How to write a CV

One of the most frequently asked questions for any recruiter is how to write a CV well. A CV is the kind of document that gets added to over the years without its owner necessarily taking a step back and analysing whether it is fit for purpose or not.

The purpose of a CV is to showcase your experience and to give you the best possible chance of being positively considered for a role that you are interested in. Without an impressive CV, you are unlikely to be invited to an in-person interview and having a good CV is vital for making that next step in your career. There are a few important things to consider when writing your CV;

You have a limited window of opportunity to hold your audience’s attention

If you apply to a job advert, there will likely be hundreds of others competing with you for the same position. It’s always a good idea to spend some time thinking about your audience – a recruiter reading those hundreds of resumes. He or she has a gargantuan pile of profiles to get through and will spend perhaps a minute or so (or less!) looking at your CV. This means that;

  • If the recruiter cannot easily understand your specialism you will be rejected
  • If you are even moderately far away from the key role requirements from a functional or industry perspective you will be rejected

Start your CV with a short summary about yourself

Writing a paragraph – perhaps 3-4 sentences – about yourself at the start of your CV is a great way to begin. This is designed to avoid the trap of “being hard to understand” from the recruiter’s perspective. If your experience, your “work essence” is difficult to understand, you will be rejected in favour of easier to understand alternatives. Describe your functional and industry specialisms and give them a sense of who you are. For example;

I am an experienced performance marketer with deep experience of working for e-commerce businesses. Having started my career within digital agencies, I’ve spent the last five years of my career working for both large e-commerce businesses as well as start-ups. I’m passionate about digital marketing and enjoy leading and mentoring teams.

This can, of course, be tailored to meet the requirements of different roles. Of course as individuals, our skills are often broader than “just one function” or “just one industry”, but it’s important to understand that specialism wins recruitment processes, and if your experience comes across as too broad for a particular role, you are likely to lose out to a “narrower” candidate with deeper specialism in the relevant area.

Read job descriptions carefully

When writing your CV, read the job description that it is for carefully. Ask yourself – what are likely the most important things they are looking for? This is usually some combination of functional and industry related experience (e.g.”a commercial CFO”, “A new business sales executive”, “retail experience” etc). Make sure these aspects are “front and centre” in your CV. Try to address them in your opening paragraph as well as in the main areas of your CV. Tailor your CV to those requirements, and make it as easy as possible for the recruiter to say “yes” to your application.

How to describe your career history in your CV

A great structure to use is to provide for each job;

  • The dates for which you held that position
  • The name of the company and (if necessary) a short description of what the company does, how big it is etc.
  • Your job title
  • Bullet points on your key responsibilities and achievements

Describing the nature of your employer’s business makes it really easy for the recruiter to understand that part of your career. This is an important principle; what recruiters cannot understand, they cannot value. Make it easy for them.

Your responsibilities might include some of the following elements;

  • How many people were on your team if it was a managerial position
  • Your key targets and how your performance was measured
  • Special initiatives and projects you may have been involved with
  • A description of the day-to-day activities that were the essence of your role

Make sure you also add bullet points on your achievements in the role. These could be;

  • How you performed against your targets – use statistics here if you can
  • Any training courses or qualifications you gained
  • Any awards, recognition or positive feedback that you received
  • How your company grew during your tenure – revenues, profits etc.
  • How your responsibilities grew over time

Finishing off writing your CV

A nice way to finish your CV is to give the person reading it a sense of you as a person. Listing your hobbies and interests helps to give them a deeper sense of you and you can also potentially use some humour here too if you like. For example;

In my spare time I enjoy walking my dogs Max and Lucy, and am a long suffering New York Mets fan

How long should my CV be?

Different people have some quite different perspectives on this question, and it’s difficult to please everyone, but a good rule of thumb is that your CV should be an appropriate length in relation to the length of your career. For example;

  • If you are young and just starting your career, you probably don’t need a resume that is longer than one page. The recruiter probably doesn’t need that much detail on the band you were in at school.
  • If you have up to 10 years experience, you might need 2 pages (give or take) to describe those different roles and companies appropriately
  • If you’re an experienced person with 10-20+ years experience you might need 3-4 pages to describe your career in enough detail

If your CV is well written – with clear responsibilities and achievements in bullet points, a summary providing a quick and easy to understand overview of you, and tailored to the requirements of the role, you stand an excellent chance of leaving the right impression.