And the most important sections of a CV are…
There are a number of compulsory sections and elements that every interview-winning CV should contain. Use the checklists below to see if your CV has all the required components and you’ll have the foundation in place to build an effective CV.
Sections are the compulsory subheadings of a CV. When writing the content for each section of your CV, it’s a great idea to have a job description and person specification to hand, because you will be able to gauge the employer’s tone and use the keywords and skills (that apply to your skills and experience) to form your CV’s sentences. At the very least, you should refer to the job advert or employer’s website for your reconnaissance.
- Name – I recommend putting your first and last name at the top of your CV in bold text. Use a widely available font: Times New Roman, or Calibri works just fine. The main body of my CV is also standard Times New Roman or Calibri.
- Profile – Written immediately beneath your name, the Profile should be no longer than two sentences and provide the reader with a succinct pen picture of you as a professional. Try to include an example of at least one skill and one achievement to immediately grab the reader’s attention.
- Achievements – Some of the most powerful CVs have an independent section – within the top third – dedicated to Achievements. The first third of the CV is a prime spot that employers and recruiters will inevitably look at in the first few seconds of reading a new CV, and they are more likely to want to read on if they see something that matches their specification. I strongly recommend using this tactic, because employers and recruiters don’t want to have to go looking for them. In the CVs I write and design, I certainly prefer to use a dedicated Achievements section, and I’d usually place five to six bullet-pointed sentences beneath the profile so that they appear in the first third of the CV. In the event that you don’t have a dedicated Achievements section, you will need to include them within the Career History.
- Skills (skills-based CV) – Your CV will inevitably showcase skills that you have developed during your career. But it is the way in which you present and relay those skills to the reader that can make your CV stand out from others on the long list. Have a look at ‘how to sell your skills in writing to create a positive tone’ and I will give you some really powerful tips on how to identify and sell your skills to create a real buzz about your job application amongst recruiters and employers. But for the time being, I just want to reiterate an earlier piece of advice – that I’ll probably repeat a couple more times before the end of this eBook – which is that you really should have the job description to hand so that you can see which skills are listed in the person specification. The employer often prioritises skills by putting the most important at the top of the list, or putting an ‘E’ (which stands for essential) next to skills that are a prerequisite for the role. If (and only if) you have the essential skills required for the job, then you must sell them somewhere on your CV. Your sentences should ideally reflect the tone and use the same or similar words as the employer. The interview-winning CVs that I write have a bullet-pointed list of five to six essential or closely related skills within the first third of the CV, which entices the reader to want to find out more about the applicant and means that they stand out from their fellow applicants.
- Career History – This is a key section of your CV, because employers immediately want to understand more about you – so be positive. They particularly want to know where you’ve worked, how long you’ve worked there, what you did, the skills you used, and what you achieved whilst working there. Start with your most recent job first and work your way back (reverse chronology), using bullet points to highlight and summarise each point. Aim to limit your CV to two pages: you don’t need to list every job you’ve done, nor do you need to go into detail about every job you list. You ideally want to highlight the ‘main’ jobs you’ve done, particularly if your experience or industry link to the job you are applying for. If you’ve had a relatively long working career and have a really, really important piece of information that you need to relay to a prospective employer, then you shouldn’t worry too much if you happen to go onto a third page.
- Education – There are just a couple of things to remember when writing this section. Firstly, prioritise the most relevant qualifications; and, secondly, if the employer asks for a degree, then you probably don’t need to go into detail about each of your eight GCSEs.
- Continuing Professional Development (optional) – This section is great for highlighting training, courses and seminars that have helped to develop you as a professional. Employers are impressed with people who take their career and personal development seriously, so this section can really set you apart from regular CVs. Again, you should keep it relevant and targeted to the jobs you’re applying for.
- Interests – Recruiters judge every section of your CV, including your interests, so don’t just list random activities that have no relevance or connection (in terms of skills match) to the job you are applying for.
“listening to music, stamp collecting, horse riding”
I mentioned earlier that it’s not a good idea to just list duties and responsibilities. The same applies to your interests too. My first reaction on seeing the interests listed above is that the job-seeker has some interesting interests, but I’d want to find out more about their ability to work in a team environment. Have a look below:
“Founder member of a successful 5-a-side football team. Drummer in an amateur 5-piece group.”
Only two activities have been listed, but they’d certainly give the reader the impression that the job-seeker is potentially a team player, proactive, sociable and creative. So the message here is that it’s not a competition to see how many interests you list; rather, it’s important to apply some lateral thinking and effort in order to paint a positive picture in the mind of the reader.
- Personal Details – Probably the easiest section to complete. Job-seekers often put their personal details in the first third of the CV. However, this is not necessarily the most effective use of this prime area, because you want the reader, within the first few seconds of scanning the CV, to a) peruse the skills you have and see that they match the vacancy, and b) have a positive feeling about what you’ve achieved and what you can ‘bring to the table’, so to speak. So my advice is to prioritise and put your personal details near the bottom. Include your address with a postcode. The reason I emphasise the postcode is that some recruiters use their sophisticated software to search for applicants in, say, a five- or ten-mile radius of the work location, and will combine the search string with other keywords. You’ll also need to include a phone number – ideally one that you can receive calls on during the day. At the very least you’d have a phone number with voicemail. Last but not least, the personal-details section should also include a sensible email – and by ‘sensible’ I mean something plain and simple that matches the professional look and feel of your CV, for example firstname.lastname@example.org.
- References – Keep this section brief, using the words ‘References available on request’. This means you are in control of who sees your referee and when. Remember to always get the permission of your referee before submitting their details to your future employer.
It’s all well and good having a blueprint for structure and layout but if your content does not stand out against those with similar you’ll be looking for a new role for longer than you anticipated.