This detailed guide explains everything you need to know about how to write a strong CV – one that’ll significantly boost your chances of getting a call back for an interview.
Specifically, you’ll learn why you should use an online CV builder and how to choose one, plus how to select a suitable template. Also covered is an explanation of the different sections to include in your CV, why you should create multiple CVs, when to use professional services, and CV mistakes to avoid. Let’s dive in!
Traditionally, a word processing tool like Microsoft Word was the go-to choice for CV writing. Nowadays, this application and those similar are seen as outdated.
Although MS Word offers a range of CV templates, many of these look very generic and won’t do much to make your CV stand out. Another downside is that not all MS Word templates are ATS-friendly.
Many companies use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to scan and filter CVs, eliminating those that don’t meet the required criteria – this is before the hiring manager even looks at them. ATS systems can’t always handle images, embedded tables, or fancy fonts, sometimes resulting in valuable information slipping through the net.
A better approach to CV writing is to use a modern CV builder, with prebuilt, properly formatted templates that give you a good chance of getting past ATS software.
A good CV builder will be easy to use and have a range of well-designed and impactful templates to choose from. Ideally, you’ll want to be able to change the order of the different sections and make style customisations, for example, the ability to select a different colour scheme for your chosen template.
Most CV builders have a paywall in place at the final step, before you actually get to download or print your new CV. This can be a one-off or recurring payment. Webumo is an exception – it has no paywalls for a single CV, and you can download/export a PDF version as many times as you like free of charge. Webumo’s Free plan includes many different templates, a cover letter, and is customisable.
Webumo also has a Pro plan available where you can create an unlimited number of CVs and cover letters, for a low monthly fee. Premium add-on services are also available with Webumo, such as proofreading, CV translation and full CV writing.
Every CV template has its place. As a general rule of thumb, consider the industry in which you’re applying for a job. If it’s the beauty, fashion or creative industry, you might want to inject a bit of colour into your CV. If you’re applying for a white-collar job, a smart and simple design would be more appropriate.
In all cases, choose a template that has clear section headings and is laid out logically. Readability is essential, so avoid decorative or fancy script fonts. Watch out for elaborate design elements that take up precious space and can make your CV look a bit cluttered. It’s best to steer clear of images or text boxes that move around as these can sometimes be misread or portrayed as gibberish by ATS systems.
A good CV helps you to ‘sell’ your skills, knowledge and experience to potential employers. It should provide an employer with all the information they need to know about you, without being overly long. Two sides of A4 is the maximum length your CV should be.
Don’t be tempted to reduce your font size to below 11px to fit more words in your CV. The same goes for making your margins too skinny. Use concise language to get your achievements across.
The order of your CV is an important consideration – the top quarter of the first page must be powerful as this is the part that gets seen first. A tool like Webumo makes it easy to add and reorder different sections of your CV.
Include your contact details, a profile summary and work experience first before other sections. Let’s take a look in detail below at what you should include.
Clearly present your contact details right at the top of your CV. Have your full name as the title, rather than the words ‘Curriculum Vitae’ – this saves on space. Include your email address and contact phone number as well as your geographical location. You don’t necessarily need to include your full address here if you’re tight on space.
Your personal profile is a summary statement about you, what you can offer and what you’re looking for. This is a crucial section; it needs to grab the hiring manager’s attention long enough to make them want to carry on reading. Length-wise, aim for a single paragraph. Try to tailor your profile to make it relevant to the industry you want to work in. Here’s an example of one that might work for someone applying for an events manager role.
Accomplished and experienced events professional with leadership experience and a proven track record of organising and delivering high profile conferences in the education sector. Meticulous, capable of remaining calm and pragmatic when last-minute changes or stressful situations arise. Interested in events strategy and broader marketing communications.
This section works well directly under the personal profile. Essentially, this is where you’d list out your technical skills (the actual skills needed for the job you’re applying for) and your personal skills (which should explain how you would do the job).
For example, going back to the events manager example above, relevant technical skills might include ‘project management’, ‘PRINCE2 qualified’ and ‘budget management’. Personal skills could comprise ‘negotiation’, ‘problem-solving’ or ‘critical thinking’.
The traditional way to list your work experience is in reverse chronological order, starting with your current or last employment and working backwards. The main details to include are the start and end dates of each job, the employer’s name and a brief list of your responsibilities and achievements.
Note that this might not be the best format to use if you have any significant gaps in your work history. Also, if one of your older positions is more relevant to the job you’re applying for, you might want to list that one first instead.
If you’re only just starting out in work and don’t have much in the way of employment details, consider writing about relevant experience that you’ve picked up elsewhere, for example, through volunteering.
An internship shows you’ve gained skills in a particular field. This can be useful to include on your CV if you’re switching careers or venturing out into the world of work for the first time. This section is best placed underneath your work history, or even above it if the experience you’ve gained is particularly relevant.
