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How to write a standout CV
What makes the perfect CV? In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A better way to look at it is this: if your CV gets your name on the interview shortlist, it’s done the perfect job.
The good news is that your CV is the one part of the recruitment process entirely in your control. Prepare it well and you present yourself in the best light to prospective employers. Do it badly and you end up in the bin. It pays to take the time to get it right.
We’re happy to give you constructive feedback on your CV and suggest ways you could improve it to maximise your chances of getting that interview. In the meantime, here are some valuable tips on writing a CV that gets you noticed for the right reasons, plus a well-structured, well-written sample CV for you to download.
1. Style & format
- Keep it simple and formal. Use a legible font in size 10-12pt black. Avoid fancy typefaces and borders.
- Be clear, concise and positive. Keep your sentences short and use bullet points so that information can be found quickly.
- Aim to keep to 2 sides of A4, so it can be printed double-sided as a single sheet. Only move into a third page if you have lots of relevant past experience.
- Keep things factual. Don’t use the word “I” any more than you have to.
- Remember that different people take on information in different ways. Some prefer to read prose; others absorb lists, stats and facts. Aim for a good balance between the two.
- Don’t try to be humorous; don’t use pictures or photos.
- If you’re printing your CV, always use good quality plain white A4 paper.
2. Contact details
- These should go at the top of the first page, centred or on the left.
- Include your full name, home address, telephone numbers (home, mobile and work if you don’t mind being contacted there) and email.
- If it’s relevant to the job, you can include your nationality and/or confirmation of your right to work within theUK
- You may also choose to state whether you hold a driving licence (clean or with penalty points) and/or have your own transport
3. Personal profile & objective
- Start by selling yourself in a concise and punchy personal profile – 20-30 words that capture your core offer and career aspirations to your next employer.
- You may want to add a short sentence about the type of job you’re looking for, tailored for different applications.
- Don’t list salary expectations.
4. Career history & achievements
- Take your time over this section: it’s the showcase for your relevant experience and undeniably the most important part of your CV.
- List your jobs in reverse order, starting with your current or most recent role and giving basic details for each: job title; company name; employment start and end dates.
- Use bullet points to list core activities and skills used and acquired under each job. Think carefully about these skills – if you have limited work experience, even a mundane job teaches you something.
- If you held different roles with the same employer, list them all under a header of the total span of your time at the company.
- Go into more detail about more recent roles. For jobs you held over a decade ago, summarise key tasks and only go into detail if it’s relevant.
- Include facts about your achievements in each recent role. If you’re in sales, detail your performance against targets. If you achieve results through contacts, describe your network (type, geography etc). Relationship manager? Outline the size and make-up of your portfolio. Had a particularly good appraisal? Then say so.
- If you have any gaps in your work history, be sure to explain them.
5. Education & professional qualifications
- As with your career history, list your qualifications in reverse order, starting with any professional qualifications you hold or are studying towards, then back through your educational history.
- Give a summary of each level of qualification, listing institution, course and award.
- There’s no need to go overboard listing all your GCSE or O-level results – the number of A-C passes will generally suffice.
- Keep it brief – two or three interests is plenty.
- Think about what you write in this section and what it says about you. Employers can learn a lot about a person from their interests.
- As with everything else on your CV, be honest. Only include your genuine interests.
- You do not have to include references but you can mention that they’re available on request.
- When you think you’re happy with the content and layout of your CV, scour it for spelling and grammar errors.
- Be critical. Ask yourself: if you were an employer, would it interest you? Does it really sell your achievements, skills and experience in the best way?
- Ask someone whose professional advice you trust to take a look at it – your Commercial Finance People consultant will happily appraise it for you.
- Proofread it again, both on screen and on paper. If possible, get someone else to check it too.
- When you’re confident that it’s the best possible reflection of your suitability for the role – and when the time is right – your CV is ready to send.
- Always keep your CV up to date. It’s best to revise it regularly, adding new skills, qualifications and significant achievements as you gain them.
- You may also want to tailor it to individual job applications, emphasising or prioritising certain skills and relegating or even removing those that aren’t relevant.
The full set of the Commercial Finance People candidate guides are available here as a single downloadable booklet – click to view or right click to download The Guide
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