Let’s get the first steps out of the way, so that you’re confident you’re
starting on the right foot. Here’s what to include:
Your name and contact details. Yes, this is obvious. But believe it or not,
there are jobseekers who forget that a recruiter needs to be able to get in
touch with a jobseeker if they like what they see. So add your full name (first
name and surname, there’s no need to include Mr or Mrs), address, and a way
of being contacted. Give an email address and phone number (if you’re happy
to be called and you’ll be able to answer it – you don’t want the recruiter to
have to leave more than one voicemail). Bonus tip: nothing says ‘I job hunt
on my boss’s time’ like using your work email address.
‘I’m surprised at how open some people are about listing
potentially inappropriate email addresses in their contact
information, such as [email protected].’
Your social media accounts and/or personal website. There are pros and
cons to adding social media details into your CV, and we’ll go through them
in Chapter 8. For now, just be aware that you may want to include these at
Hobbies and interests. These are good to include because while your work
history and qualifications tell the story of your head, your hobbies and
interests tell the story of your heart. In other words, what you choose to do in
your spare time can be more revealing than what you have to do at work.
They also offer useful talking points and common interests for your
interview, and demonstrate the mindset qualities of Good, Global, and Grit
that I explained here. What’s more, if you lack work history they can show
your suitability in other ways. Having said all that, consider including them
only if doing so achieves at least one of the following:
- Shows you have an aptitude for the specific role
- Helps you to stand out if you have an unusual hobby
- Illustrates your mindset qualities
‘We had a CV once in which the candidate said she cleaned her
car daily and had gravel in her driveway.’
Here are a few examples of interests and how they could relate to a role:
- Coding or programming (for a technology job)
- Fashion and beauty blogging (for journalists, copywriters, and fashion jobs)
- Sports and conditioning training (for personal trainers and jobs in sport)
- Being president of a society or club (for management positions)
- Cooking and baking (for jobs in the catering industry)
- Theatre and drama (for jobs in sales)
- Coaching a local football team (for jobs requiring leadership and motivation)
Hobbies and interests are subjective – one person’s passion is another’s idea
of hell, so consider how they might appear to someone who doesn’t know
you. Also, being specific makes them more believable and concrete. For
instance, ‘a weekly five-a-side football game with friends’ is not as
compelling as, ‘I successfully organised a range of regional five-a-side
football tournaments, including managing the bookings, venues, and
participants’. And always put your hobbies and interests at the end of your
CV – they’re there to seal the deal, not as a key selling point.
‘I once received a CV for a cinema manager position and in the
hobbies and interests section the applicant said that “he liked to
On the other hand, if you don’t think you have any hobbies or interests worth
mentioning, don’t put ‘socialising with friends’ or ‘going to the cinema’.
These won’t add value to your CV, so you’re better off leaving this section
out entirely. But do consider taking up some volunteering or involving
yourself in your community – it’s a great hobby and a way of showing you
can be a committed team player.
‘I ask candidates to list their hobbies and interests then tell me
what they say about them. For example, if you’re a rock climber,
that may mean you’re a risk taker.’
‘Under interests and achievements, someone wrote that they had
“potentially swum with saltwater crocodiles”. It was the
“potentially” part that made me giggle.’
THE BASICS TO LEAVE OUT
We have all experienced oversharing. There is even a hashtag used to
indicate that someone has provided an excessive amount of personal
information, #TMI (too much information). When writing your CV you need
to include just enough information to put your message across successfully,
but not so much that you distract the reader from the main event. This means
that there are a few elements that you should definitely leave out:
Your marital status. This isn’t relevant and to include it could be considered
Your religion. Unless you’re applying for a religious role, this isn’t one to
include. It could alienate or even offend the recruiter, and you don’t want to
give the impression you’re intending to bring your beliefs into your
workplace or job (however unfair that may seem).
Your age, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. It’s illegal for an
employer to discriminate according to these, so they’d rather you leave this
Now you know the obvious details to include and remove, let’s look at the
other main areas a recruiter will be interested in: your skills, work history,
education, and qualifications.
