How to write a CV

A CV should not be a list of everything you have ever done, but a marketing document that should promote your skills and experience. In a 20 second scan the recruiter should be able to see evidence of your ability to do the job.

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Steps to a great CV

1 - Start with the job specification

The starting point for CV writing should always be the skills and experience the recruiter is seeking. You will find this on the list of job requirements in the job advert, job description or person specification.

Your task is to clearly evidence each of these requirements on your CV using examples to convince the reader of your ability to do the job. If you are applying speculatively and there is no job description, search for similar roles to find out the relevant transferable skills.

2 - Active language

Use action words in your CV and covering letter to convey achievement and impact. Consider starting sentences with a verb rather than using pronouns (such as “I”) too much. Avoid passive terms such as “I had to” “I was involved in” “I was required to”.

Examples of active words:

  • achieved
  • analysed
  • coordinated
  • created
  • demonstrated
  • designed
  • developed
  • evaluated
  • improved
  • increased
  • initiated
  • liaised
  • managed
  • negotiated
  • planned
  • persuaded
  • prioritised
  • researched
  • supervised

3 - Brainstorm your skills

Think of examples of the skills you have gained and how you acquired them. Draw examples from your work, internships, volunteering, study, and interests. Match your skills to the job you are applying for to create a CV that clearly demonstrates you possess the skills they require.

4 - Attention to detail

One spelling or grammar error can be all it takes for a CV to be rejected, as many employers regard it as an indication of carelessness and poor motivation for the job. Triple check all spelling and grammar and ask someone else to proofread the final draft. Reading it out loud to yourself is a useful technique that can help you identify any errors.

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CV length

There is no one rule about CV length, but in general two pages is the norm for a UK graduate CV. Exceptions are in investment banking where a one page CV is generally preferred (see the second example in this guide) and academic CVs tend to be longer (see the title CVs for PhDs for guidelines).

Always follow the recruiter’s instructions on length.

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Writing persuasive, evidence-based, examples

When writing a CV it can be useful to put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. Imagine you are looking to hire a graduate with strong team working skills. Consider the excerpts from two CVs below. Who would you choose?

  1. “Demonstrated strong team working skills during stock-taking at STL Retail”
  2. “Teamwork - supported team of four to achieve full stock take of STL Retail in 16 hours by: arriving early to receive briefing on behalf of team; taking on extra tasks for a colleague who was unwell, and organising a night out to keep us motivated"

The second example is more persuasive. You can achieve this by:

  • Placing the skill word at the start to make it easy for the employer to pick out after a quick scan
  • Allocating maximum space to how you applied this skill
  • Using action words to convey achievement and impact
  • Adding quantifiable data (e.g. numbers, timescales) to make your examples more concrete and convincing

Including a tangible outcome e.g. grade, increased responsibility or hours to prove the impact of your contribution (in this example a completed stock-take).

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Example CVs

Click on these links to see examples that show to make a sure a CV responds to a job advert and contains the information an employeer is looking for:

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Final checklist

Look at your CV as if you were the recruiter. After a quick scan, can you pick out evidence of each of the job requirements?

Is your CV two pages in length? Remember, some UK employers request a one-page CV, and academic CVs can be longer, but most UK graduate CVs are two pages in length.

To ensure your CV is easy to read, is there about the same amount of text on both pages? Have you avoided large chunks of text or large areas of white space?

Have you used formatting tools e.g. bold, italics, capitals and spacing consistently? Have you proofread for any spelling or grammar mistakes?

Have you asked Goldsmiths' Career Service for feedback on your CV and cover letter?

Please take a list of job requirements with you. Are you on LinkedIn? If so, upload your checked CV with your evidenced skills to LinkedIn.