How to Write a CV - great tips for writing a good CV

how to write a cv
Introduction to writing your CV
Your Curriculum Vitae (translated from the Latin as Course of Life) is a resume of your educational and work history. When applying for a job your CV is your 'sales pitch'. Its purpose is to get you that interview, to get you on to that shortlist.

Your CV won't clinch you the job on its own, but it will get you into the starting line up. If well produced and presented it will play an important role in securing you the job that you want. Without one you certainly won't get on.

About the CV

A CV is different from an application form. With an application form you have to respond to what the employer has already decided he wants to know and has set out. The employer dictates the agenda and what information you have to give him. This is not the case with a CV, as you are in control of what information you provide about yourself.

Occasionally employers may ask you to include certain things within your CV, such as references or qualifications. Where this is the case, do not omit any of their requirements. By and large, however, your CV is what you make it.

Modern CVs are normally described as 'Ability Based'. In other words, employers are primarily interested in your skills and achievements. They want to know what you can do and what you can offer to the organisation in question. Your qualifications and employment record matter, as they are evidence of your 'track record', but they are normally of secondary importance.

Some people find it hard to 'talk themselves up'. It is not a case of pretending to be someone you are not. We all achieve things and we all have different skills, abilities, qualities, and attributes. Make a short list of your skills and abilities, and if you find it difficult, ask friends and family for their ideas and input.

For instance, if you like working to tight deadlines, then say so. This is valuable, not to say vital, in certain jobs and occupational sectors. If you don't like working under pressure, then don't say that you do just because you think it sounds good, or because you think that's what the employer wants to hear.

If that isn't you, find something else that does reflect the real you, such as: Enjoy working methodically to reach my goals.

All good teams at work have a mix and blend of people within them. Think carefully about what you do best and include them in your CV.

Do the same with your achievements. It doesn't matter what the specifics are. 'Planned and facilitated office move.' demonstrates, amongst other things, organisational and people skills. These are exactly the sort of transferable skills that employers value most.

'You never get a second chance to make a first impression' is as true now as it ever was. Your CV is the first point of contact between you and a prospective employer. That being the case, don't be tempted to take short cuts. The effort you put in now will bring rewards down the line.

There are a number of important elements involved in creating the perfect CV. These elements can be summed up as the 4Cs. In short these are:
  • Content: What to include.
  • Clarity: Make it easy to read.
  • Concise: Stick to the point.
  • Correct: Check for errors.
It may be a good idea to write them on a scrap of paper so that you can see them in front of you while you work on your CV.

Content - What to write

Remember most CVs these days are 'Ability Based'. For more details read our guide to the different types of CV, and in particular the "Functional CV".

To summarize, the following things need to be included:
  • Name
  • Achievements
  • Skills and Abilities
  • Education
  • Career Summary
  • Other relevant information
  • Contact details
Note: Unless specifically asked for, there is no need to include information about age, marital status, nationality etc. Employers are bound not to discriminate under Employment Legislation.

Clarity - How to write with clarity

Your CV needs to look clean and crisp and must be well presented and easy to read. For further information, read our article on "Your CV layout", which specifies exactly how the above can be achieved.

Some of the information may seem obvious but is often overlooked, so it is worth stating. Small things can make the difference between success and failure.

Concise - How to write concisely

Perhaps that last sentence should be changed to 'keep it short and simple.' Say what you have to say as quickly and crisply as possible. Under 'Achievements' (see below), for example try and express each one in a single sentence, preferably on a single line.

Sentence Example:

Set up a spreadsheet to capture stock management data.

By doing this you will be able to include more items without cluttering up the visual appearance. The more items you can include, the more you are selling yourself to a potential employer.

Correct - How to ensure it is correct

Always check for errors. In fact, better still, get someone else to check it for you. We all have a tendency, when proofreading our own work, to read what we meant to say rather than what we actually wrote. Don't forget to use the spell checker programme on your PC. There is no need for any errors at all.
In addition to the 4Cs, you also need to remember the 2Ts - Tailor and Truth.

Tailor: Develop your own bank of information to draw on for 'Specific' applications. Do not just have one 'blanket' CV for every application. Check the job description and person specification. Google the company and 'get a feel for them'.

For speculative applications (where you are sending your details to a range of prospective employers) select the best from your bank relevant to the occupational sector concerned. For sending your CV to agencies etc assemble all your 'big hitters'.

Truth: Do not falsify information. Misrepresenting qualifications, for example, can result in dismissal if unearthed.

Explain any gaps in your history. There are many good reasons for taking time out. Don't leave it to their imagination.

Be honest about skills/abilities. Most organisations use Critical Incident or Behavioural Interviewing. They will catch you out.

*There are two basic types of questions they use here. The first is based on real experience.


Suppose the job requires you to chair meetings and you have said on your CV you have experience of this. They may say:

'So tell me about the last two meetings you chaired, how you organised them, how you dealt with matters arising'

If you haven't actually chaired two meetings, you are struggling.

The second variant is what is known as 'Scenario Building'.


You have a member of staff who has been with you for over 4 years, hard working, loyal. It has been brought to your attention that for the last two months they have been fiddling their expenses (less than £50 each month). This is potentially dismissable under our Disciplinary Procedure. How would you deal with it?

Remember, above all else, spend time on making your CV as polished as it possibly can be. The benefits of writing the perfect CV can be long-lasting and life-changing.

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