How to write a successful CV


Threatening Man with CV


Probably the first CV was written by Leonardo Da Vinci 500 years ago. You can view it here. Since then things have moved slightly on, and now it's essential to have a well presented professional CV, but still many graduates get this wrong. The following page will give you all the tips to make an impressive CV

What is a CV?

Curriculum Vitae: an outline of a person's educational and professional history, usually prepared for job applications (L, lit.: the course of one's life). Another name for a CV is a résumé.

A CV is the most flexible and convenient way to make applications. It conveys your personal details in the way that presents you in the best possible light. A CV is a marketing document in which you are marketing something: yourself! You need to "sell" your skills, abilities, qualifications and experience to employers. It can be used to make multiple applications to employers in a specific career area. For this reason, many large graduate recruiters will not accept CVs and instead use their own application form.

Often selectors read CVs outside working hours. They may have a pile of 50 CVs from which to select five interviewees. It's evening and they would rather be in the pub with friends. If your CV is hard work to read: unclear, badly laid out and containing irrelevant information, they will just move on to the next CV.

Treat the selector like a child eating a meal. Chop your CV up into easily digestible morsels (bullets, short paragraphs and note form) and give it a clear logical layout, with just the relevant information to make it easy for the selector to read. If you do this, you will have a much greater chance of interview.

An application form is designed to bring out the essential information and personal qualities that the employer requires and does not allow you to gloss over your weaker points as a CV does. In addition, the time needed to fill out these forms is seen as a reflection of your commitment to the career.

There is no "one best way" to construct a CV; it is your document and can be structured as you wish within the basic framework below. It can be on paper or on-line or even on a T-shirt (a gimmicky approach that might work for "creative" jobs but not generally advised!).

When should a CV be used?

What information should a CV include?

What are the most important aspects of CV that you look for?

One survey of employers found that the following aspects were most looked for
(From the brilliant 2010 Orange County Resume Survey by Eric Hilden)

45% Previous related work experience
35% Qualifications & skills
25% Easy to read
16% Accomplishments
14% Spelling & grammar
9% Education (these were not just graduate recruiters or this score would be much higher!)
9% Intangibles: individuality/desire to succeed
3% Clear objective
2% Keywords added
1% Contact information
1% Personal experiences
1% Computer skills

Personal details

Normally these would be your name, address, date of birth (although with age discrimination laws now in force this isn't essential), telephone number and email.

British CVs don't usually include a photograph unless you are an actor. In European countries such as France, Belgium and Germany it’s common for CVs to include a passport-sized photograph in the top right-hand corner whereas in the UK and the USA photographs are frowned upon as this may contravene equal opportunity legislation - a photograph makes it easier to reject a candidate on grounds of ethnicity, sex or age. If you do include a photograph it should be a head and shoulders shot, you should be dressed suitably and smiling: it's not for a passport! See our Work Abroad page for more about international CVs

Education and qualifications

Some employers may spend as little as 45 seconds skimming a résumé before branding it “not of interest”, “maybe” or “of interest.

BI Business School

Succinct, eloquent, well-structured.

Towers Hamlyn

Your degree subject and university, plus A levels and GCSEs or equivalents. Mention grades unless poor!

Work experience

Interests and achievements

Writing about your interests

Reading, cinema, stamp-collecting, playing computer games

Suggests a solitary individual who doesn't get on with other people. This may not be true, but selectors will interpret the evidence they see before them.

Cinema: member of the University Film-Making Society
Travel: travelled through Europe by train this summer in a group of four people, visiting historic sites and practising my French and Italian
Reading: helped younger pupils with reading difficulties at school.

This could be the same individual as in the first example, but the impression is completely the opposite: an outgoing proactive individual who helps others.



The order and the emphasis will depend on what you are applying for and what you have to offer. For example, the example media CV lists the candidate's relevant work experience first.

