Writing an Effective and Professional CV

4 min
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Writing your CV seems like it should be easy to do. How tricky can it be to write down where you’ve worked and what you did when you were there? But, in reality, it’s far from straightforward. Writing your CV is an act of self-definition: it represents who you are in a work context and/or who you want to be.

People reveal far more about themselves in their CV than they realise. You can often tell which roles or activities people have enjoyed more than others because the language changes from positive and high energy to flat and functional. You can see which candidates appear more confident in their capabilities, talking easily about their achievements, rather than merely listing their job duties. It’s also very common for a candidate’s subconscious worries to find expression on their CV. For example, some individuals will feel the need to justify why they left a particular job, or candidates who are sensitive about their age or educational disappointments will often draw unnecessary attention to these in their CV rather than downplaying or omitting them.

Any career confusion also shows up loud and clear on your CV. It may be a perfectly decent CV on its own terms, but if it’s irrelevant to the role being applied for, then the employer will assume that you have not understood the job. Sometimes candidates think that if they write a broad CV, which includes everything, it will give them more opportunities. The opposite is actually true: if an employer sees a generic CV, they’ll assume you’re hedging your bets, and this makes you a risky recruitment decision.

So how do you make sure your CV is saying the right things about you?

It’s important to remember that while the CV is a personal statement, it’s primarily a business marketing document and it needs to be professional and positive in tone, content and presentation. Here are some tips on how you can achieve this:
Contact details

Your CV should be headed with your name and full contact details. Make sure your email address or personal website is business appropriate; jonathan@sexanddrugs.com may be a fun email for friends, but not for employers.

This is the earliest opportunity on your CV to show you have exactly what they’re looking for. Include the key skills and experience you have that are relevant and avoid talking about your personality or softer skills unless you can back them up with evidence. For example, instead of saying, “strong interpersonal skills” write, “my strong relationship management skills enabled the retention of our key clients despite attempts by a competitor to lure them away”.
Employment history

The information included under each role you’ve had shouldn’t simply be a summary of your job description. Under each job, highlight activities you were involved in that relate directly to the job you are applying for. Include achievements, such as how you met or exceeded any targets set and how you added value to the organisation. This could include additional income you helped to generate, costs you reduced, improvements in quality or the introduction of new ideas.

Wherever possible, try to quantify your achievements. For example, say your marketing idea generated a 10% increase in market share, or you saved the department £5,000 by switching stationery suppliers. No matter what role you worked in, you should find a way to demonstrate your positive impact on your team, organisation or customers.
Relevant skills and experience

If your earlier career history or extra-curricular experience is more relevant to the role you’re applying for than your current role, use a heading like “relevant skills and experience” or “career achievements” to bring together the information and evidence. Make sure that this appears on the first page of your CV, usually before your employment history.

Avoiding the pitfalls

If you want an employer to get the right impression of you from your CV, then avoid these common mistakes:

  • Lack of relevant information. Many candidates make assumptions about what’s important to the employer and so fail to provide the relevant information in their CV.
  • Insufficient evidence. Unsubstantiated claims won’t work. You need to prove you have what they need so provide examples.
  • Too generic. Many candidates write a broad CV because they want to keep their options open. But unless it’s clear who you are and what you do, then recruiters won’t know what to do with you.
  • Errors. Many CVs have errors in them and are often rejected on that basis alone. Your CV must be impeccably presented if you want to demonstrate your professionalism and attention to detail. Always ask someone else to check it over for you.
  • Negative information. Your CV should include only positive information. Never criticise a previous employer or refer to difficulties or disappointments unless you were able to turn them around.
  • Poor language. The use of jargon, clumsy expression or clichés can sabotage the chances of even the most capable of candidates. Your communication skills are being judged by your use of language in your CV. Don’t waffle, be precise and use positive action words such as “initiated this” or “created that” to reinforce the message that you’re an upbeat, “can-do” type of candidate.
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