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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

How to write a CV

21 min read
How to write a CV
Artwork by:Antonina Kasyanikova
When you ponder how to write a CV, there are some deep questions to consider.

The abbreviation CV is taken from the original “curriculum vitae” in Latin, which means “course of life.” It follows that your CV serves as a brief and compelling window onto your unique skill-set and your previous achievements, whilst also hinting about a future that is yet to arrive. 

Matching your future potential with the realities of your past is a tough task.

But how do I write a good CV? We will help to explore some important questions:

  • What do employers look for in a CV?
  • Exploring the best CV format
  • Choosing the correct CV temp
  • How to write a CV summary / personal statement
  • How to detail your work experience
  • Creating a curriculum vitae skills section
  • Don’t forget your education
  • How to compose a cover letter alongside a CV
Expert tip

How do I just start writing? 

No one sits down and masters CV writing at the first attempt. You should expect hours of chats with friends, meticulous internet research and painfully honest soul searching. Your CV has the power to dictate your future path (or not). Take your time with it. Or use a professional online tool like ours to speed up the process and avoid mistakes.

What is a CV?

CV or Curriculum Vitae is the accepted term in many European countries (including the United Kingdom) for what is called a resume in the U.S. - a professional document submitted when applying for a job. The CV showcases the job candidate’s work experience, professional skills, education, as well as providing a short work and psychological profile in the CV summary. CVs are documents that can be submitted for a variety of roles: internship positions, entry-level jobs, management positions, academic roles and everything in between.

CV Example

This CV example (downloadable in PDF) shows the impact of a powerfully written document with good CV writing:

You can use this CV example as the basis for your own writing and structuring. Beyond this, you can check out Resume.io’s 250+ CV examples for various professions and industries. Each CV example comes with a writing guide that provides practical and theoretical advice on making a great CV for this job role and professional field.

Expert tip

After you have written your CV, proofread it! Checking your CV writing is crucial as the smallest mistake reflects incredibly badly on a candidate. Proofread it and then check it again.  Or use an online CV service such as ours that does the grammar checks for you, all the while providing writing suggestions based on your job role.

How to choose a CV temp (CV template)?

The visual look that you choose based on your CV temp (CV template) can subtly alter the perception of your curriculum vitae. The vast majority of job seekers choose professionally designed CV templates that have been optimised for content and hiring manager perception. Here is a selection of our CV templates:

Note that different industries favour different types of CV templates, here are a few rules of thumb for choosing a good CV temp:

  • In creative industries, colourful and unorthodox designs are more acceptable, but still - moderation is required
  • Professions that require lots of training/education (such as doctors or lawyers) favour minimalist design and lots of white space since these types of CVs have more text than other roles
  • IT/technical jobs often favour long skill lists (sometimes with graphical design elements or visualizations)
  • CV temps should be optimized for both PDF and Word export since you never know where you will be submitting your application (CVs sent by email are better as PDFs for ideal formatting, while some online application systems accept only Word files).
Expert tip

Make sure your CV has the appropriate margins and uses an ATS-friendly font like Times New Roman or Arial.

Should you include a photo on your CV?
Related article
Should you include a photo on your CV?

Including a photo on a CV is not usually something that an applicant considers for long. It is either customary in your country, or it isn’t. However, if you are moving internationally, you may think about whether you wish to fit in with the locals who may include a photo.

What is the best CV Format?

Having talked about the visual impact, your CV format, as well as where and how you include the CV sections on the page also makes a difference.

A reverse chronological CV format is the most common, with work experience being listed with the most recent jobs at the top of the document. Including a CV summary above this, with skills and education below it creating powerful bookends to your career story. In this way, your most recent job is prominent in that first crucial glance.

For those with less work experience and for students starting out on a career, a functional CV format emphasizes skills and abilities over work experience, but this is less common. There are other options for CV writing with no experience.

Expert tip

How do I write a short CV? 

When you use a professionally formatted template, brevity of language is essential. White space on the CV is important to allow for your information to be processed, so be brutal in your choice of only the most relevant examples and use devices such as bullet points to shorten the text.

