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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

How to write a CV

19 min read
How to write a CV
Artwork by:Antonina Kasyanikova
Knowing how to write a CV takes effort, but we help break down the mystery. Take a look at this detailed guide to learn more about how to structure, write, and design a job-winning CV.

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

Of course, matching your future potential with the realities of your past is a tough task — so how do you write a good CV? We'll help by exploring some important topics:

  • What do employers look for in a CV?
  • The best CV format
  • Choosing the correct CV template
  • How to write a CV summary/personal statement
  • How to detail your work experience
  • Creating a curriculum vitae skills section
  • Your education section
  • How to compose a cover letter alongside a CV
Expert tip

How do I 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 is the accepted term in many European countries (including the United Kingdom) for what's called a resume in the US: a professional document submitted when applying for a job. A CV showcases the job candidate’s work experience, professional skills, and education, as well as providing a short profile in the CV summary. CVs can be submitted for a variety of roles: internships, 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:

You can use this CV example as the basis for your own writing and structuring. Beyond this, you can check out Resume.io’s 65+ 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 a given role and field.

Expert tip

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

How to choose a CV template

The visual look that you choose for your CV template can subtly alter the perception of your CV. The vast majority of job seekers choose professionally designed CV templates that have been optimised for content and hiring manager perception. Here, you can check out a selection of our CV templates:

While different industries favour different types of CV templates, there are a few rules for choosing a good CV template:

  • Colourful and unorthodox designs are more acceptable in creative industries, but still, moderation is best
  • Professions that require lots of training/education (such as medicine or law) favour a minimalist design and lots of white space since these types of CVs often include more text than other roles
  • IT/technical jobs often favour long skill lists
  • CV templates should be optimised 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 to conserve the formatting, while some online application systems accept only Word files).
Expert tip

Make sure your CV has the appropriate margins and uses an reader-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?

Aside from the visual design, 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; this format lists work experience with the most recent jobs at the top. You can include a CV summary above this section, then add your skills and education below the work history. This creates powerful bookends to your career story, keeping your most recent work prominently displayed.

For those with less work experience or students starting out on a career, a functional CV format emphasises skills and abilities over work experience, but this is a less commonly used structure. There are also 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 optimal processing of your information, so be brutal in choosing only the most relevant examples. Use concise language and 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 information that a potential employer requires to invite you to an interview. Although you'll likely fill this information out when you apply, it's conventional to include it on your CV as well. 

A header should be simple, easy to read, and professional. Just like your overall design, you can skip fancy graphics and fonts, opting instead for a streamlined look. You want to make it as easy as possible for a recruiter or hiring manager to get in touch with you.

Expert tip

Is a colourful CV unprofessional? 

In today's visual age, using the same old black and white Word document may seem a little old-fashioned. A splash of colour and a visually pleasing format will delight the eyes of any hiring manager — remember, moderation is key.

Write a summary/professional 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.

Therefore, you'll want to write a personal summary that is infused with character, includes verbs that hint at how you work, and shows your soft skills. 

For the most impact, you should make the summary specific to the role that you are applying for. Although this may mean extra work to change it for every role, it helps you avoid generic "filler" and catches the hiring manager's attention. Always write in the third person (avoid pronouns like "I"), don’t ramble, and keep the focus on what really matters.

The very first sentence of your CV summary should demonstrate an understanding of the demands of the role and show how your past proves 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 clarify the desired direction of your career. If you're moving to a similar role, it doesn't make sense to include an objective, but if you're a career changer, freelancer, or recent grad, it may help to spell out your desired path.

Detail your work experience

Assuming you've chosen to write your CV in the reverse chronological CV format, your work experience is where you are truly able to tell your career story. 

Include any relevant work experience from the past 10-15 years; earlier experience can be left off to avoid ageism and ensure your resume is only showing the most relevant experience. Select highlights and accomplishments that are relevant to your desired job and try to use industry terminology. 

