The Golden Rules to making a CV

Written by Phil Gratton.


As a student I remember viewing a CV as a document which if phrased correctly and with the right tone, could land you any job from project manager to copywriter, even with limited experience and skills.

Alas, as I graduated and moved into a recruitment position I realised how naïve I had been to assume that flowery writing could make up for a lack of solid experience. Here, I will try to outline some CV golden rules that hopefully will get you that all-important job whether this be a graduate or part time one.

Be specific

This is so important. So many CVs try to cover too many bases in one document. This does not work. You may well be ‘a team player’ and ‘a great communicator’ but guess what? So is everybody else.

Be as specific as you can about meaningful skills which you can bring to the table. Understand that in doing this you are actually distancing yourself from the sea of generic comments on your competitors’ CVs.

If you can use specific software programs, say so. If you are a website designer, then characterize yourself as this specifically. Do not try and broadly appeal to every possible denominator, appeal to as specific a role as you can and make sure you are a good fit.

Be fluid

This links to the first point, and it is just as important. Do not make the mistake of thinking that a CV is a one-time document. It is a fluid, ever-changing document that should be tailored and changed depending on the role you are applying for.

Change your profile statement, change your skills section, even change how you describe your duties. Your aim is to get to an interview, so use the terms that put you in the best light for that particular role.

This could mean that ‘updating the twitter feed’ becomes ‘experience of social media campaigns’. Also be creative with how you describe things, be savvy with employer expectations, and be fluid.

Get experience

It is hard to bluff your way into your dream job with academic experience alone. Even though your education is important, it is not as greatly valued as concrete skills.

So, do voluntary work and get experience of doing the things that you need. Even if you are just working with one other person in a small office updating the website for a local tennis club – suddenly you are demonstrating knowledge of website building.

As well as this you have shown commitment to self-improvement, which speaks volumes to an employer. Do not just assume academia is enough, take action which makes you more employable. Get experience.

Make the CV look good

I do not mean that it must be a CV of graphic splendor, but it should follow some basic rules of layout. Make your headings clear – no one wants to squint to work out where one section ends and another begins, so ensure your headings are separated from the main text.

Similarly, use white space. Do not cram everything together. If you spend your days reading CVs (trust me, I know) there is nothing worse than too much text crammed into a small space. It is hard to digest, and feels like hard work.

Space your CV out to make it easy on the eyes of your prospective employer and try and keep it to 2 pages. Anything longer suggests that you may have waffled. Remember you are trying to summarise your situation in a short time, always assuming that a potential employer may only have limited time to skim through it.

Understand how to use your CV

Self-promotion is as important as having credible skills. Once you are happy with your CV, then market it appropriately.

Understand that websites like are used by recruiters to trawl for CVs to put candidates forward for jobs. Get your CV uploaded to the big recruitment sites and contact from agencies will follow.

Elsewhere use LinkedIn to promote yourself and depending on your sector, you can even use twitter, youtube and facebook. Make sure this does not blur into any drunken Saturday nights – create new business style profiles that show you in your preferred light and follow groups that are related to your industry.

Also, ensure you network with anyone you know in recruitment, or who works in your target industry.  Networking is something you should be doing right now, regardless of whether you need it at the moment. Someday it will may just help you.

And that’s it. Follow these key points and it should help you on the way to a seamless transition from university to working life.

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak to recruiters and ask for advice. They are the industry experts and will work with you to improve your applications, and your understanding of your chosen industry.

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