How to Structure the Perfect CV

Whether you’re a recent graduate looking for your first job, or you’re currently employed but looking for better prospects, your CV or résumé is what gives potential employers that all-important first impression. It’s your first chance to showcase that you have the skills they’re looking for, can pay attention to detail, have a good grasp of language and know how to present information in a professional manner. Here’s how to do just that!

Keep it simple

Not only can lots of different fonts, colors, tables and columns be confusing to a human reader, but with more and more recruiters automating the scanning of CVs they receive, they can be confusing to computers too. Try and stick to simple headings and spacing, and use bullet points to break sections down rather than tables. If the person receiving the file uses a different word processor than you did, then the entire file can become a garbled mess if there was too much going on in the original.  

Basic structure

Your CV should have a rough flow as follows:

  • Introduction – your personal and contact details should be neatly laid out at the top of the first page. You can also include a brief cover letter here, or put your cover letter in the body of the email if you’re sending your CV electronically. Personalize the introduction for the role you’re applying for.
  • Education and qualifications – most recent qualifications first, and keep it brief – you really don’t need to include what primary school you went to and if you won the award for most improved handwriting! Do make sure to include any courses or additional training you’ve had that might be relevant to the employer though.    
  • Employment history and references – again start with the most recent position you held, and don’t go into unnecessary detail. Include start dates and end dates, your title at the company and what your responsibilities were, reason for leaving and a contactable reference where you can. Focus on the areas of expertise and experience that the employer was looking for in the job spec, and leave out details that are irrelevant to their industry. If you’ve only held one or two positions, then you can go into a bit more detail, but don’t put things in just for the sake of padding.      
  • If you like, you can end with some extra details like hobbies or career highlights that are relevant to the position you’re applying for, and always include a brief thank you to the reader for their time!

Personalize your application for the job you’re applying for

It’s a tough job market out there, and it’s tempting to have one generic CV that you send out to everyone to make applying for as many positions as possible quicker – but this isn’t the way to stand out and get noticed. This is fine for positions you’re not madly keen on, but if you really like the sound of a job, make it clear that your interest is genuine and you’ve read the job spec properly. If the advert you’re responding to asks for specific talents, make sure you mention that you have these in your cover letter or introduction!

Recruitment agencies sometimes have to go through mountains of CVs, and if you can manage to tick all their boxes in the first few lines, your CV has a very good chance of making its way straight to the top of the pile!

Always get an eagle-eyed proofreader to check your CV before you send it anywhere

Any writer will tell you that it’s much harder to spot errors in your own work than in someone else’s, and if you’ve spent hours tweaking your CV, then this can actually happen to you very easily.

 Give evidence and examples

Anyone can claim to be hard-working, a fast learner, and good at solving problems – but if you can actually back this statement up with an example from a previous position then your CV will stand out immediately.

Keep it concise

Recruiters and HR managers are busy people, and a ten page CV that goes into every miniscule detail of every position you’ve ever held is not likely to endear you to them! If at all possible, keep your CV at one or two pages, and only enter into detail where it’s relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Always read the job spec several times

When you’re applying for lots of different positions, it’s all too easy to miss an instruction from the employer – such as the file type they want the CV submitted in, if they specified a desired length, or if they want you to include a photo. You should be rereading the spec anyway to look for inspiration for your cover letter, but pay attention to the practical requests too.

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