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How to write a strong CV

When applying for a new job, your CV could be your ticket to getting through the first stage of selection process. But, how to make your CV stand out from the crowd?

Developing a strong CV can be one of the toughest challenges of job hunting. In this competitive job market, it takes a little effort to make your CV stand out from the crowd. You might be confused at first on how to begin formatting your CV. Whether you’re a new graduate or an experienced professional looking for a job, here’s our guide on how to build a strong CV that you can feel confident about.

But, before that here are a few tips from our recruiters at Quest:

  1. Your CV is the first thing an employer will judge you on, so make sure it showcases all your relevant skills and experience in a neat and clean format that is easy to follow.
  2. Make sure that you tailor yourskills and experienceto the job roles that you apply for. This increases your chances of being spotted in the crowd.
  3. Chronologically, list the information you need to include in your CV.
  4. A good looking CV is much likely to be read from the piles of CV than a shabby one. So, make sure that your CV follows a good layout, proper font size (not too big) and relevant content.
  5. Highlight your key achievements. Stand out from the crowd by adding facts and figures. Eg. Grew sales by X %, or increased LFL by X %

The best format to write a CV can be seen in the guide below.

What details should I include in my CV?

Personal details

  • Name
  • Postal address
  • Contact number
  • Email address
  • Social Media preferably LinkedIn URL

Personal Statement

This is your chance to grab the reader’s initial attention. Keep it concise with around 60 – 70 words and unique to your skill set. You can highlight your experience & achievements to date or briefly outline your career aims and reasons for seeking a new role.

Employment History

  • List all work experience in reverse chronological order, beginning with your current or last position.
  • Provide brief details of the companies you’ve worked for i.e. the name and type of business plus turnover.
  • State the dates of employment and include details of your key responsibilities and key achievements within the role.
  • Ensure the detail is factual and quantitative. Future employers want concise and informative information that sells your skills to them.

Educational Background

In reverse chronological order, list:

  • Your professional qualifications achieved, including the one you’re currently studying
  • Your university, course & degree gained (if applicable)
  • Your secondary and further education including A-Levels, GCSEs/O Levels and grades obtained

Additional Skills

  • Detail all the systems in which you’re literate or have used previously i.e. Word, Excel, SAP, Photoshop, etc. State your proficiency in each honestly.
  • List any foreign languages along with your proficiency at each classified as Basic, Conversational or Fluent.

Hobbies and Interests

Listing interests and hobbies provides a more personal profile for employers and helps to present you as a rounded individual.

References

It is up to you whether you include referee’s details in your CV or prefer not to disclose them at this stage. If you prefer not to disclose you can mention “References available upon request”.

But, if you’d like to include references, then provide the following information:

Name
Company
Position and relationship to you i.e. ‘previous line manager’
Postal address (optional)
Telephone
Email address

Final considerations

  • Make your CV look professional: write it in MS Word and focus on clear, consistent formatting.
  • Don’t have unexplained gaps: If you have been travelling or unemployed, include the details. Time out is often a good discussion point at interview.
  • Be concise: your CV should ideally be about 2 pages if you have good amount of work experience. For a fresher, a one page CV is preferable.
  • Keep it neat: Short paragraphs and bullet points look neat and make the CV easy to read.
  • Keyword Friendly: Recruiters are most likely to look for a set of keywords matching to the job description. So, make sure you put in the right amount of keywords relevant to the job.
  • Avoid Errors: Check and Double check for any errors or look for second opinion from friends or colleagues.
  • Keep it Current: Always keep your CV updated by recording everything significant in your career.
  • Use Numbers: Back up your achievements with numbers, for instance don’t write that I increased sales, instead say that you increased sales by 60% in a 6-month period.

Now that you have an idea of what should be included in your CV, read more on how to avoid common CV mistakes and best practice for cover letters.

Common CV mistakes

Your CV is your one shot to impress a recruiter and secure the most sought after job interview. So, it needs to be spotless from start to finish. It is very easy to make mistakes on your resume but very difficult to repair the damage once an employer reads it. Here’s how you can eliminate these common mistakes from your CV and improve your chances of impressing a potential employer.

