Your CV is your first chance to impress your new employer, so it’s important that you make the right impression. With that in mind, we are here to talk you through the do’ s and dont's of CV writing.
You’ve probably seen some of the stylised CVs floating around the internet gaining thousands of likes (we’ve seen Wagamama food menus and even Spotify playlist designs). The consensus on this type of CV might surprise you though; they’re not actually very effective. Spending hours creating a beautiful, eye-catching resume shows dedication and a passion for the company you’re applying for, and yes, this may appeal to some employers. Unfortunately, however, CVs of this kind tend to look gimmicky. An overly stylised CV might also actually hint at your unsuitability for the role because it will look as though your design is making up for a lack of content.
At the end of the day, employers have to sift through hundreds of applications per job role, and while a stylised resume might catch their eye, it shouldn’t be the design of your resume that gets you an interview, but the resume’s content. Plus, if you’re applying for lots of different jobs (let’s face it, you probably won’t get the first job you apply for) you’re adding hours of precious time onto each application. Luckily for you, simple CV templates are available for free online, so make use of them!
You might have once heard the rumour that the longer your CV is, the more impressed an employer will be. Surely a longer CV is one with more experience and qualifications? Well, in fact, the opposite is often true. CVs are not a place for waffle. You should try to keep your CV as clear and concise as possible because employers don’t have time to read paragraph after paragraph about experience that just isn’t relevant.
Start with the basics: your name and contact details. At the very least you need a phone number and email address so that you can be contacted for the interview. You can also include your home address if you want to, but now that most communications are done online or over the phone, it isn’t absolutely necessary. You might also want to include a link to your LinkedIn profile if you have one.
Now, onto work experience.
Under each work experience heading, include the start and end date of the employment, and whether it was full-time, part-time, freelance or volunteer. Then you need to neatly summarise the work you did at each company. Keep this concise (you can even use bullet points). Keep in mind the kind of job you are hoping to secure and prioritise the contents of these summaries to show how your experience is relevant. While your work experience should sit in reverse chronological order (that means including the newest first and oldest last), there’s nothing wrong with highlighting your most relevant work experience by moving it to the top or putting a box around it.
I know we love a cliché at Boardrm, but in this context it’s best to avoid writing in clichés. Stating that you are ‘excellent at working individually but also as part of a team’ doesn’t really tell us anything about you and your skills. Instead, use your work experience to show that you have these skills. Provide concrete evidence of your ability to work independently and as part of a team, and point these out to the reader, rather than regurgitating the same spiel that everyone has heard before.
You also need to use this space to tell the reader a little bit about yourself. It’s not all about qualifications and paid work experience; employers are also thinking about what personality types they want to bring into their companies. So, tell them about some of your hobbies. Maybe you were on a sports team at school, or enjoy playing the piano? If you have any awards to back these up, then even better, tell them!
Rather than thinking of this section as a ‘hobbies and interests’ section, approach it as a place to list your additional skills and experience. Here you should list any volunteer work that you’ve done (but only if you had enough paid experience to fill the work section), as well as any achievements that don’t quite fit into your education or work experience sections. For instance, this would be where you list things such as Duke of Edinburgh awards, writing for your university’s newspaper, and sporting achievements. This section allows you to show employers that you are a genuine contender for the job, even if you don’t have the exact industry experience that the job listing asks for.
As well as making sure that your experience is relevant to the roles you’re applying for, keep in mind the general characteristics that employers would see as appealing. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but employers are generally looking for responsible, mature, resourceful and enthusiastic individuals to join their teams. Make sure your CV is highlighting what a fantastic, well-rounded and interesting person you are!
You should also include your education, but you don’t have to go into too much detail (unless you are going into a particularly academic field). Most jobs will only accept applicants who have a minimum of five GCSE grades at A*-C, including maths and English. Generally, you only need to put your most recent education achievement on your CV. So, if you have completed an undergraduate degree, it’s not necessary to include your A-Level or GCSE grades. Make sure you put the dates of your most recent education achievement and also state which establishment you received it from.
If you don’t have a great deal of industry experience, then you might need to include more education information so that your CV doesn’t look too empty, but only include grades that will improve your employer’s perception of you. If one of your GCSE grades is an E in Spanish, but you also have 3 A Levels graded A-C, then there’s no reason to include that lower grade.
These days, you don’t need to include a particularly in-depth reference list. Just stating that references are available on request is enough. Make sure that you do have a reference list to hand in case an employer asks for one though. You should have at least two references, and you will need to include their name, the organisation they work for, their professional relationship to you and their contact details (email address and phone number). If you haven’t had a job before, including a past school, college or university tutor is fine. The golden rule with references is quite simple: just make sure you get each person’s permission to share their information with prospective employers. You don’t want to upset the people who are supposed to be singing your praises!
You also don’t need to include your date of birth or a photo of yourself. Neither of these things add value to your CV, nor will they give an employer more reason to hire you (or at least, they certainly shouldn’t). In fact, due to the unconscious bias we all hold unintentionally, including this information could actually end up working against you, which would be unfair.
Yes, we have a few final little tips for you to keep in mind, thanks for asking. You might need to adjust your CV depending on the jobs you apply for, especially if you’re applying for a variety of different jobs in different industries. If you are applying for a graduate job, it’s not particularly relevant to include part-time retail jobs, unless you don’t have any other experience at all. If you are interested in casual work as well as finding a graduate or full-time role, it might be helpful to have two separate CVs, one for each job type.
Look, we know we’ve put quite a lot of emphasis on the idea of perfecting your CV in this article, but we want you to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect CV and that’s totally fine. The interview is your chance to really make a lasting impression on your potential employer. Your CV is just your ticket through the door.
And finally, never forget that your CV is an opportunity to celebrate yourself and your achievements. Recognising your own fantastic qualities and explaining them on your CV is not bragging. As long as your claims are true and your language isn’t too flamboyant, don’t be afraid to hype yourself up. Being too modest might be what stops your CV from catching an employer’s eye, so don’t do yourself a disservice! You are so worthy of getting this job… so now it’s time to just go for it.
Check out our article that discusses which industries need cover letters alongside CVs and what your letter should include.