Writing a great CV – A step-by-step guide
Part 3. Your First Full Draft
For your first draft, what’s most important is to get the right information in the document. Make sure you’ve included everything you need to sell yourself as well as you can. You should
- Have a first attempt at turning your notes into a manageable document with a structure and headings.
- Trim out most of the stuff you don’t need
- Add in some more details to the really important stuff,
- Have a bit of a go at tidying up some of the language and layout, but worry too much, you can clean it all up at the end (some tips on this are in Section 4)
Remember this is only a first draft – don’t worry too much about length, style, layout, grammar etc. You’re going to go back and edit it again before anyone else sees it, so as long as you understand what you’re trying to say, you can change the exact words and phrases later on.
How should I structure my CV?
There are no fixed rules, but most people use a variation on a common set of headings. A very flexible structure we have found works for most people is:
- Contact Details
- Personal Statement (optional)
- Skills (optional)
- Employment History
- Education and Training
- Interests and Hobbies (optional)
- Additional Information (optional)
You need to decide which of the optional headings you want to include and how to structure things to best show off your own skills and achievements. For example Skills is a particularly useful heading for people with careers spanning many different sectors and types of role, while others with more straightforward career paths may prefer to include their skills under each job instead.
Some people like to list qualifications in order, while some separate out academic qualifications from vocational or on-the-job training. Some people include voluntary work in their employment history (just because you weren’t paid, it was still a job after all), while some like to show it separately to demonstrate their charitable ethics. It’s fine to use different names for the headings or a different structure – so long as it makes sense to you and you think it will promote effectively to the types of employer you are targeting.
If you find this structure really doesn’t seem suitable for your career history, Google some terms like Functional CV, Consultancy CV, CV Portfolio or Types of CV and see if other examples suit your circumstances better as a template to work from.
What goes where?
Below we have listed tips and suggestions for each of the main sections outlined above. If you are using a different structure it should be pretty straightforward to work out which of your sections these tips apply to. In this article we will concentrate mostly on what to include, for advice on how to present it, skip to Section 4.
Must be included! At the top, big, and make it stand out so people remember you. Include:
- Full Name (what you’re known as, doesn’t have to be your official name)
- At least one contact phone number (use the number you want to be called on about jobs – if you don’t have a contact number, try to use someone else’s where people can leave messages, or an answering service)
- E-mail address –if you don’t have an e–mail address, think about setting one up. Make sure the address is appropriate for employers –do you really want employers seeing firstname.lastname@example.org? Make sure you check this email account daily!
- Mailing Address –usually your home address but could be anywhere you can reliably receive mail, have someone tell you when anything arrives, and collect it immediately. For some jobs if applying online you may not need a physical address, but don’t assume this – if in doubt, include it.
Can be a useful way of highlighting your skills at the beginning of your CV – especially if you have a highly varied career (where your skills may not be obvious from your employment history), are looking to change careers (so want to highlight transferable skills), or in sectors with very specific skill needs (e.g. IT). Consider:
- Transferable skills (communication, management, organisation, customer service, sales)
- Sector-specific skills (IT packages, machinery etc.)
- Skills might be from a recent job, but might be from outside work, or just things you have picked up during the course of your career.
- An alternative approach is to focus on Achievements instead of Skills – highlighting specific examples of things you have accomplished that may impress a potential employer. For example “I successfully managed a Windows 8 rollout to a staff team of 70 across multiple sites, the project was completed ahead of time and under budget.”
Employers are most interested in recent, relevant jobs. This section should show them what you have done in the past and, more importantly, help them understand what you could do for them in the future. Consider:
- For each job, include the employer name, a job title, the dates you worked there, a short introductory sentence explaining your role, and some short text (or better still, bullet points) with more details (e.g. achievements, key skills or duties)
- Quantify what you did
- “I did petty cash” > “I was responsible for managing and balancing a petty cash account of £150 daily”
- “Worked to sales targets” > “Month on month for 10 months I met or exceeded my sales targets by 20%, consistently being in the top 3 sales staff.”
- What did you do, not what did the company/team do. Be specific about your role, responsibility and the difference you made.
- You can include voluntary work or work experience here – it’s still a job, paid or unpaid, so don’t treat it any differently. (Although if this section is strong already, consider emphasising your charitable side by putting voluntary work in a separate section or under additional information).
