By Nicholas Buck

Whenever I say to a potential candidate, “do you have an up-to-date CV you can send through?”, I’m often greeted with the response “I have a CV but it’s not up-to-date”. This is usually followed by one or more of the following CV-related questions:

·       Which format is best?

·       How long should my CV be?

·       What sort of CV do I need?

·       What should I include?

·       What should I exclude? and, perhaps most commonly,

·       How can I get my CV noticed (for the right reasons?)

This last question is pertinent given that hirers are often looking at dozens, if not hundreds of CVs at the early stages of candidate assessment. As such, even meticulous recruiters may be required to work with haste through a large list of CVs.

I suspect also that there’s a belief among candidates that the platonic CV exists: a flawless (and theoretical) document that perfectly sums up your professional background, and that will guarantee its writer a new role if only she conforms her writing to this ideal! When it comes to CV preparation - as in many professional disciplines - the hacking mentality is alive and well!

The truth is more untidy than that. For those wanting some simple guidelines for CV preparation, below is a list of suggestions that many candidates we’ve worked with have found useful:

The golden rule isapply sound business writing disciplines to the preparation of your CV. That is, format sensibly, leave plenty of white space on the page, and be economical - but not stingy - with your prose. Doing this alone will go a long way to making your CV accessible to even the most time-poor hirer.

Make the trajectory clear. Presenting your career history in a chronological sequence is a good rule of thumb. If there are any career breaks or rapid movements between (non-contract) roles, it is useful to articulate further the context/rationale.   

Requirements and achievements. A good way to divide your professional history is, for each role, to provide a few bullet points that summarise your job description (requirements) and what you actually did (achievements) while in the role. Use your better judgement to determine how much detail to provide – somewhere between pamphlet and War and Peace. As one researcher put it: “Ensure you’re giving us enough information for us to make a positive decision, but leave us wanting a little more, you can share the rest at interview.”

Distinguish the CV from your cover letter. A common trap is to treat a cover letter as a CV overflow, a space in which to cram a few extra career highlights that didn’t scan neatly into your CV. I counsel against this - instead focus your cover letter on why you were interested in the hiring organisation, the role in question, and what you would bring to the role. 250 words is plenty. Remember, the cover letter is merely intended to tease and entice the recruiter to want to read your CV.

Authenticity is key. Having finished your CV, it is important to look at the document and feel that it speaks honestly to who you are professionally. Are there any gaps? Anything you’d like to re- or de-emphasise?  


Please keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and whilst there are no hard and fast rules, you can’t go too wrong if you keep it legible and interesting. Finally (and this goes without saying), ensure that your spelling and punctuation are correct. A sure-fire way to create a bad first impression is to get this wrong.

If you’ve got any further specific questions on CV preparation and how we might be able to assist, feel free to get in touch.


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