YOUR IRRESISTIBLE INGREDIENTS
Writing your CV is a bit like making a cake. You need your ingredients to
hand before you begin (that’s your skills, experience, and qualifications), so
that you can mix them together in the right order (that’s your CV format).
After that, you put it in the oven to bake (that’s your checking and
proofreading) and finally you decorate it so it’s tempting and delicious (that’s
your tailoring). At the end you will have a CV to share with whoever may be
most attracted by it, and that will definitely take just seven seconds to
Tempting though it may be to dive into writing your CV straight away, it
pays to gather the ingredients before you begin. If you don’t do that, you run
the risk of forgetting some key fact, or of overlooking a useful skill you
didn’t think you had. Also, you may become distracted if you have to hunt
for key information part way through writing. Here’s a checklist of the
information you need:
- The key jobs you’ve done, together with dates
- Educational achievements and qualifications
- Work-related training and qualifications
- Your skills, split into hard and soft
- Your transferable skills
Let’s look at each element in turn:
Your past and current jobs. Not surprisingly, recruiters want to know what
you’ve already done so they can judge whether you have the right experience
for the job on offer. Even apart from this, your employment history says a lot
about you: what you enjoy (and don’t enjoy), how long you tend to stick
around in a company, and what you’re good at. So dredge your memory, look
through old CVs, ask your friends and family if you need to, and come up
with a list of all the jobs you’ve done since you left school (or even while you
were there, if you’re a recent leaver). You don’t need the exact date of
starting and leaving – the month and year are usually sufficient.
When I asked hiring managers what was the most important factor for
making a CV stand out, they said one thing loud and clear: relevant work
history. This means that the way you present your work history must explain
how you’ve already done, or are prepared to do, what they’re looking for.
This isn’t always easy even when you have the right experience, but when
you haven’t it can feel downright dispiriting. There are various clever ways
of tackling this issue, and we’ll look at them not only in this chapter but also
in Chapter 6.
‘Including reasons for leaving can be a good idea if you’ve done a
lot of contract work, as you don’t want people to think you’re a job
What if you’ve not been working for long? You might be worried that your
job history will look a bit bare. But remember, what you do outside of work
can have as much of an impact on a recruiter as what you do in it – it says a
lot about you as a person and shows initiative and commitment. You can
include these elements even if you have a long work history, of course, but
they’re particularly useful if you have some space to fill. Think about what
you can contribute from these areas of your life:
Volunteer work. This could be helping out in your local community,
volunteering for a charity, or even manning the cake stall at your school fair.
If you can show commitment and leadership, teamwork, or project
management skills, it’s worth including. Also, pinpoint your major
accomplishments and what you learned during your involvement – these
could be great ingredients for your skills section.
Hobbies and interests. As mentioned earlier, if you can show how these are
relevant to the job you’re applying for, they can be a helpful way of rounding
out your CV.
‘Someone applied for a post as a researcher to a Tory MP,
proudly telling me how long they’d been a member of the Labour
Major life experiences. Studying abroad, having a side job, writing a blog, or
running a part-time business – these can all show your personal qualities.
That eBay habit of yours could be a substitute for business work history if
you’ve made a profit on what you’ve sold. Or what about your Duke of
Edinburgh Award? What did that teach you?
Your education, training, and qualifications. Split these into those that are
‘general’ and those that are directly related to the role you’re applying for.
Make sure you have specifics such as dates and grades, as well as any special
awards or extra courses you’ve been on.
‘One of my favourite CV howlers: City In Gills instead of City and
Your hard skills. A hard skill is something you know, are trained in, or have
an aptitude for – examples are creating a pivot table in Excel, driving a
forklift truck, or managing projects using PRINCE2®. You’ll notice these are
objective skills, which means that someone watching you could see you were
putting them into practice. It can be tricky to pull your own list of hard skills
together because we tend to take for granted what we know, so give this one
some serious thought. Think back on the jobs you’ve done, and jot down the
knowledge that you gained in each. Then ask yourself: what type of work is
always given to you because you’re a safe pair of hands? What does your
boss praise you for? What do your colleagues come to you for help with?
