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It is important not to underestimate the importance of your Curriculum Vitae (CV) when applying for jobs, especially as it may be the first and only information a prospective employer receives about you. A CV is a prime marketing tool within which prospective employers will want to see a demonstration of how you could meet their needs. It has been estimated that most recruiters devote only 15 seconds to reviewing a CV before making an initial decision about the candidate, so it is vital to highlight relevant skills and achievements in a clear and positive way. Your aim is to arouse immediate interest and to secure an interview. To do this, your CV must stand out from the many others they will have received.

When compiling or updating your CV, choose the format which works best for you and make your message simple, succinct and effective. First impressions do count, so make sure the layout is easy to follow and that there is enough white space to ensure that it doesn’t appear cluttered.

Be sure to present yourself and your achievements clearly and positively, and tailor the CV to the particular position you are seeking. One CV will not necessarily ‘fit all’ circumstances. Once you have drafted your CV, re-read it yourself from the potential employer’s point of view and then ask a friend or colleague to review it and give you their advice and suggestions.


A Curriculum Vitae is a vital tool for job hunting. Essentially, it is a document which describes you – your career history, education, and personal details – and paints an attractive but accurate portrait of your skills, knowledge, experience, achievements and interests.

Aim to produce a CV which has impact, is factual and brief

Your CV should be:

  • positive – focusing on achievements rather than just a list of responsibilities
  • personal – reflecting your unique personality and capabilities
  • clear – written in clear, understandable language
  • brief – preferably two sides of A4, or the equivalent in electronic format.

It is essential that your CV is easy to read and that it is as easy as possible for readers to pick out relevant information. Use headings (Personal, Education, Experience etc.) and present information in bullet points.

Identifying detail

This important information forms the head of the document and consists of:

  • full name
  • address
  • telephone number/s
  • email address.

Organisations often remove this information before the CV is reviewed, in order to promote equal opportunity and comply with organisational policies.

Choose a suitable format for your CV

The two most commonly used CV formats are chronological and functional/skills focused:

  • Chronological – this is the most widely used format. As it suggests, this CV follows your career back in time and works well for those who have made significant incremental moves. However, any gaps on the CV are very obvious.
  • Functional – this style of CV highlights the main skill areas such as management, people, operations, finance, budgets and IT. It is particularly appropriate for those who have developed their career on the basis of their transferable skills.

Your CV should be prepared in both printed and electronic formats, for use in different situations. Most companies and recruitment agencies now use online as well as traditional recruitment methods, and many websites allow you to post your CV for potential employers to see. An online CV should be formatted in a simple and clear style that looks good on-screen. Keep the page size to A4 and avoid fancy fonts, italics, underlining, colours and shading, as these may not reproduce well on computers with varying screen resolutions or operating systems.

Get the information together

Identify your key selling points. If your are taking the chronological approach, review your career, and, starting with your current or last job role work backwards in chronological order stating:

  • your job title – with clarification if necessary
  • an outline of your responsibilities – including the number of people you managed
  • your main achievements – the areas where you have made positive contributions or achieved identifiable outcomes.

Provide detailed information about your most recent post, with the level of detail reducing as you go back in time (unless a particular post was of special relevance to the one you are applying for now). For posts held more than around 10 years previously it is usually only necessary to list the responsibilities.

Consider including a personal statement or profile

This gives you the opportunity to present yourself as the kind of person the prospective employer is looking for. It is usually placed at the top of the CV, below the identifying details and should consist of a brief paragraph – one or two sentences – to encapsulate who you are and what you have to offer. Don’t try to cover everything here, but pick out the key points which will match you to the job you are applying for.

Describe your achievements as your own

A CV is essentially a selling tool. Focus on your achievements and present a positive picture of your skills by using active verbs, such as analysed, achieved, created, developed, designed, implemented, specialised or led. Use phrases which highlight the impact you have made, such as:

  • “The systems I designed are now contributing to the success of the organisation.”
  • “I designed and successfully introduced new procedures.”

This approach is valuable for both chronological and functional formats.

Provide details of your education

Again, in chronological order, list:

  • schools/colleges attended at secondary level and above
  • qualifications obtained
  • professional qualifications and memberships.

