Writing a Curriculum Vitae (CV)
This page gives you CV writing tips, techniques, examples, and help for career change and career training.
If you are just using the CV template, see the structure options about putting CV/Curriculum Vitae in the heading and which personal details to put in.
Here's a very direct local job-hunting method and tool, which is adaptable for your own situation, and can help put your CV in front of local employers very quickly and effectively.
If you want more details and methods for writing a great CV, planning and achieving good career developments and helpful job changes, read on.
While the basic rules of a good CV remain constant, the world of work and business changes quickly. This especially impacts on how managers and graduates can best show themselves to be outstanding candidates.
Read and use the basic CV rules, then take time and effort to define your own special qualities (for example see what successful progressive employers need) so that you offer strongly differentiated capabilities which promise special and relevant value to a potential employer.
Keep your curriculum vitae simple. It must be concise, easy to read, must sell you, and it must be tailored to what the reader is looking for.
These CV and letter principles apply to all career moves. Having a good CV is essential for full-time jobs, part-time, internal, external, promotions, new jobs, career changes, internships and work experience placements - wherever an employer or decision-maker is short-listing or interviewing or selecting applicants.
Short-listed and successful candidates are invariably the people who provide employers with the best CVs and best covering letters.
A CV does not have to be a text document. It can be a video. If a picture tells a thousand words, imagine what moving pictures can convey about you. The technology exists now for anyone to create a video CV, and to upload it onto a website - including this one.
These notes are therefore not restricted to text-based CVs. The principles are good for your video CV too. Text or Video - the same principles apply.
How you perform at the interview or group selection is of course crucial, but only the people with the best CVs and letters get to that stage.
CV writing is a form of marketing or advertising, when the product is you.
This is especially so now when you can publish your CV - and/or video CV onto websites.
Opportunities increasingly enable you to create an impressive 'new-media CV' and then to proactively market yourself to employers where you can be seen, and also referenced by you in letters and hard-copy documents.
Your CV must sell you to a prospective employer, and compete against other applicants who are also trying to sell themselves. So the challenge in CV writing is to be more appealing and attractive than the rest.
This means that your curriculum vitae must be presented professionally, clearly, and in a way that indicates you are an ideal candidate for the job, i.e., you possess the right skills, experience, behaviour, attitude, morality that the employer is seeking. The way you present your CV effectively demonstrates your ability to communicate, and particularly to explain a professional business proposition.
Put yourself in the shoes of the employer: write down a description of the person they are looking for. You can now use this as a blue-print for your CV. The better the match the more likely you are to be called for an interview.
If you find it difficult to match your own CV description to the requirements of the role, then perhaps the role isn't for you. There's little or no point distorting or falsifying yourself in order to get a job. If you falsify yourself in your CV you'll be unlikely to provide the necessary proof of your claims at interview, and even if you manage to do this and to get the job, then you'll not be able to do the job enjoyably without stress.
Obviously lying in a CV is a risky strategy, especially about qualifications, and you should avoid any such temptation. Better to be proud and confident of who you are. Integrity and reputation are more important than qualifications. A CV with a lie is an embarrassment, or even a dismissal, waiting to happen, sometimes years later when you've a lot more to lose.
Blow your own trumpet, emphasise your characteristics, your capabilities and achievements - this is all fine - but know where to draw the line. Positive emphasis and strong presentation is good; falsehoods are not.
On the point about 'blowing your own trumpet' (presenting yourself within the CV in a very positive light) - many people find this difficult, especially those with strong 'sensing' personalities, who see life in terms of bare facts (make time to see the personality section, and read Jung, Myers Briggs, etc - it will help you understand a lot about yourself). If you are one of these people (in fact many people are) try to get help from someone creative and enthusiastic to assist you in interpreting and writing very positive phrases and descriptions about you for your CV. In your CV it's important to emphasise your attributes in strong, relevant and expressive terms; modesty doesn't work particularly well on any CV.
Additionally, there is a widely held school of thought that writing such statements - powerful descriptions about yourself, your personality and your strengths and capabilities - actually helps you to become even more like the person you describe. It's related to NLP, self-talk, self-belief, and positive visualisation: we tend to live up to our claims when we write them down and commit to them. Creating a positive CV for ourselves helps us to grow and to become how we want to be.
These statistics relating to CVs and interviews were published in the Guardian newspaper some years ago. The numbers will be reasonably reliable in modern times too. The survey findings serve to remind job applicants and interviewers of warnings, opportunities and critical aspects of CVs and related preparation and approach for job interviews. The statistics also provide a basis for formulating some very useful pointers for CVs and job interviews:
The survey found that 86% of interviewers think CVs and application forms are not wholly truthful, whereas separately it seems that 35% of CVs are actually factually correct, although (for some reason, not actually explained) this apparently reduces to 23% for CVs belonging to women aged 31-35. The precise source of these statistics is not made clear, but the interesting point that comes from all this is that people who are truthful, and can convince the interviewer as such, will place themselves in an advantageous minority group, since the majority of interviews involve CVs which contain lies, and/or are perceived by interviewers to do so. So if you want to have an edge over most other CVs and applicants, tell the truth. (For what it's worth this confirms what I've observed over the years - an honest solid applicant will always be preferred to a dishonest 'star' - integrity is considered to be a significantly vital factor among all good quality employers.)
It seems that only 8% of interviewers believed that academic qualifications reliably indicate future performance in the job. This confirms that for all but the most academically-dependent roles (NASA scientists, brain surgeons, heads of university faculty, etc), it's important to emphasise strengths such as relevant achievements, capability and attitude, and appreciation of what is required to make a difference in the role, rather putting a lot of emphasis on academic qualifications.
Combined with the first point, these findings also confirm that lying about qualifications on a CV and/or in an interview is a completely daft thing to do, because seemingly most interviewers won't believe you (moreover, 66% of interviewers say that they check up on professional qualifications, and 56% check academic qualifications), and hardly any interviewers regard qualifications as the most significant factor anyway.
Recent trends - and many newspaper and magazine articles - consistently suggest that employers increasingly look for characteristics in job candidates that are attitudinal, rather than knowledge or qualifications-based.
In the 20th centrury, the major 'professional' recruiters (corporate retailers, accountants, legal firms, etc) would typically restrict their recruiting and graduate intake to candidates who possessed specific qualifications for the profession itself.
In the 21st century these same organizations now increasingly realise that:
- Job candidates with the best accouncy qualifications do not necessarily make the best accountants
- Job candidates with passions and experiences and qualifications in other disciplines often make very good accountants - especially where customer relationships and acciount management are important parts of the job
- A candidate who can demonstrate good experience achieving worthwhile things and being productive, and can also demonstrate energy, commitment, problem-solving, creativity and people-skills, etc., is far more likely to be a fabulous employee than someone who merely possesses a good degree, or other academic qualification.
N.B. This does not mean that you should not bother with training, self-improvement, and striving for new professional or academic qualifications, which are helpful for personal growth and for increasing your range and depth of capabilities. The point is simply that there are far more important things than qualifications in CVs and interviews.
Next is a crucial factor in CVs and interviews that's easy to prepare for:
Apparently 59% of employers said they have had to withdraw job offers after receiving poor references about successful applicants. This means that some people are failing to prepare their references properly. It also means that some people who are initially unsuccessful stand a chance to be offered the job because the preferred applicant was found to be rather less than they claimed to be, but only of course if the second-choice applicant's references are satisfactory. Given that some inititally successful candidates are rejected due to references, there will be a sensitivity among interviewers to this, and a desire to avoid the disappointment and time-wasting nuisance of receiving a poor reference about a chosen candidate. Thus there is an opportunity for applicants to increase their suitability (as perceived by the interviewer), to be the first-choice candidate, or failing that to be reliable second-choice candidate, by:
- Emphasising the availability of good reliable references on the CV
- Taking good printed references to the interview (see the reference letters page), and
- Ensuring that reliable referees are prepared and able to provide excellent references when asked by the interviewer, should (when) the job is offered
So do not treat references as something to do after the interview - prepare your references in advance - and take the evidence with you.
The survey findings also state that 85% of interviewers seek references from at least one previous employer, which is further confirmation of the need to cover this whole area professionally and reliably.
According to the research, these are the most common CV inaccuracies (presumably from the perspective of interviewers):
- Employment dates (length of, dates from and to)
- Job titles
- Gaps between employment
- Qualifications, and surprisingly,
- Undeclared directorships
This is all very interesting because again it shows the opportunities for applicants to sharpen up the reliability and truthfulness of their CVs in certain key areas. It shows that interviewers will be sensitive to, and therefore on the lookout for inaccuracies, distortions omissions and 'funny smells' generally in these areas, so again, be honest and consistent.
Remember that many professional people use quite a lot of instinct in recruiting people. They are therefore sensitive to anything that does not seem quite right.
So eliminate any areas of doubt in your application - do not hope instead that everything will be ok in the interview, because if you have created some doubts about yourself and your application, then the job offer will probably go to someone who is less of a risk.
