Writing a CV

Overview

Curriculum Vitae translates literally as "the course of one's life", or the course of one's career. It's a snapshot of your experience, education, skills and training that's used to 'sell' you to a potential employer.

The truth is, that even though you spend hours carefully crafting your CV, the average recruiter spends just two minutes reading it. Therefore, it's very important that your CV is easy to read, and clearly conveys the information that your potential employer is looking for.

What information are employers looking for?

You should be holding it in your hands! It's the job description and person specification for the job. In most cases, employers will go through your CV and cover letter, or application form finding out how many of the criteria you match. The people with the most matches are invited for an interview.

There are different styles of CV that are appropriate for different sectors, and for different people.

There is no single way of writing a CV. Recruiters are simply people with their own likes and dislikes. So it's quite difficult to say definitively how a CV should be set out to appeal to the employer you have in mind.

However, there are some general pieces of advice:

  • Using a format that is familiar and logical is unlikely to offend anybody
  • Laying out the information clearly, in a way that makes it easy for the employer to see how you match the person specification will help them enormously
  • Laying out the information in a way that draws attention towards the things you want the recruiter to see, and away from the things that are less important will be most beneficial to you.
  • While gimmicks may appeal to one recruiter, they will probably annoy others - so it's safest not to use them.

Based on these guidelines, CVs can be divided into three very broad styles; Chronological, Hybrid, and Skills-based. Choosing the right one will make it much easier for you to get your message across.

Make use of Careers online CV guide

Chronological

This is the traditional CV style, which most people naturally default to. You list your qualifications and employment in chronological order, with small sections on other skills, and interests. If it's an academic CV, you'll also have a third 'appendix' page listing your publications and conferences attended.

Advantages

  • Clear and easy to read.
  • Good if your career path has been linear, and the job you're applying for is similar to the ones that you have done previously.
  • Relatively easy to construct.
  • Probably requires less tailoring than the other CV styles.
  • Good for more traditional employers, and for academia.

Disadvantages

  • Highlights career gaps, which then have to be explained somewhere.
  • Not so good for career changers or those with a portfolio career, as it's harder for potential employers to make connections.

Example

Hybrid

The hybrid CV is a halfway house, and is a safe option if your career hasn't had too many gaps, and you're not making an enormous career change. Whilst it follows the order of a chronological CV, the skills section is larger and tailored perfectly to the information given in the job description and person specification. You can choose to include or omit a career objective statement.

Advantages

  • Extended skills section allows you to explain fully how you meet the person specification and can do the job as described.
  • Format is similar to the chronological CV, so you're at less risk of an employer finding it too radical!

Disadvantages

  • If you are making a radical career change, or have had a lot of career gaps, a skills-based CV might be better.

Skills-based

The skills-based CV is a more modern style. It often has a career objective statement at the top - a few sentences saying who you are and what kind of work you are looking for. It then moves into a large section devoted to your skills (which you will have tailored to match those described on the person specification). After this, you list your education, employment, interests and references.

Advantages

  • Perfect for career changers since it highlights the skills you offer rather than the jobs you have done
  • Good for those with career gaps as the emphasis is on skills, and the chronological part of the CV is smaller and comes later
  • Since you tailor the skills section to match the person specification and job description, this makes it very easy for the recruiter to shortlist you (provided you explain your skills well!)

Disadvantages

  • Modern style is not welcome in some sectors, including academia
  • Career objective statements are liked by some people and loathed by others

Example

Tips

Tips for writing a good CV

  • Give yourself plenty of time. It takes three days to make a good job application, and you'll need someone to proof read it before you send it off.
  • Have the person specification and job description to hand and consult them while you prepare your CV.
  • Choose the most appropriate style of CV (see the other tabs on this page) for your situation and for the job you are applying for.
  • Your CV should be 2 sides in length, with any publications and conferences attended as a third, 'appendix' page.
  • There's no need to waste valuable space by writing 'Curriculum Vitae' at the top - everyone knows what it is.
  • Write your name centred, at the top of the first page in a large font.
  • Make sure that the CV clearly points out how your skills and experiences match those requested by the person specification and the job description.
  • Avoid any annoying gimmicks designed to attract the employer's attention such as coloured, or unusual-sized paper, clip art etc.
  • Ask someone else to proof-read your CV before you send it - Really!