- Don’t worry about periods out of work, just make sure you note down the positive things you did (re-training, raising a family, travelling etc.) so you can put a positive spin on the gaps.
- There’s no need to include salaries or reasons for leaving your jobs.
- If you have had a lot of jobs for short periods of time, there may be a way to group these to make it seem less off-putting, for example rather than listing 4 different 3/6-month admin roles, you may be able to list “Admin Temping” as a role for 18 months, and then include each specific role as “for clients including…”
- If you have been in one organisation for a number of years but in different roles, emphasise the most recent role more than the earlier roles. You may also find it easier to group these as one job but with a series subheadings to show off the career progression and internal promotions.
Education & Training
Include everything that might be relevant, whether academic or vocational, formal or casual, college courses, on-the-job training, self-taught, one-day programs or online courses.. Consider:
- If it’s relevant to the work you’re going for and not obvious, explain briefly what the course involves – don’t assume everyone knows what’s involved in, for example a “City & Guilds 7321 Photography”, “Leadership Training Diploma”, “NVQ 2 Hospitality” or worst of all just the initials – “ECDL”.
- Relate to the work place where possible – not “Advanced Excel” but “Creating and managing complex data and reports using Excel”.
- Major projects or final pieces of work might be worth highlighting in more detail.
- The longer ago it was, the less important the details. If you have been working for 20 years, nobody cares if you got a B or a D in your Geography O Level. However if you’re a school leaver, list each qualification (especially if you have good grades).
- It’s not a good idea to lie about grades, but it’s fine to just list the qualifications without mentioning grades at all. Be consistent though, if you put grades for some and not others it will be pretty obvious you’re trying to cover something up.
Interests & Hobbies
This section is pretty much up to you. It can be a great way to demonstrate skills and experience that don’t fit elsewhere – especially if you haven’t worked before or haven’t got much to put in the employment or education sections. Our key advice is “Use it or lose it”… Make it relevant, interesting or unusual. Consider:
- Relevance – if you’re going for a job in web design and have an interest in Photography, it shows artistic flair. Great – use it!
- or… Interesting – you go on trips to study marine biology. Great – it shows you have some interest and passion. It might even give an interviewer something to question you on where you can demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm – Use it.
- or… Unusual – are you are the UK’s 2004 Frisbee throwing champion? Great – they’ll remember that! It might even make them smile which is a good first step to them liking you, which is always good. Use it.
- but… Lose it… Yet another CV saying “I am interested in reading, socialising and keeping fit” doesn’t do anything for you! Lose it or make it work for you – “I love reading autobiographies of athletes as I also compete in amateur sports” or I have a passion for modern history and love reading novels set during WW11 to understand how the social and political situation of the time affected people’s real lives”
- Think about potentially negative meanings too – for example “I like to travel all the time and want to see the whole world in the next five years” is really enthusiastic and interesting, but what does it say to an employer looking for a long term hire…?
This is a place to gather all the other things that might help you to sell yourself, but don’t fit neatly in the other headings. If there’s nothing left, just leave it off! Consider:
- Awards (school awards, duke of Edinburgh etc.)
- Memberships (any professional bodies, community organisations etc.)
- Published material (any articles, white papers etc.)
- Languages (especially if you’re bi- or multi- lingual, but be sure on how good you are, whether its spoken/written and whether you could use it in business situations)
- Driving license
- Charities you actively support
- Events you are going to be taking part in – the marathon
That’s it. Many people include all sorts of other information which isn’t needed on a CV – Passport/NI number, desired salary, Gender, Marital status, Religion, Age/Date of Birth, Children etc.). There’s no need, employers don’t need any of this information until they offer you a job – when they need it they will ask you for it! Age/Date of Birth is a particularly tricky one as age discrimination laws mean even knowing your age may make a particularly cautious HR department worried about being accused of discrimination and so discard you immediately.
Once you’ve got everything down and in some sort of structure, you’re going to want to redraft it a few times. Get people to comment on it, but don’t just do everything they say, THINK about why, take on the good suggestions and ignore the ones you disagree with.
Once you’re reasonably happy with the content, it’s time to make it really work for you. The next section has some for tips on those finishing touches and how to make it look nicer so you stand out from the crowd!
Continue on to the 4th and final part of the complete CV guide – Pulling it all together