How to write a winning CV

helping you build the right CV first time

How to write a winning CV

Looking for help writing your CV?

Our CV Template and guide covers key CV writing areas that will help you to get it right first time and impress potential employers.

We give you the benefit of our experiencethat should allow you to create a CV that shows off how fantastic a candidate you are.

  • Do I need a photo?
  • How far back should my work history go?
  • How long should my CV be?
  • What CV structure should I use?

Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and to pick up some extra tips on using your CV to sell yourself and land an interview.

It’s really important to polish your CV when you start your job search. A great CV can make all the difference in getting yourself noticed by recruiters who are tasked with matching the very best candidates with their dream role. You want your CV to grab attention, cut through the competition and generate enough interest to get you an interview.

Our CV creation tips covers key CV writing areas that will help you to get it right first time and sail through to the interview stage.

Tailor your CV

Avoid keeping your CV too general; you may feel like a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach saves you time, but if you haven’t adapted it to the industry and job sector you’re applying for, it’s unlikely to persuade the recruiter –or employer –that you’re committed to a career in that sector and that you’re the best fit for the job. The more your CV resonates with the person reading it, the more chance there is of it going into the ‘Yes’ pile.

Emphasise your industry-relevant qualifications and experience throughout your CV and give prominence to these at the top, so the recruiter immediately gets an idea of your suitability over that of other candidates.

Do I need a photo?

There isn’t a clear-cut answer to this one. Some career experts think a photo isn’t needed and can even look unprofessional, as unless you’re an actor or model, it shouldn’t matter what you look like. Others say there’s no reason why not –a smart, professional photo can add credibility and personality to your CV or application. Given that many recruiters or employers will look candidates up on social media during the hiring process anyway, it probably won’t do any harm to include a photo. It depends what you are most comfortable with –and we say if in doubt, leave it out.

How far back should my work history go?

This depends on the length of your career and how many previous roles you’ve held. As a guide, have a 15-year maximum, and stick to including the roles which are most relevant to your chosen career and the job you’re applying for. Start with your current and most recent roles at the top of your CV as the recruiter will read these first, and list the rest of your work history in reverse chronological order.

How long should my CV be?

The length of your CV will depend on the number of roles you’ve had as well as the skills and accomplishments which you have to offer–but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fit everything on the one page. Two pages or more is fine, as long as you have a good structure with clear sections and headings, and everything you’re including is relevant.

What CV structure should I use?

The best CV format for you will vary according to the type of role you’re applying for –for example, for creative positions, a non-traditional CV layout which is more visual and includes icons and images may go down well with the employer, and could be the best way to demonstrate your qualifications. However, for most roles, especially those in fields such as HR and Accounting, your best bet is to stick to a more traditional layout, using a chronological CV structure.

A chronological CV summarises your work history and generally runs in reverse chronological order, with your most recent position at the top for relevance. It remains one of the most popular and recognised CV formats, and is a great way to highlight your career progression and experience in your chosen sector.

Start with your contact details and personal profile / statement at the top of your CV, before moving to your work history. When listing each role, include the company name, employment dates and a short summary or bio of the business. For example:

Jones Jones & Jones| Feb.2016 to present
A manufacturing company with 200 employees across the UK. Specialising in chilled food with an £8 million turnover.

For your most recent roles include two headings, Responsibilities and Achievements, under the company bio. Aim for up to 5 bullet points for each one, and choose the ones that are the most relevant and impressive. Including this detail on your CV helps the employer understand what you were responsible for, and it shows them what you did well and where you added value.

Should I include a personal statement in my CV?

Given that recruiters only spend on average around six seconds reading a CV, having a personal statement, otherwise known as a personal profile, is a great way to capture their attention by summarising your skills, strengths and career goals. Essentially you can use your personal statement as an ‘elevator pitch’ for the role. Write a focused summary of what you have to offer, keeping it concise. Sum up your personal and professional attributes, tailoring it towards the job specification by highlighting your skills that most closely match what they are looking for.

Your profile should sit at the top of the CV, just after your name and contact details.

Should I give my reason for leaving?

This is usually one of the first things an interviewer wants to know, so it can be helpful to show on your CV why you have left previous roles. It’s not essential to give a reason, especially if you’ve spent some time in roles –they may just assume you relocated, wanted a change or moved for career progression. This can be easily clarified at interview. However if you have been temping or contracting, providing a reason for leaving can be useful to a potential employer, as it’ll show you haven’t jumped from job to job, but that you are versatile and can pick up things quickly.

Highlight IT systems skills

Competency in the use of various IT systems is an important factor in many industries and recruiters will look out for this when shortlisting candidates for interviews. Highlight your skills in IT systems at the top of your CV within your profile, so it can’t be missed.

CV layout and styling tips

  • Keep your CV clean and uncluttered, with wide margins and generous spacing between sections.
  • Use the same font throughout; Calibri, Garamond, or Cambria all work well. Steer clear of anything too stylized –less is generally more here.
  • For a guide on font size, use 10-12 point for your body text, and a maximum of 16 for headings.
  • Avoid using capitals for entire words and embolden headings.
  • Don’t reduce font size to fit more in–your CV should be clear and readable. If you need another page, use one.
  • Number the pages if there are two or more.

Use your CV to answer employers’ questions - before the interview

Employers don’t have time to read between the lines, so the more you do to show how great you are for the job, the more chance you’ll have of getting it. Potential employers will ask themselves the following questions about you:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you require much training?
  • Do you suit their company culture and values?
  • Will you be a good investment and drive positive value for them?
  • Are you there for the long term?
  • What value will you bring to the team?

It’s important you answer those questions within your CV. You need to make sure you show where your skills match their needs, and that you are fully up to the job. The more you can do to highlight this, the better –you want to demonstrate that you are able to hit the ground running and smoothly transition into your new role. Include relevant keywords, or ‘power words’ throughout your CV; these should be clear and practical, such as ‘solved’, ‘launched’ or ‘led’, to demonstrate what you have achieved.

Finished your CV? - Proofread, then proofread again

  • It is so important to check your CV thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors, as a mistake gives a bad impression and could even cost you the job.
  • A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference when it comes to spotting any errors you may have missed when proof reading your own CV, so ask someone to double-check it for you.

Sleep on it

It can be tiring writing your CV and it may be tempting to think ‘yes, that’s good enough’ by the end of it. The best thing to do after you’ve finished is to sleep on it. Go back to your CV and have another read through; you might be surprised at the extra points that you overlooked the first time around.

Keep your CV up to date

Keep your CV updated even when you’re not actively looking for jobs. It will save you loads of time when you do begin your job hunt, and prevents you from forgetting important dates, details, projects and achievements.