How to Write Professional CV: Career Advice
A CV (curriculum vitae) is a brief account of your education, qualifications, skills, and work-based experience, used mainly when applying for a job. Your CV is your first opportunity to tell an employer what you can do. A well-written CV can make the difference between getting an interview and not being considered for the role.
A good CV should:
- Be factual and accurate.
- Be targeted to the job you’re applying for.
- Be short – ideally no more than 2 pages/sides of A4.
- Convey an impression of what you’d be like as an employee.
- Be easy to read, engage, and look professional.
- What to include in a CV
- Chronological CV
- Skills-based or functional CV
- Other types of CV
- Hybrid CV
- Technical CV
- Creative industries CV
- Explaining Gaps in your career history
- Caring for a family member
- CVs for different scenarios
- A seven-point Plan to prepare a Winning CV
- 1. Gather information
- 2. Format
- 3. Draft a Personal Profile (or Career Summary)
- 4. Use clear and positive language
- 5. Be concise
- 6. Review and check your CV
- 7. Tailor your content for each job application
What to include in a CV
You should include:
- Your mobile telephone number, address – the first part of your postcode or town/city (don’t provide your whole address for data protection reasons), and email address. If you have a LinkedIn profile also provide your URL.
- Your education and qualifications from school, college, university, or vocational.
- Your work experience (paid or unpaid), with responsibilities and achievements developed in these posts.
- Your key or transferable skills.
- Any additional relevant skills, such as language skills or specific IT skills.
- It’s also useful to include a ‘personal profile’ or short paragraph highlighting your key skills and career aims to catch the eye of your potential employer.
You don’t need to include:
- Your age.
- Your marital status.
- Your health status.
- Your nationality.
- Your full address details (especially if your CV is publicly accessible for example on job boards).
- School and university addresses, or examining boards.
- Minor qualifications unrelated to the post applied for.
Choose the right type of CV
How you present your skills, achievements, and ambitions in a CV (curriculum vitae) is key so it’s important to choose the right format for the job you’re applying for and your circumstances.
There are 2 main types of CV:
- A chronological (or traditional) CV, and
- A skills-based (or functional) CV.
Other types of CVs include:
- First job – non-graduate CV.
- First job – graduate CV, and
- Unemployed CV.
This type of CV lists your details, under appropriate headings, starting with the most recent.
This format of CV can suit best if you…
- Have experience and skills that closely relate to the job you’re applying for.
- Want to emphasize career progression.
- Have had mainly continuous employment with no gaps.
- If you want to use this format and have gaps in your work history, give an appropriate reason for them, such as bringing up a family.
Skills-based or functional CV
This type of CV emphasizes your skills and personal qualities rather than your employment history.
This format can suit best if you…
- Are changing careers and want to show employers how transferable skills gained in other types of employment will be relevant for the post.
- Have extensive gaps in your employment history, because they are not as prominent as they would be in a date-listed order in a chronological CV. Be prepared to explain any gaps during the interview.
- Have had a series of short-term paid or voluntary roles; this format enables you to group-related skills and achievements gained from these.
Other types of CV
While a skills-based CV or chronological CV will be appropriate for many jobs and circumstance, there may be some sectors and jobs where you want to use a combination of these formats or has different requirements.
A hybrid CV is a mix of chronological and skills-based/functional CVs. It sticks to the more conventional order of the former but combines an ordered layout with more emphasis on achievements and skills found in the skills-based, rather than on responsibilities.
The hybrid CV can be a good option if you want to draw attention to specific skills or achievements that would help you stand out as a candidate.
Mostly needed for IT roles, the technical CV provides a format for highlighting specific technical skills relevant to the role (eg programming languages, systems, platforms) alongside the all-important ‘softer skills’ that all employers are looking for.
Creative industries CV
With the expansion of digital and creative industries over recent years, CV formats have become more imaginative in these sectors. A highly creative CV format can be suitable for some roles in creative and artistic sectors such as marketing, design, or journalism where it could help you stand out from the crowd. In its presentation, it can demonstrate your design skills and creativity in a way that a potential employer can see and feel. Infographics are a popular tool for taking large amounts of information and presenting them in a visually engaging way.
Many employers will be looking to assess your creativity through your portfolio, often at the interview stage. However, if practical, you can put elements of your portfolio onto a website and include the web address in your CV. If you do this, make sure your work is structured and indexed, well photographed, and highlights the range of your work that is relevant to the role.
However creatively you plan to present your CV, remember that employers will still need to see, at a glance, that you have the criteria they’re looking for. Presentation must be balanced with the essential requirement of providing relevant evidence targeted to the role and the employer.
