We often get asked by people we work with whether we'll write or format their CV for them.

A lot of agencies do this, but we're not big fans of the practice. A CV is a personal document that gives you a chance to shine, and your future employer a little insight into your personality, what you value most in their career, and your written communication skills and level of attention to detail. All of that is lost if someone else has written your CV and formatted it to look exactly like everyone else's.

That being said, there are a few important rules for writing a great CV, and we do spend a lot of time advising people about changes they can make to theirs so that it better represents them. Today we've distilled our advice into our top 6 ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’. Follow these and you can't go wrong. 

DO:

1. Make it easy on the eye

Use the same font throughout, with headings in bold. Allow plenty of white space (think blank lines underneath headings and between sections). Use short sentences and bullet points instead of wordy paragraphs or tables.

2. Get the tone right

Aim for professional but natural language in the first person.  Your writing should be as straightforward as possible, using action-oriented language (heavy on the verbs, light on the adjectives).

Good: ‘I implemented a new credit control process that reduced the average number of outstanding debtor days from 82 to 12.’

Bad: ‘Andrew was responsible for the successful implementation of a highly-regarded credit control process that resulted in the reduction of the number of outstanding debtor days from 82 to 12.’

3. Get down to business ASAP

You only have a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention, so skip the cover page altogether and try to start your work experience section no further than halfway down the first page.

4. Tell a story that’s easy to follow

List your experience chronologically (with your most recent job first), including months as well as years in the dates. If you held more than one position with an employer, list the positions separately, each with its own dates and responsibilities. Account for any gaps in work history with a simple, one line explanation (e.g. November 2011 – April 2012: Backpacking through South East Asia). 

5. Focus on achievements, not responsibilities

Think about what you’ve achieved above and beyond the responsibilities in your job description; this is what will set you apart from your competition (whose list of responsibilities is probably very similar to your own).  Make your achievements specific, measurable and of value to the person reading your CV.

Good: "I led a process improvement project that reduced the number of days taken to produce the month end report from five to two. This resulted in a 30% savings in head count spend."

Bad: "I led a project to improve reporting processes." 

6. Home in on what’s relevant

Devote more space to your recent and most relevant experience and feel free to omit minor or inconsequential responsibilities altogether.  If you have a long career, you only need the employer, job title and dates for your earlier roles. Review your initial draft and delete anything that’s not essential.

DON’T:

1. Write a cheesy, cookie-cutter intro

Saying you’re a ‘highly-organised team-player, with exceptional communication skills and the ability to multitask’ is pretty much meaningless. Everyone writes the same stuff, and it’s totally subjective. Instead, write a couple of lines outlining why you’re applying for the specific position, drawing attention to the key areas of your experience that make you a good fit.

2. Use company-specific jargon

The same goes for industry-specific jargon, if you’re switching industries. Always keep in mind who will be reading your CV and what their knowledge will be, and pitch it to them.

3. Include pictures or company logos

It’s distracting and looks unprofessional.

4. Rely on spell-check

Spell-check is a great tool, but it can’t take context into account, which is why we receive a lot of CVs from ‘accounting and fiancé' professionals. After your spell-check, get at least two people to review your CV. Choose them carefully - they should be experienced in business communication, and have English as a first language (or be perfectly fluent).

5. Include information that could potentially be used to discriminate against you

No one needs to know your age, number of children, marital status, religion or nationality (although if you’re new to the country, do include your visa or residency status). And never include a photo. 

6. Include your referee names and contact details

Unless you’re happy for anyone to call your referees at any stage of your job search, don’t include them on your CV.  The appropriate time to give out this information is after you’ve been invited to interview.

If you're staring at a blank screen and struggling to get started, try building on this basic template. Good luck!

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