Sort's guide to writing the perfect CV

Meg Timbrell
Content & Social Media Manager
9 min read

Your CV is your route into almost every job and your opportunity to sell yourself to your potential employer. Creating a CV that showcases you to the best of your abilities can be vital to application success, so read on for our guide to getting yours in great shape.

So what is a CV?

CV stands for Curriculum Vitae.

Curriculum what now...?

Latin for 'a short course of one's life', a CV is a short account of the achievements and qualifications that would qualify you for a particular job role (usually called a resume in the U.S. or Canada).

It should summarise your education, key skills, and past experience. This is your opportunity to sell yourself to your potential employer - do you think you’d be good for this job? Then prove it to them through your CV!

How long should it be?

Most employers recommend 1-2 sides of A4. Unless you have more experience or are applying for more senior roles, you'll want to fit your CV onto up to two sides, and ideally, you want to be able to fit all of your accomplishments onto one side of A4.

Which CV layout is right for me?

You may be surprised to learn that there are actually a variety of different styles of CV - the one you choose can depend on the industry you're applying to or the area of your experience that you want to feature most strongly. Remember, it's your document and your opportunity to showcase the things that best suit you to the role you're applying for. Here are some of the styles you might come across:

Chronological (traditional)

  • Lists your work and education history with the most recent first

Skills-based 

  • Focuses on your job-related skills and personal attributes 

Technical skills

  • For industries like IT/engineering - puts your industry-specific skills first followed by other info

Creative CV 

  • For creative & digital arts roles - this kind of CV is often more visually appealing (showing that you have creative abilities) and may link to an online portfolio

Academic CV

  • Often longer than a traditional CV - often used for teaching & research careers, and may include lists of papers or other publications you have written

For our '6 of the best CV template sites', click here.

What to include in your CV

Font

  • We'd recommend keeping it simple with Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman
  • Size 10-12pt (readable but giving you room for detail)
  • Margins 1 inch on either side (don't try to cram in too much!)

Work experience/qualifications

  • Ensure that you're highlighting the work experience or qualifications that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for, as well as those that you’re still currently working on. You don't have to include every single thing you've ever done.
  • Look at the job description of the job you’re applying for and see if you can target each section of it with your previous experience to show that you can prove you are right for the job. 

‘References available on request’

  • Despite what you may have been told, you actually don't need to put your referees' contact details on your CV. The employer will contact you for these.

(References are people who can talk about you and your work ethic - essentially recommendations)

Order of sections

Make sure that you include the right headings above each section to point your reader in the right direction and allow them to find the information they need more easily.

Header

This should be your name - not ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’. Use a slightly bigger font than the main bulk of your CV.

Summary

Keep this short and snappy - you want to introduce yourself to your potential employer, briefly summarising your strengths and skills, previous experience which applies directly to the role, and why you are a good candidate.

Work experience

Most people include their experience in chronological order with the most recent first, but if you’d rather write a skills-based CV, divide your employment history into themes e.g. ‘Managerial Experience’. 

Include the job title in bold, then the company and the year(s) you gained this experience. Below this, you want to bullet point a summary of what you achieved in this role (if you can include exact figures for this, then do it!) and demonstrate how you used any skills during your time in this job.

E.g.

Account Executive

Starship Enterprise, 2010-2015

  • Acted as a crucial link between the agency and its clients
  • Organised effective campaigns, increasing advertising rates
  • Acquired three additional accounts

Education

What education qualifications should I include on my CV?

This all depends on what stage of your career/education journey you're at. If you're a recent school leaver, you should include your GCSEs, A levels or any other achievements you've made while you've been in education. Passes or good grades in English and Maths GCSEs are the most important to include.

If you've just left university, place more emphasis on your degree, and just list the grades you achieved for A level/GCSEs. E.g. 10 GCSEs A*-B.

If you're listing a professional qualification that you've gained (and it's relevant to the job role you're applying for), list this higher up than any academic achievements.

If you were in education over 10 years ago, then don't clutter up your CV by including grades or academic achievements that are outdated. Of course, include your education - particularly courses or qualifications that are relevant to the job - but providing a detailed description isn't essential. If you've completed on-the-job training that's highly relevant it's also good to include that, you can call the section 'Education & Training' if you're adding this kind of personal development.

