CV tips: How to look good on paper

James Innes, managing director of The CV Centre, gives his advice on writing an application that will get you noticed.

WHERE SHOULD I START?

Collate relevant information in advance to be sure you include everything that is important. Gather together certificates from school or university to help you accurately record all relevant qualifications.

Obtaining job descriptions from your current and previous employers can be invaluable when reproducing your work experience.



WHAT IS THE BEST LAYOUT TO USE?

The most effective layout for a CV is one that clearly defines each section of the CV using bold headings and borderlines between each section. Bullet points in sections, such as career summary, can help make text easier to read. Each section should be listed in order of priority, ie, graduates should list their education above their work experience as it is their qualifications that will probably be of greater value to them. A great CV also contains no spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors, and finish with a summary of relevant personal information – such as driving licence or nationality – and a final line stating that references will be provided upon request.



HOW LONG SHOULD A CV AND COVER LETTER BE?

A CV should be a concise, one page document, although two pages is also fine – but generally the maximum. However, it is acceptable for more technical professions, such as IT or medicine, to have longer CVs – possibly four pages. Unless a job ad gives specific guidelines on the length of a cover letter, it shouldn’t be any more than one page. It should encourage prospective employers to read the CV, rather than repeat everything that it contains.



WHAT TONE SHOULD A COVER LETTER HAVE?

Personality is important to help you stand out from the many CVs that prospective employers will receive, so a good profile at the top of the CV and a summary of interests and activities can be an invaluable insight into your personality, but remember that the CV and letter are ostensibly professional documents.



HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU WRITE ABOUT EACH JOB HELD?

You should devote more space to explanations of job roles that are most relevant to your career. Relevance is key when writing about your job roles, although picking out transferable skills is important as well.



HOW FAR BACK SHOULD YOU GO?

You should include GCSEs, listing only English and maths specifically as subjects achieved at this level.

Ideally, all previous jobs should be listed, although a description of duties may not be necessary for those that are either not relevant or more than 10 years ago.



WHAT IF YOU HAVE NO PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD?

New graduates in this position should do voluntary work to gain relevant experience to add value to their CV. Where this isn’t possible, it’s important to emphasise qualifications achieved at university and the skills acquired through involvement in individual or group projects.



IS IT BEST TO USE CORPORATE SPEAK OR PLAIN ENGLISH?

A good CV contains an effective combination of industry specific jargon and plain, professional English.

But be careful not to overuse jargon as this can stand out like a sore thumb and is often quite difficult to read.

SHOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR CV FOR A SPECIFIC COMPANY?

It shouldn’t be necessary for a CV itself to be angled towards a specific company.

It should be a document that summarises your skills, qualifications and achievements.

However, a good covering letter should always accompany the CV.

This can easily be tailored towards a specific company or job role.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE SOMEONE ELSE READ THROUGH YOUR CV?

A fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable for helping to spot any errors that may have been missed and for reading through the content to make sure what has been written makes sense when read from someone else’s perspective.

  • The CV Centre www.cvcl.co.uk will be offering advice at the Summer Graduate Fair, Earls Court, 3-4 June.

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