The content of your CV (i.e. the skills, experience and qualifications that you bring to the table) is what really matters when recruiters are reviewing your job application. And how you present that information is equally important.
There’s a lot more to creating a CV than simply adding your name, previous jobs and a few references (which, by the way, shouldn’t normally exceed two A4 pages) – there’s a basic structure that you should follow which will help you get your message across: that you’re the best man or woman for the job you’re applying for.
Here’s how to structure the perfect CV!
The first thing hiring managers see when they look at your CV is the header containing your personal details like your name and phone number. The good news is that this section is pretty simple to write once you know what to include:
- Your name: Obviously, this should go at the top of the page and should be slightly larger than the rest of the text (22 points is the general consensus). Use the name you are better known by (e.g. John Smith) rather than your full birth certificate name (eg: Johnathan Cornelius Smith) – however, it may be better in some cases to present your name more formally (e.g. you’re applying for a job at a corporate law firm). Whatever you do, though, do not include nicknames!
- Your address: This should be your current permanent address of residence. If you feel that your exact address may be detrimental to your application (for example, you live an hour away from the employer’s premises), you may opt to use your general location instead (e.g. Surrey or London).
- Your phone number: Whatever you do, don’t use your work number! A mobile phone number is preferable as employers can get in touch with you anytime.
- Your email address: Make sure your email address is a professional-sounding one – I don’t think I need to point out what’s wrong with [email protected].
- Your website: If you have a professional website, blog or online portfolio, be sure to include the URL to it here – but don’t hyperlink it! (This, of course, does not apply if you’re sending your CV via email.)
- Your social media accounts: Only include links to your professional social media accounts, i.e. the ones that are relevant to your job search. A LinkedIn account is the bare minimum.
You may also choose to include a headline underneath your name – a short, keyword-rich introduction of your professional self that explains your value, e.g. ‘Award-Winning Marketer and Successful Campaign Manager’.
Once put together, a CV header will typically look something like this:
On a side note, never start your CV with ‘Curriculum Vitae’ or ‘CV’ at the top of the page! Not only does it insult the hiring manager’s intelligence – what else could it be?! – but it also wastes valuable real estate!
Personal profiles have a reputation of being one of the shortest sections of your CV, though one of the hardest to write. And that’s largely because, done right, it’s what will give your CV that extra pizzazz needed to secure a job.
Also known as a career summary or personal statement, it normally starts right after your contact information and is, essentially, a condensed version of your cover letter. That is to say, it’s used to briefly summarise your skills, experiences and goals in 150 words or less, and basically sell yourself as the ideal candidate for the position.
Here’s a great example of a personal profile:
You could alternatively opt to write a career objective, which is much shorter (about a sentence long) and basically states the position you’re looking for, as shown below:
On that note, career summaries are typically preferred by recruiters over career objectives, as the latter tend to embody a somewhat boring and uninformative introduction.
When writing your employment history section, the general rule of thumb is to list positions in reverse chronological order. This means that you should list your most recent role first and go back from there. That said, unless it’s directly related to the job you’re applying for, any experience older than 15 years old should be left out.
Each entry in your employment history needs to include the following:
- The job title of the position you held
- The name of the employer
- Where the job was located
- Dates of employment
- A brief description of the tasks you performed and any notable achievements
Once put together, it should look something like this:
If you have little to no professional experience or gaps in your employment you need to explain, you could use this section to mention any freelance or volunteer work you did.
The education section should follow the same guidelines for your employment history – that is to say it should list your most recent qualification first.
When listing your education, make sure you include the following for each entry:
- The name of the school, college or university you went to
- The dates the qualifications were awarded
- The grades awarded
- Any work-related courses relevant to the job
Here’s what your education section should look like:
If you have any important achievements worth mentioning, like any awards and honours you received, examples of how you helped an employer meet their targets or important contributions to the community, this is the place. You could even talk about personal achievements such as raising a family but – like everything else on your CV – should only be mentioned if they relate to your job search.
This section is typically divided into two sections: technical and transferrable skills.
Technical skills (also known as hard skills) relate to the skills and knowledge required to perform specific tasks. For example, if you’re a web designer, you would need to be skilled in things such as visual design, UX, coding, SEO and using design software like Photoshop and Illustrator.
Transferrable or soft skills, on the other hand, refer to the skills you picked up over time at school, in extracurricular activities and even from the comfort of your own home, and which can be applied to a wide variety of jobs and industries. Examples include communication, leadership, time management and research skills.
You could even dedicate a little space here for the languages that you speak, if you speak more than one. Make sure to rate your proficiency, typically under one of the following levels: native, fluent, advanced, intermediate and beginner.
Hobbies and interests
Including your hobbies and interests on your CV is entirely optional, but if you do decide to include them, it’s important that you select ones that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, if the position requires international awareness, you could mention your love for travelling as it suggests a keenness for culture. Make sure that you don’t simply write a list of hobbies, though, and instead elaborate a little bit on each one.
Don’t be afraid to list unusual hobbies and activities that you participate in to help you stand out more. Having said that, however, be careful with controversial interests such as shark hunting or political allegiances as they can go against the hiring manager’s own beliefs and, therefore, open the door to prejudice and discrimination.
On that note, don’t lie or exaggerate about hobbies (or anything else, for that matter!), as you’ll quickly get caught out if the interviewer tries to make small talk with you. In other words, if you mention that you’re a fan of 20th-century literature, make sure that you’re not just referring to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
You can add this section if you need to add anything else that’s relevant to the job that you weren’t able to mention elsewhere on your CV. For example, you could mention that you have a clean driver’s licence or even explain a gap in your employment history, like travelling or family reasons.
Other things you can add here include:
- Affiliations and memberships
- Licences and certifications
You should, ideally, include up to three referees on your CV. A referee can be a former employer, teacher, coach or any credible person who will support your application. Friends and, especially, family do not generally make good referees as their impartiality may be questioned by employers.
Whoever you decide to use as references, though, it is important that you ask for their permission first. You should also provide them with a copy of your CV, as well as some background information about the job you’re applying for to help them better sell you to prospective employers.
Generally speaking, when listing references, you should include their name, current job title, company, and contact information, as shown below:
If you’re running low on space, you can choose to mention that you have ‘References available upon request’. Alternatively, you can remove this section altogether and prepare a separate list of references to supply to recruiters if and when they ask for them.
If you are attaching any annexes to your CV, like copies of degrees and qualifications or publications, provide a list of them here. Make sure that you only attach documents that are relevant to the position.
How have you structured your CV? What sections did you include? Do you have any other tips and tricks you’d like to share? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide on how to write a CV for every stage of your career!
Are you still struggling with writing your CV and not quite sure what to include or how to include it? Let the experts at CareerAddict help you!