On which point, rather than spend time trying to create a 'believable' web of deceit (which most interviewers will see though at some stage anyway, with the result that your your credibility will be shot to pieces, along with the opportunity or job offer), spend your time instead thinking about what you learned from the things you are trying to hide, and be proud to have the courage to be honest about your past. If you lie about it then it will continue to hang around your neck as a failure. If you hold your head high and be honest, then you will gain respect, and in many cases the interviewer will conclude that you have learned from your experience, especially if you explain how and why this is so. Remember, lots of interviewers will have considered hiding or distorting things in their own CVs - nobody's perfect; and in fact the most impressive people in life and work are generally those who've learned from and accepted their difficult experiences, rather than denying that they ever happened.
Whatever way you look at this, it makes sense to be truthful - firstly to yourself - be proud that you have learned from your mistakes and that you have the courage to admit them.
Don't try to hide failures, mistakes or shortcomings - accept them, learn from them, seek to improve on them, and explain why and how this is so.
And as important as anything else - don't let people judge you unfairly, and don't work for anyone who does, because they will make your life a misery.
You are being assessed in this process - but you are also assessing your employer. Be proud.
Your integrity, honesty and commitment are extremely valuable in today's world - so work only for an employer who respects you for having these qualities, and don't lower yourself to work for anyone who will not.
The tips and examples in this article still apply if you have little or no work experience. Experience is in everything we do - especially in the most important areas such as maturity (grown-up attitudes) and emotional intelligence, communications, creativity, responsibility, determination, integrity, compassion, problem-solving, etc - these are the qualities employers really seek - so if you are leaving school or college or university and putting together your first CV, then look for the relevant transferable experiences and learning in your life experience and use these examples within the structure provided on this page. You'll not have a career history, but you can certainly illustrate and prove that you have qualities gained and learned from your life experience, that employers will recognise and want.
Consider and show achievements and qualities from your life, relevant to the job, such as:
- Persistence and determination
- Compassion and humanity
- Love and care for others
- Specific abilities with numbers, language, communications and ICT (information and communications technology - especially computing and websites), fixing and making things, selling and marketing something, etc.
in non-employed situations such as:
- School or college projects and responsibilities
- Part-time jobs
- Voluntary work
- Supervising, teaching, helping young people
- Charity work
- Hobbies and pastimes
- Outdoor activities
- Holidays and travel
and any other personal interests which illustrate your strengths, capabilities and passions.
It is true that many employers need experienced people. Some are firm about this; others can be persuaded to consider an applicant who has special qualities but no experience - it depends on the job and the needs of the employer. There are some employers who will be interested in fresh young people who are keen to learn and who are highly committed, and who can demonstrate that they possess other qualities that perhaps more experienced people do not. This is why you need to write a good letter accompanying your CV that explains clearly and concisely your strengths and values, and relevant life experience, to an employer, and then to send the letter, and follow up with phone calls to as many employers as you can. Be persistent and determined, and you will find in time find an employer who wants someone just like you. Meanwhile take advantage of every opportunity to learn and gain experience in your chosen field: join discussion groups, read journals, attend courses, lectures and exhibitions, study the newspapers and news websites business pages, perhaps work part-time for a school and/or a voluntary organisation or group who need your skills. This will enable you to build useful and relevant experience that will definitely be seen astransferable to employed situations, and it will also demonstrate to employers that you are enthusiastic and willing to invest your own time in making a positive contribution to help others and to help yourself.
If you are aiming at a job which asks for experience, yet you have no experience in conventional employed work, look for other examples in your life which prove that you have the right attitude and potential, and even some very relevant transferable experience, despite it not being from employed work.
Many employers prefer a young candidate who can demonstrate reliability, self-motivation, drive and enthusiasm, etc., from having, for example, applied themselves for years in low-paid paper-rounds and weekend jobs, or who can show serious dedication to some other worthy activity, than applicants who have a career history but demonstrate none of the vital qualities that employers really value and seek in new recruits.
Given the fast-changing nature of work and organizations, jobs increasingly offer the chance or require candidates to suggest how the role itself might be shaped or developed or fully defined. It might be an existing role, or a new position. Either way, this is a big opportunity which you should grasp eagerly.
A role that has not been fully or completely specified offers great opportunity for the successful candidate to prove they'd be able to define and shape the role to benefit the employer organization in accordance with the employer's needs, aims, challenges, priorities, etc.
Of course at the same time you'd need to prove you can cover the stated/known essentials, but if you see or detect that role development is also on the employer's wish-list, then create your CV accordingly.
As regards the unknown aspects of the job (which the employer might say are 'to be defined', or 'yet to be developed'), the candidate needs to show they understand how the role can operate to its fullest potential within the organization. This aspect of role defining or development invites the candidate to demonstrate on their CV that they'd be able to do just that - help re-define or develop the role.
This involves more strategic interpretation than might usually be expected in the role. People who can shape their role have to be able to see outside the role and understand the role in a wider context than simply doing a stipulated job.
Key attributes and abilities associated with this requirement would typically include:
- Measurement and analysis of meaningful cause and effect - some appreciation of productive use of time and resource in an organizational context - this is really the crucial point: the capability to assess and judge the role in a future organizational (and maybe also market) context
- Vision - appreciation of what's needed for the future; how things are changing and how to meet those changes
- Strategic awareness and interest - seeing implications of issues beyond the issues themselves
- Objectivity, maturity, tolerance, patience, wisdom, etc - the opposite of impulsiveness - so as to use the additional responsibility wisely and fairly
- And ideally (which can be a clincher) show a command and knowledge of the role from a technical 'leading edge' perspective - as if you were a specialised external consultant or expert, or perhaps a teacher or writer in the discipline, or simply someone who takes a keen interest in the most advanced thinking associated with the role - it's a matter of presenting yourself as, and being, someone who sees the positive and future implications of the role, not just the role itself.
The employer's ideal applicant in such situations is for an expert to join them and manage the situation like a more senior strategic manager or executive would be expected to do, given that they do not have such a person. For a job applicant it's a great way to approach a job opportunity, especially if you are keen to advance.
N.B. Many job vacancies offer this potential or flexibility even if the employer does not state it. All good organizations need people who can see beyond their own role; people who can develop the role, and also to develop and advance as a strategic contributor within the organization. So approaching any vacancy with an eye on development and organizational context is often a good way to differentiate yourself from other applicants who limit their CV presentation to the strict confines of the job description.
You should approach applying for internships in much the same way as looking for a job. Therefore much of what appears on this page about CV writing and covering letters for full-time jobs and career advancement will be relevant if you are trying to find a placement for work experience or an internship. The tips and ideas on the job interviews section are also relevant to seeking and applying for and successfully gaining internships and work experience placements.
It's essential to research prospective internship employers. And plan this well in advance. People who leave things until the last minute reduce their options, and increase the amount of competitive pressures involved. Also, planning and researching early in the process will maximise the chances of identifying and securing the best placements.
Employers will be impressed by people who have clearly planned ahead of the rest. Employers will not be impressed by those who've obviously left things late.
Be creative about the way you research your employer market sector(s). First decide on the sector(s), and what you want to do.
Do you define your target sector(s) 'vertically' - according to 'vertical markets', such as retail, solicitors, accountants, charities, healthcare, transport, sports, leisure, etc.; or do you prefer to define your target employers 'horizontally' - according to services and professions that are used across all industries, such as administration, sales, financial, legal, creative, production, quality management, business management, human resources, training and development, etc? Or perhaps a combination of the two, for example, I want to get an internship as a HR person in a charity, or as a production designer in a hi-tech manufacturing company?
However you define your target sector, it's important to do so, because this gives you something specific to aim at. Clarity here is extremely valuable. Clear aims have a much greater chance of being met than fuzzy or indeterminate ideas. This is because we can build an action plan around a clear aim. We can't build a plan around a vague idea.
The action plan starts with researching your target market or sector, however you define it. Focusing on a defined sector helps because certain economies of scale come into effect: commonalities exist between similar organisations and situations which save our time and enable efficient use of our efforts. We can get into a groove and a mind-set that will work in lots of similar situations. Being vague and having no focus makes it impossible to derive these advantages. Variety might be the spice of life, but it's not helpful in putting together a targeted action plan, where focus, consistency, familiarity, knowledge, expertise and professionalism are the important criteria for success.
Research is relatively easy using the internet - but remember the phone as well, especially when you locate a contact who might guide you. Try to identify the focal points where information is gathered and disseminated for your target sector(s). Most vertical industry sectors - and professions - are represented by at least one trade association or professional body or institute. Large sectors will be represented by many different trade associations, bodies and institutes - each of which represents a sub-sector or 'niche' within the main sector. Each representative body will generally have a trade magazine or journal, and also probably a website. These pivotal points will enable you to find out most of what you need to know so as to identify prospective internships (and employers). Use the phone to talk to people in these organisations - editors and secretaries are very knowledgeable and many are very helpful. Try to network and seek referrals from contacts, each time asking politely for help - just be honest and courteous about what you are trying to achieve and many people will be extremely helpful. Accept the fact that you will find yourself barking up the wrong tree on a few occasions - no problem - move onto the next point of contact. Sooner or later you will find what you seek.
