How To Write a CV: The Complete Guide
You might have sent your CV to a plethora of companies without getting a single response. You need to create a solid CV if you want to secure multiple interview opportunities to help boost your chances of getting your ideal job.
You have a short amount of time to make an impression before the hiring manager passes on to the next CV. Every day, hiring managers come across hundreds of CVs; therefore, it’s crucial for job seekers to craft a CV that will get their attention right off the bat. The chances of being chosen for an interview considerably increases if you can capture their interest immediately.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking for a better job to move up the corporate ladder, it’s incredibly critical to know how to write a CV that best conveys your professional value proposition.
Even if you have the necessary credentials, the relevant skills, and are the perfect candidate for the position, you won’t have the chance to prove yourself if your CV doesn’t stand out.
In this CV writing guide, we’ll share practical advice to create a CV that will put you in the position to choose the job you want to pick rather than accepting whatever job you can land.
What is a CV?
A CV stands for the Latin phrase Curriculum Vitae, which means ‘course of one’s life.’ It is a detailed document that highlights the history of your academic and professional career. It outlines information about your work experience, scholarships, awards, achievements, research projects, and publications.
Before diving into how to write a CV, let’s understand how a CV differs from a resume.
What’s the difference between a CV and a resume?
A resume is a concise one-page document highlighting the main achievements of your career in the past few years. On the other hand, a CV allows you to go a little more in-depth into your qualifications, professional life, educational background, and skill sets and how they relate to the specific job you’re applying to.
More often than not, CV and resume are terms used interchangeably in many parts of the world. For example, when you apply for companies in Europe or UK, a CV and resume are both simply known as documents you use to apply for jobs.
Whether you call it a CV or a resume, the main purpose of the document is to get you in front of the hiring manager, so you have the chance to explain why you’re the best person for the job.
While there is no way to craft the perfect CV, we’ll share a handful of compelling CV writing tips and tricks you can leverage to draft a powerful one.
Let’s answer one of the frequently asked questions first.
How long should a CV be?
The length of your CV usually depends on your professional experience, career level, and skills. Most companies don’t have a specific number when it comes to the length of your CV; however, that doesn’t mean you include your life story in your CV.
No matter how much experience you have, it’s generally good practice not to exceed two pages.
A short CV that’s highly targeted to the job you’re applying for makes it easier for recruitment managers to digest your experience for the role they’re hiring for.
But how do you fit everything into just two pages?
The best way to do this is to focus primarily on the past ten years and include a brief summary of your career highlights from the years prior.
Things to include in a CV
You may come across several CV guides sharing a hundred things people should include in their CV. The bottom line is they’re not really wrong. Depending on the position and the company, you must add or exclude sections to craft a strong CV.
However, out of the plethora of things to include in a CV, there are a handful of sections you can’t skip over. We’ve listed the top six sections that job seekers should strongly consider including in their CV.
1. Name and contact information.
This one is a no-brainer. The first thing to include at the top of your CV is your name and contact information.
- Professional email. You don’t have to purchase a custom domain firstname.lastname@example.org to have a professional email address. It can be a simple Gmail address without unnecessary numerical or funny innuendos. For example, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Contact number. Should you include your phone number in your CV? It depends. If you’re applying directly to a company, yes. Include the phone number since the HR department may choose to give you a call to set up an interview. However, if you’re uploading your CV to a public platform, it’s a good idea to leave the phone number off your CV to avoid spam calls.
- Website/portfolio. In today’s date, including a link to your online portfolio or website is a huge plus. However, if you don’t have a website or an online portfolio, you could include the link to your LinkedIn profile.
Austin Belcak’s analysis of 120,000+ resumes showed that including the link to your LinkedIn profile on your CV significantly boosts interview rates. However, only 48% of CVs include a link to their LinkedIn profile.
Note: Be sure to edit the link to your LinkedIn profile to make it look professional.
LinkedIn URLs start with www.linkedin.com/in/, and the part after that is unique to your profile. You can either leave it at default (which may include a bunch of random numbers), or you can customise it to make it more professional.
Including a link to your online profile will help hiring managers take a look at your completed work, taking you one step further from candidates who’ve simply shared a piece of paper with their work experience.
