Tips from Apsley Recruitment on writing a CV

Curriculum vitae:a biographical sketch of the course of one’s life (Chambers Dictionary)

Before we get involved in the specifics of writing a curriculum vitae (CV), let’s take a moment to consider what we want it to do, why employers want to see one, and why getting it right is so important. This will help you make some key decisions on content and style and how to gain the best advantage for yourself.

A well written CV is primarily a means to introduce your skills and experience to someone who doesn’t know you, and to help them decide whether or not to offer you an interview for a role in their organisation. Essentially it is a marketing tool, or brochure about your work experience, capabilities, strengths and character.

Usually the CV is delivered on your behalf via a third party, such as a recruitment agency or human resources department. It may pass through various screening or filtering processes before arriving on the desks of the person or panel deciding whether to invite you for interview. The intermediaries are unlikely to be technically skilled or experienced to any great degree in your specialised field. So how does that influence the content of your CV?

Put simply, it should be easy for the person reading it to determine what your key skills are, which technologies you are familiar with (not the same as every software package you have ever encountered!), the functions you have performed within an organisation, and what benefits and strengths you can offer. This will allow the CV to pass a cursory and critical review, and get to the next stage, assuming it is submitted for a relevant role. Given the tremendous amount of competition for most jobs these days the amount of time allocated to reviewing each CV may be less than a minute. This means at first glance the CV needs to make a clear and compelling statement about your capability, without the need for in-depth interpretation.

Now we have established the purpose and stark realities, let’s think how to give your CV the impact demanded to place you in front of interviewers.

What is the job do you want to do?

You need to be crystal clear about your objective to get the right match between yourself and the job you want to apply for. If you do not put across a convincing view of what you want to do in this new role, there is no way you can expect prospective employers to shortlist or select you. So it is important to know what you want from your career and where you want to go. Only then can you write an appropriate CV. Take time to think about this and note down your strengths, capabilities and ambitions before composing it. This will make your application more interesting and appealing to someone hiring for the type of role you are seeking.

CV Length: Here, opinion varies with many pundits insisting the limit is two sides of A4 (or equivalent). Given IT related CVs will include technical information as well as career experience, we believe this is perhaps restrictive. We always advocate that less is more but three sides should be enough. Give details about your most recent roles. Anything beyond ten years ago only needs a brief listing (employer, dates, job title, and achievements).

CV sections – what to include and how to break it down into manageable chunks

Personal Information: Keep it brief (many agencies may remove personal contact information before submitting a CV to their clients), but do make it easy for people to contact you. Include your date of birth by all means but remember that new age discrimination legislation dictates it must be removed before submission to a prospective employer.

Professional Profile: A paragraph (or two at most) giving a concise summary of your profile, highlighting your experience and the role you seek. Avoid tired clichés such as: “works well in a team or under own initiative ” – this is an opportunity to whet the reader’s appetite and stand out from the crowd. Be specific not generic!

Education/Qualifications: It is debatable whether to have this near the top or bottom of the CV, but whatever you decide it is an essential part that all employers will expect to see. Include all academic qualifications and relevant grades (don’t be tempted to exaggerate these – we have seen more than one offer withdrawn when grades could not be substantiated!). List all professional qualifications and accreditations or memberships, and relevant training courses you have attended, including continuous professional development (CPD) credits. This need not take a lot of space on the page, so keep it succinct (or tabulate) – you can expand further if requested. For instance, the name of the university you graduated from is appropriate, but not the name of every school you attended.

Technical Skills: You have a choice in how to present this information: tables, lists, bullet points, etc., are all relevant. Include those technologies, software products, programming languages, methodologies and such that you are genuinely experienced in and use, as part of the roles you have performed and aim to perform in the future. Don’t be tempted to list everything that was installed at sites you have worked at before, implying you have used them in-depth. If questioned at interview you could come a cropper.

Key Achievements/Recent Projects: If space allows, this is an opportunity to sell your successes to the reader. If you cannot offer something substantial, then omit this section. Captaining the school swimming team may be impressive, but is not what employers are looking for. They want to see initiative and positive contributions. Evidence of saving a failing project, or perhaps coming up with an innovative or elegant solution to a business or technical problem is much better!

Work Experience: This will form the major part of the CV so take care to balance its completeness with length. Naturally, you should list your roles in chronological order, most recent first. This is where the decisions made above about what role you are aiming for come into play, and what emphasis you place on the various aspects of your experience. Let common sense prevail and you won’t go far wrong here. This is the area of the CV that may be customised for specific applications by highlighting different skills or technologies, appropriate to the job you are applying for.

Do avoid large unbroken blocks of text as these tend to go unread. Instead, summarise the purpose and content of each role, followed by examples of tasks and achievements and any specific technologies, methods encountered and skills deployed or learned. Bullet points help here.

As mentioned above, older roles (ten years plus) can be shortened substantially to allow more detail on recent and relevant work. Try to make each year consecutive, even if you were out of work, studying, travelling, parenting, etc. It simply avoids questions later about any gaps.

Personal Interests:Keep this short despite the possibility of your having the most fascinating and daredevil personal life. In contrast, if the best you can say is “reading and the internet” then leave this section out. If you can make some brief comments that show you have a life outside of work, then all well and good, but try to be specific and don’t make generic comments that could apply to anyone. One succinct paragraph is enough, but be sure it adds value and appeal for the reader.

CV Formatting and layout

The formatting of the CV should be pleasant and consistent to the eyes in alignment, typesetting and style. Use a single font style throughout, using size, emboldening and underlining for headers and emphasis. Fonts such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman are easy to read, with 11 or 12 point size for the main text.

Keep the CV crisp and easy to read with short sentences. Highlight points and areas you especially want noticed by using conventional methods. Remember, the potential employer may have to go through hundreds of CVs to form a shortlist, so yours may be glanced at in seconds. The first few lines on page one have to grab their attention. If you need to elaborate on anything, decide if the text may be presented as a list of bullet points – so a person can scan the contents without effort and also enjoy what they read.

Besides a ‘manual’ review, always use a good spelling and grammar checker, or get someone you trust to proof read the CV before submission. So many people are let down by poor English and simple spelling mistakes, which often means the CV is discounted on this point alone.

Highlight clearly on the first page what value you can bring to the job and the company so that interviewers will appreciate the added value you would contribute.

What else?

Keep your CV updated regularly, adding new qualifications, training, promotions, skills and experience as they arise. Again, don’t forget CPD. We recommend reviewing and refreshing the content at least every six months. And importantly, be prepared to customise it to meet the particular requirements of a position, an easy thing to do with a word-processed document.

Additionally, obtain a second opinion: Apsley Recruitment would be happy to review your CV even if you are not applying for any specific roles with us. Call and have a chat, we will be happy to give you the benefit of our experience (we’ve seen thousands and have a good idea of what works!).

Ultimately, a good CV is a subjective judgement and there are no absolutes, just guidelines and best practice advice based on seeing these vital documents over many years. Feel free to take whatever you can from the advice above, and to discuss any points with us – we are open to differing points of view!

If you would like more information on CV writing it is worth visiting The creators have put a lot of effort into producing free career tools for jobseekers, these include:-

  • A step-by-step online CV builder
  • A downloadable CV template & advice package
  • Articles and tips on CV writing and job seeking

See also other helpful information from Apsley Recruitment:

  • Tips on getting noticed as a candidate
  • Tips on preparing for an interview
  • Apsley Recruitment – it’s mission and code of conduct