How to write a successful CV before applying for a job

A good curriculum vitae – or CV – is vital when looking for work, especially when there are numerous candidates for the same job, so what should it contain?

Job advert Getting a CV up to scratch is an important part of the job searching process

There is no perfect template, and each sector may require a different emphasis on a different aspect of the content, such as career history or qualifications.

However, experts suggest there are some basic rules on how a CV should be written and the information that should be included.

Overall, a CV should be neat and typed if possible. Most libraries now have public computers, if you do not have your own.

It should also be short, usually no more than two sides of A4. It should be positive, stressing achievements and strengths, and make a good impression in a clear and positive way.

The basic format for a CV includes:

  • Personal details, including name, address, phone number, email address and possibly any professional social media presence. You no longer need to include your date of birth, owing to age discrimination rules
  • Career history, starting with your most recent job first. Include dates and temporary or voluntary jobs if appropriate
  • A personal profile which sells yourself and your qualities, tailored towards the job you are applying for
  • Achievements from previous jobs that are relevant
  • Qualifications and training from previous jobs, with the most recent first
  • Interests, if they are relevant and especially if the skills or teamwork concerned are relevant for the job
  • Any extra information, such as reasons for a career change or reasons for gaps in career history, such as caring duties
  • References, ideally two or more and including a recent employer

Corinne Mills is managing director of Personal Career Management, which offers careers coaching. She says that a straightforward font and formatting is required – and the spelling must be checked and checked again.

“Poor spelling is the quickest way of getting a rejection,” she says.

She adds that people should check five or six adverts for a particular job and then use the common requirements to mould their CV.

“Many people think that one CV will fit all applications, but it needs to be a very targeted document for the role they are going for. Do some research so you understand what employers are looking for.”

Help and examples

Each CV needs to be tailored towards your own skills, experiences and your job application.

However, the Directgov website has CV example templates for a care worker and for a construction worker.

There is also a writing a CV factsheet which can be downloaded.

For those looking for a job, a database of jobs held by Jobcentre Plus is a good place to start.

In addition, there is a separate database of jobs in Northern Ireland.

Skills Development Scotland has advice on finding a job, dealing with redundancy and links to Scotland-specific jobs sites.

Next Steps, in England, has advice including where to look for funding for courses to learn new skills.

Careers Wales has bi-lingual advice covers all these areas and also includes help for jobseekers under 19.

Global tips

CVs can be produced in a different format for job applications outside of the UK.

For example, the equivalent of the CV in the US is the “resume”.

This has much the same aims by outlining job talents, work history, education and career goals, as well as how a candidate’s experience and skills would be suited to the job being advertised.

One guide to writing resumes and cover letters is on the New York State Department of Labor’s website.


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