How to write your CV

Your CV is all about marketing you to a potential employer.

Unlike other industries where human resources staff are employed to read through and shortlist applications, your CV could arrive directly on the desk of the person with the power to give you a job. They will be very busy and your CV will have only seconds to impress.

It’s up to you what to include and what to leave out of your CV, but it’s vital that it should reflect your personality and show your passion for the industry in which you want to work.

How should I write my CV?

  • Research the employer you’re targeting – this way you can make it clear to them that you’re familiar with the types of project they work on
  • Don’t have a one-size-fits-all CV – write and adapt it with the employer in mind, giving only the most relevant information about your education, skills and experience
  • Be honest – don’t oversell as this will be obvious, and don’t undersell as you won’t do yourself any favours
  • Be positive throughout - focus on measurable achievements and the skills you’ve gained 
  • Connect your experiences to the role – make sure that your CV provides evidence that you have the experience and the skills the employer is looking for

How should I present my CV?

  • Keep it concise, relevant and well laid out. It should be two pages maximum. Use the space wisely, which takes thought and planning. Make sure it looks professional.
  • Type it out and check the spelling and grammar, without just relying on spell-check! Get someone else to proofread it for you to spot any errors you might have missed.
  • Avoid long sentences
  • Use active words, e.g. developed, managed, researched, organised etc.
  • Use a font that looks professional and is easy to read – Arial is a safe bet – and don’t use more than one font. Bold and italics can be used for emphasis, but be consistent and don’t overdo it

What will employers be looking for on my CV?

  • What you can do for them
  • What skills and experience you have that relate to their work (e.g. work experience, student work placements, training in the software they use)
  • What new ideas and skills you can bring from your studies or other areas you have worked in
  • Evidence that you want to work for this employer in particular – not just that you are anxious to get work generally
  • Where you live and how you can be contacted

Should I send a covering letter/email?

Yes, you should always send a covering letter or email.

It’s your opportunity to speak directly to the employer, so it is worth spending the time to get it right. Bear the following in mind:

  • It should be addressed to the right person. If who that should be is not clear from the job ad, contact the company to find this out 
  • It should be brief and you shouldn’t just copy and paste information from the CV
  • It should have three parts:
    • The reason for writing, e.g. “I am writing in response to the advert I saw on/in [name of website/magazine/newspaper]”
    • Your selling points or how your CV shows that you have what the employer is looking for – flag up the relevant points in your CV
    • A prompt for further action, e.g. “I’d welcome the opportunity to meet you to discuss my suitability for the role further.”
  • Remember to follow up after you send in your CV, striking the right balance between showing your enthusiasm and interest in the role without pestering the employer

What headings should my CV have?

The following headings are intended to guide you, but they are not fixed rules.

  • Your name (you don’t need to include the heading ‘Curriculum Vitae’ – this wastes space and it’s obvious what the document is
  • Your contact details - address, phone number, e-mail etc.
  • A short personal profile – a punchy, positive statement to make a potential employer sit up and take notice. It should show your personality and play to your strengths:
    • Keep it short – no more than thirty words
    • Write in the third person to reflect how others see you, e.g. “A highly skilled graduate, trained in [name of software], with one year’s professional experience gained at [name of company]”
    • Describe your key selling points – your skills, experience and knowledge
    • Describe your attitude to work and the personal qualities that make you attractive to employ.
    • Make sure your description of yourself is supported by the rest of your CV
    • Be positive!
  • Your key skills - list as bullets points skills and experience that the employer will be interested in, including training on any specialist equipment or software
  • Your experience - start with your most recent job or work experience. You don’t have to include everything, only work which is relevant to the employer. Don’t just list projects you’ve been involved in, describe the particular contribution you made, especially if it was challenging, e.g. working to a tight budget.
  • Training - include training courses that are more likely to be of direct benefit to the employer
  • Qualifications - again, put the most qualifications relevant first, along with where you studied and the date the qualification was awarded. Only list GCSEs and A-levels, etc., if they are relevant or you don’t have a higher qualification. Where a qualification is essential to a role – e.g. an electrician’s qualification - cite them in your personal profile or key skills summary.

What else might I include in my CV?

  • Date of birth – you can include your date of birth, and employers may ask you to do so. Bear in mind that the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 mean that employers are not allowed to discriminate against you on the grounds of your age, directly or indirectly.
  • Interests – the advice on ‘standard’ CVs is to include interests, but these are largely irrelevant for freelance work. Only include them if they are related to the job.
  • Passport – if you are applying for work that requires overseas travel, your nationality might be significant as some passports require visas to visit certain places.
  • Driving licence – holding a full licence and owning a car can be essential to some roles, so include these details where relevant.