When asked what would make them automatically reject a candidate, employers said:

  • CVs with spelling mistakes or typos 61%
  • CVs that copied large amounts of wording from the job posting 41%
  • CVs with an inappropriate email address 35%
  • CVs that don’t include a list of skills 30%
  • CVs that are more than two pages long 22%
  • CVs printed on decorative paper 20%
  • CVs that detail more tasks than results for previous positions 16%
  • CVs that include a photo 13%
  • CVs that have large blocks of text with little white space 13%


If you are applying for more than one type of work, you should have a different CV tailored to each career area, highlighting different aspects of your skills and experience.

A personal profile at the start of the CV can work for jobs in competitive industries such as the media or advertising, to help you to stand out from the crowd. If used, it needs to be original and well written. Don’t just use the usual hackneyed expressions: “I am an excellent communicator who works well in a team……

You will also need a Covering Letter to accompany your CV.

What makes a good CV?

There is no single "correct" way to write and present a CV but the following general rules apply:



If your CV is written backwards on pink polka dot paper and it gets you regular interviews, it's a good CV! The bottom line is that if it's producing results don't change it too much but if it's not, keep changing it until it does.

If it's not working, ask people to look at it and suggest changes. Having said this, if you use the example CVs in these pages as a starting point, you are unlikely to go far wrong.

What mistakes do candidates make on their CV?

One survey of employers found the following mistakes were most common

How long should a CV be?

There are no absolute rules but, in general, a new graduate's CV should cover no more than two sides of A4 paper. In a survey of American employers 35% preferred a one page CV and 19% a two page CV with the others saying it depends upon the position. CVs in the US tend to be shorter than in the UK, whereas the 2 page CV still dominates for graduates, but I do see a trend now towards one page CVs: as employers are getting more and more CVs, they tend not to have the time to read long documents!

If you can summarise your career history comfortably on a single side, this is fine and has advantages when you are making speculative applications and need to put yourself across concisely. However, you should not leave out important items, or crowd your text too closely together in order to fit it onto that single side. Academic and technical CVs may be much longer: up to 4 or 5 sides.

How do I get my CV down to two pages from three?

If after all these tricks you are still on three pages you have to be ruthless with your content: read every single word and remove it if it doesn't add value to your CV!

The one page lean and mean CV!

In certain sectors such as investment banking, management consultancy and top law firms, a one page, highly focused, highly objective CV, now seems to be preferred. All of these areas have in common that they are highly competitive to enter and it may be that selectors, faced with so many CVs to work through prefer a shorter CV.

There is no point putting lots of detailed information into a CV which doesn't add any value, and in fact, just dilutes the impact. This is called the presenter's paradox. These CVs normally have lots of single line bullets and no personal statement at the beginning. They are full of factual, as opposed to subjective, content. You must make every word count. They focus on achievements, initiative and responsibilities more than on tasks and duties. When carefully designed, these can be the very best CVs, but also the hardest to write!

See our page on Zen and the art of CV writing for more about this.

Tips on presentation

Research by forum3 (recruitment and volunteering for the not-for-profit sector) suggested:


Why you need to use a spell checker

  • I would like a job in the servillian police
  • I am applying for a mini-pupiledge
  • i am a prefectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.
  • Proven ability to track down and correct erors.
  • I have good writen comunication skills.
  • Lurnt Word Perfect computor and spreadsheet pogroms.
  • Develop an annual operating expense fudget.
  • Good custermer service skills.
  • I am death in my left ear.
  • In my 3rd year of BA houners English.