What you seek of course is of course a good list of potential employers (and relevant contact details) who fit your criteria. Your criteria will extend beyond market sector and job function. Geography, organisation size, market position, style and culture might also feature in your ideal profile of an internship organisation. Again, define and describe to yourself what you are seeking - an employer profile - and use your research sources to compile a list of the organisations that meet it.
Researching individual organisations on the internet and by telephone, and by requesting details from them (sales brochures, annual reports, etc) helps to build up a feel of the market and or professional sector early on, and this individually focused research is very beneficial later in the process when you begin to tighten your specification and list of prospective employers. This detailed research will directly improve your written approach, and you performance at interview.
When approaching organisations for internships or work experience placements, resist the temptation to send out lots of emails. Letters are best. Emails give a far lower rate of response than letters. Letters have to be opened, but emails don't, and many are binned as junk or spam. Follow the principles on this page to write and send the most impressive CV and cover-letters possible. It's not necessary to have had loads of work experience to create a great-looking impressive CV. See the notes above about writing CVs with little or no work experience.
See also the tips on business writing and also the techniques for writing introductory sales letters, which all relates to the process you are undertaking. Remember, you are selling yourself. For that matter you should also look at the sales training page too, which contains a lot of useful guidance about identifying what people want and developing a proposition to meet those needs, both of which are central to what you are doing.
Telephoning before writing is a good idea. This enables you to qualify the good opportunities and remove the no-hopers. Phone the PA (personal assistant) of the decision-maker, so as to make the introduction, to ask about and qualify the opportunity and process of application and selection, and ask them to look out for your letter. If you are referred to another person or department go with their flow unless you are convinced it's taking you to the wrong place.
Carrying out telephone follow-up to the PA's, and your overall persistence after you've sent your letters and CVs, will also greatly improve your success.
Also helpful is networking (asking contacts for referrals and suggestions about other opportunities) to find the opportunities that best suit your capabilities and aspirations. Networking among smaller business in the same sector can be very effective and would be a useful tactic for example if you wanted to find a placement in a small firm situated nearby or connected with lots of similar providers. Many owners and directors know each other well and are often quite happy to refer you elsewhere. Just because firms compete with each other does not prevent them from referring this sort of interest between themselves when asked. So ask.
Editors of trade journals will often have a good idea of who are the biggest graduate recruiters and who offer most internships within certain sectors. Research can be as easy or difficult as you make it. Try to find the people who know most about what you want to discover and seek their help.
When it comes to sending letters and CVs to your selected organisations, writing personalised letters that explain why you'd like to work for the particular practice gives you a significant advantage over other people who send out an obvious mailshot-type letter, oriented to nobody in particular.
Emphasise what you can do for the employer and your passion for the field or profession or industry, rather than being seen only to seek what they can do for you.
Be flexible on fees and salary rates. Depending on your circumstances and the significance of the opportunity you might even offer to work for minimum wage or for free. It's called 'delaying gratification' or 'investing in your future' and under certain circumstances it's a very effective technique. Good employers will in any event generally pay a fair rate irrespective of what you ask for, and they'll typically be very impressed by people who love their field so much that they are prepared to make personal sacrifices as an investment towards learning and experience.
"Everybody's got to have a first [internship] somewhere. My advice is, hey, if you can find any way to afford it, try to work for free somewhere. Do anything to work in your field." (Richard Hieb, astronaut, from from The Internship Bible, 2003 Edition by Mark Oldman and Samer Hamadeh, as referenced by The Princeton Review.)
Enthusiasm and passion and commitment go a very long way with high quality employers. The decision-makers you will meet in these organisations usually love their work and their chosen field. They've become successful because of their passion and determination.
The best employers want to employ interns who demonstrate this same level of commitment.
Presentation and sequence of items with your CV are very important, as it is in advertising, and most people get it wrong, which makes it easier for you when you get it right. When you are selling anything you need to get to the key points quickly. The quicker the reader can read and absorb the key points the more likely they are to buy. A well presented and well-structured CV also indicates that you are professional, business-like and well organised. The structure suggested below sells your strengths first and provides personal and career history details last - most people do it the other way round which has less impact. Structuring a CV like this you can immediately stand out from the others and make a much better impression.
For all but very senior positions your should aim to fit your CV on one side of standard sheet of business paper. For large corporation director positions two or three sheets are acceptable, but a well-presented single side will always tend to impress and impact more than lots of detail spread over a number of sheets. Always try to use as few words as possible. In CV writing, like advertising, "less is more". This means you need to think carefully about the words you use - make sure each one is working for you - if any aren't, remove them or replace them. Never use two words when one will do.
Check out our free CV template - single sheet format, UK A4 paper size to input your own details and adapt for your own purposes. Refer to the CV words and phrases examples below to help you develop and craft your own.
Creating your own CV templates to use for different career moves can save you time in writing different CVs for different types of jobs.
Changing CV words and phrases to suit different jobs is important. Writing and keeping file copies of your own different CV examples and CV templates can save you hours of work, and will help you to be able to produce an individually 'tailored' CV for each of the different opportunities as they arise.
Refer also to the writing technique page on this website - it explains about use of fonts (typefaces), colour, headings, capital letters, positioning, etc.
Irrespective of style and design, above all the presentation of your CV needs to be high quality and clear and professional and up-to-date.
This means not using poor quality photo-copies. Original prints are best. This applies to letters as well. Photocopies and documents that have obviously been mass-produced imply that the sender is throwing lots of mud at the wall and hoping some will stick. This makes the recipient or interviewer feel like you don't care much where you end up, and that you don't have a particular reason for wanting to join their organisation, which is the opposite impression that you need to be making. Poor quality photocopies reflect on your own quality. Scruffy unprofessional documents will be interpreted as a sign that the sender is scruffy and unprofessional. Old CVs that are dated several months ago, or a photocopied letter with a blank space in which the sender writes the date in biro, will suggest that you are not up-to-date nor well-organised, and also that you've been looking for a job (obviously without success) for some while.
On the other hand, pristine professional-looking documents on good quality paper stock (100 gsm minimum ideally) will signify that you are professional, and also that you can be trusted to communicate appropriately and professionally when and if you end up working for the organisation concerned. CVs and letters with current dates, that are purpose-written (tailored) for the recipient, will suggest that you are recently available, selective, focused, and also that you have logical reasons for believing that a good fit exists between you and the employer, all of which weighs heavily in your favour.
So: high quality, clear, professional and up-to-date CVs and letters are vital.
According to research, the inclusion of a photograph of yourself is more likely to have a negative effect than a positive one, but I guess that depends on what you look like and also how the reader responds to the way you look, which is not an exact science at all. Until photographs become the expected norm, if ever they do, unless you have a very good reason to include a photo then it's probably best not to.
If you are asked to include a photograph of yourself, as certain jobs require, then ensure you go about this professionally. Have a decent photograph taken by someone who knows what they are doing. Definitely resist any temptation to use a snap taken at the pub, or a picture of you dressed up as Father Christmas or just about to climb the north face of the Eiger. One in twenty interviewers might respond well to a zany picture, but most will be rather wary: getting shortlisted generally depends on your seeming like a good fit, not looking like you could be an oddball. If you want to convey that you are free-minded or possess great individuality or creative strength, then use the descriptions and evidence in your CV to demonstrate this. No-one relies on a picture.
Clear and clean and professional does not always necessarily mean 10pt black font on 100gsm standard business stock paper, but be mindful that the farther you stray from convention the greater risk you run that the reader will take exception to the style. No-one ever threw out a great looking CV because it looked too professional and business-like.
Of course certain industries - marketing, advertising, media, the arts-related sectors - are more amenable towards unorthodox presentation and design, but use your judgement. If in doubt keep it simple and professional. Gimmicks and wackiness might initially grab attention, but most employers, even if the job requires a high level of creativity, are seeking reliable professional people they can manage, rather than someone who looks like they could be too strange. Use creative design with care. Make sure you are happy the situation really warrants a strong display of creative individuality before you reach for the holographic film and glitter.
This is obviously important if uploading your CV to a website, or sending via email, or conveying your CV in digital/electronic format.
Use a file format which is most accessible to most people.
Docx files are not accessible to everyone. (Docx files cannot be opened by old versions of MSWord).
Doc files are therefore more accessible to most people than docx files.
Pdf is arguably the most accessible and safest format. (Pdf files can generally be opened by everyone - using Adobe Acrobat Reader - and also the pdf format remains consistent when opened, unlike doc and other word processor files, which are often affected by fonts and settings on the recipient's computer.)
