Preparing a Curriculum Vitae isn’t easy.
There are a number of common pitfalls which could be hindering your
chances of finding the right job.
Have you gone into enough detail…. have you
gone into too much detail? Is it too long? Is it well spaced and
easy to read? Ultimately does it sell you? Getting your experience
and strengths across in a concise way takes some thought.
We see hundreds of CVs at Tandem each month, some
good and some not so good! Drawing on our experiences over the years
we’ve put a few suggestions together to help make the process
a little less onerous.
- Ensure that you choose a font that is easily legible and
preferably fairly standard eg. Times New Roman or Arial.
- Avoid mixing fonts as this can make the CV look too busy.
Instead use italic, bold and/or underline to highlight or separate
- Do not use a font size of less that 11 – you want people
to be able read what you have written!
- Ideally a CV should be two pages long. One page is fine if
you have little work experience and three is just about acceptable
but only if really, really necessary! With reference to the
above point, squashing everything together is not the answer!
Ensure that there are spaces between sections and between employment
- Start with your name. Ensure that it stands out.
- Follow this with your contact details, including mobile and
email address – make it as easy as possible for employers
to contact you. If you wish you can also include here your date
of birth and transport situation.
- In our opinion Marital status is not really relevant nowadays
and nor is the number of children you have, their names or their
ages…..you may be very proud but prospective employers
really do not need to know!
- Use this space wisely, for example do not list everything
down the page, you need to save space for the more important
bits. Instead try using two columns or write your address in
one line and centre it under your name.
- A profile acts as an introduction to you. Just as people make
judgments very quickly upon first meeting someone, a prospective
employer will gain their first impressions of you from your
- Ideally it should be a short, concise paragraph. Too long
and there’s a chance it won’t be read.
- Use this as an opportunity to draw attention to you strongest
skills, highest achievements and ambitions.
- Resist the urge to use subjective words such as reliable,
trustworthy and hardworking – anyone can say what a great
person they are! Try being more factual e.g. ‘Electrical
/ Mechanical Engineer with ten years maintenance experience.
Qualified to NVQ Level 3, I have working knowledge of conveyer
belt systems and PLCs.’
Employment History v Education
- Next should come either Education & Qualifications or
Employment History. The order depends on a) the job that you
are applying for and what it is that you feel is most relevant
for the role and b) how long ago it was that you had your education
or did your qualifications.
- If you have twenty years of sales experience and are applying
for a similar role your 6 ‘O’ levels and degree
in drama should not come first! On the other hand you may have
just completed your NVQ 3 in Mechanical Engineering and be eager
for a change from electrical work in which case your qualifications
are the most important.
- Whichever you choose to put first, make sure you use sub heading
so a prospective employer can easily find the information that
- Start with your current or most recent employment and go backwards
- Each employment entry should start with your dates of employment,
the company name and location (in the age of the internet full
addresses are not necessary) and your job title. Ideally this
information should be highlighted in some way.
- Then should follow up to 10 bullet points (max!) detailing
your duties, responsibilities significant achievements and,
if relevant, packages/software used. Resist the temptation to
put everything in. Good recruiters should be able to read between
the lines and will realise that if, for example, you held a
management role, you probably attended regular meetings and
can use email!
- If you have had a long and varied career you do not need to
go into the same amount of detail for each role. Concentrate
either on your most recent roles or the ones that are most relevant
to the job for which you are applying. If you have held several
roles it is sufficient to just put one or two bullet points
for employment that is 10 years ago or more. If however you
have only had two or three jobs you can afford to go into a
little more detail.
- It is better to explain gaps in your employment history. You
may have been travelling, caring for a sick relative or you
may have had a period of unemployment. If this is the case describe
what you did with your time - for example developing your skills
by partaking in courses or working voluntarily.
Education & Qualifications
- The general rule here is that your most recent qualifications
are the most relevant. However, your background will dictate
how much detail you include.
- It is usual to include the name and location and dates of
your secondary education. GCSE results or equivalent should
also be included but if you took them many years ago specific
subjects and grades are probably not necessary.
- This should be followed by details of any further education,
again including dates, names of establishments, qualifications
and results achieved.
- In this section you should also include details of recent
training or skills development events you have attended which
could be relevant and any professional memberships.
- Remember to keep it clear, and succinct. If you’ve
attended many courses over the years include only those that
relate to the job for which you are applying
Hobbies & interests
- This section will give a prospective employer more of a rounded
view of you as a person. Two or three lines or a few bullet
points are sufficient but use this opportunity wisely. If at
all possible pick hobbies that you (genuinely!) have which might
imply characteristics of an ideal candidate for the role. E.g.
Dramatic Arts for a sales role that possibly calls for someone
with an outgoing nature.
- You do not want to waste valuable space listing names and
addresses. It is sufficient to have a heading ‘References’
with the words ‘Available on request’ underneath.
Just make sure that you do have details available of at least
one previous employers willing to provide a reference if asked.
- It is essential that you include a covering letter when sending
out your CV. The letter should get the employer interested in
you and what you could potentially offer. Do not be tempted
to use a standard letter, it should be geared to each specific
- If you are responding to an advertisement the purpose of the
letter is to clarify which position it is that you are interested
in and draw the employer’s attention to any relevant experience
that you have. Don’t repeat what’s on your CV but
highlight specific points that relate to the content of the
- If you are sending your CV speculatively you should explain
the type of position you are looking for and to detail your
- Whatever your situation keep it formal, clear and concise.
Two to three short paragraphs should be sufficient.
Some final points
- Avoid trying to be funny. Your prospective employer may not
share your sense of humour.
- Do not be tempted to stretch the truth, you could end up in
hot water. There is no harm however in minimising less favourable
details, e.g. omitting poor GCSE grades.
- Check thoroughly for spelling mistakes and errors with punctuation.
Then check again!
- Finally be prepared to try doing something different. If your
CV is not working for you don’t keep sending the same
one out! If possible ask for feedback from employers that have
turned you down, find out what is going against you and try
an alternative approach.