How to Write a Simple Resume: Step by Step

Over half of the jobseekers I surveyed said that they had sought help at some
point with writing their CV, the most popular tactic being to ask a friend to
look at it. I’m worried about the half that didn’t ask. These applicants also
revealed that their biggest challenge was writing their personal statement,
which is something that we will cover later in this chapter. It’s included last
because it’s easier to craft it once you’ve completed the rest of your CV (and
not just because it’s a good excuse to put it off).


A super CV needs to be a concise and straightforward representation of the
‘Super You’. This means that the way you write your CV has a major impact
on whether it survives the seven-second recruiter test, and also on whether it
keeps them reading to the end. So before we move into how to communicate
your job history, qualifications, and skills, let’s look first at some general
writing tips that will make an enormous difference to how well your CV will
be received.

Words to avoid

Here’s what not to use.

  • Long, passive phrases – they put the reader to sleep (more on themin a moment)
  • Overly technical information and jargon, unless you’re sure the recruiter will understand it
  • Recruiters’ pet hates, such as:
    • Goal-driven
    • Strong work ethic
    • Multi-tasker
    • Detail-oriented
    • Self-motivated

Why do hiring managers pass over these? Because they’re clichés that
they’ve read thousands of times before, and they don’t really say a lot about
you. Hands up if you know what a goal-driven, detail-oriented, multi-tasker
actually is? Neither do recruiters. Sometimes, of course, you’ll need to use
these words, but make them more meaningful by expanding on why, and give
examples of where you’ve shown these qualities. A recruiter doesn’t just
want to know that you’re goal-driven, they want to be convinced by the
evidence for it.

In the last chapter we touched on the importance of being a confident
‘Super You’, and why you’re best assuming that you’re more capable than
you think you are. One way jobseekers can give themselves away in the
confidence stakes is by overusing what are called ‘qualifiers’. These are
words such as ‘quite’, ‘probably’, ‘sometimes’, and ‘possibly’. Try
eliminating these words from your CV and see how that makes it more
forthright. Don’t focus on what you can’t do but on what you can.
Introductions like, ‘Although I don’t have much experience in …’ won’t do
you any favours. If you lack a qualification or skill for the position you’re
applying for, apologising will not persuade the employer to consider
you, and if it’s not completely necessary, why mention it? Instead, draw
attention to the skills and experiences that make you a good fit.

‘“Quite” is a word that should never be in a CV.’

Words to use

So what should you write instead? It goes without saying that you should
always be positive when describing yourself, which means using power
words. Some examples of powerful ways to describe yourself are:

  • Accurate
  • Adaptable
  • Caring
  • Committed
  • Confident
  • Dependable
  • Flexible
  • Hard-working
  • Innovative
  • Pro-active
  • Resilient
  • Responsible

Again, make sure that you back them up with evidence by including them in
your previous experience, responsibilities, accomplishments, and any targets
you’ve hit.

‘A good CV isn’t just words, it’s numbers as well. So in
accountancy, if you put 3,000 invoices a month on a ledger, don’t
just write, “I completed the ledger”, because you could be doing
that for an SME in a team of one, or a blue chip company in a
team of ten.’

Here are some power words you can use to describe what you’ve done, and
you can find a longer list here:

  • Accomplished
  • Achieved
  • Completed
  • Created
  • Developed
  • Formulated
  • Generated
  • Implemented
  • Innovated
  • Introduced
  • Led
  • Managed
  • Negotiated
  • Planned
  • Produced
  • Represented
  • Secured
  • Started

Again, how you use these words is as important as the ones you choose in the
first place. Formulate strong statements that demonstrate your skills and
experience in action, using terms that show you are positive and proactive.
Flimsy phrases such as, ‘Attempted to improve internal communications’
won’t get you an interview. And finally, always use the active, rather than the
passive, voice. Here’s the difference:

  • Passive voice: ‘I am considered to be an excellent communicator.’
  • Active voice: ‘I am an excellent communicator.’

The active voice is more concise and impactful, helping your CV to pass
the seven-second test. And, of course, in a real CV you’d back up your claim
to be an excellent communicator with an impressive, specific example.

How to Present your Employment History

Clearly, the order in which you put your jobs, qualifications, and skills will
depend on what format of CV you choose. We’re assuming a reversechronological format here because that’s the most commonly used, but you
can adapt these tips to your own needs.

List your jobs from the most recent to the most distant, along with the
month and year you began and finished each one, using a consistent heading
format. Underneath, add three or four bullet points that cover your key
achievements and responsibilities. More recent or relevant jobs may need
more bullets, and the opposite is true for ones that are less so. Your task is to
highlight what’s most likely to get you an interview – in other words, what
makes you the best fit for the job.

‘Nobody gets into sales because they’re brilliant with the written
word. They do so because they have great people skills. As a
result, they’re usually highly networked and well known in their
vertical market – often they can be 20 years into their careers
without ever having to have had to send out a CV. They can
usually ace an interview once they get one, but the CV will usually
be the one aspect of their application that requires the most TLC.’

An area that might hold you back is if your current job title doesn’t do justice
to your level of responsibility, or the nature of what you do. What should you
do? Change your job title or embellish your role? Please, no. There are some
easy ways around this problem. First of all, clarify your position. If you’ve
been an assistant manager for three years, but have been doing a manager’s
role for the past year and can pretty much run the place blindfolded, instead
of putting ‘Assistant Manager’ as your job title, put ‘Name of company: three
years’. Then, clarify in the first bullet point below that you’ve been working
at manager level, but you’ve never had an updated job title. Whatever you do,
don’t lie and say you have the title of manager – one fact-checking call from
their HR department will blow your cover sky high.

Another common problem is what to do if you’ve held more than one role
at a company. You don’t want to hide a promotion or a broadening of your
experience. If the jobs were similar in nature, write the company name and
list the job titles underneath, like this:

X Company

Personal Assistant (September 2015–Present)
Executive Assistant (January 2013–September 2015)

  • Key achievement or responsibility 1
  • Key achievement or responsibility 2
  • Key achievement or responsibility 3

These bullets should focus on your most impressive accomplishments in both
roles combined. If the jobs were in different areas or required very different
skills, however, list the company once but break out the titles and treat them
as two completely separate roles:

X Company

Personal Assistant (September 2015–Present)

  • Key achievement or responsibility 1
  • Key achievement or responsibility 2
  • Key achievement or responsibility 3

Accounts Co-ordinator (January 2013–September 2015)

  • Key achievement or responsibility 1
  • Key achievement or responsibility 2
  • Key achievement or responsibility 3