Make an impression with your CV header and design

The header section of your CV contains all the basic contact and personal information that a potential employer might require if they want to invite you to an interview. This information will likely be in their ATS system, but it is conventional to also include it in your CV writing.

Choosing the colour and format of the header will definitely influence the hiring manager, so consider the culture of the business that you are applying to. You can always choose different CV templates for different roles, so don’t dismiss the importance of visual impact. Make sure you choose a header that feels like “you.”

Expert tip

Is a colourful CV unprofessional? 

In the visual age that we live in, I would suggest that a standard black and white CV that has been produced on a word document is a sign that someone is a little old-fashioned in their thinking. A splash of colour and a visually pleasing format will delight the eyes of any hiring manager.

Write a Summary / Personal Statement

While the structural constraints of the CV work experience section necessitate short and factual descriptions of your accomplishments, the paragraph of your CV summary allows for a more personal exploration of your fit.

Write a personal summary that is infused with character, include action verbs that hint at how you go about your work and make sure that your soft skills shine as bright as your hard skills. 

Importantly, you have to make the summary incredibly specific for the role that you are applying for. This might mean that you change it slightly for every role, but if there is any hint of generic “filler” then you will be lucky if the hiring manager reads on any further. Always use the third person, don’t ramble and focus on what really matters in those first few critical sentences.

The very first sentence of your CV writing should demonstrate a subtle understanding of the demands for the role and how your past proves that you can surpass those expectations. That is where you hit hardest.

Expert tip

Should I include a CV objective? 

An objective can be deployed as part of a CV summary to indicate the desired direction of your career. It doesn’t make sense if you are moving to a similar role, but for career changers, freelancers or recent grads, it makes sense to spell out where you see your future lie.

Detail Your Work Experience

As you are likely to have chosen the reverse chronological CV format, your recent work experience is the section where you are able to sell your career story. 

Your recent roles will likely not be exact matches for your future position, but it is eminently possible to pick a selection of highlights from each one to indicate your suitability. If certain work experience is not relevant, don’t include it on your CV.

Share the most impressive (relevant) accomplishments of your career, backed up with quantifiable data in a familiar context. Saying that you increase sales by $1.2m is fine, but mentioning that it was an increase of 15% or that you increased your market share by 10% is better. Too many candidates choose to exaggerate with fluffy language - hard and cold numbers don’t lie.

Finally, make sure that you have covered the basics for each role. Include the job title, name of the company and location of employment, as well the month and year when you started and left the position. You should never lie about these aspects.

Expert tip

Which accomplishments could I include in my work experience?

  • Increased productivity and solutions to problems
  • Financial cost savings or improved bottom line
  • Innovations that led to set-change solutions
  • Procedures and processes you helped develop
  • Your impact on the personal development of colleagues
What are conceptual skills and why are they important?
Related article
What are conceptual skills and why are they important?

Even if hiring managers don’t ask about your conceptual skills, at least in so many words, being prepared with examples is advisable. Being shortlisted for that interview could hinge on how well your conceptual skills come across in your CV and cover letter.

Create a CV Skills Section

While there is often a section in most CV temps where you can include specific one-word skills, it is important to remember that your summary and work experience sections should also focus on your hard and soft skills.

The automated ATS system may also come into play where skills are concerned, so make sure that you have studied the job description carefully for the sorts of words and phrases that might be expected in your CV writing.

Skills are your job search currency, so spend them wisely. If you choose the right mix of curriculum vitae skills for the role in question, the hiring manager will want to know more. When you do get to the interview, each skill that you have listed will likely act as a door to a fascinating career story or impressive achievement. 

Expert tip

3 rules for including CV skills:

  1. Demonstrate an impressively rare and specific skillset
  2. Avoid repeating skills – CV real estate is precious
  3. Make your top CV skills the most visible across your application

Don’t Forget Your Education

In a fast-changing world where we are all always learning, the education section of a curriculum vitae is often filled with far more than a university degree.

While university education is likely to be the toughest academic test that most people face, and should always feature prominently on a CV, there are other certifications, workshops and qualifications that you might choose to include.

Education often comes near the bottom of a CV, but if you have a degree, no matter what the level, it should definitely be present. Many roles require a certain level of education and this is another aspect that might cause rejection by an ATS system if it isn’t present or sufficiently signposted in the curriculum vitae document.