And why you must read it carefully as well

  • I was a prefect and pier mentor
  • I would like to do a law conversion cause
  • Extra Circular Activities
  • But I was not aloud to be captain
  • At secondary school I was a prefix
  • In my spare time I enjoy hiding my horse
  • I hope to hear from you shorty
  • I have a desire to work with commuters
  • Dear Madman (instead of Madam)
  • My hobbits include - instead of 'hobbies'
  • I am sicking and entry-level position
  • I have a friendly manor
  • Oversight of an entire department
  • Restaurant skills: Severing customers
  • In charge of sock control - instead of 'stock control'
  • I’m an accurate and rabid typist
  • Over summer I worked for an examinations bored.
  • Abilty to meet deadlines while maintaining my composer
  • Cleaning bathrooms and hovering hallways.
  • Have made speech's at Open Days
  • I can make models using a verity of different materials
  • Working Kills. (This may very well be true in the long term but Working Skills might just be a better heading.)
  • Reason for Living: Relocation
  • Instrumental in ruining an entire operation for a chain operator
  • I was an administrator in a busty office.
  • Suspected to graduate early next year
  • For a PR job: I have a long term interest in pubic relations
  • I want experience in a big sex practice
  • Vox pox for BBC Radio enhanced my ability to analyse information
  • A ' full shit system’ instead of ‘a full shift system’
  • Enthusiasm was needed to communicate in an interesting manor.
  • As indicted, I have over 5 years of analysing investments.
  • On an application to work with teenagers: I am experienced in teaching marital arts
  • Relevant work experience’: followed by ‘Irrelevant work experience’
  • My role included typing in details of accounts, customer liaison and money-laundering duties.
  • I am a genital person (instead of gentle!)
  • I would be happy to work in any part of England or Whales.
  • I am still under sided on my career.
  • That will test my ability’s and give me the ability to work on something may can have a real impact.
  • I'm from the European Onion.
  • I own and maintain a volts wagon beetle.
  • I have a full/clean driving license and own a cat (Kent graduate)
  • Language skills: German: intimidate (instead of intermediate!)
  • Sense I was young.

Thesaurusitis (using the wrong synonym!)

  • I demand a salary commiserate with my extensive experience
  • I am a strenuous student.
  • Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave
  • i am a conscious individual with good attention to detail (Kent grad.)
  • Received a plague for salesman of the year.
  • I was formally in a music group in which I performed in three conservative years.
  • I have a degree in orgasmic chemistry.
  • I have a doable award in science

FontsFonts for CVs


Using bold for job titles and schools

It's a good idea to use the "bold" style for job titles and employer names in your work experience and education to make these stand out.


2003-2010 St. Paul's Girls' School, London

A-levels: Chemistry B, Biology A, Maths C

Summer 2011 Next Retail (Sales Assistant)
The job entailed working in the busy sale, taking deliveries, stock control and dealing with customers with high quality customer care.

In a survey of American employersApplication form spelling

Different Types of CV


A survey of US employers found that:


If you are applying for posts outside the UK, remember that employers in other countries are likely to have different expectations of what a CV should include and how it should be laid out. The "Global Resume and CV Handbook" (available from Reception) will help you prepare CVs for overseas employment. See our work abroad page.

Targeting your CV

If your CV is to be sent to an individual employer which has requested applications in this format, you should research the organisation and the position carefully.

In the present competitive job market, untargeted CVs tend to lose out to those that have been written with a particular role in mind. For example a marketing CV will be very different from a teaching CV. The marketing CV will focus on persuading, negotiating and similar skills where as the teaching CV will focus more on presenting and listening skills and evidence for these.

If your CV is to be used for speculative applications, it is still important to target it - at the very least, on the general career area in which you want to work. Use our I Want to Work in .... pages and sites such as to get an idea of what the work involves and what skills and personal qualities are needed to do it successfully. This will enable you to tailor the CV to the work and to bring out your own relevant experience.

Even if you are using the same CV for a number of employers, you should personalise the covering letter - e.g. by putting in a paragraph on why you want to work for that organisation.

For example CVs, application forms and covering letters see with notes highlighting points relating to the content and style.

How NOT to do it

One graduate had emailed out over 80 CVs without getting a single reply and was puzzled as to why.

I asked him to show me what he had sent out. He had sent identical CVs and letters to all the companies in one mass email. Recruiters opening the email could see the names of the 80 companies he had applied to in the "To: " box of the email!

Emailed CVs and Web CVs

In which format should you send your CV?

A survey of American recruiters found that:

According to Professor Tom Jackson, of Loughborough University, “Misunderstandings occur frequently via written communication. In fact, 68 per cent of employees said the emails they receive are sometimes difficult to decipher, whether it be a misinterpreted tone or rushed explanations.”

The most common mistakes made via email include:

  • Accidentally clicking send before the email is ready;
  • Embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes;
  • Accidentally sending a kiss at the end of a message;
  • Copying a client into an internal email about them;
  • Forwarding an inappropriate email trail;
  • Forgetting an attachment; and
  • Forgetting to blind copy (BCC) on an email (see the example above!)


PDF (portable document format) is perhaps becoming a widely used format now. There are PDF-readers for all platforms (Windows, MacOS, Linux). This also guarantees that you can be confident that it will look as you intended, no matter what reader is used to view the document and it is also secure. Modern versions of Microsoft Word contain a PDF export function or you can download a free pdf converter such as Cute pdf: you install it and then "print" the document to a folder on your PC. PDFs can however sometimes prevent keyword-scanning software on job boards or applicant-tracking systems from picking up information that allows you to be found.

You can also use MS Word (.docx) format. .docx files may not always open on computers using Linux and Apple platforms. .docx files may also contain sensitive information such as previous versions of a document perhaps leading to embarrassment. MS Word documents can contain macro viruses, so a few employers may not open these.

Some employers, though, may prefer Word as they can edit it, e.g. to add notes to refer to at interview. There is the possible problem that Word formatting can sometimes change on different computers so it is a good idea to email your CV to a friend to check that it comes out OK before sending it to employers.

There is no one "best" format as there are so many types and versions of software that you cannot always be certain that the recipient will be able to open your CV without any problems, especially if it has been produced on a PC and is being read on a Mac, or vice versa.

It is also fine to attach your CV in both Word and PDF and allow the employers to choose which they prefer!

Rich Text Format (.rtf), or html (web page format) are other alternatives but, as can be seen from the above survey, are not usually preferred.

If in doubt send your CV in several formats. Email it back to yourself first to check it, as line lengths may be changed by your email reader.

Also see How to Send a Resume by E-mail

Web CVs and Electronically Scanned CVs

The credit company Iprofile recommended that CVs posted on-line should not contain your date of birth, place of birth, marital status, address and phone number as they can allow fraudsters to carry out identity theft and perhaps open bank accounts or apply for credit cards in your name.

When emailing your CV to a potential employer it's probably wise to leave out your date of birth, place of birth and marital status if you have any doubts about the validity of the organisation you are applying to. Due to age discrimination legislation in the UK you no longer have to disclose your age on a CV but if you wish to, you could give this rather than your date of birth.

Web CVs use HTML format. You can include the web address in an email or letter to an employer. They have the advantage that you can easily use graphics, colour, hyperlinks and even sound, animation and video. The basic rules still apply however - make it look professional. They can be very effective if you are going for multimedia, web design or computer games jobs where they can demonstrate your technical skills along with your portfolio.

Electronically scanned CVs have been used by Ford Motors and others. Resumix is one package used for this: it has artificial intelligence which reads the text and extracts important information such as work, education, skills. For more information on this, see our page on on-line applications


It's a good idea to have your profile and CV (without personal details such as your address of course: see right) on LinkedIn. In 2011, 89% of businesses planned to use social networks for recruitment and LinkedIn was by far the most popular one for this purpose with 86% of companies wishing to use it, 60% were considering Facebook and 50% Twitter. Make sure that your Facebook page doesn't carry evidence of any of your indiscretions that employers might view - making your page private and viewable only by friends and family is wise!

If you reply to a job advert, be careful about what information you give.

The following are not needed by employers but can lead to identity theft. Don't include:

For information on Skype and Video Interviews see our page on this

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