2. Opening paragraph
You may have put hours and days’ worth of effort into designing the shiniest CV; however, by the time it reaches the hiring manager’s desk, it’ll probably be within a stack amongst hundreds of other CVs.
Having a solid opening paragraph (no more than three to five sentences) is one of the most essential parts of your CV. Talk about who you are, what you’ve done, and a bit of a summary that is tailored to the company’s needs — What can you do for them?
3. Work experience
Depending on the job you’re applying for, you can craft your work experience section to include the most relevant experiences first. Therefore, it goes without saying that you should tailor your CV for every job you’re applying for.
While it may seem like a lot of work, especially if you’re mass-sharing your CV and applying for hundreds of jobs, most recruiters can take one look at your CV and know that it’s a generic one, which is not a good first impression to make.
For people who have a good amount of work experience, the reverse-chronological CV format is the best way to style your CV with the most recent job listed at the top. However, if you don’t have a lot of experience— or if the experience relevant to the job isn’t the most recent one — don’t put it in this CV format.
We’ll discuss the best CV formats in the next section and which format is best for which scenario.
How do you write a job description?
When you write job descriptions, hiring managers like to see what you’ve accomplished. Therefore, highlight your achievements and, wherever possible, back up those claims with numbers.
Let’s say you are a web developer who developed an automation program for your previous company. You could put this in two ways:
- Developed an automation program for a research project
- Developed an automation program for a research project that saved my team ~ 320 hours of work.
The second statement packs a better punch.
What if you have no work experience to include in this section?
You need a CV to get the relevant work experience, but how do you get the work experience to include it in your CV? It’s such a conundrum.
You have to realise that your work experience section doesn’t have to be limited to paid projects. You can include internships or volunteer work you may have done that is relevant to the role you’re applying for.
You can even pick up projects by yourself, like choosing an idea and designing your own custom application and including that in your resume!
4. Education section
If you are someone who is just starting out, it may make sense to put your education section before your work experience. If you’ve got outstanding academics, like your degree or master’s, or you’ve done courses or speak a language highly relevant to the job you’re applying for – put it right under your opening paragraph.
Another situation is when you’re applying for some of the older companies that may still value your academic achievements and the university you graduated from.
However, most companies prioritise work experience over your academics, especially for newer businesses in fields. So, it’s a good idea to include your education section after listing your work experience.
Should you include your GPA within your CV?
If you’re based in America, should you include your GPA if it is impressive enough (usually over 3.2 out of 4).
5. Skills section
Should you include a skills section within your CV? That depends on the job position you’re applying for.
If you have any specific skills, certifications, or badges that you know the hiring manager may be looking for, it’s beneficial to include them within the skills section.
Another reason to include a skills section is to get through the ATS systems that some businesses use. What is an ATS system?
An Applicant Tracking System automatically filters CVs for key terms that the company is looking for. Therefore, you need to get through the ATS before you even have the chance to get your CV in front of a human being.
Therefore, when you’re applying for jobs, read the job descriptions carefully. Pick out key terms and skills that you know they’re looking for and include them within this section, provided you have the skills to back up your claims.
Should you include soft skills in your CV?
Don’t include skills like — I’m a team player, hard worker, or good leader.
Even the worst procrastinator can list time management as their soft skill; therefore, these generic soft skills have become red flags for most hiring managers.
But does that mean you should steer clear of soft skills altogether? Not really.
The most effective way to include soft skills is to share specific ways you’ve showcased those skills in the past.
6. Extracurriculars and awards
These sections are one of the most critical parts of your CV. They can strengthen the professional background you’ve listed under your work experience section.
Include the organisations and clubs you’ve been a part of, leadership positions you’ve held in the past, achievements, awards you’ve received, scholarships, fellowships/research grants, or honours you may have won.
Pro tip: Add a small section listing your hobbies and interests to personalise your CV. You can be smart and add hobbies that are somewhat relevant to the job and add more value to your CV.
No hobbies are better than ‘I like to read!’ Additionally, be specific — what books do you like? Do you have any favourite authors? Similarly, if you like watching movies, share your favourite genres.
Top three CV formats
There are different types of CV formats, and choosing the right one can be the key to opening doors to the recruitment manager’s office. Some CV formats are more effective than others, so we’ve listed the top three formats in this CV writing guide that you can choose from depending on your situation.
