How to write or update your CV

Whether 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

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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

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.

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 if you need to. 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).

Use lots of bullet points, and make sure the spacing is easy to read. Long paragraphs and small type are not inviting to look at, and won't be read properly. 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.


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

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 generally goes after work experience, and as a rule, you should include only the most recent and relevant. As one Mumsnetter put it, "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, include it: give the name of the university or college that awarded it, and the name of the course. Make sure to include any relevant training/courses/professional development, as they're often just as important."

Covering letter

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

Your covering letter should be brief. 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. Customise your covering letter for each job.

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."

Before you send your application

Get someone - a friend, your partner - 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 at night after the kids had gone to sleep.

Make sure you've been honest. Don't exaggerate experience or responsibilities that you can't support in an interview, but do give yourself credit where it's due. Phrases  like 'helped with', 'assisted in' cause people to assume that your involvement and level of responsibility was minimal. Now is not the time to be too modest.

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. 


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Last updated: about 2 years ago