List your qualifications in reverse chronological order, or by relevancy, complete with awarding grade and education establishment name. There’s no need to list every qualification you’ve ever achieved though.
If you have a degree or a PhD, you can leave off your GCSEs, or include them on one line, e.g. 10 GCSEs - Grades A-B. If you’re currently studying towards a qualification, you can incorporate the details in this section.
Training courses show a commitment to professional development and are best listed out separately on your CV. Include details of any internal or external training you’ve undertaken that might help you to get the job.
For example, if you’re applying for a digital marketing role, it’s well worth mentioning if you’ve achieved Google Adwords certification. Other respected training courses include PRINCE2 and Microsoft Office certifications.
If you’re a school leaver or student job seeker, adding extracurricular activities to your CV can help you convey valuable skills and give employers an insight into your character. Examples of extracurricular activities include mentoring, being on the school council, editing the college newspaper, sports, drama and volunteering.
You can list any foreign languages you’ve studied in the education or extracurricular activities section. If you’re fluent in other languages though, highlight them under a separate section. Place this near the top of your CV if languages are strictly necessary to the job you’re applying for.
The chances are you’re going to get ‘Googled’ by hiring managers to make sure your online presence is relatively ‘normal’, and you appear to be who you say you are. By adding the details of your professional online presence to your CV, you can steer hiring managers towards the profiles you want them to look at, for example, a portfolio website and your LinkedIn profile.
Do consider making your Facebook or Twitter profiles private, or deleting any content you wouldn’t want an employer to see before you apply for a job. Carry out an online search yourself to see what information about you is currently in the public domain – you might just be surprised!
Listing hobbies and interests on your CV is something that’s been done since the dawn of time. And for good reason – it tells employers more about you as a person and indicates as to whether you’re likely to fit in with the company culture.
It’s a challenge deciding what hobbies to include. Ideally, they should show relevancy to the role in question, but they should be interesting enough to make the hiring manager raise an eyebrow. Specific sports are good to include as these can demonstrate teamwork or dedication. Coding might be relevant for web designers, blogging for copywriters, or even a love of drama for salespeople. Place the hobbies section last on your CV.
When writing your CV, avoid personal pronouns like ‘I’, ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘we’. These aren’t needed as the very nature of a CV implies that the content is about you and your achievements. Write in the absent first person to keep your CV concise and to avoid repetition.
Instead of writing: I was responsible for managing a multi-million pound budget…, you could write: Managed a multi-million pound budget.
It can be useful to create variations of your CV to make your application more personalised to a particular job role or employer type. You can do this on the Webumo Pro plan. First, create a master CV, one that contains all of your work history and education information. Then make a copy when you need to adjust, reorder or eliminate some of the content.
A cover letter, in its most basic form, serves as your introduction to a prospective employer. To ensure your cover letter gets noticed, take some time to get it just right.
Avoid sending a generic one-size-fits-all cover letter. Tailor it to every job application and address the hiring manager by name. Use it to demonstrate the value you can bring to the organisation, but don’t regurgitate the information that’s on your CV.
Further reading: 5 quick tips for writing a cover letter with maximum impact.
There are times when it’s worth paying for a professional service to get your CV up to scratch. Proofreading, full CV writing and translation are all services (available with Webumo) that can improve the quality of your CV. Here’s how:
It doesn’t matter how much effort you’ve put into your CV, if it contains mistakes, it will sabotage your chances of success.
If you intend to proofread your CV yourself, make sure your CV is as finished as possible before you start. Go through it line by line, checking for inaccuracies (especially relating to dates of employment), as well as spelling and grammar errors, and sentence structure. Reading your CV aloud is the best way to proofread, as you’re less likely to skip over words.
If proofreading isn’t your forte, this is when you should consider getting a professional to look over it. A proofreader will make sure your CV flows properly and is error-free.
Getting your CV professionally written provides several advantages. Firstly, you can save time. Secondly, a CV writing expert can be objective about the type of information to include and make sure your CV is correctly targeted to a specific job role or industry. Finally, you can rest assured that the CV you receive will be up-to-date and written in an ATS-friendly way.
If you need your CV translated into another language, it’s best to use a human translator, rather than running it through translation software. Computers can end up spouting out incoherent or awkward sentences because they don’t understand context or tone of voice.
A professional translator, on the other hand, will ensure 100% accuracy. They work in their mother tongue and can add style and tone to your content.
With unemployment in the UK on the rise, competition for jobs is also likely to increase. So it’s crucial now, more than ever, to distinguish yourself from other candidates applying for the same vacancy. A good CV will help you do that.
Follow the guidance set out here to give yourself the best chance of success. Use a reputable CV builder to simplify the process of CV writing, to reorder sections, to ensure that your CV is ATS-friendly, and if you need to create multiple versions. Above all, when you write your CV, remember that relevancy and readability are key.