The top three CV formats are:
- The Chronological CV format
- The Functional CV format
- The Combinational (hybrid) CV format
Let’s take a look at each of these CV formats in detail.
1. The Chronological CV format
The chronological CV format — also known as the reverse-chronological CV format — emphasises your work experience. It’s an extremely popular format used by people who have extensive experience since it highlights people’s career growth and professional accomplishments.
In the chronological CV format, job seekers include the work experience section right below the professional summary or opening paragraph. Therefore, the hiring manager’s attention goes right to the important section as soon as they start scanning through your CV.
When should you use the Chronological CV format?
- Extensive work history. Chronological CV formats work well for people with a strong professional work history. Therefore, you can craft your CV with this format if you have over ten years of professional work experience, you’ve stayed in each of these roles for at least a year, and you don’t have any gaps or breaks between these jobs.
- Similar jobs. You’re seeking a new job that is similar to the role you have now. In this scenario, a chronological CV allows hiring managers to browse through your work history and realise that you have extensive experience working in the industry they’re in. This showcases the fact that you already have the skills to be an excellent candidate for the role they’re hiring for.
- Steady career growth. You’ve gradually climbed your way up to higher positions with additional responsibilities. A chronological CV demonstrates career growth and allows recruiters to easily track your career. A steady career track can be nothing but a positive point towards getting you that job interview.
While the chronological CV is a popular format, it’s a good idea to steer clear of this style if you’re new to the workforce, jumping into a new career field, or have significant gaps between jobs.
For these scenarios, the functional or combinational CV formats will work better for you.
Note: If you have gaps in your CV because you’ve been travelling, it’s a good idea to add a bit of personality to your CV by sharing a few details about your trip. This opens up an opportunity for the hiring managers to relate to you and get to know you as a person.
2. The Functional CV format
A functional CV format — also called the skills-based CV format — primarily showcases the job seeker’s skills and training. Compared to the reverse-chronological CV format, where the candidate arranges their work history in order of recency, in the functional CV format, the candidate groups their experience under categories of skills.
The functional CV is an excellent fit for people who want to focus on their qualifications, like tech or soft skills, for a particular job. It allows people to show the recruitment manager they have the skills and qualifications to be a good fit for the job, even though they may lack work experience.
Some hiring managers don’t prefer this CV format since it’s not easy to scan them. However, it’s an excellent choice for people switching careers who may have gained significant skills and experiences from courses or mentorship instead of professional work experience.
3. The Combinational (hybrid) CV format
The Combinational CV format — also called the hybrid or combined CV format — combines the best of chronological and functional CV formats and highlights the candidate’s best achievements while prominently displaying relevant skills alongside.
The hybrid CV format has gained popularity in recent years, and people don’t even realise they’re using one since it’s highly intuitive, practical, and customisable. Candidates can style their CV any way they want since this format is extremely flexible and can take various forms depending on their preferences.
When should you use the Combinational CV format?
The combinational CV format is ideal for people who have a few years of experience with notable skills or accomplishments and are looking to move up. It can help them highlight the crucial skills they’ve acquired in their career and how they’ve used them effectively.
If you’re switching to a new career field, this hybrid CV format gives you the ability to showcase transferable skills and experiences from other roles that add value to your new career.
If you’re returning to work after taking a break or have significant gaps between jobs, a hybrid CV format allows you to emphasise your skills and training and include work experiences that match up with the role you’re applying for.
You may have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, but that doesn’t mean your CV is done.
It’s critical for job seekers to tailor their CVs according to the job they’re applying for. Just a few tweaks here and there can go a long way when it comes to personalising your CV.
Keep in mind that hiring managers take less than 10 seconds to scan a CV before deciding whether they want to select or reject it. Therefore, crafting a succinct CV highlighting relevant achievements, work experiences and qualities is critical to land the interview.
Pro tip: You can use free tools like Loom to record a video CV to showcase your personality and soft skills. Video CVs significantly boost your chances of landing an interview as long as you do it right.
At Joss Search we help job seekers craft a strong CV and connect you with the best roles in top private equity and alternative investment firms. You can take a look at our live vacancies or chat with our friendly consultants about your upcoming career steps. We’re waiting to help on 020 3096 7050 and email@example.com.