The excellent open source 'office equivalent' www.OpenOffice.org enables easy conversion from doc to pdf, although other methods exist.
Consider file format from the view of your target audience/reader and choose a format by which the recipient will be able to access your CV easily and reliably.
As a general rule, the more complex/unusual your code/fonts in your CV, then the more it will make sense to use a pdf file format.
Another consideration is that unless you protect with a password, word processor files like doc and docx can be altered by the recipient. It is very much more difficult to alter a pdf file. This robustness of a pdf is a further reason for choosing pdf format.
In certain sectors (media, marketing, design, etc) pdf files will be recognised as a more appropriate presentation format, which inevitably reflects as a subtle advantage for anyone demonstrating that they've chosen to use the pdf format in presenting their CV.
As ever - for the presentation of any important information to a specifically targeted reader - ask what file format they prefer.
(Other than 'Title', use these sub-headings or similar)
Simply your name followed by the word or 'CV' or 'Curriculum Vitae' ('Resume' is used more in the USA).
Five to seven high impact statements that describe you. These are effectively your personal strengths. Be bold, confident and positive when you construct these key statements. Orientate the descriptions to the type of job you are seeking. If you have a serious qualification and it's relevant, include it as the final point. Look at the examples shown to see how these statements use powerful words and professional business vocabulary. See the examples of CV words and phrases below.
This is not your career history. It's a bullet points description of your experience and/or your capabilities. Make sure you orientate these simple statements to meet the requirements of the reader, in other words ensure the experience/strengths are relevant to the type of job/responsibility that you are seeking. Again try to use powerful statements and impressive language - be bold and check that your chosen language and descriptions look confident and positive. If you are at the beginning or very early stage of your career you will not have much or any work experience to refer to, in which case you must refer to other aspects of your life experience - your college or university experience, your hobbies, social or sports achievements, and bring out the aspects that will be relevant to the way you would work. See the notes for writing CVs with no work experience. Prospective employers look for key indicators of integrity, enthusiasm, passion, determination, initiative, creativity, originality, organisational ability, planning, cost-management, people-skills, technical skill, diligence, reliability, depending on the job; so find examples of the relevant required behaviours from your life, and encapsulate them in snappy, impressive statements. Go for active not passive descriptions, i.e., where you are making things happen, not having things happen to you.
High impact descriptions of your major achievements. Separate, compact, impressive statements. Ensure you refer to facts, figures and timescales - prospective employers look for quantitative information - hard facts, not vague claims. These achievements should back up your Personal Profile claims earlier - they are the evidence that you can do what you say. Again they must be relevant to the role you are seeking.
A tight compact neatly presented summary of your career history. Start with the most recent or present job and end with the first. Show starting and finishing years - not necessarily the months. Show company name, city address - not necessarily the full address. Show your job title(s). Use a generally recognised job title if the actual job title is misleading or unclear.
If you have little work experience you can combine Career history into one section. See the separate notes about writing CVs where there is very little or no actual career history.
In most markets including the UK, modern employment discrimination law has reduced the need and expectation for many personal details relating to age, ethnicity, marital status, etc, to be included in a CV. Aside from obviously necessary contact details, the level of personal detail you must include is now optional. This is a particular consideration if you are posting or allowing your CV to appear on the web, where privacy can more easily be invaded, or identities stolen. Therefore be cautious and sensible about how much personal detail you show in a CV. Potentially this section enables sub-headings to provide details of full name, sex (if not obvious from your name), address, phone, email, date of birth, marital status, number of children and ages if applicable, driving licence (hopefully clean - if not state position), education (school, college, university and dates), qualifications, and emphasise clearly that references are available. Keep all this information very tight, compact and concise. Being at a more advanced stage of your career is another reason for reducing the amount of personal details shown, as some will be implicit or not relevant. On the other hand, there is an argument for giving as much detail as possible for senior positions as an indication of confidence. As for some other debatable aspects of what to include, it is your decision, and one probably best made considering the precise circumstances of the CVs purpose and likely exposure. The best position for your address and contact details is a matter of debate. Many people suggest these should be at the top of the CV below the heading, however this template structure recommends that they be shown lower down the CV in the personal details section. See below for where to put CV contact and address details<. It's your decision - there are arguments both ways. Date the CV, and save as a file with some indication of what type of job it was orientated for, as you should ideally develop a number of different versions of your CV.
Depending on the person and the job vacancy and the employer's expectations it is often better to show education and qualifications in a separate section, rather than within the Personal Details, as a way of giving them greater emphasis and clarity. If so then this section can be placed after or before the Personal Details, or given higher prominence if the situation warrants it. The level of detail and type of detail in this section should change as your career progresses. For example your school/college exams subjects and grades would be highly relevant when you are seeking your first job, but after working for 5-10 years, especially if you've achieved further training and qualifications, your school/college qualifications warrant far less detail and prominence. As ever, include and emphasise details according to the jobs you are seeking, and what the employers will find most relevant and useful.
While certain CV writing principles are quite fixed and widely accepted, a few issues are open to interpretation and are a matter for personal decision.
In deciding about these and any other structural options, consider the specific purpose and circumstances of your CV at the time, because this often determines how best to structure it. Additionally, since you should ideally be using different versions of CVs for different purposes, try to keep a record of what works best, so you can refine a set of rules which are optimal for you and the job markets you are targeting. Also seek feedback from interviewers and employers - and anyone else with relevant experience - as to what can be improved in your CV, so that you can progressively develop your understanding of what sort of CV formats are most effective.
First - the rules for this should be different for printed CVs sent through the post, electronic CVs passed to a safe trustworthy recipient, and electronic CVs and personal data uploaded onto job websites.
In terms of CVs which you send or convey to secure and trustworthy recipients:
You will see from the CV examples and templates that I advocate reasonably open and full disclosure personal details on a CV.
You must decide for yourself if such openness is appropriate for you and your situation and the vacancy.
Employment laws, particularly relating to equality and discrimination (age, gender, etc) have implications for interviewing and selection.
Consequently the applicant has more freedom today to withhold certain personal information on a CV about age or date of birth, marital status, children or dependents. It's entirely a matter of personal opinion and judgement whether to include such information.
There is no law which compels or prevents the inclusion or withholding within your CV of personal information that is subject to equality and discrimination legislation.
However, the reality is that while there are laws in most countries against discrimination, identifying and proving such discrimination is virtually impossible at the application stage. So the only initial defence is to withhold the information - or to make it a selling point.
The dilemma for the applicant therefore is whether to be open and up-front about personal information that (you fear) could put off an employer - regardless of the legality of such a reaction - or to withhold the relevant personal information in the hope of being short-listed for interview and overcoming any prejudices at that stage.
On which point, be careful about your assumptions - while prejudices obviously exist, your fears can be vastly worse than what actually happens. See Murphy's Plough for example.
Another view is that any employer who discriminates unreasonably against an applicant is not worthy of your loyalty and abilities anyway, which suggests that full open confident disclosure is the best way to go. Full disclosure is potentially a wonderful filter to prevent you wasting your time with idiots. Who wants to work for a bigot? Or even a decent organization which tolerates or fails to recognise a bigot in a position of responsibility?
Moreover, modern ethical employers will tend to respond positively to openness, and particularly to someone who is proud of their personal situation and characteristics. There's a case for simply being proud of who and what you are - and use your CV to tell people why.
So whether to include date of birth or age on a CV (or gender if it is not obvious from the name) is ultimately a matter of personal choice, with arguments either way.
A guiding rule is possibly:
If you are reasonably confident and have a level of inner calm and resolve, and especially if you can make positive claims and advantages relating to your personal circumstances, then full openness is probably the right approach for you.
If you are less confident, or less able to pick and choose a truly worthy employer, then arguably a more cautious approach is justified.
In terms of CVs provided or uploaded to job websites, or to less secure and trustworthy recipients:
As highlighted by the serious security breach at a major jobs website in January 2009, exposing the personal data of millions of jobseekers - consider how much personal information you provide or include in any CV uploaded to a website.
Personal data on a CV uploaded or stored electronically is - to one degree or another - subject to security risk from accidental release of data, or deliberate hacking and identity theft.
Therefore you should always adapt the level of personal detail you include on your CV according to the security and trust that you believe is offered by the recipient or destination for your CV.
(I am grateful to L Haughton, October 2007, for initially raising the issue of personal details such as date of birth in CVs.)
You will see from the CV examples and templates that I advocate a structure which puts the contact address and personal details at the foot of the CV.
This is because the first vital seconds are best used in conveying your crucial and relevant personal strengths. Given a professionally presented CV and cover-letter, most employers will assume you live in a house or a flat of some sort, and have an address and a phone number, so what's the point in wasting vital early impact to convey these mundane details?
This is particularly the case for middle and senior-ranking job vacancies, when screening is likely to be relatively professional and responsive to an effective and strategically presented CV.
