Ten ways to write a winning CV

While fashions in curriculum vitaes seem to change, there are some fundamental principles you should always apply when updating yours. Here’s a top ten.

1. Purpose of the CV
Golden Rule Number one is to remember that they don’t get you the job – you do that at a meeting. Like any marketing material its primary purpose is to make it easy for the person reading the CV to see that you could meet their needs. So it gets you the foot in the door. Treat it as a record of your working life.

2. Layout and Design

  • The selectors need a CV that’s to the point – two pages maximum, and even then, only the first page can guarantee attention.
  • Wide margins and white space helps. Don’t be tempted to cram everything in or reduce the point size as it will just make the page look crowded.
  • Avoid long, indigestible prose.

3. Order

  • Sequence must reflect the order of relevance to the selector. It?s best to go backwards in time. They want to see who you are now, not where you came from.
  • Contact details should be at the front. You don’t want to make it difficult to be contacted.

4. Things to Avoid

  • Profiles – 99 per cent are hyperbole. If you have evidence that you’re a ‘good communicator’ or ‘energetic’ (classic examples of profile-speak), reflect it in your achievements.
  • Education and qualifications – stick to the final education (eg. university degree) and qualifications relevant to the job.
  • Date of birth or age – there’s no rule stating that you have to include this, and in fact in the USA it’s banned on the grounds that it could lead to age discrimination.
  • Headings are not necessary for personal details i.e. name, address, education. When we see a name and address we know what it is. The temptation to write in this way is strong. Not only is it unnecessary, but there?s something inferior about a CV written in this way.
  • References should be saved for later.
  • Cover pages, photographs, binders and other paraphernalia all get in the way and have no place in your marketing document.
  • If you work in a technical field like architecture or engineering where drawings and other technical illustrations would illustrate your achievements, don’t be tempted to add them on – list projects and save the illustrations for the interview.
  • If you’re an academic list papers etc as an addendum.
  • Hobbies – these are only useful to add for those people starting out with little experience, to show they have involved themselves in tasks. For everyone else, they’re unnecessary.

5. Achievements
You need to illustrate your value to your future employer. Think about it – does Ford sell cars by their features? ‘Four wheels plus spare.’ They sell benefits: ‘a cool drive in the summer’ (air conditioning), ‘increased safety’ (air bags etc). This illustrates the difference between a feature and a benefit. A job description is a feature, your achievements are the benefits. Your value to an organisation is the benefit you can demonstrate. For example: ‘a marketer with a record of tripling people’s profits from my campaigns.’ Here the feature is the marketer and the benefit is the tripling profits.

6. Core CV and Tailoring
When you first write your CV include every achievement. The document you create will be your core CV, which is never sent to anyone. From your core CV you tailor for each audience by choosing only those pointers that will interest the receiver.

7. Language

  • Try not to use ‘I’. A page of I did this and that is a big turn-off – it says to the employer you haven?t thought about them, only about yourself.
  • Some companies have strange or grandiose job titles. Use a commonly understood job title that indicates what you do.

8. The covering letter
Keep it brief and include only information which complements the CV (and doesn’t repeat any information in it), such as how your skills can be of interest to their business.

9. Other matters which make a difference

  • Include some of your marketable achievements which may not have been in paid employment eg. ‘As chair of my son?s school’s PTA, the group fundraised £34,000.’
  • Test your CV – give it to someone under a pseudonym for only 30 seconds, and ask their opinion of the candidate.

10. CV Maintenance
Most of us only start to write a CV when we need it. If you’re in this situation, you’ll be tearing your hair out remembering your achievements and dates. Your core CV should be a live document. Update it regularly so that you can immediately tailor it when you need to.

Nicola Carew is Business and career coach at CWL Development Coaching. This article first appeared on

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