Share your most impactful accomplishments and back them up with quantifiable data as much as possible. Noting that you increased sales by £1.2M is fine, but it's better to add that this reflects a 15% increase over last year or that you increased market share by 10%. Too many candidates choose to exaggerate with fluffy language — hard data doesn't lie.

Finally, make sure that you've covered the basics for each role. Include the job title, company name, and the month and year you started and left the position. Don't falsify this information as it can easily be discovered. 

Expert tip

Which accomplishments could I include in my work experience?

  • Increased productivity or development of solutions
  • 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 or direct reports
What are conceptual skills and why are they important?
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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

Most CV templates include a section where you can include a list of skills. Make sure you've studied the job description carefully for the sorts of words and phrases that might be expected in your CV. 

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

Remember, this section isn't the only place to show your skills on your CV. Your summary and work experience sections should also focus on your hard and soft skills.

Expert tip

3 rules for including CV skills:

  1. Demonstrate an impressively rare and specific skill set
  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.

The education section of your CV is often quite straightforward: you'll want to include any educational accomplishments like degrees or certificates. This doesn't just mean a university degree, but that should be included as a matter of course. If you haven't attended university, include the highest education you have achieved. 

You can also include relevant industry certifications, courses, and trainings here. This not only shows that you have useful skills and knowledge, it also makes it obvious that you value continuous learning. 

Although education often comes near the bottom of a CV, if you have a degree, it should definitely be present. Many roles require a certain level of education and this is an easy way to make your qualifications clear.

Expert tip

Do I need to include hobbies on my CV? 

As much as your future boss will want to get to know you once you've started in the role, displaying your hobbies will not significantly influence a hiring decision. Because a CV is a professional document, there's limited value to listing hobbies unless they're particularly relevant to the role or you are truly lacking in other experience.

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 writing a CV: Would this employer want to hire me to do this job?

Every employer and every role will be looking for different things, so you may need to finesse your document for each job; like any good sales document, your CV should reflect the needs of the buyer (the company) as well as the benefits of what is being sold (your experience).

Employers will want to see not just what you did, but how you did it and what resulted. It's critical to quantify and detail the context of your achievements, as only then can the reader translate that into what it could mean for their business. Simply describing your responsibilities isn't enough. 

Composing your CV with conversational language, using descriptive adjectives, and starting each bullet point with action verbs are all great ways of showing your personality and abilities. 

Expert tip

What if I need help with CV writing? 

Not all of us are gifted writers, so some people may benefit from working with a CV writer to perfect your career story. You provide the direction and they provide the words — it's often a worthwhile investment.

 Another option is to use a CV builder that provides writing suggestions for industry phrases and skills, like the Resume.io builder which is based on advanced AI algorithms.

CV writing for entry-level jobs

CV writing for entry-level jobs follows the same general rules as most other CVs, but there are some ways to make them more effective. These 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 want to stay long term

For instance, if you lack work experience, you can do some of the following: 

  • Rename the employment history section to “Experience” and list volunteer work, personal or educational projects, or temp jobs or internships
  • Move your education section to the top, below your summary. Mention any academic accolades 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 alone. 

How do you write a CV alongside a cover letter?

While a CV is a factual and formal account of your career that does not easily lend itself to much of a personal touch, a cover letter lets you showcase your personality and speak to the hiring manager directly about why you want the job. That's why many employers request a cover letter — it offers something that a CV cannot.

Creating a cover letter in tandem with your CV allows you to explore your career story in two complementary ways. 

In terms of cover letter structure, the introduction sets the scene for your career story, the body lets you expand on why you are perfect for the role, and the conclusion asks for an opportunity to discuss more at an interview. The goal 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

  • A CV is a document used to display your professional experience, educational achievements, and skills.
  • CVs should be easy to read and professionally designed, and most often written in reverse chronological format.
  • Impactful CV sections include a summary, work experience, education, and skills.
  • The ultimate goal is to create a document that answers the hiring manager’s question of “why should I consider hiring this person for my open job?”
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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