What training courses have you been on? These will give you clues as to
what hard skills you have.
Your soft skills. A soft skill is a bit like the elephant in the room: you just
know it’s there. Your soft skills affect how you do your job, and examples
are teamwork, leadership, time management, problem solving, and
communication. They make a huge difference to being offered an interview,
because they help to differentiate between you and other candidates.
Employers don’t just want someone who can do the job, they want someone
who can rub along well with others, inspire them, and communicate
effectively. In fact, you can think of your soft skills as being like the filling in
your CV cake, binding together the solid layers to make a tempting whole.
Because they’re not easy to observe they can be hard to pin down, and
you’d not be the only candidate to figure you could fake your soft skills
because no-one can prove whether you have them or not. Who’ll know,
right? Wrong. Tossing a random bunch of soft skills into your CV mix is a
recipe for disaster, as recruiters are masters at ignoring them when they’re
vaguely presented without timescales, dates, or attachments to jobs or tasks.
The best way to talk about them is with evidence based on your
achievements, so while you’re listing your soft skills, think about where
you’ve proved that you’ve put them into practice. You also want to make
sure that you don’t appear self-contradictory. If you say you’re great at
working with people but are equally adept at operating alone, for instance,
this might not come across as believable.
‘There are three things that should be clear in your core skills: the 1ST is a number (three years’ experience, for instance), the
2ND is a name drop (where did you obtain that experience?), and
the 3RD is proof.’
Your transferable skills. These are skills you’ve developed in a previous
role, that will help you succeed in the one you’re applying for. They’re the
holy grail of skills, because you can use them to show that you can do a job
for which you may not feel totally qualified. This widens your job search out
like nothing else. You’ll be amazed at how many of your skills are
transferable, and here’s a little exercise to work out which ones. First, list the
hard and soft skills required by the job (look at the job advert for clues).
Next, pick from the hard and soft skills you’ve already written down to create
a list of those that would fit them. You’ll have two lists looking like this:
Skills in job advert My relevant, transferable skills
1. _______________ 1. _______________
2. _______________ 2. _______________
3. _______________ 3. _______________
4. _______________ 4. _______________
5. _______________ 5. _______________
Be careful with this, though. Just because you have a skill, that doesn’t mean
it will transfer every time. For instance, if as a sales person you had to learn
persuasion skills, that bodes well for a position involving one-to-one
negotiation. What it doesn’t mean is that you necessarily have the ability to
lead a large team, however persuasive you might have to be to pull that off.
‘One guy said he had “usurped” his manager. Maybe it’s just me,
but I’m not finding that a skill in high demand.’
A final word about skills. It can be easy, when you read the job description
and see some basic skill requirements listed, to assume that’s all they’re after.
And it may be, but think about the salary they’re offering and the level of the
role. Suppose the recruiter wants you to be ‘proficient in Adobe InDesign’.
You’ve been using it for a couple of months now, knocking out simple
designs for your boss on a monthly basis, so you put ‘InDesign experience’
on your CV. But if you are expected to use it proficiently, this might include
complex page templates and an extensive knowledge of the many typesetting
features. Does the thought of that bring you out in a cold sweat? Listing skills
on your CV means you’re confident in them, so take out anything that you
don’t feel ready to talk about yet. Many interviewers carry out on-the-spot
competency tests, at which point you’d better be sure that you really are
‘fluent in French’.
Now you have all your ingredients to hand, it’s time to prioritise them.
Highlight the ones that are most relevant to the job or industry you’re
applying for and leave out the rest – you don’t want to confuse the recruiter
by throwing in the kitchen sink. Likewise, consider the sell-by date of some.
If you’re in your forties, your GCSE subjects are not relevant any more, nor
is the Saturday job you had while you were at college. But if you’re a school
leaver, you’ll want to include this information.