Explaining Gaps in your career history
If the career gap you are concerned about was a very long time ago, say 10-15 years, there is no need for you to worry. The chances are the employer won’t even think about it. Similarly, if the gap is a matter of a few months rather than years, don’t lose sleep over it. The easiest way to avoid these sorts of gaps gaping out at the employer is to only give the years for your employment rather than the months. For example, you could say 2004 – 2012 (rather than May 2004 – February 2012) which would give you some room to cover the gaps.
No matter how negative you think the reasons are for any gaps in employment, you mustn’t try to hide them by extending the length of time spent in other positions. A lot of job seekers tend to do this “It’s just a couple of years, no one will know”. Employers are more than likely going to take up references from your previous employers and will be able to find out straight away whether or not you have been dishonest.
Some gaps in your work history are easier to explain than others and the key is really to try and make it sound as positive as possible. Always try to focus on positive points from your career gap, experiences you have gained, or the new skills you have learned. Try to use the gap to your advantage. For instance, if you went traveling to India during your gap year at University, you could say that the experience developed your budgeting skills, independence, and awareness of different cultures. Now if you were applying for a job that involves working with people from different ethnic backgrounds, this would be a very useful attribute to highlight on your CV.
If the gap in your career was due to you doing some voluntary work, make sure you mention this. Working voluntarily at your local youth club or community center is a great way to showcase what you have been doing whilst you have been out of work. The experience and skills you acquire will be seen as transferable to employed situations, and it will also demonstrate to employers that you are enthusiastic and willing to invest your own time in making a positive contribution to help others and to help yourself.
Another good example to use is self-employment. If you tried starting up your own business, you can then say that you now have experience of being your boss. You could point out all the new skills you have gained from sales to budgeting and from marketing to hiring and firing assuming that you had people working for you. Even if the business venture wasn’t successful (don’t mention this negative aspect on your CV) at least you can take a lot of positives from your career gap.
Caring for a family member
The good thing about disclosing the reasons behind a career gap is that you are under no obligation to reveal everything. It is always easier to explain gaps in detail later in interview situations rather than on your CV. Sometimes the bare minimum is sufficient but that’s only true if the reasons you have given are satisfactory and positive. For example:
“A family member was ill and I was responsible for caring for them. Once they recovered I was able to start looking for work.”
This gets straight to the point and thus prevents employers from making both negative and instinctive conclusions about the gap. Not only have you explained what you were doing but you’ve provided reassurance to potential employers that the issue is now completely resolved and that you are fit for work.
CVs for different scenarios
You may have gaps in your employment history or have the information you need to disclose to a prospective employer. These example CVs can provide some tips and advice on how to explain these scenarios.
If you have a gap in your career history
If you have a criminal record
If you have a disability
Key steps for creating a CV
Aim to create a ‘master’ CV (curriculum vitae) that includes a range of skills, qualities, and achievements that you can then tailor and adapt to specific vacancies you’re applying for.
A seven-point Plan to prepare a Winning CV
1. Gather information
Gather together the core information that you’ll need to populate your CV: dates of study and your qualifications, dates of employment, voluntary work, and your core contact details.
Choose the most appropriate format of CV for the job you’re applying for or your circumstance.
3. Draft a Personal Profile (or Career Summary)
This section is one of the most important aspects of your CV. It’s where you give an overview of who you are and inject a touch of personality. Tailor it to every job you apply for, highlighting specific qualities that match you to the role. Aim to keep your statement short and sweet, and no longer than a few sentences. Write in the third person, for example, ‘A natural sciences graduate, with over 10 years experience in the environmental conservation sector…’ instead of ‘I am a natural sciences graduate’.
To make the most of this section, you should try to address the following:
Your key strengths and attributes.
A summary of your experience and brief details of achievements or results relevant to the role.
Your career goals.
4. Use clear and positive language
Avoid general phrases and clichés such as ‘I work well as part of a team and on my initiative’. Incorporate keywords and phrases that appear in the job specification.
5. Be concise
Organize the content so your CV is no more than two sides of A4. Try to include a brief ‘Personal Profile’ at the start, and make sure your relevant experience and qualifications are prominent. Highlight key information with headings and bullet points. The minimum font size would be Arial 10, Calibri 11, or similar. Sans-serif fonts are easier on the eye.
6. Review and check your CV
Have you given enough prominence to the experience or qualifications that the potential employer is looking for? As a rule, the first two-thirds of the front page should show how you meet their needs. Check it for accuracy, grammar, and spelling. Ask someone who knows you to look over this to review it. If you know someone who works in the same sector, their views could be really valuable.
7. Tailor your content for each job application
Draw on your most relevant skills or experience, giving brief and specific examples that demonstrate your qualities and achievements. Identify how your contribution made a difference and what added value it offered. As a general rule, if the information is not relevant to the needs of the employer as specified in the person specification then do not include it in your application. This is not the entire story of your life, just the parts that are relevant to that employer.