The Dos and Don’ts of Writing an Effective CV

Should you list your work experience or achievements first? Do you include a photo or not? Will coloured paper make you stand out from the crowd? Writing your CV can be a minefield but there are certain simple rules you can follow. Discover the dos and don’ts of CV writing with our guide from Job site’s expert CV Partner, CV Checker.

Top 10 CV dos

  1. Use a confident tone and positive language Use positive words to start each sentence, such as initiated, improved, introduced, developed, negotiated, established, created, pioneered, delivered, increased, reduced, saved etc. This also helps to ensure that you’re substantiating your skills with hard evidence
  2. Concentrate on your achievements not your responsibilities This means listing things you have done – such as products launched, sales increase, awards won – not rewriting your job description. Quote figures whenever possible.
  3. Encourage the employer to read on Ensure that you put your most salient points on the first page of the CV to include your greatest successes and achievements and proven examples of how you have used your skills to benefit the companies you have worked for.
  4. Concentrate on the quality not quantity of your achievements Don’t hold anything back but make sure that your achievements are fantastic and not just that you are a fantastic communicator! Typically a CV should have 10 achievements on it that cover the main successes in your career to get the reader’s attention.
  5. Rise above the competition Make sure you include other skills that could set you apart from other candidates, such as languages and IT skills.
  6. Keep to the point Be ruthless with yourself and keep your CV to a maximum of two pages. Only very senior, experienced executives have more to say.
  7. Check, check and check again Check thoroughly for correct spelling and grammar – spotting errors is a quick and easy way of weeding out weaker candidates when faced with a mountain of CVs to read. Don’t just rely on your computers spellchecker but get someone else to proof it – you may have spelt a word correctly but used it in the wrong place.
  8. Use relevant keywords With posts advertised through job boards and online recruiters, keywords are entered into databases to find the most relevant jobseekers without having to trawl through 1000s of candidates. These keywords will include specific technical skills like SAP or qualifications like ACCA or specific job titles like ‘Customer services advisor’. Make sure your CV mirrors the language used in the advert.
  9. Capture immediate attention Prioritise the content of your CV and detail the most relevant information first. Start with a hard-hitting personal profile that avoids clichés such as ‘hard-working, team player with excellent communication skills’. Make sure that all your career history is punchy and to the point with qualified and quantified successes.
  10. Graduates should expand Tell your reader more about your degree other than just the modules you have taken. Show successes you have had in your project work and dissertations and other extracurricular activities you have undertaken. More experienced jobhunters should just put their degree details on page two with the university they attended, the degree that they took and the grade gained.

Top 10 CV don’ts

  1. Expand the truth It is simply not true that the bigger the lies you put on your CV then the better the job you will get. Most employers are not fooled by creative embellishments and if you do manage to get a job based on this you could be let go of pretty quickly which won’t look good on your CV.
  2. List everything An employer really doesn’t need or want to know all the one-day training courses you have ever been on. Keep information relevant and to the point.
  3. Include a photo No matter how attractive you make yourself look, it will not improve your chances. This tends to be popular in other European countries but isn’t favoured by the majority of UK businesses.
  4. Get creative Don’t use elaborate fonts and colours to make your CV stand out. The more gimmicky you make your CV using different shapes and pictures, the more off-putting it will be to an employer. It will also make it more difficult to upload to Job site.
  5. Divulge sensitive information Never include your NI or passport number or any other sensitive personal information on your CV.
  6. Tailor your CV Your CV should be strong enough to be used for different positions that you are applying for. It is your covering letter that you should tailor carefully for each position, making sure it answers all of the employer’s questions about your suitability for the role. However, if you have a really wide skill set then you may have more than one CV depending on which role you’re going for. See this month’s Expert Top Tips for more on how to write an exceptional covering letter
  7. Talk about me, me, me Don’t start each sentence in the first person. Instead use phrasing such as ‘Selected to manage the companies online marketing spend of £100,000 which resulted in position 1 being achieved across all search engines within 6 months’.
  8. Talk in clichés Phrases such as ‘I am a highly motivated individual who works well on my own or in a team, with exceptional communication skills and the ability to work under pressure to produce results under tight deadlines’ are dull and the employer has heard them all before. Make yourself stand out with carefully worded phrasing that is factual and captures the employer’s attention.
  9. Duplicate applications Some recruiters have systems that handle multiple applications from the same person, but for those that don’t, remember it is most off-putting to receive five CVs from the same person and for the same job application.
  10. Make the recruiter jump through hoops If you are able to perform in the job, explain how in your CV. Don’t expect the employer to read between the lines to work out whether you will be worth the US$ 60k salary per annum. Sadly, that’s what lots of candidates think it’s the recruiter’s job to do.

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