Home > Careers, Employment > Getting mixed messages about CVs? Here’s how to write a CV that will (almost) always work

Getting mixed messages about CVs? Here’s how to write a CV that will (almost) always work

There’s a huge amount of CV-writing advice available online and everyone you know will have an opinion about what should and shouldn’t be included in your CV.  But what do you do when the advice appears to be contradictory?  Suzanne Ball, from our Careers Adviser team, clears up some common sources of confusion to help you make your CV appeal to (almost) every employer.

  • Accept that there is more than one right way to structure your CV

Many people assume that there’s a compulsory CV formula out there and then worry that they can’t work out what it is.  Being bombarded with contradictory information about issues such as bullet points, headings or profiles doesn’t help but the reason that advice varies so much is that employers are individuals and, like everyone else, they will have their own CV likes and dislikes. On the positive side, what this variation of opinion tells you is that there’s more than one way to present your skills and experience. So don’t worry about what’s right or wrong and instead put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes.  Imagine you have a spare 30 minutes in a busy day; the phone keeps ringing, you’re trying to eat your lunch and you have 50 CVs to sift through. The CV that will stand out is one that’s well laid out, easy to read at a glance and clearly targeted to show that the applicant has the skills, knowledge and personal qualities needed to do the job.  If your CV can do this it will please any selector regardless of their personal CV likes and dislikes.

  • There are no compulsory CV headings

A common CV myth is that you must use standard headings or present sections in a set order.  It’s always a good idea to present information in reverse chronological order within each section but it’s perfectly OK to change the order of sections on your CV or split sections up if you want to draw the recruiter’s attention to the most relevant items.  For example, an Engineering graduate who has done a placement year could use the headings “Engineering Experience” and “Other Experience” rather than having one generic “Employment History” section.

  • Personal profiles are optional

This is one of the most divisive CV issues – partly because a good profile is very hard to write. Some employers love them and some employers hate them so if you do decide to include a profile then make sure it’s focused on the job you’re applying for and that it doesn’t contain a meaningless list of adjectives or bland, generic statements.

  • One page or two – it’s up to you

In the UK it’s common practice for a CV to be up to two pages long. A CV should be concise so if you can get your CV onto one page that’s great but don’t worry if your CV spills onto a second page (unless the job ad specifies a one-page CV).  If you structure your CV so that your key selling points are on the first page then you’ll keep the employers who prefers one-page CVs happy too.

  • You can use colour but proceed with caution

There are many stories of candidates who successfully used a dayglow background or purple font to make their CV stand out. Some employers may respond well to this approach but others will immediately bin a purple CV.  As you’re unlikely to know how the selector will react you’re taking a big risk if you adopt this strategy.  Black ink and white background are almost always the safest way to go although there’s not necessarily a problem with using colour to pick out headings (but check what it will look like if the employer prints your CV on a black and white printer). Of course if you’re applying for a job in the creative industries then you will need to take a completely different approach to using colour and images in your CV.

There are only a few hard and fast CV rules and many variables. To find out more about how to present yourself on a CV in the most effective way, join our webinar, CVs That Work, on Friday 31 July at 12.00.


Suzanne Ball is Careers Adviser for the Schools of Creative Arts and Health & Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire. She regularly tweets on all things creative via @careerview

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