CVs 101 – CV Tips for Beginners

Your CV is a an advert, plain and simple.  Its main, perhaps only, task is to sell your skills and experience to a prospective employer, in order to convince them to invite you for an interview.

This means simply that there are NO hard and fast rules – if it works, it’s done the job.  However in most instances your CV will be some form of brief summary of your abilities, education, experience and skills.

If your CV is well produced, and a genuine reflection of who you are and what you can do, it will give all the information employers need to decide that you are the right person to invite for an interview.

Why is your CV so important?

  • It is an employer’s first impression of you.
  • Without a good CV you may never get a chance to interview for the job you want.
  • It is a marketing tool that you are in total control of.
  • It provides an opportunity to emphasise your strengths and downplay your weaknesses.

When should you use a CV?

  • When asked to send a CV.
  • If an advertisement says “apply in writing”.
  • Take multiple copies to careers and recruitment fairs.
  • As a tool to help you write application forms
  • To speculatively contact employers you would like to work for.
  • When networking or meeting someone who might help you find work.
  • As an aide-memoire during job interviews.
  • Remember – A CV is not an application form and should never be used instead of one.  If a company asks for an application form, they generally don’t want or expect a CV as well.

What’s the right structure? 

At its simplest, whatever works!  There are very few rights and wrongs.  Having said that, the most common tried-and-tested format is a “Chronological CV” which works for most situations.  This would normally include:

  • Personal Details (doesn’t need a heading saying “CV”, it’s obvious what it is!)
    Name, Full Address and Phone Number, e-mail address.
  • Personal Profile (again, doesn’t need a heading)
    This should be a brief description of you.  It should include who you are, the main skills/experiences  you bring, what you want to do etc. – this is a great opportunity to really sell your skills!
  • Key Skills or Technical skills (use bullets if you can, it’s easier to read)
    Your most relevant skills and abilities for the job you are applying for.  Include skills derived from training, such as ‘word processing’, skills derived from experience at work such as ‘office administration skills’, and skills derived from other experience, such as ‘communication skills’. Where possible don’t just list it, explain how good you are, justify it.
  • Employment / Work / Career History
    Most recent job first – that’s the one they’re most interested in. Include your job titles, employer, the dates you worked and a short description of your role (focus on your achievements not just the tasks you did).  Don’t repeat things, don’t worry too much about jobs from over 10 years ago.  And don’t forget to include work experience or voluntary work, it’s all good experience!
  • Education and Training
    You may not wish to list all your subjects and grades.  Think about what is positive and relevant.  Start with the most recent or relevant qualifications and training.  Don’t overload this section with swimming certificates from twenty years ago!
  • Personal Information
    Driving licence – cab be worth mentioning, but only if it is full and clean and relevant to the job you are applying for (e.g. a driving job!)
    Interests and Hobbies – worth mentioning if they are current, they show you have an active interest in many things, and may make a point of discussion at the interview, or if they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for.  But please don’t make the classic mistake of just listing things like “Swimming, Reading and Socialising” it’s just a waste of space.  Make it relevant, or interesting, or lose it!
    List membership of any professional associations, any groups you’re involved in – even if it’s chairing the neighbourhood watch or a school council it all helps!

Things to remember…

  • Make sure you have a professional message on your answer phone – voice mail, you never know who could call, or when!
  • Ask someone to proof read your CV, to check for spelling errors, content mistakes or mistakes with dates – these may seem trivial but for some employers these can be enough to  throw a CV straight in the bin.
  • Check your personal details – sound obvious but the amount of times people put the wrong phone number or email on their CV would amaze you!
  • Think about what your e-mail address says about you.  Addresses like or will not help present a professional image.  Consider obtaining a separate  email account to keep job application emails separate from personal email.
  • If you are sending your CV by post, use good quality plain white A4 paper, post it in an A4 envelope and don’t over-fold it – by the time it gets to it’s destination it could look a mess!
  • Be honest – although a CV does allow you to gloss over things (such as not emphasising poor exam results), or exaggerate a little, never lie or mislead – you’ll only get found out at interview and waste everyone’s time including your own!

So what makes a great CV?

  • It is targeted – to the specific vacancy, role or sector you are applying for
  • It is clear and easy to read: logically ordered, a sensible font, and not cramped
  • It is informative but concise
  • It is accurate – in content, spelling and grammar
  • It is short – usually no need for more than 2 A4 pages.
  • It is positive– shows confidence and highlights your strongest points

If you need more help, have a look at the step-by-step complete guide to writing a great CV (Part 1)

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