If at all possible, each qualification should be limited to just one line. Include details of work-based development and training if appropriate. However, if you attend short courses regularly, include only those relevant to the post you are applying for.

Think carefully about where education should be placed in your CV. If you have been studying in the last five years, or have been awarded a qualification relevant to the role, place education towards the beginning.

Decide which further personal details you wish to include

  • date of birth – although this is no longer considered necessary
  • marital status and family – include only if relevant to the specific job
  • driving licence – again only if relevant
  • career aspirations – only include these if they ‘fit’ with the job for which you are applying
  • interests – try to strike a balance between presenting a picture of someone whose leisure activities are so numerous and absorbing that they leave no time for work, and giving the impression s that you have no outside interests.

Avoid vague terms such as ‘clubbing’, ‘socialising’ or ‘reading’, and be specific. Include details of any volunteering you do, but don’t be tempted to put down activities just because you think they will make a good impression – expect to be asked questions about anything you include.

It is not necessary to include:

  • religious or political beliefs
  • height, weight or state of health
  • a photograph – unless this is requested
  • salary level desire – again unless this is requested
  • details of referees, but do state that references are available on request.

Adopt the right approach to explaining experience or skill deficits

You will rarely find the elusive ‘perfect job’ that exactly matches your experience and skills. You may well be applying for a type of work of which you have little experience, especially if you are a recent graduate. In these circumstances, your may be able to minimise any negative impressions by:

  • adopting a functional resume style
  • focusing on relevant educational achievements and knowledge, putting this section first on the CV if it shows you in a better light than your employment experience
  • bringing out relevant skills acquired through non-work activities
  • emphasising personal qualities such as motivation or willingness to learn and undertake training.

Take care with presentationCV3

The grammar, physical appearance and content of a CV, whether paper-based or electronic are all very important. Poorly constructed sentences, faulty grammar, careless spelling, illogical or confusing layout, tea-stained paper or a poor quality photocopy will not make a good impression and may tip the balance against you, all other things being equal. Email messages are particularly prone to typing mistakes. So take care to:

  • check and double-check your spelling – don’t just rely on a spellchecker
  • get someone else to read your draft through
  • ensure the presentation is clear and easy to read.

Some companies scan CVs onto a computer and then run search for specific key words, to act as a filter. Online CVs are very likely to be searched electronically. Use current buzzwords with care. Your CV should support the notion that you fully understand what the terms mean and imply.

Write a covering letter or email

The content and appearance of covering letters are also important. Use the letter to show how your experience relates to the specific opportunity or organisation and to summarise key elements of your CV. Do not assume that an email is more informal than a letter; pay attention to style, grammar, phrasing, spelling and layout in the same way as you would in a print document. Below are some useful phrases and tips.

Applying in response to an advertisement

“I am writing in response to the above advertisement and wish to apply for the position outlined. As requested, I attach a copy of my CV for your consideration. I am seeking an appointment where my experience can be fully utilised and I would be pleased to discuss this post in more detail.”

One successful type of letter maps the post requirements outlined in the advertisement to your skills and experience, to clearly show how the applicant matches the role. For example, you can introduce yourself in paragraph one, say what you have to offer in paragraph two and, finally, set the scene for the next step in paragraph three by saying how and when you can be contacted if the prospective employer wishes to discuss the position further.

Speculative applications

“I intend to develop my career with the accent on… . I would welcome a meeting with you to discuss my CV in greater depth in the context of any suitable vacancies in your organisation. A copy of my CV is attached. If you feel my experience could be applied usefully, I would be pleased to meet with you to discuss existing or potential openings.”

Tips to help you create and use cover letters effectively:

  • Send the letter to a named person. Make sure that the organisation’s name is correct as well as the address, and proofread your letter.
  • Be clear about what you want. Give clear reasons why the company should consider you.
  • A professional, friendly style is usually best. Avoid the hard-sell.
  • As with your CV, use a standard business format for your letter.
  • Use short sentences and keep paragraphs brief and to the point.
  • Target your letter. You might be responding to an advertisement or following up on a phone call, or interview. Each of these situations requires a different approach.

Acknowledgements: CMI Direct