Positioning contact and address details lower on a CV, so as to give maximum immediate impact to more relevant factors, is also very sensible when you are applying for a role internally, when obviously you are already known.
There is an argument however (and I am again grateful to L Haughton for raising this issue) for putting address and contact details at the top of the CV, to counter any possible risk of the CV being rejected at first glance because address and contact details are not instantly obvious to the reader.
This will be more of a factor for junior job vacancies, in which perhaps the screening process is hurried or unprofessional, which would increase the risk of a CV being rejected quickly because contact and address details are not instantly apparent.
As with the issue of openness and disclosure of personal details, the positioning of your contact and address details is a matter for your personal judgement.
If you want a guiding rule, here's one:
Put the contact and address details at the foot of the CV for middle and senior job vacancies, when you want maximum impact for your job-related strengths.
Put your contact and address details at the top of the CV if you have the slightest feeling that the vacancy or the screening process involves processing large numbers of applications, and in which basic skills and basic personal circumstances are the priority screening and selection criteria.
An additional point of recent debate about CV presentation is whether to include the words Curriculum Vitae or CV (or Resume) in the document title next to your name.
This is a relatively minor issue, but an interesting one which seems lately to have veered to a particular trend, which may not actually be as helpful and correct as some people suggest.
As with several other aspects of CV writing and presentation, this is open to different views, and you are free to decide for yourself. Here's my observation and guidance on the matter - which basically is to include CV or Curriculum Vitae in the heading. Here's the explanation.
In recent years a fashionable view has emerged suggesting that it is somehow wrong to put the abbreviation 'CV' or the words 'Curriculum Vitae' (or in American-English markets, the word 'Resume') at the top of a CV - typically after the person's name, or alternatively before the name.
If anyone can send me any evidence or solid logic as to how and why including 'CV' or 'Curriculum Vitae' in the document heading is unhelpful or counter-productive I would be happy to show it here.
As far as I understand the communication and management of text-based information, there is not really a good reason for excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading of the document, whereas there is probably at least one good reason for including one or the other.
Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading does not usefully save space unless there is something better to do with the space. Subject to using a sensible font size, which you should anyway, there is no real space saving by excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading, since nobody's name is so long as not to fit comfortably into a heading line with the words Curriculum Vitae, or the abbreviation CV.
Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae does not actually save time for the reader. There is no real time saving for the reader since the brain scans such peripheral data subliminally (below a normal conscious level) - unless the reader actually needs it - just as we are not conscious of the printed page numbers as we read a book or newspaper.
Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae is said by some to reduce the risk of irritating the interviewer or screener. Does it? Does it really? Is anyone out there actually irritated by this? I'd love to know. And I leave it to you to decide if you want to work for an organization which employs people who are irritated in such a trivial way.
Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading arguably might improve - very marginally - the visual presentation a CV, simply on the basis that white space is generally helpful and pleasing to the eye of the reader. But then so would reducing the CV content to about 35 words, in a specially designed typeface, and engaging a designer for the layout too, which would be extremely pleasing to the eye, but then the document would cease to be optimally effective as a CV, and this is the point.
A CV must achieve a balance between presentation, content, and increasingly how the data is managed and processed.
Given this, there are perhaps a couple of positive reasons for including the abbreviation CV or Curriculum Vitae within the heading of the document:
- Crucially from the standpoint of data management, web/computer searching, and data/document retrieval - on the web as a whole, on individual websites, on organizational computer systems, and on personal PCs and other local storage devices - the words Curriculum Vitae and/or the abbreviation CV are central to the description and categorization of CVs as a type of document. Any CV which includes the keywords Curriculum Vitae or the abbreviation CV will obviously be found more easily than documents which contain neither. Excluding the words Curriculum Vitae would in many computer systems, including websites, require the document file to be 'tagged' with the words Curriculum Vitae in order for it to be found using those keywords. If a document does not include the keywords, and is not tagged as such, then it won't be found by anyone searching for those keywords. Imagine a recruiter searching the web or a website or a local computer file system using the keywords 'curriculum vitae - french-speaking retail manager'. If you have the words 'french-speaking retail manager' in your CV, but not the words 'curriculum vitae', your chances of being found are somewhat less than if your CV contains the words 'curriculum vitae'. If you want your CV to be stored and found electronically then this is a significant point.
- Your CV is a CV - a Curriculum Vitae - a very specific document for a very specific purpose. It's not a biography. It's not a Facebook page. It's not an personnel file or a meeting note. It's not any of the countless other types of documents and files that could carry a person's name in the heading. So say what it is. People who argue for the exclusion of CV/Curriculum Vitae from the document heading typically justify this view from a narrow perspective - that within the job application process'it's obvious' that a CV is a CV. This is fine, but what about all the other times? And what about when you circulate or upload your CV speculatively - when the context is not immediately obvious to the reader. The reason that humankind has developed a system of names for things - especially significant things, and definitely documents which have purpose beyond the initial 'obvious' context - is so that items can be quickly recognized and processed in as many different systemic environments as possible. A CV is a very good example of a document which has purpose beyond initial context. It must stand alone. CVs commonly become separated from their cover-letters. They get lost in archives and saved accidentally in inappropriate file directories and folders. Identifying a CV clearly as a Curriculum Vitae or CV at the heading of the document inevitably increases its chances of being recognised and processed as one in the future, and is therefore is sensible.
A UK survey by the Royal Mail postal service (back in the days when most job applications were postal) of HR departments in large organizations in the legal, retail, media and accounting sectors, identified these other CV pointers:
- Incompletely or inaccurately addressed CVs and CV cover letters were rejected immediately by 83% of HR departments.
- CVs and cover letters addressed to a named person were significantly favoured over those addressed to a generic job title by 55% of HR departments.
- And, interestingly, over 60% of HR departments said that the inclusion of a photograph with the CV adversely affected their opinion of the applicant.
Structure can be varied. These are examples. Refer to the appropriate notes in the Structure section above to understand more about the reasons for using different structures and positions for certain details within a CV. Particularly: personal details, contact/address details - and whether to include CV or Curriculum Vitae in the heading.
Bill Bloggs - Curriculum Vitae
- Experienced and innovative general manager with sophisticated sales, customer service and business administration skills.
- High personal integrity, and able to relate to and create trust in all.
- Highly articulate, confident and persuasive team-builder, able to motivate and communicate to achieve exceptional business performance.
- Dependable and reliable in supporting and enabling team effort to produce genuine long-term sustainable development.
- Persistent and flexible approach to the mutually beneficial achievement of business plans and personal goals of staff, suppliers and customers.
- Honours degree in Mechanical Engineering.
- Over 20 years proven expertise in industrial purchasing, manufacturing, logistics, business development, marketing, sales and service.
- Background in a wide range of industries, including construction, plant hire, pharmaceutical, hygiene services and industrial process control.
- Executive accountability for P&L, strategic planning, staffing, and sales development etc., for a £60m international technology business, in a £3bn UK plc.
- International General Operations Manager since (year).
- Management of change within the demanding and pressurised business environment.
- Implementation of modern management practices, concerning personnel, IT, reporting systems, and partnership customer-supplier relations, etc.
- As production control executive with XYZ Corporation introduced pc-based systems to reduce lead-times from 7 months to 3 days, and inventory by 80% from £4.7m to £750k.
- As materials manager with ABC Inc. introduced systems to reduce lead-times from 3 months to 7 days, and inventory from £6m to £2.5m, and 12% reduction in £12m procurement costs.
- As operations manager with Newco Inc. a 10% reduction in £7m procurement costs.
- As general manager for Bigco Int. business achieved growth from £800k to £5m, increased new customer growth from 20 to 600 per annum.
- (yr-yr) - Early career development with Newco Inc., Bigco Int., Mainco plc.
- (yr-yr) - ABC Inc. International Operations Manager.
- (yr-present) - XYZ Corp. General Manager.
Bill J. Bloggs
Tel: 0123 456 78901
Born: (date) [This is entirely optional given age discrimination laws.]
Educated: Sidmouth School (yr-yr), and Hertstone College (yr-yr), Southtame College 1984, and University of Wales (yr-yr). (Again dates are not obligatory due to age discrimination laws.)
References are available on request.
(date - month/year of creating cv)
N.B. This example CV is fictional so content is random. Ensure your facts and dates, etc., in your CV are all consistent with the content, and any gaps are explained as positively as possible.
You can try different CV variations on the theme - provided you stick to the main principles develop a structure to suit your own situation and what the reader is looking for. A lot will depend on the type and level of position you are applying for; generally the more senior, the more focus will be on serious evidence of achievement in corporate life, and less on personal profile and personal details. A CV doesn't need to be long or detailed - it needs to show evidence that you offer relevant and impressive skills and experience.
John Smith - Curriculum Vitae
- Executive accountability for corporate performance and profit.
- Strategic management in a variety of major B2B corporations.
- Management of extensive marketing services and sales organizations.
- Overseas business operations and management - Far East, Europe, USA.
- New business development, start-up and trouble-shooting.
- B2B Sales and Marketing.
- Sales organization development.
- Export and international trade development.
- Online and Internet business development.
- (yr-present) - Great Co plc - sales and marketing director
- (yr-yr) - XYZ Inc - sales director
- (yr-yr) - Good Co plc - operations manager, director
- (yr-yr) - ABC plc - sales manager
Responsibilities and achievements
Great Co plc
Sales and Marketing Director of £800m industrial services market leader, comprising 300,000 customers, 12 regional service centres, large call-centre, and 500 sales and marketing staff. Increased sales by 125% and gross margins by 10% (yr-yr). Increased market share from 12% in (yr) to current 27%. Successful establishment of overseas distribution in Eastern Europe and USA in (yr-yr), creating extra £75m business. Developed and launched new E-Trade online business, representing 50,000 customers and £55m revenues producing 14% net profit by (yr). Queen's Award for Exports (yr).
Sales Director of architectural and construction products market leader, comprising 120 sales staff, 15,000 customers, 4,000 products and £220m sales, generating 12% net profit. Increased sales by 75% during tenure. Automated all sales ordering and delivery processes producing 20% cost savings after 2 year investment recovery. Opened new overseas markets in Middle East and China (joint venture), (yr-yr), producing £45m new business at 13% net profit annually.
Good Co plc
Operations Manager and later director, of market leading micro-electronics controls systems supplier, comprising three home and seven overseas European service centres, 130 technical and service staff, 1,200 customers, including over 300 government and defence departments and installations. Rationalised parts and processes (yr-yr) improving trading margins by 10%. Introduced new recruitment and training procedures reducing staff turnover from 35% to 20%. Implemented new integrated systems for supply, installation and servicing activities, saving 25% costs pa. Negotiated successful contracts for several royal palaces and ministerial offices, home and overseas.
Education and Qualifications
Abbey Road Comprehensive, London - (yr-yr)
University of East Anglia - (yr-yr) - BSc in Economics
Open University - (yr-yr) - MBA
Tel 01234 567 8901
References are available on request.
(date of writing CV)
N.B. This example CV is fictional contains inconsistent random example data. Ensure that your facts and dates, etc., in your CV are all consistent with the content, and any gaps are explained as positively as possible. The inclusion of dates which would give clear indication of age are not obligatory in CVs, due to age discrimination laws. Increasingly, similar principles apply to other aspects of potential discrimination. Refer to the explanations elsewhere on this page about personal details in CVs.
CV cover letters must be very professional and perfectly presented. Use a smart good quality letterheaded paper, and ensure that the name and address details and date are correct and personal for the recipient of the CV. Do not use scruffy photocopies - ideally do not use photo-copies at all - CV cover letters should look individual and special for the job concerned.
Look at what the job advert is seeking. Ensure that the key skills, attributes and experience are reflected in the cover letter as well as your CV. Draw the reader's attention to the fact that your profile fits their requirements. Make the cover letter look like a special and direct response to the job advert and personal profile that is sought.
These principles broadly apply and adapt perfectly well for expressing interest in or applying for internal vacancies within your existing employment organization.
Keep CV cover letters brief and concise. The reader will make assumptions about you from what you write and how you write it and the quality of your cover letter presentation.
As with any communications, ensure you include key words and phrases which reflect what the reader is seeking.
Ensure you lay the letter out neatly on your own good quality letterheaded paper, with your own address top right or centre-top. Avoid fancy fonts and upper case (capital letters). Use a single font 10-12pt size, maybe bold or underlined for the reference or heading if you use one.
Full name and address details.
Reference if required.
Dear (Mr/Mrs/Ms Surname)
(optional heading, bold or underlined - normally the job title and or reference if they've asked you to quote one)
I enclose my CV in respect of the above vacancy/position (or state position advertised and when it appeared). You will see that I have the required skills, capabilities and experience for this position, notably (state two or three attributes briefly).
I look forward to hearing from you.
(And below print your name - not hand-written)
It is perfectly fine to send a speculative CV to potential employers, i.e., not in response to any advert. In this case you should obtain the name of the senior person responsible for staffing decisions in the area you wish to apply. (Call the company to find out the correct name and address details of the relevant person.) In these cases obviously you won't know precisely what skills they are seeking, but you should be able to imagine the attributes that they might need. Here are some examples - include two or three in your cover letter that best match your own profile and their likely interest:
- Reliable and dependable
- Decisive and results-driven
- Creative problem-solver
- Technically competent/qualified (state discipline or area)
- Commercially experienced and aware
- Excellent inter-personal and communications skills
- Sound planning and organizational capabilities
- Loyal and determined
See the sample describing phrases below for more ideas.
Again, ensure you lay the letter out neatly on your own good quality letterheaded paper, with your own address top right or centre-top. Avoid fancy fonts and upper case (capital letters). Use a single font, maybe bold or underlined for the reference or heading if you use one.
Full name and address details.
Dear (Mr/Mrs/Ms Surname)
(optional heading, bold or underlined - in this example you would normally refer to a job title, and include with the word 'opportunities' or 'openings', for example: 'commercial management opportunities')
I am interested in any openings in the above area and enclose my CV. You will see that I have skills and capabilities that enable me to make a significant contribution to an organization such as your own, notably (state two or three attributes briefly).
I look forward to hearing from you.
(And below print your name - not hand-written)
As you can see, CV cover letters can be short and very concise. Cover letters need to be short and very concise, otherwise people won't read them. Writing a short concise, hard-hitting cover letter for CV also shows confidence and professionalism.
The bigger the job, the longer you can make your CV cover letters, but even cover letters for board level positions have more impact if they are very short and concise. Make your key points in a no-nonsense fashion and then finish.
Keep your CV and cover letter simple. They must be concise, easy to read, must sell you, and be tailored to what the reader is looking for.
Here are some samples and examples of descriptive phrases and words for writing impressive and professional CVs.
I can get my own CV onto a single sheet side of A4, so I reckon most of you should be able to keep your CV to a side of A4 too. Believe me, interviewers and recruiting employers will thank you for it. Plus it shows that you know how to communicate a complex series of facts quickly, concisely, persuasively, and effectively.
Ensure that when you use or adapt or combine any of these descriptions that you are able to back up your claims under questioning at interview, and ideally to provide examples or evidence if asked. This is an easy thing to prepare and get right, and will give you a huge advantage over people who fail to approach their CV and job-search in this way.
As a general guide, try to 'blow your own trumpet' in your CV. Don't be shy. Be bold.
Use strong professional-looking phrases in describing your personality, capabilities, experience and achievements.
One or two other people competing for the same job will be doing just this, so be fair to yourself and ensure you do it too.
Cut and paste, mix and match, copy and use from the examples below what works for you and makes you feel comfortable - and which provides a description that gives you something to aim at and that you'll be proud to live up to.
For each statement that you use, ask yourself the question that the interviewer might ask:
"...Your CV says that you are [whatever description] - Can you give me an example of this in your work experience?..."
and make sure you can think of a really good answer which provides evidence and proof of your description.
Note that some phrases below are connected with dashes or semi-colons. This is a semi colon; it separates two or more related pieces of information; typically short phrases, while keeping them in the same sentence. It's a longer pause than a comma; a bit less less than a full-stop or 'period' in the US. Use punctuation in a varied professional way to illustrate your ability with written communications. Many people lack the confidence or knowledge to use semi-colons. Try to use them. Someone reading your CV who appreciates good written language skills will notice the use of a semi-colon and infer from it something positive about the writer. It's all part of the presentation. Every little edge helps.
Ensure your grammar and punctuation format is consistent. For example, in bullet points, either use full-stops or don't use them. Decide on a format and apply it consistently. Same with capital letters at the start of bullet points - either use them or don't - avoid mixing the grammar format. These days grammatical tolerance is quite flexible - no-one will criticise you for using or failing to use full stops or capital letters in bullet points - the important thing is to be consistent. Same applies with headings, bold type, and underlines: decide on a format and use it consistently. This helps keep your presentation style simple, clear, tidy and professional.
Mix and match words and phrases to project yourself, and also to reflect what your believe the job requires and what the employer and interviewer are particularly seeking.
