your email address sounds professional.

Think about the layout and ensure your CV is easy to read by using clear spacing and bullet points, allowing prospective employers to quickly pick out the important information. Put the most important information for the specific job at the top; the job description will help you decide what to prioritise. Choose a clear, professional looking font, and avoid fancy borders or graphics.

You may wish to start with an executive summary or personal statement, which will introduce you to your prospective new employer and highlight your key points. Don’t be afraid to tell your potential recruiter what you can do: aim to prove why you’re suitable in one short and succinct paragraph.

You may also include:

  • Work experience: If you have lots of relevant work experience, this section should come before education. List your previous experience in reverse chronological order, making sure that anything you mention is relevant to the job you’re applying for, and highlight tasks and responsibilities which show your skills and strengths and which are relevant to the job for which you’re applying. If you haven’t got a lot, or any, relevant work experience, think about other things in which you’ve been involved, such as relevant volunteering.
  • Education: Give an overview of your education and professional qualifications, again in reverse chronological order. Talk about skills or knowledge that you’ve developed and highlight any key achievements that relate to the job.
  • Achievements: This is your chance to show how your previous experience has given you the skills needed to make you a suitable candidate. List all of your relevant skills and achievements (backing them up with examples), and make it clear how you would apply these to the new role. Whatever you list should be relevant to the job and not over-exaggerated.
  • Hobbies and interests: You don’t always need to include hobbies and interests in your CV, but mentioning relevant ones could back up your skills. If it’s not going to add value, leave it out.

Any extra information, such as reasons for a career change or reasons for gaps in career history should also be included as required.

Finally, don’t lie or exaggerate on your CV: claiming that you have experience that you don’t, that you’re proficient in computer programmes that you’ve never used, or massaging your degree result at best suggest that you’re dishonest, and at worst could be considered fraudulent.

All finished? If you’re posting your CV, print it on white A4 paper on one side only, and don’t fold it. And don’t forget to give it one final check through before you seal the envelope.

Next stage: the interview! Good luck!

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