How to write a good cv to get your dream job

19th Jun 2021

Creating a good CV for a job application takes time and one of main the tools you will need in your toolkit to find a job, so it can be frustrating to think that it could be rejected in the first round. Avoid the following mistakes  in writing your CV for the job you are applying for. 

1. Failing to tailor the CV

A common mistake that many job seekers make in trying to write a good CV is to not tailor their application and sadly when it comes to a CV, one size does not fit all. Many recruiters are now using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) for the initial sift of hundreds of applications. At this stage, if you have not incorporated the keywords from the job in your CV you will be discounted, and therefore not make it through to the next recruitment stage. When applying for a role, it is essential that you study both the essential and desirable criteria and match your experience and skills to what they are looking for. Market yourselfby providing examples of when you have demonstrated these competencies and thereby show that you are the perfect fit the role.

2. CV Format

CVs with inconsistent formatting that are difficult to follow is a huge deciding factor for recruiters when they are screening CVs. Recruiters traditionally prefer a simple black and white design, with a consistent font, size and spacing between sections and paragraphs. ATS software does not favour tables and text boxes which can confuse the ATS software resulting in your application being automatically rejected.

CVs need to be easily scanned by both the ATS Software and human-eye, so ensure your CV avoids fonts smaller than a 10. Another area that is often overlooked is the size of the margins, also known as the white space around the outside of the text. It is advised for the margins to be no smaller than 1.4 cm around the entire document. Ensure if the resume is printed out that the CV reads properly, and that no information is missed. Check that your CV is the same font and spacing throughout and double-check that the different sections of the CV are broken up with clear headings making it much easier to scan through.

3. Lack of accomplishments

It can be quite easy to make your CV read just like a job description, but what recruiters are really looking for, is to see what you achieved, what value you added to the business and that you are more than "doer”. Where possible quantify your achievements with percentages, numbers, and monetary values. An example might include, I introduced a customer marketing campaign that resulted in an 85% increase in sales. Avoid using passive phrases such as responsible for, but instead opt for action or accomplishment words, such as created, reduced, and managed, which show your direct involvement within the task.  

4. Spelling and Grammatical Errors

One of the easiest mistakes to make on a CV is poor spelling and grammar yet so easy to avoid with effective proofreading. This shows to an employer a lack of attention to detail and will speak volumes to the recruiter about your commitment and focus to your job search. It often helps to print off a copy of the CV or read this aloud with a fresh pair of eyes. This will also allow you to pick up on any auto-correct misspellings that could have been corrected for you and have completely different meanings. Also, double-check the language that the document is automatically set to; ensure this is relevant to the country you are applying for work in. Sometimes the document converts to American English automatically; examples such as Organised and Organized are quite different.

5. Unnecessary Information

It can be tempting to include every single detail of your career and life history on your CV, but ask yourself honestly, does an employer really need to know about every single job you have had since you left school- probably not? Don’t be afraid to remove roles that are over 15 years ago. 

A general rule is that a CV should be a maximum of 2 pages, with exceptions for senior management and academic CVs that could be longer than the standard 2 pages. You can strike out personal information such as date of birth, marital status, the reason for leaving a previous employer and the terms and conditions of that employment, such as salary. Also, remove any unprofessional email addresses and your full mailing address; the county location and postcode would be sufficient. You also don’t need to include specific reference details which take up valuable space, as it’s implied that you would be able to supply these once offered the role.

A photograph is also no longer needed on UK-based CVs; but would be acceptable in certain industries and professions, such as work in the media or to apply for work as a model. However, these need to be a headshot only and of course professional. A CV should contain the following sections: Contact Information, Professional Profile, Work Experience/ Career Summary, Education/Training and Skills; how these will vary depending on what career stage you are at. You may also decide to include other sections, such as Certifications, Associations, Languages, Training/Courses, Conferences, Publications and Awards. Also don’t forget to include links to examples of work, a portfolio if you have one and LinkedIn Profile.

6. Irrelevant Sections

Depending on the stage of your career, certain sections of the CV will seem more relevant than others. A recent graduate, for example, may want to make more of a feature of the education section and could be lighter on the work history. As you progress further through your career, and you gain more experience, the education section may seem less relevant, and you may opt for a professional development section highlighting professional memberships or recent training courses. The hobbies and interests section is more of a personal choice and should only be included if it supports your application or job search. 

A personal interest in fitness and wellbeing could be of particular benefit within a highly pressurised working environment, and shows that you know how to spend your downtime and unwind from a busy working day. A word of caution though, some interests should never be shared with a prospective employer, including anything that might be considered as controversial, including political and religious affiliations and allegiances to sports teams. Also, hobbies such as reading, computer games and watching films- although enjoyable to you, may demonstrate a lack of creativity and teamwork. 

7. Heavy Text

A recruiter has seconds to read your CV, so the professional profile needs to be punchy and outline who you are and what you are looking for; studies have recently found that the ideal length of a professional profile would be between 50 and 200 words. This section should then be followed by a clear and concise summary of skills, career, education, and professional development; with the order of these sections varying depending on what stage in your career that you are at. Ensure the information is well organised and structured to ensure maximum readability.  Bullet points can be effective in highlighting key areas of information and subheadings can allow the reader to scan and locate the required information.

8. Gaps in Employment

Leaving unaccounted for gaps on a CV could be costly if left unexplained. Gaps in employment of more than a few months need to be explained. Don’t be afraid to talk about your travels, volunteering, or caring responsibilities; more importantly, highlight the skills it allowed you to develop and what you learnt from the experience. A brief sentence with the dates should cover this and you always have the option to explain in greater detail in the cover letter.

9. Lying on a CV

It can be tempting to exaggerate an area of your career or education to make it sound more impressive than it is- who will ever find out? But never assume recruiters won’t make their enquiries. Employers are very resourceful and are able to obtain references and background checks so they can easily verify things like job title, company names and even things like school grades. Don’t assume they won’t do their homework.

10. Not including a cover letter

As much as a strong CV that follows the above advice will a massive difference in your job search, it’s only half of what you need. The CV should always be accompanied with a covering letter detailing your suitability for the role. It’s also the perfect opportunity to highlight how you meet the key selection criteria and should highlight your suitability and be personalised for each role you apply for. It’s also good to show your enthusiasm for the role and the company and don’t be afraid to include your research.