- Results-driven, logical and methodical approach to achieving tasks and objectives
- Determined and decisive; uses initiative to develop effective solutions to problems
- Reliable and dependable - high personal standards and attention to detail
- Methodical and rigorous approach to achieving tasks and objectives
- Entrepreneurial and pro-active - strong drive and keen business mind
- Identifies and develops opportunities; innovates and makes things happen
- Good strategic appreciation and vision; able to build and implement sophisticated plans
- Determined and decisive; uses initiative to meet and resolve challenges
- Strives for quality and applies process and discipline towards optimising performance
- Extremely reliable and dependable - analytical and questioning, strives for quality
- Methodical approach to planning and organising - good time-manager
- Excellent interpersonal skills - good communicator, leadership, high integrity
- Strong planning, organising and monitoring abilities - an efficient time-manager
- Self-driven and self-reliant - sets aims and targets and leads by example
- Good interpersonal skills - works well with others, motivates and encourages
- High integrity, diligent and conscientious - reliable and dependable
- Self-aware - always seeking to learn and grow
- Seeks new responsibilities irrespective of reward and recognition
- Emotionally mature and confident - a calming influence
- Detailed and precise; fastidious and thorough
- Decisive and results-driven; creative problem-solver
- Good starter - enthusiastic in finding openings and opportunities
- Creative and entrepreneurial networker - effective project coordinator
- Reliable and dependable in meeting objectives - hard-working
- Emotionally mature; calming and positive temperament; tolerant and understanding
- Seeks and finds solutions to challenges - exceptionally positive attitude
- Great team-worker - adaptable and flexible
- Well-organised; good planner; good time-manager
- Seeks new responsibilities and uses initiative; self-sufficient
- Solid approach to achieving tasks and objectives; determined and decisive
- Excellent interpersonal skills - good communicator, high integrity
- Energetic and physically very fit; quick to respond to opportunities and problems
- Active and dynamic approach to work and getting things done
- Financially astute - conversant with accounting systems and principles
- Tactical, strategic and proactive - anticipates and takes initiative
- Systematic and logical - develops and uses effective processes
- Good listener - caring and compassionate
- Critical thinker - strong analytical skills; accurate and probing
- Good researcher - creative and methodical - probing and resourceful
- Facilitative project manager; develops and enables group buy-in
- Persistent and tenacious sales developer; comfortable with demanding targets
- Resilient and and thorough - detached and unemotional
- Completer-finisher; checks and follows up - immaculate record-keeper
- Team-player - loyal and determined
- Technically competent/qualified [state discipline or area, to whatever standard or level]
- Task-oriented - commercially experienced and aware
- Excellent inter-personal and communications skills
- Sound planning and organizational capabilities
- Results oriented - focused on productive and high-yield activities
- Tolerant and understanding - especially good with young children/elderly people/needy people/disadvantaged people, etc
- Emotionally mature - calming and positive temperament - compassionate and caring
- Sensitive and patient interpersonal and communication skills
- High integrity and honesty; ethical and socially aware
- Energetic and positive outlook, which often inspires others
- Calm, reliable and dependable in meeting objectives - logical and numerate
- Seeks and finds good outcomes to challenges
- Adaptable and flexible; well-organised planner and scheduler
- Effective and selective in use of communications technologies
Obviously this list is not exhaustive. Hopefully the examples provide some ideas around which you can develop your own descriptions.
Select words and phrases, and develop statements that emphasise your strengths and capabilities and that reflect the requirements of the job, interviewer and employer.
Use punctuation and conjunctions (words that join words or word-strings, 'and' being the most obvious example) to form elegant statements that look well-balanced and are easy to read.
Select, adapt and compose your statements with care. Get help and feedback (from positive people) to help you produce statements that really work well for you.
When describing your experience and achievements, select examples that are relevant to the the job vacancy, and relevant to the manner in which the employer requires the job be performed.
Not all experience statements (or any of them, in the case of young people at the start of their careers) need to be work-based. Look for non-work experience in other parts of your life that provides evidence of what the employer is seeking.
Construct your experience phrases so that they will demonstrate experience and capabilities that are relevant to employer's job requirements. Create a list of 5-7 key activities which closely match the employer's needs for the job, and for which you can demonstrate competence.
Decide what activities are relevant to you and the role, and then create phrases which add context and scale to whichever of these basic activities you choose to feature.
For example, if we take the activity 'planning', here's a phrase which attaches some context and scale, in this case for a telesales manager:
"Planning and budgeting annual sales department activities for 10 telesales people."
Or for Managing, training and developing:
"Management, training and development of a consumer telesales team - 15 staff, 3,000 customers, £3m revenues."
Or, for example, if the role requires initiative and determination, and you have no work experience:
"Conception and implementation of major fund-raising initiative for (whatever cause) raising (value) in (timescale)."
If you have no direct business or work-related experience for a particular area, then look for non-work experience in other parts of your life that provides evidence of what the employer is seeking. If you think about it you will find some.
Employers will be looking for experience-type evidence in some of these areas, depending on what the job requires. Think about what the employer needs in the job. The job advert often provides good indicators if it is well worded.
Structure your experience statements in the sequence that you think reflects the priority in which the employer requires or sees them.
- Monitoring and recording and reporting
- Working effectively in a team
- Implementing and completing
- Resolving and solving problems and challenges
- Working under pressure and meeting demanding deadlines
- Dealing with customers - internal and external
- Dealing with suppliers and partners and associates
- Supervising others and activities
- Checking and policing
- Researching and exploring
- Analysing and investigating
- Coordinating activities and work
- Listening, understanding, empathising, helping and solving
- Designing and developing
- Controlling quality and testing
- Carrying out processes and procedures
- Using systems and tools
- Operating equipment and tools reliably and safely
- Operating and implementing procedures
- Initiating and instigating
- Developing and coaching and mentoring others
- Teaching and training others
- Negotiating and mediating
- Interpreting and translating [situations, needs, demands, etc - not just words and language]
- Managing activities
- Directing activities
- Determining direction, policy and strategy
Scale indicators for CV descriptions which could be attached to the above activities would be for example:
- Number of staff
- Geographical territory
- Number of accounts
- Annual turnover or revenue
- Annual cost budgets
- Plant or asset value
- Size of location or site
- Number of departments
- Number of locations
- International coverage
- Number of distributors or customers
- Value of business
- Number of products
- Number or scale of developments
- Timings and work or project duration
- Throughput or output
- Speed of operation or turn-around
- Travel or coverage
- Cycle time or 'churn' or turnover (replacement) rate or percentage
Context indicators which could be attached to the experience activities descriptions could be for example:
- Industry sector or segment or niche (eg, 'Automotive, consumer servicing and repairs')
- Business-to-business (B2B) or consumer (some people recognise this as B2C)
- Type of organisation - private company, public company, institutional, not-for-profit, etc
- Other organisational descriptions
- Organisational culture, structure, management style (be positive - not blaming or critical)
- Area or region
- Type department or division
- Precise work or job function
- Product or services descriptions
- Expertise and quality standards and levels
- Market position and share
- Competitive position
- Trends - increasing, reducing, declining, mature, developing, etc
- Distribution model
- Maturity of business or sector
- Other factors, pressures, growth, etc
Examples of non-work experiences that can be used as a basis of relevant and impressive experience, instead of work-related experiences:
- Voluntary work
- Grants and funding applications
- Committee membership of societies and clubs
- Organising things - at school, college, university, local community
- Campaigning for a cause
- Collecting things
- Making things
- Running a part-time business
- Teaching and helping people
- Caring for people
- Creating things - art, writing, photography, sculpture, etc
- Sports and fitness
- Games and competitions
- Organising events and outings
- Entertaining and performing
- Computers and telecoms
- Music and singing
- Theatre and dance
- Local politics and trade union activities/responsibilities
- Becoming expert and accumulating knowledge in anything
- Thinking and philosophising
- Meditating and religious pursuits
- Overcoming personal difficulties (see disabilities and difficulties below) - turn these to a positive advantage and statement of determination, experience and emotional maturity
A CV looks very impressive if it includes a few quantified and relevant achievements - evidence about you and your capabilities that relate to what the interviewer is seeking, and what the job role requires.
Not all achievements (or any of them, in the case of young people at the start of their careers) need to be work-based. Refer to the list of non-work experiences above for ideas about non-work achievements too.
Describing your relevant and impressive achievements on your CV is therefore a great opportunity for you:
- To show that you understand what the job requires - in terms of activities, behaviour and style (by the key aspects of your achievements that you include in your CV)
- To show that you understand the relative importance and priority of the requirements of the role (by the achievements you list and the sequence in which you list them)
- To provide evidence that you fit the job and person specification - that you've done the things they need to be done, or similar things, in the past (achievements are evidence the interviewer needs to see)
- To provide evidence that you have the personal characteristics that the role requires (achievements with suitable scale and context and wording imply personal characteristics)
Employers recruiting for any type of job want to find people who are a 'safe bet'; people who have a proven and impressive track record and/or with evidence of appropriate capabilities, style, attitude and potential. Employers don't like taking risks. Interviewers and recruitment decision-makers want to get the best person for the vacancy, but they also want to protect their personal reputation by avoiding making recruitment mistakes, which means minimising risk.
Therefore the more evidence you can provide that you will be a reliable and safe choice, and a very low-risk appointment, the better.
Showing impressive, well-worded achievements, that indicate you have the sort of capabilities, experience and personality to match the employer's needs, greatly increases your chances of being short-listed and progressing through the interview process.
