Careers Service

CVs

CVs

Writing

The purpose of a CV is to tell a recruiter all about you, your skills and experience – and hopefully persuade them to invite you to interview. It’s often the first opportunity you have to make an impression. Read on for our tips on writing a good CV.

Five key principles

There's no right or wrong way to write a CV, but always remember to tailor it to the role you're applying for. If you apply the principles below, you will be able to write a CV for any purpose.

1. Relevance

Find out what the role involves and show how your knowledge, experience and skills are relevant.

2. Order

Put your most relevant information first and give it the most space. Based on what you know about the job, decide what is most relevant, for example, your degree, work experience or voluntary work.

3. Format

Aim for a professional-looking CV. This means it should:

  • be consistent in layout
  • have a good balance of text and space
  • have careful use of italics, bold and underlining
  • be printed on good quality paper (if posting)

4. Attention to detail

Spelling and grammar must be correct. Check it over carefully. If you're unsure, get someone to help you.

5. Letter

Always include a covering letter, unless you are asked not to. It introduces you and lets you highlight the important parts of your CV and your reasons for applying.

How to evidence your skills and experience in your CV

Use the job description and/or person specification to identify the skills and experience the recruiter is looking for. Make sure you provide evidence of these using specific examples. It's not enough just to say you have a particular skill, you need to back this up. You can include any achievements or impact your actions had, for example, if you were fundraising for a society, were you successful - how much money did you raise, etc?

Your examples could come from a range of contexts such as:

  • your studies
  • work experience
  • part-time jobs
  • extra-curricular activities, including volunteering

If you’re sending a CV speculatively (ie not in response to an advertised position), you may not have a job description to help you. Find out as much as possible about the field of work, the company and the type of role you are interested in. You’ll also need to know which skills are required. To help with this, look at the job profiles on the Prospects website.

The following links provide further advice on the skills employers look for, and how to demonstrate them:

Watch the Careers Service's online Masterclass presentation: 'How to write an effective CV'.  

To view the presentation with subtitles, click the CC button in the player below. You can also view a full screen version

For advice on developing graduate skills, visit the Careers Service to speak to an adviser.

Structuring

There are various formats you can use to structure your CV. We've summarised some typical CV formats to help you decide on the content and layout that will work best for you.

A CV in the UK is usually no more than two pages, though if you’re applying for academic positions, eg postdoctoral roles, your CV can be longer.

Different countries have different CV formats – make sure you find out what is required when applying for a job overseas.

CV formats

Chronological/traditional

This type of CV lists your education and experience in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent and working backwards. This is the most common style of CV and is generally preferred by employers.

This format is particularly useful if your qualifications and/or experience are related to the role, but may not be so effective if your background is less relevant.

Skills-based

This format focuses on the skills required by the employer, more than on your education and work history. You need to have a very clear understanding of what the employer is looking for and be able to provide evidence through examples.

This is a useful style if, for example, you are changing career path and want to highlight transferable skills from non-relevant qualifications and experience.

Combination

It may be that a combination of chronological and skills-based styles is appropriate. You may have very relevant qualifications that favour a chronological format and varied work experience that benefits from a skills-based approach.

Academic

Use this style to apply for academic jobs such as a postdoctoral position or lectureship. It tends to be built around three areas:

  • your research
  • teaching
  • administrative experience

It can also include conferences attended and publications. Length is less important and it may be longer than two pages. For advice and examples of CVs for postgraduate study and academia, see our advice on CVs for specific sectors.

Further information

See examples of different CV formats.

TARGETjobs has additional advice on whether a chronological or skills-based CV is right for you.

Examples

We have produced some examples of different types of CVs to help you think about content, layout and how to demonstrate your skills.

Sector-specific CVs 

You can also find examples of CVs for various sectors, including law and engineering, on TARGETjobs: example CVs and job hunting tools.

Go to Specific Sectors for information and advice on CVs for law, investment banking, science and academia.

 

 

Specific Sectors

Some sectors, like law, investment banking and academia have specific requirements for CVs.

Legal CVs 

For information and advice on applying for jobs in the legal sector, including work experience, training and employers, see our Sector-specific information.

TARGETjobs' Law solicitors page includes tips on what employers are looking for in candidates and advice for successful applications. See also ten ways to get your legal CV noticed and example CVs for vacation schemes.

Assess your application strengths and weaknesses on Lawcareers.net's website

AllAboutLaw.co.uk has advice on law CVs includes a law CV template.

TARGETjobs Law barristers section has advice on applications and CVs for pupillages and what recruiters expect from applicants.

Investment banking CVs

Recruiters tend to prefer a one-page CV for investment banking roles.

efinancial Careers has advice on the perfect graduate CV for investment banking. See also AllAboutCareers for further tips on writing an investment banking CV.

Scientific CVs

See the Society of Biology's next steps: options after a bioscience degree for advice on writing CVs and how to demonstrate your skills. 

Postgraduate and academic CVs

The following links provide advice on writing CVs for postgraduate study and academia:

Other Countries

Different countries have different CV formats. It's important to find out what's required for the country you're interested in. Here we've shared links to information about writing CVs for jobs in some different countries.

Worldwide

You can find advice on CVs/resumes and covering letters for a wide range of countries at GoinGlobal (University login required off campus).

See also TARGETjobs country profiles for advice on applying for jobs overseas.

For useful phrases for CVs and covering letters in 14 different languages, visit bab.la.

Additional resources

Europe

Find tips on writing a CVs and covering letter for France, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

Asia

GradMalaysia and GradSingapore provide useful advice on applications and CVs.

USA

For an overview of US resumes and CVs with examples for different sectors, see Columbia University Center for Career Education's information about resumes and CVs.

Also visit iAgora.com for advice on how to present a resume for employers in the US.

Australia and New Zealand

For advice and information on how to structure your résumé and what to include, visit Monash University's how to write a resume.

The following links contain further information about job applications in Australia and New Zealand:

More Help

The Careers Service provides advice and resources to help you create your CV. There are also a range of useful websites that provide further advice.

Drop-in sessions

The Careers Service can provide feedback on CVs at our drop-in sessions.

‘How to write your CV' workshop

Attend our careers workshop, ‘How to write your CV’. For dates and times, see our Events section.

CVs and Covering Letters workbook

For more advice on writing CVs and covering letters, see our CVs and Covering Letters workbook below.

You can also pick up a free copy of the workbook at the Careers Service.

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External resources

There are regular CV Clinics with advice from professionals (often recruiters) at Guardian Careers: CV.

The following links provide further information about CVs: