First things first

curriculum vitae (CV): from the Latin, meaning ‘how your life has run’
résumé: from French, meaning ‘summary’

The perfect CV: in any language, the one that gets you the interview!     
Content is key

The first step towards a successful CV is deciding what to write.
Criteria for choosing content include:

  • You have the right to remain silent – the more you write, the more ammunition you give the interviewer
  • CV is not a confessional – nor is it an autobiography; before including your milk monitor job at primary school, ask yourself ‘Will it add value to the potential employer?’; exclude everything bar the essentials


Accentuate achievements:

  • qualify and quantify your responsibilities and the resultant benefit to your employer; e.g. taking charge of regional sales is a responsibility, but continually selling over target by 15% is an achievement – think of the STAR model (Situation, Target, Action, Result)


Write for the reader

  • just as an advertiser writes with a potential customer in mind, CVs should be tailored to the target audience; for example, the CEO of a creative company will be more likely to look for originality than, say, the head of a bank
  • have a catch all template and modify for each application – look at their jargon can you reflect back to them what they are looking for

Do not be ‘creative’ with the details wording can be costly

  • tweaking titles, being liberal with dates, or glossing over events can seriously damage your credibility

Cut the comedy, coloured paper, flowery language and graphics

  • be funny in person, not on paper; without seeing your facial expression or hearing your tone of voice, picking up on your humour may be difficult; one person’s Billy Crystal (who he?) may be another person’s nerve grating horror. Anyway why do it?
  • your creativity should come out in your work portfolio

Your interests speak volumes – but use with care!

  • the ‘personal interests’ section of a CV can give clues about a candidate’s personality; for example, listing squash, entertaining and restoring old cars can indicate a competitive, sociable, and practical candidate


sell your skills

  • recruiters do not just focus on the mechanics of what you have done, e.g. managed a project to tight deadlines, but also what it shows about you, i.e. ability to work under pressure




  • what you did, where, when
  • emphasis on continuity, career growth, and job titles
  • best used when target job is in line with, or a natural progression from, experience to date
  • jobs listed in chronological order, most recent job first


  • what you have done
  • emphasis on abilities and accomplishment
  • best used in cases of career change or re-entry into job market
  • accomplishments listed in an order that supports your work objectives
  • focus on forma
  • It’s not just what you say, it’s the way that you say it. A CV which is packed full of quality content but poorly presented will still be consigned to the ‘Dear John’ pile. Key pointers for pepping up CV presentation:

left can be right

  • most people read from left to right, focusing greater attention and accuracy on what appears on the left of the page; as a result, the most significant information should be placed on the left hand side of the page

short is sweet

  • CVs are skimmed, not read; short sentences are quickly and easily skimmed; also, to reduce the dreaded drivel, keep CVs to a maximum of 3 pages try the two page and one page version

less is more

  • cramming as much content as you possibly can into a CV only serves to create a cluttered page, unattractive on the eye; be selective; a bit of white space can work wonders

keep it fuss-free

  • for example, avoid too many typefaces or font sizes; use graphics or artwork sparingly

If you have not noticed CVs have gone cyber and use automated systems to complete the first pass filter through Applicant Tracking Systems…

  • Most medium to large organisations will expect you to fill in their on-line template. So, your CV is really an aide memoire to complete the on-line form
  • Many jobs come through LinkedIn or other sector specific job sites. This also raises the matter of your professional presence
  • The text is searched for key words specified in the recruiter’s search; unlike paper CVs, key words in a cyber CV should be nouns rather than action verbs i.e. ‘management’ rather than ‘managed’
  • More sophisticated systems identify synonyms, antonyms, abbreviations etc;

selling cyber

  • electronic means economic
    • for candidates, cutting and pasting their CV into a database which will be linked to potential employers can cut the cost and effort of mail shots
  • unconscious bias is (almost) banished
    • initial screening by a computer eradicates the problem of a potentially prejudiced HR employee; for example, whereas an HR executive may not like the look of your name, the computer draws no conclusions
  • The system will not get sleepy
    • wading their way through hundreds or thousands of CVs can take its toll on HR employees, who, in turn, can take it out on your CV
  • But your work may be wasted
    • if your CV does not contain the specified key words in the right format, it will be overlooked structuring the cyber CV

It is all very well to submit a CV that presses all the right buttons for the human reader, but a computer may be less than impressed. Candidates need to adapt their CV to suit the new ‘robot’ recruiter:

  • Tailor the typeface
    • a normal typeface should be used, preferably a sans serif like Helvetica; serifs are the small strokes at an angle to the vertical lines of a character which are pleasing to the human eye, but a problem for OCR; use a point size of between 10 and 14
  • Avoid artwork
    • exclude any graphics or artwork as these can confuse the software; for example, boxes placed around text tend to prevent the software from reading what is in the box
  • Keep to key words
    • since many recruitment systems scan for a certain number of keywords per resumé, it is best to enter keywords in order of importance, with the most important in your career first; placing a keyword summary at the top of the page will also facilitate scanning
  • select synonyms
    • should the system not recognise the keyword in the summary, there is a good chance it will pick up the synonym in the text
  • simplify the style
    • for example, do not underline or italicise – to OCR software, underlining and italics effectively join all of the characters of a word into one the style factor

Your style of writing

  • whether your CV is a heavy, pacy or uninspired read – will say as much about you as the words you write:
  • mind your language
  • avoid ‘recruitmentese’ i.e. the tendency towards the use of jargon words or management speak, e.g. describing tasks as ‘a challenge’; keep instead to key words which grab recruiters’ attention
  • corekt speling iz kee – what spelling mistakes and typos say about you:
    • you really cannot spell
    • you are lazy
    • you are inattentive to detail
    • you do not really want the job
    • you could not represent the firm
  • The accent is on action
    • use action words, which give the impression of control; for example ‘developed and managed sales incentive plan’ sounds much stronger than the passive ‘my duties included sales incentive plans’
  • present yourself in the past
    • writing in the past tense strengthens the impression that you have actually achieved something; it also avoids the use of ‘I’ which can often give an impression of a strong ego, or overly inflated sense of self
The professional CV

Of course, one alternative to the DIY approach is to pay for a professional CV.
Views vary on the rights and wrongs of this option:

  • many hands make light work
    • being left to their own devices spells disaster for some candidates; getting a little help in organising your thoughts can save effort and embarrassment
  • you get what you pay for
    • at the end of the day, with their extensive experience of putting together CVs, professional advisers should know more about what works
  • it may raise more questions than it answers
    • wary recruiters who spot a professional CV may wonder if the candidate just could not be bothered to invest the time in him/her self; maybe the candidate has something to hide; or how could they sell the company if they cannot even sell themselves?
  • may misrepresent the candidate
    • can an adviser really know what you want as clearly as you do?
  • the cover letter
    • The aim of a cover letter is to sell your CV – when the recipient starts reading your CV, the cover letter has done its job.


Pointers for improving cover letters are:

  • the organ grinder, not the monkey -write direct to the decision maker, not necessarily the personnel department, which tends to act only as gatekeeper for the departments which have the vacancies
  • what’s in a name? – your letter must go to a named person if you want to increase your chances of having the letter read; a ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ opening shows a lack of time, initiative or ability to find out something as simple as a name
  • after you
    • the first paragraph should be from the recipient’s viewpoint, e.g. ‘your recent results …’
    • the second should focus on you e.g. ‘being a post-production specialist…’
    • the third is to ask for an interview

What does a successful CV look like – some options

The chronological CV

  • start with present or most recent position and work backwards, with most space devoted to recent employment
  • summarise earlier positions
  • use year designations, not month and day; greater detail can be given in the interview
  • stress major accomplishments; to home in on your achievements, apply the FAB factor:
    • Feature: what did you do?
    • Analysis: what was the scope?
    • Benefit: so what?

mind your language – one spelling or syntax mistake can destroy the impression you are trying to create

The functional CV

  • use separate sections or paragraphs, each one highlighting a particular area of expertise
  • list the functional paragraphs in order of importance to the job you are targeting
  • within each functional area, stress the most directly related accomplishments or results
  • know that you can include any relevant achievements without necessarily identifying to which employment or non-employment situation it was connected
  • list a brief synopsis of your actual work experience at the bottom, giving dates, employers, and titles
  • include interests which reflect diverse positive aspects of your personality
In summary


  • highlight what you did and achieved
  • create a short biography – 100 – 200 words that captures you

Do not

  • talk about what you like to do – remain factual and focused
  • interests – unless you are a school leaver leave this out – but volunteering at a centre for the homeless could be put in your career history
  • use flowery language – ‘I am an excellent communicator’ the maxim is ‘show don’t tell’


Want to know more contact us at for some CV templates and guidance on constructing an effective CV.