Anatomy of a Successful CV
Writing your first CV or updating an old one probably feels like a daunting task that will take hours or even days to complete.
There is a massive amount of advice you can find about writing CVs, whether it’s how to make your CV stand out or five different templates that will get you an interview. We’re spoilt for choice online – but this can make it even more difficult to start writing.
That’s why we’re providing you with the basics of what you need to include and how long each section should be on your CV. You can decide whether you want to add a unique design or format, but here is what you should always include:
Headline of a Successful CV
Your headline should be your name and, if it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, your current job title. Below your name are your contact details and, if necessary to the job, your nationality/citizenships and availability. Include a link to your LinkedIn profile if you have one, especially if you're sending a digital copy of your CV.
Other vital requirements you need for the job, such as having a driving license or being bilingual, should be left for the end.
Include your contact details just under the headline so recruiters can contact you easily. Both a mobile number and email address are recommended but at least include an email address.
Remember to update! Too often, candidates change their email address or phone number without updating their CV, leaving employers hunting for their details.
While it’s not necessary to include your full home address, do list the city you live in. This will allow people to gauge whether you’re within a commutable distance.
For example, if you work in Edinburgh but live between Edinburgh and Glasgow, you’re eligible for jobs in both cities. If you hadn’t included the city you live in, the recruiter may assume you’d only accept a job in Edinburgh.
The summary might be the only full sentence section. It gives some context to your CV and sums up who you are. Keep your summary to about three sentences. It can be a bit longer if you’re replacing a covering letter with this section.
Although to some extent your entire CV should be tailored to each job application, this section must be rewritten each time. Briefly describe why you’re a stand-out candidate and use any keywords in the job requirements to describe yourself.
Be careful not to sound too generic – if a recruiter reads the same opening statements from multiple candidates, you’ll get lost in the mix. If you have a unique skill or experience with the company, highlight it here.
Back up these statements with facts. Instead of putting ‘I work well in teams and can easily adapt’, using an example will have a much larger impact, such as “After two years of leading multiple teams, I am easily adaptable to any situation.”
This ensures your statement stands out, especially if you’re not submitting a cover letter.
Qualifications on a CV
The qualifications section is often a part that recruiters will skim over before reading the rest of your CV. Often they want to ensure you have the necessary requirements for the job.
To make it easy to read, your qualifications should be bulleted and formatted concisely. For example, state your qualification achieved, the organisation you completed it through and the dates of study. Feel free to include any high marks you’re proud of.
Include the dates of your qualifications for vetting purposes. If you’ve completed a qualification that’s required for the job, list it first. Additional qualifications that are relevant to the job but not in the job posting should be included after, in chronological order.
However, don’t include completely irrelevant qualifications - even if you worked hard to achieve them. For example, if you’re applying for an accounting job, the hiring manager might feel that reading about your journalism qualification is a waste of their time.
The length of the experience section will depend on how much relevant experience you have. This means that how much you elaborate on each job will also depend on the amount of experience.
List each position separately, either bulleted or with bold headlines for each. At the top of each include the job title, company name and your dates of employment.
Include 1-2 sentences of your responsibilities and any additional information that can strengthen your application for the specific job.
If there are any large gaps in your experience, such as travelling for a year, give your reason.
Be specific when writing about your responsibilities. Highlighting your leadership in a large company-wide project makes a much stronger impression than saying you demonstrated good leadership.
Only include relevant experience if necessary. You don’t need a full rundown of all ten jobs you’ve had in the last ten years.
If, on the other hand, you’ve only had a few jobs that aren’t relevant, include them all and make them relevant by highlighting transferable skills. You can then expand in the skills section and even place that section first.
It’s important not to follow strict advice on writing your CV and to always adjust based on how relevant your experience and skills are to the role.
Key Skills Section on a CV
Focus on transferrable skills. For example, technical skills and client-facing experience are transferrable to a wide range of jobs.
A good rule of thumb is to list 3-5 skills with 2-3 sentences per skill. If you don’t have much experience, this is a good section to add bulk and highlight the skills you gained during the experience you do have.
Even if you’re lacking in skills gained from professional experience, use other strengths you gained your skills through, such as volunteering, personal projects and coursework at university. If you volunteered to organise a fundraising event, you can prove your time management and planning skills.
Personal interests, even though sometimes very relevant, should be at the bottom of your CV. It doesn’t highlight your ability to do the job but it can prove you’d be a good culture fit.
Be honest about your personal interests but do your research and find ways they’re relevant to the company. If you find the company does a lot of fundraising, then your volunteering experience shows them you would get involved in their charity work.
If your role is client facing, mention your sociable lifestyle – just remember to keep it business appropriate.
Even if you can’t find out enough about the company culture, your interests and passions outside work prove you’re a well-rounded person.
Additional Tips for a Successful CV
Here are some additional tips to consider for your tailored CV:
- Once you’ve filled in all the sections, double check your CV for grammatical and spelling errors. Then ask as many people you can to read it over.
If the job requires attention to detail, you certainly don’t want to have a spelling mistake!
- Beyond what you say, make sure it’s legible in terms of font size, colour and layout. Don’t listen to the one page rule for your CV – it’s better to
have multiple pages than for it to be difficult to read.
- Putting a link to your LinkedIn profile is helpful, especially if you’re sending a digital copy of your CV.
- To protect from any accidental changes being made to your CV, either send as a read-only word document or a pdf.
- Bullet point as much of your CV as you can. The hiring manager will appreciate you making it easy to read. Plus, they can easily see your highlighted
experience and qualifications.
Don’t be put off by the daunting task of writing a CV. Fill in the required elements we’ve just highlighted and make sure it suits your skills and the job's requirements.
Simply filling in a CV template that isn’t tailor-made for you might mean that you’re highlighting the wrong attributes for the job.
This will hinder rather than help you secure your dream job.
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