Writing The Perfect CV - A CV Centre Guide

Your CV is probably the most important tool during your job hunt, so getting it right is absolutely essential. It is also one of the few aspects of the job search that you are in control of - your CV dictates whether or not you will be invited to interview so it must be able to sell both your skills and your experience. The sections below highlight what you should and shouldn't do when writing your CV, how to make your CV work for you and how to target it towards each different position that you apply for.

The Perfect CV

Your CV should not only summarise your qualifications, skills and experience but should also reflect key aspects of your personality that will help you to stand out from all other applicants. As well as utilising a profile at the top of the CV to highlight your particular skills, it is important to inject some of your personal qualities and strengths throughout the CV so that your individuality is really emphasised. Any specific achievements from your work, academic or personal life should be highlighted as these too reflect your personality and can demonstrate to any potential employers your proven ability to add value to a role.

How you present the CV is of vital importance and the top tips here are to:

  • Use good quality paper that is not flimsy but not too thick either
  • Be creative with your presentation and choice of font
  • Keep it to a maximum of two or three pages
  • Put the most important information on the first page

You can demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of your chosen profession by using relevant terminology and 'buzzwords', although this should not be overdone. It is much more important to be specific about your achievements and experiences. Also, you should aim to include information on additional skills such as your ability to speak other languages or your proficiency in the use of computers.

The Layout

The CV should contain up to date contact information so that potential employers can call or email you during office hours. Ideally, this should come at the start of the CV and be followed by an introduction or 'profile' section which summarises your qualities and introduces your career objectives. The most important or relevant information should go on the first page of your CV so if your strengths lie in your academic background, the introduction should be followed by your education and then your career summary. If, however, you have enjoyed more success in a professional capacity than academically, the reverse should apply. The last section of the CV should be a brief summary of your interests outside of the workplace. Try to make sure that you include any achievements here that may help you to stand out from the crowd and to avoid mentioning common interests such as reading, listening to music and socialising as these are generally accepted as hobbies that most people enjoy doing.

CV Writing Mistakes

Some of the mistakes that people make when writing a CV are very obvious and others are much more subtle. Here is a list of some of the more common mistakes seen in CVs:

  • Too long and too 'wordy' - summarise your information as much as possible to ensure that it is both clear and concise
  • Disorganised layout - by following the guidelines above as to how to present the CV, you can make sure that the information is presented logically in the CV
  • Spelling and grammatical errors - it is essential to run a spell check through the finished CV and to read through it to ensure that it makes sense
  • Including photographs or other decorative embellishments - this should be avoided as they distract attention from the important information contained in the CV
  • Use of first person - too much use of 'I' or 'Me' in the CV can appear arrogant and is also too informal
  • Irrelevant information - it is not advisable to include anything that does not add value or could appear negative such as reasons for leaving jobs
  • Too much use of jargon - some technical terms are acceptable but it is important to explain these if there is the possibility of them being read by someone not familiar with them

We expand on this topic in our guide to how to write a CV.

Expressing The Right Attitude

It is possible to use your CV to portray a positive attitude but it is also possible to come across negatively simply through how you word certain areas of the CV. Without intending to, you can appear easily bored, over eager, lacking in commitment, arrogant, bitter, careless and low in self-confidence.

To avoid portraying such negative attitudes as these, it is important to ensure that you remain completely professional when describing your experiences with your previous employers. If you feel that you have been wronged by other employers, it is important that this does not come across in the CV. Focus entirely on your positive skills and attributes rather than mentioning any negative experiences but try not to come across as self-important. You need to make sure that potential employers can not only recognise your achievements but also see in you the potential to adapt to a new way of thinking. If you have had a number of different jobs, do your best to reflect this in a positive way by highlighting the variety of skills that this has provided you with rather than just allowing it to appear as if you have lacked direction in your career.

The best attitude to portray is one that recognises your strengths and weaknesses while also demonstrating a willingness to learn and to give 100% to your future employer.

Using Power Verbs

An effective way of making your CV have a greater impact is to start your sentences with Power Verbs. These are words such as Achieved, Developed, Launched, Managed, Empowered, Maximised, Strengthened, Implemented and Realised. These words can be used to describe your skills and experiences in such a way as to emphasise what you achieved rather than just what you did. However, you should be careful not to over-use Power Verbs and also to make sure that the ones you use are as relevant as possible to the role for which you are applying.

Professional Profiles

There are some people who argue that 'Professional Profiles' should not be included on CVs anymore because they can perhaps come across as being too self-centred and pompous. However, just so long as the majority of recruiters and employers remain in favour of them, The CV Centre supports their inclusion. They can be used to effectively summarise your skills and attributes that you can go on to expound in greater detail in the main body of the CV and they are also very useful for CVs that are specifically targeted towards a certain position, as they can be used to emphasise the essential criteria that you are able to fulfil. A Professional Profile is also often accompanied by an 'Objective' section, explaining your preferred career direction and detailing what you hope to achieve from your future career.

Targeting your CV

While some people prefer to have a general CV that suits any position, it is arguable that greater success can be achieved by tailoring your CV according to the needs of the specific role to which you are applying. Sometimes, you may not be responding to an actual job advertisement but may be sending a speculative application to a company you particularly wish to work for. Either way, it is important to do your homework on the company, ideally using the Internet as a research tool, so that you can highlight particular skills, experiences and attributes that you think that company will be looking for. Although the CV is your tool to promote and sell yourself, it is also your opportunity to explain your understanding of the company you are applying for and how your skills relate to their specific requirements.

Where possible, use relevant key words in your CV that you have picked up either from the job description for the position you are applying for or from the company website. It is not enough just to say that you have the skills and experiences that they are looking for - you have to be able to demonstrate this by providing evidence where possible. So, if you are applying for a sales management position, rather than simply saying that you have many years sales management experience, explain the achievements you enjoyed in this role in terms of increasing sales and profitability. This shows the potential employer that you have the ability to add value to their business.

Once you have created your initial CV, it is usually possible to use this as a template for all future CVs so, when applying for a different job, you do not necessarily need to rewrite the whole CV but can instead just amend and update your existing CV according to the essential criteria for the role. Make sure that you actually fulfil these criteria and provide evidence accordingly otherwise it may not be worth you applying for the job.

Professional Preparation

At the end of the day, this is definitely the most sensible option; there really is no substitute for taking advantage of in-depth professional experience. Please see our free CV review service and our CV writing services.

"It's been two months since I had my CV revised by your dedicated team. I am happy to let you know that since then I have had more interviews and job matches than I ever had previously. But, most important of all, is that I was offered a job. I could not have done this without your professional help. I truly thank you and your team for having made it possible for me. Initially, it was a difficult choice for me between spending money having my CV professionally prepared or sticking with my old one. If I were in the same situation today, I wouldn't spend a second determining the best course of action to take; placing my order with your company was an excellent investment. I would recommend The CV Centre to anybody struggling to make that initial impact on prospective employers. It makes a big difference. Thank you once again."
Mike Walwanda, Customer Service Officer, Edinburgh