  1. Typos! Your resume needs to be error free. Using your computer’s spelling and grammar checker is a good practice. You can also get a second opinion from a friend or colleague just in case they are able to spot things a computer can’t.
  2. The details to write on your CV really depends on the market you are applying to work in. For instance if you are applying to work in an international market, adding in details such as age, marital status, religion etc. are important. If this was for the UK market it might not be so relevant
  3. Only include information which is relevant to the job you’re applying for – the employer doesn’t want to know your life story!
  4. Whether to include a photo or not? This is market dependent and varies upon what sector you work within. Speak to your specialist recruiter and ask for their advice on whether to include a photo or not.
  5. Don’t put your salary information on your CV. This is something you would discuss separately with an employer or recruiter.
  6. Keep the length of your CV relative to your work experience. You can justify a long CV if you have a good amount of experience in wide variety of roles. Ideally a CV should be a maximum of 2-3 pages long.
  7. Don’t lie on your CV – this will only serve to trip you up further down the job application process.
  8. Don’t try to use humor in your CV. What people may find funny in person generally doesn’t come across well on paper. While humor may make your CV stand out to a recruiter, they will probably remember you for all the wrong reasons.
  9. Don’t use too many fonts in one resume. If your CV is featuring way too many fonts, it will most likely give the recruiter a headache. Make sure it is visually attractive and easy to read by sending it out to others for their opinion.
  10. Do not ignore gaps in your work history. Make sure you describe to the recruiter your time off in a clear and concise way. Gaps are harmless as long as the reasons are explained, be it illness, vacation or redundancy.
  11. Make sure to write concisely but meaningfully. You may often make very generic statements with lack of evidence, for instance, ‘increased sales in first quarter’ can be improved by adding numbers to show evidence example ‘increased sales by 40% in first quarter resulting in XXX profits’. It is important to provide evidence for your skills, achievements and experiences.
  12. Don’t forget to tailor your CV for target employers. This is a crucial mistake. Your CV must be targeted to the job role that you are applying for as the recruiter’s main purpose to see if you fit the role.
  13. Please make sure to have a professional email address and not try to appear humorous in this one. You may lose your credibility and the recruiter may question your judgement.

CV advice for graduates

A good CV is essential to get you the graduate job you want. Writing your first CV as a graduate can be an overwhelming task, especially if you are looking for your first job. Our recruiter insights here can help you develop an effective CV by presenting your achievements and experience during your study.

Before you begin

Your CV is the first thing an employer will judge you on, so make sure it showcases all your relevant skills and experience in the clearest and best way possible. Begin by assembling the facts and chronologically listing the information you need to include in your CV. You won’t get it perfect the first time but you can improve and add to your CV over time.

You may not be aware that many recruiters and employers use automated systems to search and screen CVs these days. Therefore, you need to ensure that your CV includes as many keywords as possible which are relevant to the role/industry you want to work in. For example, if you’re looking for a job in Sales, ensure that related keywords such as “communication skills”, “negotiation” and “relationship building” are included somewhere in your CV.

Read through the job description thoroughly for the role you’re applying for. Then, make sure you tailor your CV so it covers all the relevant points listed in the job description. This is really important as the recruiter might doubt your credibility and seriousness for the role unless you take the time to do this.

Personal Summary

This is your chance to grab the recruiter’s initial attention, so this section should consist of short sentences totalling three or four lines and be around 60-70 words. You can summarize your career, briefly outline your career aim or type of job you want and, more importantly, explain WHY you think you’d be suited to this kind of work.

Avoid using generic adjectives to describe yourself, such as ‘hardworking’, ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘confident’. You may be these things, but so are all the other people who are applying. Tell the recruiter what makes YOU different to all the others!

Please don’t write in the third person! Always use ‘I’ and ‘me’ when talking about yourself.

Personal details

Keep this section simple.

  • Name
  • Postal address
  • Contact number (Mobile number is best as you never know when you might get a call!)
  • A professional looking email address

Employment History

  • List all work experience (both paid and unpaid) and voluntary work in reverse chronological order, beginning with your last position.
  • Having internships is also key to getting experience, and include these on your CV.
  • Provide brief details of the companies you’ve worked for i.e. the name and type of business.
  • State the dates of employment and include details of your key responsibilities and – more importantly – key achievements within the role.
  • Ensure the details are factual and relevant to the specific role for which you’re applying as employers want concise information that sells your skills to them.
  • If you have only worked on small roles during holidays, no worries. Make use of the job specification to fill out what you’ve learnt in university, job roles or voluntary work.

Education

In reverse chronological order (most recent first) you should list:

  • Any professional qualifications achieved or training courses attended, including any you’re currently studying
  • Your university, course & degree gained (if applicable)
  • Your secondary and further education including vocational qualifications, A-Levels, GCSEs and the grades you obtained

Additional Skills

  • List all the systems and software you can use confidently or have used previously i.e. Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc. State your level in each honestly i.e. Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced.
  • List any foreign languages you know along with your proficiency at each as either Basic, Conversational or Fluent.

References

When you do secure an offer of employment from a business, they will want to speak with people who know you in a professional capacity and can vouch for your skills and experience as well as give an account of the kind of person you are. These people are called referees and are usually previous employers, colleagues or teachers/lecturers.

It is up to you whether you include referee’s details in your CV or you prefer not to disclose them at this stage. If you do decide to include them, make sure you check with the people you’ve selected that they’re happy for you to list their contact details and add in each referee’s:

  • Name
  • Company
  • Position and relationship to you i.e. ‘previous Line Manager’.
  • Postal address
  • Telephone number
  • Email address

Final considerations

Here are final tips from our recruiters at Quest to keep your CV in check.