Achievements need to include size, scale and value factors so that the interviewer can assess them properly. Scales enables measurement and assessment. Woolly, vague statements without scale are nowhere near as impressive as statements with clear hard facts and figures.
Context helps explain the claim, and helps position the statement as being relevant to the job vacancy, and the characteristics that the interviewer and employer are seeking. Context simply means the situation.
As ever, you must ensure you can back-up and be prepared to provide evidence in support of your achievements statements and descriptions.
Think about achievements you've attained in the past and identify the ones which match or relate to the requirements of the new job. A relevant achievement does not have to be in the same industry or even from a work situation. A relevant achievement is evidence of relevant capability, style, personality, attitude, knowledge or potential.
Then having identified some achievements that might serve your purpose, think about how to word them so that they put the main points across using as few words as possible. Choose the 3-5 best, most relevant and most impressive.
Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes.
Ask yourself, "If I were recruiting someone for this vacancy, what sort of achievements would I want to see in CV of the successful applicant?"
Remember, not all achievements in a CV (or any of them, in the case of young people at the start of their careers) need to be work-based.
Obviously if you have examples of some impressive work achievements that fit well with the new employer's requirements then use them, however you might have some impressive achievements outside of work which relate strongly to what the employer is seeking. Think about it. Ask friends for some feedback if you find it difficult to think about yourself in this way. Everyone's got some impressive things about their own background which can be worded to form impressive achievements in their CV.
Employers are seeking evidence of behavioural and attitudinal characteristics, not just work skills, responsibilities and projects.
Bringing up a young family and looking after the home is an achievement.
Overcoming a disability or personal difficulty is an achievement, and many employers would regard this as hugely valuable and meaningful experience.
For certain types of job vacancies these particular achievements, suitably worded, would strike a powerful chord with the interviewer.
These days, 'life skills', emotional intelligence and maturity, tolerance, wisdom, triumph through adversity, and other good character indicators, are much sought-after attributes. In some cases more sought-after than job-skills and specific work experience. If you possess any of these attributes, then incorporate them as experiences or achievements into your CV. For many of the best employers these characteristics are more significant than qualifications. Everyone can get qualifications - but not everyone is a proper grown-up rounded person. ('Grown-up' here means emotionally mature and well balanced - nothing to do with age.) Qualifications are absolutely no indication of personal integrity or character or 'grown-upness' (i.e., maturity). Employers need above all, proper grown-up rounded people - people of character.
Your achievements of course convey your character, as well as your capabilities.
Non-work achievements relate to all sorts of working attributes for example organising, communicating, project-management, coordinating, managing people, entrepreneurialism, determination, patience, planning, selling and marketing, purchasing and production, creating things, developing and building things, technical competence and expertise, research and knowledge-management.
Thinking about achievements in this way is usually necessary for young people starting their careers, when they obviously do not have much of a work track-record. Looking for relevant non-work achievements is also relevant for people seeking to change careers.
Hobbies and voluntary work are often a rich source of achievements. See the list of non-work experiences for ideas.
Many people, especially those yet to find work which really excites them or enables them to use their own personal capability and potential, are likely to have put significant energy and enthusiasm into a non-work activity or passion.
It might be as secretary or treasurer for the local sports club, a school governor, a campaigner for a cause or charity. You might run a website for the local community group, or for a society or club.
In fact, most people's work achievements pale into insignificance alongside the things they've achieved outside of work.
You are likely to be the same.
Think about the special impressive things you've done so far in your life - and use them to create some powerful achievements statements for your CV.
The reason most people don't do this is that most people are very modest and self-effacing. They don't like to 'blow their own trumpet'. This is normally fine and actually very admirable - until it comes to writing a CV.
If you are one of these people who prefers not to think about all the great things you've done, you owe it to yourself to adopt a slightly more outgoing and extrovert mindset for half an hour or so, and think about your own achievements that should be in your CV.
Think hard about all the good things you've done - things that you take for granted - there will be many things that represent just the sort of achievements and evidence that the employer is hoping to see in a good CV.
Don't wait to be asked - think about it, identify your achievements, shape them into impressive statements with scale and context, and put them into your CV.
Everyone has a few very impressive achievements in their past - they just need thinking about and then orienting into descriptions that fit the personal qualities and capabilities that the interviewer and employer are seeking.
As already suggested, emotional maturity, personal integrity, triumph over adversity, and other indicators of good character, are powerful attributes and much sought-after by good employers.
This is especially so if the person concerned is able to express and articulate the effects and implications of their particular challenge, whatever it might be.
Self-awareness, personal interpretation and the philosophy to see personal difficulties in terms of positive opportunities and special outcomes, are extremely impressive indicators of an exceptional personality.
Ironically many people who have overcome personal difficulties do not make the most of the opportunity to present their strongest attribute - that of having dealt with and overcome their difficulty.
If you have a disability it can be tricky deciding how and if to explain it in your CV.
Same applies for other disadvantages or apparently 'negative' aspects of personal history, experience, or self.
If you are struggling with a difficult 'negative' issue in your CV, be bold and be proud of it. Be proud of what it has enabled you to become.
Find ways of explaining and describing this aspect of yourself in terms of life experience, personal strength, tolerance, resilience, wisdom, humanity, humility, and the many other positive characteristics that typically derive from overcoming adversity.
As with other aspects of CV writing, if you are more naturally inclined to focus on your weaknesses rather than your strengths (many excellent and wonderful people do) it might help you to seek some feedback and input from a good, positive friend. We are not always the best person to see our own strengths - sometimes it's important to invite an outside opinion.
However you approach this, rest assured that good employers will always be impressed by special people who have not only overcome and dealt with personal challenge and difficulty - of any sort, even if self-inflicted - but who are also able to articulate what it means to them, and how the experience or difficulty has resulted in personal growth, learning, and the development of special qualities, whatever form they take.
Explaining these issues can be done perfectly well in the 'experience' and 'achievements' sections of a CV.
Moreover these statements will, if worded well, stand out very strongly, and be more impressive than anything else on the CV.
Remember, because it's true, and good employers know this:
"What does not kill us makes us stronger." (Attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, 1844-1900, based on his words: "Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." from The Twilight of the Idols, 1899.)
As ever, the world is changing. It's changed significantly already for many employers - especially large global corporations.
Progressive successful organizations mostly now recognize that the rules of business and management are now very different to a generation ago.
Consumers around the world are now part of a vast connected global system, in which the spiritual and ethical characteristics of a corporation are becoming more crucial than anything else. Maintaining and growing corporate integrity is fundamentally vital.
We are now in a truly internationally connected market-place, and one where old conventional competitive strengths are increasingly seen (by opinion-formers, employers and customers) as being very narrow and inadequate.
This is a new age of much greater consumer awareness - and especially of philosophical considerations.
Today's modern managers and every new graduate intake will be challenged on two levels which until recently have not really featured in a typical manager's skill-set:
- How to understand and enable effective response to the systemic characteristics of modern global and very fast-moving market-place - a now vast and increasingly connected and inter-related global system (of nations, cultures, technology, and 'swarming' effects), and
- How to understand and enable effective response to the new philosophical issues which increasingly influence consumer tastes and buying decisions (things like sustainability, corporate integrity, diversity, spirituality, ethics, etc - far beyond product, price, promotion, and traditional quality management, etc).
The best new and aspiring managers - especially new graduates seeking to become a senior manager or executive - must therefore demonstrate a new reach and vision - an awareness and capability (or at least potential capability) distinctly beyond the old standards of product and management quality and efficient effective profitable operations.
Jobs in marketing and people-management, and to a degree all other organizational functions, increasingly must respond to this, for which reason, the most effective managers in the future will be people whose capabilities embrace these complex systemic and philosophical considerations, way beyond conventional job skills.
This is increasingly the guiding and differentiating perspective of recruiters and graduate programme decision-makers.
Successful job applications - notably for the prime jobs with the most progressive successful employers - will increasingly be characterised by such appreciation.
- free CV template (doc file - MSWord) - single sheet format, UK A4 paper size - into which you can insert your own details - adapt it to suit your purposes
- CV template (odt file - OpenOffice) - same format as doc above
- free CV Template in PDF format - teaching/learning guide - cannot be changed easily
- direct job-hunting method and tool - adapt for your needs
- interviews tips, questions and answers - for interviewers and interviewees
- asking for a pay rise/raise, salary increase - letters samples, templates, examples, tips, techniques and advice
- love and spirituality at work
- negotiation tips and techniques
- references letters
- resignations letters
- stress management
- assertiveness and building self-confidence
- life balance
- leadership qualities and tips - what good employers seek in new employees, leaders and managers
- motivation - self and others
- introduction cover letters and sales introductory letters
- writing effectively for business and good letters
- exit interviews - for interviewees and interviewers
- time management
- life coaching
- 'Desiderata' - a verse for personal inspiration
- 'If' - the great Rudyard Kipling poem for personal inspiration
- the four agreements - for personal inspiration
- the rules of life - for personal inspiration