Expert tip

Do I need to include hobbies on my CV? 

Much as your future boss will want to get to know you once you have started in the role, there is no way in the world that a hobby will significantly influence a hiring decision. A CV is a professional job search document, so there is no place for listing your hobbies. Don’t do it.

The top leadership skills examples for your CV
Related article
The top leadership skills examples for your CV

What sort of a leader does your future employer need? Do you have the leadership skills to make the required impact? How do you help others on their career journey? Take a look at our leadership skills examples here.

What Do Employers Look for in a CV?

There is one key question to consider when you are wondering how to write a CV:

Would this specific employer want to hire me?

There is some important nuance to the word specific in this question because every employer and every role will be looking for different things. Your CV, like any good sales document, should reflect the needs of the buyer as well as the benefits of what is being sold.

Employers will not only want your CV writing to describe what you did but also how you did it. Quantifying the context of your achievements is critical as only then can they translate the nature of your accomplishments into what that might mean for their business. Describing responsibilities when you write your CV isn’t enough (they are in the job description).

Offer a sense of your personality and how you work with those around you. Composing your CV with conversational language and picking the right adjectives and action verbs are great ways of hinting at how you do your thing.

Expert tip

What if I need help with CV writing? 

Not all of us are gifted writers, so for some people, it may make sense to work with a CV Writer to perfect your career story. You provide the direction, and they provide the words – it is often a worthwhile investment. Another option is to use a CV builder that has a writing suggestions function for industry phrases and skills (for example, this function in the Resume.io builder is based on advanced AI-algorithms).

CV writing for entry-level jobs

CV writing for entry-level jobs (such as temp jobs or service jobs) follow the same general rules as most resumes but there are some good tips to follow to make them more effective. This can include:

  • mitigating a lack of work experience in your CV writing
  • assuring the employer you have the necessary skills
  • providing the impression you’re taking the job seriously and won’t leave after a short period ( this is vital even for a temp job)

For instance, if you lack work experience in CV writing for a temp job, you can do one (or a combination) of the following: 

  • rename the employment history section to “experience” and list volunteer work, personal projects or other short-term temp jobs
  • move your education section up to the top below your summary, especially if you have any academic accolades (or simply good grades) worth mentioning, along with certifications or training
  • expand your skills section with additional soft skills / positive qualities.

At the end of the day, remember that thoughtful CV writing (combined with researching your employer) beats any single tip or trick when taken as a stand-alone.

How do You Write a CV Alongside a Cover Letter?

While a CV is mainly a factual and formal account of your career that does not easily lend itself to a personal touch, a cover letter lets job seekers showcase their personality and speak to the hiring manager directly about why they want the job.

Most employers request a cover letter because it does something that a CV cannot.

When you are pondering your CV writing, creating a cover letter in tandem will allow you to explore your career story in two complementary ways. 

In terms of structure, the introduction sets the scene for your career story, the body of the cover letter lets you expand on the detail of why you would be perfect for the role and the conclusion simply asks for an opportunity to discuss more at the interview. The whole point of the CV and cover letter is to intrigue the hiring manager and compel them to want to find out more.

How long should a CV be?
Related article
How long should a CV be?

Did you know the length of your CV can make or break your job application? When hiring managers are tight on time, give them exactly what they’re looking for with these expert tips on CV length.

Key Takeaways

As you navigate the early days and weeks of your job search, thoughts about optimising your CV for the latest roles should be constantly in your mind. In conclusion, here are some of the key questions that you might want to consider:

  • What is this specific employer expecting to read in my CV?
  • What should I include in the CV summary to grab their attention?
  • How can I sell my blend of work experience to match the job description?
  • Which skills are truly going to make me stand out from the crowd?
  • Which aspects of my education and training will be useful for the role?
  • How can I make my CV and cover letter into an effective job search duo?
Build your CV in 15 minutes
Build your CV in 15 minutes
Use professional field-tested CV templates that follow the exact ‘CV rules’ employers look for.
Create My CV
Build your CV in 15 minutes
Build your CV in 15 minutes
Use professional field-tested CV templates that follow the exact ‘CV rules’ employers look for.
Create My CV
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