An Insider’s Guide to Writing a Great CV (Résumé)

An Insider’s Guide to Writing a Great CV (Résumé)

With the recruitment market getting busier and busier, there are increasingly more opportunities available to look at for that fantastic career move. And, as the market heats up, so too does the level of competition for each role.


Recruiters and hiring managers can receive literally hundreds of applications for a role. In reality this means that they may only have a few moments to scan each response before deciding whether to put that person’s CV on the ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’ pile.


To give yourself the very best chance of going on the ‘Yes’ pile, your CV needs to make an immediate impact and demonstrate exactly why you are right to be considered.


A professional and well written CV will promote you in the best possible light, and give you an advantage in helping to secure interviews.


So, how do you write a great CV? What should be included and how should it look? There really is no single right way to structure and present a CV, but from my experience the following should help to provide you with a very good framework to work from.




Before you start writing you must train yourself to think from the reader’s perspective and ensure that each and every application you make is tailored specifically for the role that you are applying for. Remember that this is likely to be your first introduction to a prospective employer, and will form the basis for much of what will be discussed at a first interview.


To make a great impact, your CV should be concise and relevant, the content clear and well structured. I liken this to the days of writing exams at school, or at university – the goal was to make sure that the examiner could read your mark scoring points and pick out keywords and phrases as easily as possible – CV’s are exactly the same.


Roles and Responsibilities


Make these as close a match to the role you are applying for as possible. Ensure that job titles and responsibilities are directly relevant to the job being applied for and where possible an exact match.


Reasons for leaving roles and salary levels or salary expectations should not be included, but you should be ready to discuss these at interview.


Skills and Experience


Keywords are very important here – your CV will be scanned for the right kind of experience: make sure that it is easy to see and clearly explains where you have added value. No matter how long that experience was, a few years or a one-off project, make sure it reads as relevant and consistent to what you are applying for.


Include all relevant skills that you have gained and developed in your current and previous roles. These should compliment your experience and add weight to your application.




Be sure to highlight all key achievements in your CV – Don’t forget that hiring managers love to see the CVs of people who have made significant achievements as well as out performed targets. List these in real terms or as percentages and be able to discuss these at interview.




As with the areas above, be sure to include all relevant education, especially if is mentioned as required or desirable in the job description.


Personal Information


Include your full name, address, telephone numbers, email and visa status, being sure to avoid anything superfluous such as children’s names, sex, religion, sporting teams you support etc. You are not legally required to include your date of birth or marital status, and these should not be included.


Be sure to make yourself as contactable as possible, so include your contact details on the header or footer of each page in case the pages of your CV are separated.


Add links to any relevant website pages and your LinkedIn profile.


If you want to include any hobbies or interests, please keep this short – they actually add very little value.


Referees should not be included but provided on request.


General Tips and Advice




Use only relevant language and keep it jargon-free. The person scanning CV applications may have no technical experience in your area of expertise – often this will be a junior member of staff or generalist HR person. Think keywords at all times.


Your CV should be written in the 3rd person, and in the past tense to describe your career and the present tense for skills and competencies.


Use bullet points rather than full sentences to list skills and responsibilities etc.


Make sentences more direct by using nouns and verbs on their own, e.g. “Major achievements include” or “Increased profits by 24%”


Please avoid cliches – there are so many words that are heavily overused and most recruiters and employers simply ignore them. These include and are certainly not limited to team player, results driven, dynamic, motivated, and entrepreneurial. If it feels like a cliche to you, then it probably is!




Ensure that the layout of your CV is simple, uncluttered and easy to read (remember the exam marker!). Avoid any photos, clip art or borders.


You should use a universal font in one colour (Helvetica, Arial and Times Roman are great) and bold used only to highlight.


Make sure that you send/attach your CV in a format which the recipient will be able to open – this may seem odd to mention but you would be amazed the number of times I have not been able to open an application. If in doubt Word or PDF are best. No one is going to download software just to read your CV – if they can’t open it, they won’t open it.


The file name that you use should be your own name, e.g. jamesnathan-cv.doc – this makes it easy for the hirer and avoids the confusion of a number of applications all called document1.doc or CV.doc.




Make sure that your CV reads consistently and runs in reverse chronological order. There should be no unexplained gaps at all.


Your CV must make sense as a whole document.


Completely Error Free


Proofread, proofread, proofread – and then get someone else to proofread it for you.


Any errors on your CV can spell the end of the line for your application – please don’t let a spelling, grammatical or consistency error put you straight into the ‘No’ pile.


Remember spell checkers don’t sense check your writing, if the word is spelt correctly e.g. if you write ‘hear’ but you meant ‘here’, a spell checker will assume it is correct.


Covering Letter


Each application must be accompanied by a tailored covering letter. Just like the CV this should written specifically for the role that you are applying for.


One last thought


A little extra time and effort spent in drafting your CV and covering letter could make all the difference to your success and could well be the deciding factor between being offered a great new job and starting, or not interviewing at all!


Good luck!


Contact me


For more on developing yourself, your staff and improving the profitability of your business, please do get in touch. You can email me at, or call me on 07736 831151. Follow me on Twitter at @jamesnathan, connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Facebook.


I look forward to being in touch.




Read previous post:
Jack of all trades, master of none

I’ve recently had a call from a good client of mine, asking if I was able to run a new...