  1. Make your CV look professional: Write it in MS Word and focus on clear, consistent formatting.
  2. Use the space wisely: Give a brief outline on your career summary, what you aim to achieve and why in your personal statement instead of filling it with innumerable skills.
  3. Be concise: Your CV should ideally be about 2 pages if you have good amount of work experience. For a fresher, a one page CV is preferable.
  4. Keep it neat: Short paragraphs and bullet points look neat and make the CV easy to read.
  5. Keyword Friendly: Recruiters are most likely to look for a set of keywords matching to the job description. So, make sure you put in the right amount of keywords relevant to the job.
  6. Avoid Errors: Check and Double check for any errors or look for second opinion from friends or colleagues.
  7. List your Achievements: Describe your major work or academic achievements with action verbs like ‘achieved’ ‘increased’ etc.
  8. Use Numbers: Back up your achievements with numbers, for instance don’t write that I increased sales, instead say that you increased sales by 60% in a 6-month period.

Best practice for covering letters

A strong resume cover letter can speak volumes about you. A good cover letter must complement your resume, not repeat it. Your cover letter is essential in convincing the employer to read the resume. To make sure your CV gets seen, follow our tips for writing a professional and impactful cover letter.

Cover letters give you a chance to display your personality and convince employers that you are the right fit for the job. You can do this by highlighting key elements of your experience, aspirations and outlining why you would be a great fit. You need to make sure to strike a balance between formal and conversational in those 3-4 paragraphs. Employers use cover letters as a basis to assess your interest in the role and the company, and also may judge you on your writing skills. If they like what they read, they’ll move on to your CV. If they don’t, your CV may not even be glanced at.

When sending your CV in response to a job advertisement, you should attach a brief cover letter of no more than one page in length. A cover letter is typically four paragraphs long and rarely covers the entire page. You can use the same font that is used in your CV to keep it consistent.

If you don’t know the person you’re writing to, avoid using their first name. You can instead use their title and surname instead. Also, avoid writing ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ – you should make the effort to find out the hirer’s name. However, if you cannot personalize the letter then ensure you adhere to the standard conventions below:

  • letters beginning Dear Sir / Madam should close with Yours faithfully
  • letters beginning Dear Mr XXXXXX should close with Yours sincerely

The structure of your covering letter

  • Begin your letter by making a clear reference to the job role you’re applying for e.g. Re: Store Manager, Exeter Q84523
  • Stress that you’re very interested in the role and feel you are the best candidate
  • Highlight the skills you have and how they are relevant to the job but avoid quoting sections of you CV verbatim
  • Explain briefly why you want to work for this company in particular – demonstrate your knowledge of the organization
  • Briefly state your reasons for seeking a new role but avoid being negative about your current employer / situation.
  • Close by reiterating your interest and that you can make yourself available for interview should they wish to meet with you

It’s always worth adapting your covering letter to ensure it doesn’t look like a one-size-fits-all letter of introduction. This may seem a lot of work but if you don’t tailor your covering letter it severely lessens its impact. Experienced recruiters will receive piles of standard format cover letters and can spot these very easily.

Speculative applications

Sending your CV to a company speculatively i.e. when they don’t appear to be actively hiring, can be tricky. Some companies don’t accept speculative applications at all, so it’s worth checking out the careers section of your chosen company’s website before sending. If they accept speculative CVs or don’t mention them at all, there’s no harm in contacting them. Follow our guide to speculative applications below and you might just end up working for your dream company!

If a potential employer considers you a suitable fit for the company but doesn’t have any positions open at that time, they’ll usually keep your CV on file. Once a job vacancy becomes open, they will check their speculative applications before spending valuable time and money on recruitment advertising. Hence, it is always useful to send out applications to companies you wish to work for in present or future.

Before you begin writing…do your research! Use the internet and trade press to find out as much as you can about the company you’ve chosen. Look into its organizational structure, its financial results, trends in its industry and history. Use the internet or get on the phone to find out the name and contact details of the person you should send your application to.

The cover letter is arguably the most important aspect of a speculative application. Try to keep the cover letter as short and to the point as possible. They don’t need to know your life story – they just want to know why you think you’re the kind of person they’re looking for. Outline your skills and achievements and explain what kind of role you’re looking for in their company. State your reasons for being attracted to the company and make the reader aware that you’ve done your research before applying. Explain what you feel you could bring to the company as succinctly as you can and request that they keep your application on file so they can contact you if a suitable job arises.

Using your knowledge of the company, tailor your CV as much as possible to ensure it fits with their requirements. For example, if it is a small company with low staff turnover, demonstrate strongly that you are genuine team player and loyal employee.

It’s worth following up your application with a phone call to make sure it’s been received and viewed by the relevant person. If so, try to arrange an interview or informal chat to discuss potential options.