Should I refer to individual modules taken at uni?

If you feel that a particular module studied during your degree is relevant to the job you're applying for, then by all means mention it and state why it's relevant - maybe you achieved a high grade in this module, or learned a particularly valuable skill while doing it. You don't normally need to list all of your modules, however.

Skills

Listing your skills in your CV is where knowing which keywords (see keywords section below) to include is going to be incredibly important, to ensure that you're covering all of the bases of the job role, and proving you can do this job role competently.

Try to include a mixture of transferable and technical skills, if this applies to the job role and industry.

'STAR' Method for skills

Using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method can be a brilliant way of demonstrating when you gained or used particular skills, using examples from work, home, or volunteering.

E.g...

SITUATION

“In my previous digital marketing job, the company wanted to get more people to sign up to a newsletter which was not receiving a lot of attention.”

TASK

My job was to find a way of getting more people to sign up.”

ACTION

I organised a meeting with other important members of the marketing team to come up with creative ideas, and I led the social media campaign to generate interest in the revamped newsletter.”

RESULT

Over a period of 3 months, there was a 25% increase in sign-ups to the newsletter and the approach I took was used by the management team in other departments.”

If your CV is skills-based, then you'll need to be able to clearly unpack each of your skills below each skill heading. You may not want to include all of the detail above on your CV, but it can be a useful process to go through to make sure you can respond to skills-based questions at interviews.

Additional sections (optional)

These optional extras should only be included if they are relevant to the job you're applying for. These additional sections may include:

  • Awards
  • Extracurricular achievements e.g. Duke of Edinburgh, music exams
  • Volunteering experience
  • Professional qualifications
  • Publications - if applying for academic roles or roles in publishing

Make sure you…

  • research the company and job role in detail before starting your CV - this will help you get the tone right, as well as make your CV more targeted.
  • save in the right format - PDF/Word Doc - this may be specially requested by the employer. Also, save it under a professional name - not just ‘Untitled’ or ‘Document1’ - e.g. ‘CV [your name]’.
  • avoid spelling/grammar mistakes - get someone like a family member or friend you trust to proofread or use an online spelling and grammar tool.
  • prove your skills with real-life examples.
  • use the right CV layout for the role you're applying for.
  • keep things simple! Don’t choose a format that is overly complicated or colourful - it’s easy to get carried away with picking a fancy-looking template online. 
  • don’t include your photograph or date of birth - these aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be relevant to your job application.

What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)? 

Companies use an ATS to make the recruitment process easier. It helps them manage the application process and can also automate some of the selection processes that help employers find the most suitable applicants more easily. Some of them scan CVs and applications to pick up keywords that are most relevant to the job role and use this to find the most suitable candidates.

Keywords

The keywords you include in your CV will depend entirely on the type of job role you are applying for. A helpful way of knowing what kinds of keywords to look for is to check out the job description and highlight any keywords that they use. 

Note the words in bold below:

“The Product Manager is responsible for the product planning and execution throughout the product life cycle, including: gathering and prioritising product and customer requirements, defining the product vision, and working closely with engineering, sales, marketing, and support to ensure revenue and customer satisfaction goals are met.”

You might then use these words in bold and create a list from them. For each one, try to think of a moment or an experience where you were able to prove these skills, whether that's in a previous job or during your education.

What if I don’t have any work experience?

That's OK. You may not have work experience but you definitely have some skills and strengths that you can add to your CV. Emphasise your personal attributes and skills you have gained, and think of ways in which you can prove these skills. Perhaps you engaged with something at school or at a club that has enabled you to showcase your experience or a problem you successfully solved. Sports, hobbies, volunteering, caring roles, competitions - everything counts when it comes to building skills, and they can all be added to your CV.

Lastly, good luck from us! We know how grueling job applications can be, and it may take a bit of practice and polishing until your CV is exactly right for a job role. For more on CVs, read Virgin Media's 'The 10 second rule: make your CV stand out in the first 10 seconds'.

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