How to write a CV
Why you need a CV
A CV is a short, written summary of your skills, achievements and experience related to your desired role. You use it in the first stage of applying for jobs. Employers often ask for a CV instead of an application form, but sometimes you'll need both.
It's your first chance to promote yourself to an employer. A good CV will get you to an interview.
Use it to apply for advertised jobs or to introduce yourself to employers you'd like to work for. They may have vacancies that need to be advertised.
Start with the job advert for the role you're applying for so you can refer to the following:
- Job description
- Person specification
- Company details
Think about how your skills and experience match what the employer is looking for and gather the information you’ll need, including:
- Your qualifications
- Your past jobs and volunteering experience
- Your past employers' details
- Evidence of any training courses you've completed
You should tailor your CV to suit the job description and the company. If the job you're applying for does not have a job description, you can look at our job profiles to understand the skills you’ll need and the typical things you’ll do in that job.
There are different CV styles, so use the one that best matches your role and stage in your life or career.
- Traditional CV or chronological CV: lists your work and education history, starting with the most recent
- Skills based or targeted CV: focus on your job-related skills and personal qualities
- Technical CV: Used in professions like IT and engineering, it highlights the skills you have that are important in your industry
- Creative CV: used in creative and digital arts and can link to an online portfolio, contain video or infographics, or include digital tools that make you stand out from the crowd
- Academic CV: generally longer than a traditional or skills-based CV and often used for teaching and research careers
Your finished CV should be no more than 2 sides of A4 unless it’s an academic CV.
You'll need to provide details of how employers can contact you if they want to offer you an interview.
You should only include your:
- Name at the top of the page - no need to add 'CV' or 'curriculum vitae
- Phone number which employers can reach you during the working day
- Email address - always use a professional-sounding email address
- You can also provide a link to your professional networking profile, like LinkedIn.
Do not include your age, date of birth, marital status, or nationality.
This is a few short lines that sum up who you are and what you hope to do. It should go just under your name and contact details.
Think about the job you want and what the employer is looking for. Make your profile sound like you're the right person for the job.
You can add this section after your personal profile if you're early in your career or need more work experience. Whatever order you choose, you'll need to include the following:
- Names of your qualifications
- School, college or university where you studied
- Dates you attended
- If you’re older and have had several jobs, you should first change the order and show your work history and skills.
Include placements, volunteering, and any paid jobs you've had. You should list these with the most recent first and include the following:
- The employer details
- The job title
- The dates you worked there
- What you did, usually 2 to 3 lines
Use active words to highlight your strengths and skills, to describe things you've done like:
Give positive examples of your achievements rather than just listing responsibilities. Use the STAR method to help.
If you’ve had a lot of jobs, you can use a skills-based CV to group them.
Gaps in your work history
A skills-based CV is useful when you have gaps in your work history. Give examples of skills you've developed when you were out of work and how you got them.
If you need help explaining times when you were not able to work, you can get advice from organisations like:
Rethink if you've been affected by mental illness
Carers UK for returning to work after caring
Nacro for support if you have a criminal record
If you’re applying for your first job, you can focus on skills you’ve learned through:
- Part-time work
- Work experience
- Internships and placements
- Hobbies, interests, or achievements (try to show the skills you have through your hobbies and interests. Focus on examples that show you have relevant skills for the job - this CV section is helpful if you have little work experience)
You can leave out the details of your references at this point or mention that 'references are available on request'.
The recruiter will ask for these when you reach the next stage.
Tips for writing a CV
Employers get many CVs to look at and must decide quickly who they will interview. Here are some tips to make your CV stand out for all the right reasons.
When writing your CV, remember to:
- Research the company and the job before you start
- Choose a CV style that fits your situation or one that employers in that sector prefer
- Use a clear font like Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri, size 11 or bigger and always use the same style throughout
- Use headings, bullet points and spacing to break information up to make it easier to read
- Be clear and to the end and keep it to 2 sides of A4
- Match the words you use to the keywords in the job description
- Get someone else to read it, and double-check your spelling and grammar
- Save a backup copy and convert it to PDF format for emailing
How to write a cover letter
A cover letter introduces you to an employer and asks them to consider your application.
It’s a short letter, usually 3 to 5 paragraphs long.
When to include a cover letter
You should always include a cover letter when you apply for a job using a CV.
You can write it as an email if you're applying online or print a copy for a paper application.
When writing a cover letter, let the employer know you’re keen by showing that you’ve researched the company. Learn more about what they do through:
• Their website
• Recent news articles
• Talking to people you know who work there
Send it to the right person.
It's essential to address your cover letter to someone by name. Check you have the details of the person you need to send it to.
You'll need their name and preferred title. For example, 'Dr', 'Mr', 'Mrs', 'Ms', and their job title. You should also ensure you have the right company name and address, including postcode.
If you do not know their name, you can check the company website if the job advert does not include a name. Try to find details of the head of the department, head of human resources or a recruitment manager.
If you still cannot find a name, start your letter with 'Dear Sir or Madam'.
Introduce yourself and explain how you found the advertised job. You can mention the job title and reference number if there is one.
If you’re asking about any job openings and not applying to a vacancy, tell them what sort of job you’re looking for. Let the employer see how keen you are to work for them.
Show you're suitable for the job
Highlight your skills and experience that match what the employer is looking for.
Convince them that you're enthusiastic about working for them. Let them know you share their work values, culture and style.
Give extra information
If you have gaps in your employment history, you could talk about the skills you gained while out of work.
If you’ve mentioned on your CV that you have a disability, you might want to talk more about this in your cover letter. Organisations like Disability UK can give you advice on how to do this. You do not have to mention your disability at this stage if you prefer not to.
You can get more help with specialist advice on finding work if you have a disability.
Ending your cover letter
Thank the employer for considering your application. Tell them they can get more details from your CV, and tell them you're looking forward to hearing from them.
Let them know how they can best contact you. Ensure your contact details are correct on your cover letter and CV.
Yours sincerely or yours faithfully
If you know the name of the person you’re writing to, you should end the letter with ‘Yours sincerely’.
If you’ve addressed the letter ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, you should end the letter with ‘Yours faithfully’.
Tips for writing a cover letter
When writing your cover letter, remember to:
• Write a new one for every job you apply for, and make sure it's tailored to the company and the specific role
• Use the same font and size as you do for your CV so it looks consistent
• Make sure the company name and recruiter's details are correct
• Use the right language and tone: Keep it professional and match the keywords used by the employer in their job advert
• Show you’ve done your research into the job and the company
• Highlight your most relevant skills and experience to stand out from other applicants
• Back up any statements you make with facts and use the STAR method
• Double-check spelling and grammar before you send it
• Keep a copy of your cover letter, as they may ask you about it in an interview