CVs - getting started

The purpose of a CV is to get you an interview. It needs to show what you can do, and why you're a good fit for an employer. Learn more about what your CV should look like, and what information to include.

Key things to keep in mind:

  • Employers may take just 15-20 seconds to initially scan your CV, so it needs to be well organised and clearly set out. If you make a good first impression, they will read your CV more closely.
  • Tailor your CV for each job. Make sure your CV highlights the key skills, experience and achievements that are relevant to the job you are applying for. Look at the job advertisement for clues on what an employer is looking for.
  • Use plain, simple language in a business-like tone. Avoid clichés, and jargon and abbreviations that might be unfamiliar to an employer.
  • Look at the job advertisement and reflect the words used in the job description. For example, if it talks about 'personnel', use the word 'personnel' rather than human resources.
  • Avoid long sentences and large blocks of text. Bullet points and key phrases keep the word count down and make your CV easier to read quickly.
  • Show yourself to your best advantage but be honest – don't claim experiences or qualifications you don't have.
  • Do a thorough spelling check before sending off your CV, and have someone else read over it to check for mistakes.
  • An application for a job should always include both a CV and a cover letter.
  • When emailing a CV, make sure it is in a very simple file format, such as a Word document. If in doubt, email your CV and cover letter as a PDF.

Everybody who is going for a job needs a CV. The point of the CV is to get you an interview. Think of it as a one-page marketing document. It needs to tell an employer what skills and attitudes you have that are relevant to the job you’re applying for, as well as a bit about you.

Sarah McIndoe, Career Consultant

Sarah McIndoe

Career Consultant

Which CV style to choose

The CV style you use depends on the job you are applying for, and your circumstances and work history. You can choose to emphasise either your work history (work-focused CV) or your skills (skills-focused CV). You can also use a combination of the two or other approaches.

Things to consider depending on your employment history

Are you applying for your first job?

  • If you are new to the workforce, we recommend a skills-focused CV. This CV style highlights your skills, rather than your work history, by placing them first.
  • If you have recently completed a period of study and feel your education is more relevant to the job than your work experience, you may list your education after your skills and before your work history.
  • You can include skills and experiences from your non-working life to demonstrate your suitability for a role, e.g. from sports, volunteering, community involvement and cultural activities. 

Have you got a long work history?

  • You do not need to write in detail about every job you have had. Provide more detail on your most recent work or those jobs that are most relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • Other employment can be mentioned briefly or removed from the CV.

Have you had a planned break from paid employment?

  • Use a skills-focused CV to emphasise the skills and attributes you have that relate to the position you are applying for.
  • Explain the gap in your CV – was it because you were travelling, at home with a baby, or volunteering? This will stop employers from wondering if you are hiding something.
  • Emphasise the positive things you have been doing, such as caring for family members, or training courses you have attended.
  • Describe the skills you have developed during the break, such as planning, decision-making and budgeting, and any qualifications you have gained.

Have you had an unplanned break from paid employment – redundancy, a long-term illness, or imprisonment?

  • Use a skills-focused CV to focus on your skills and knowledge.
  • Describe courses you attended, and volunteer work or skills and experience you gained while not in paid work. For example, “Was in charge of the household shopping and cleaning.” List the skills you’ve developed, such as planning, initiative and problem solving.
  • You don't need to state in your CV that you were made redundant, unwell or in prison. However, you do need to be honest if you are asked about this in an application form or in an interview. 

Have you spent a long time working for one employer?

  • If you have worked in various positions for the one company, list each position to show how you have progressed.
  • If you have worked in the same role, emphasise your skills rather than your work history by choosing the skills-focused CV style.

Updated 15 Jun 2016