How to write or update your CV


C and V keys on keyboardWhether you're starting from scratch, or dusting off your oh-so-dusty pre-children CV, we've got advice on how to write a classy CV that stands out from the rest.

Your goal is to grab an employer's attention in about five seconds; it's a scarily small window. But there's no way round the fact that your CV is the thing that gets you the interview, so getting it right is pretty fundamental.

Think of it as similar in importance to your birth plan (but hopefully more in touch with reality).


CV length and presentation | What to put in your CV | Covering letter | Before you send your application

CV length and presentation

Trends and fads in CV presentation come and go, so don't obsess too much about which typeface; less is more when it comes to CVs.

"Don't try anything fancy - employers like a simple format, nice and easy to read." smashingtime

Ditto length - depending on your skills, qualifications and experience it may not be possible to squish your CV on to one page.

So don't, go on to a second page. But your Saturday job in the hairdressers when you were a teenager probably isn't relevant (unless you're applying for a job in a salon).

"Try to keep the CV down to a couple of pages if possible, if that means omitting some details, perhaps from less relevant roles, then so be it." priceyp

"Do lots of bullets and space it so it is very easy to read. Long paragraphs and close-together, small type are not inviting to look at, and won't be read properly." flowerybeaker

And double-check that your CV looks as good on other people's computers as it does on yours - send it to a few friends and ask them if it's displaying properly.

"Make sure it looks as good on screen as in print and if possible create a pdf version as well as a Word doc so you can email and retain the formatting." mumemma




What to put in your CV

Again, there are loose conventions when it comes to the order you list your employment history, education, qualifications and skills.

It usually goes:

  • Name, address and contact details
  • Personal profile - brief list of your skills, experience and career goals
  • Job history - in reverse chronological order with brief descriptions of your responsibilities and achievements
  • Education
  • Interests/personal details
  • References

"Most common thing I've seen is an introductory paragraph that summarises you - maybe a couple of sentences that explain why you're returning to work, what you're looking for and what you're good at." calsworld 

Don't try to hide the fact that you've taken time off to have your kids: state it clearly on your CV, and then focus on making sure that the impression you're presenting fits the bill for the company you're applying to.

The golden rule is always to think about what you're writing from the employer's perspective.

"Education after work experience, only most recent and relevant usually. No one is going to give you a job as an IT professional because you have got GCSE knitting. If you've got a degree put that, but only very briefly unless it's directly relevant. I wouldn't go back as far as A-Levels. Include any relevant training/courses/professional development, that's much more important." flowerybeanbag

"Recruiters want to see relevant information neatly, clearly and logically - and if it can be gramatically correct and without typos that's always a big plus!" calsworld

Covering letter

Lots of job applications are now done online, but the traditional format of CV plus 'covering letter', ie the box where they want you to explain why you'd be right for the job, still applies.

If you're sending a CV, then your covering letter should be brief and state which job you're applying for and why. Customise your covering letter for each job.

It doesn't need to restate everything you've listed in your CV. Think of it as your 'personal statement' for why you think you're right for the job, ie how your skills meet the job specification.

If you're applying online, then there will be a form with boxes for your qualifications and work history, and a box for you to explain why you match the job spec and want the job.

"If you are applying for work in the public sector, when you fill in the personal statement section make sure you refer to each aspect of the person spec and give examples of how you meet each one. Generally, when organisations are shortlisting you will be making their life easier as they will be able to see that you meet all of their essential criteria." sophierose

Before you send your application

"Top tip: ask mates for help. My friend recruited staff and kindly helped me shear my CV down to essentials.
Top tip two, go to an agency and be flexible. I took a job for a week then got a second placing. Still there two years later. Salary increased three times. Recently promoted. Biggest surprise is that genuinely I am sought after. I have pre-children experience, am mature so responsible and not having more kids considered more eager/hungry/desperate and will work hard." roses12

"Get a few people to look at what you're going to send in - it's easy to miss spelling/grammar errors when it's your own work, especially if you wrote it late last night after the kids had gone to sleep." missmehalia 

And last, but by no means least, be honest, don't exaggerate things you can't stand up in an interview, but do give yourself credit where it's due.

"Don't undersell your involvement in things. If you say things like 'helped with', 'assisted in', etc, people will assume your involvement and level of responsibility was minimal. Now is not the time to be all modest and unassuming." flowerybeaker

And once your CV is sorted, the next stage is finding suitable vacancies. We've got some simple pointers to get you going on your job search.

Last updated: 8 months ago