How to Prepare a CV

looking at cvA curriculum vitae (CV) is one of the most important documents any of us will ever prepare, because it markets us as an individual. Whilst companies spend millions on marketing their corporate identities, we as individuals typically put a CV together in a matter of hours or even minutes.

As regular reviewers of CVs, let us share our experience on what makes a successful CV:

Length - there are those who say that one page is the ideal length, whereas others prefer a document with every conceivable detail included. We find the first example often tells us virtually nothing, whereas the second is so daunting we dread the thought of having to read it all. Our preference is for 2 to 3 pages, but with lots of ‘white space’ and headings to make it easy to read.

Personal Details - we like to see these at the start (top) as we need to know your name, address and telephone number (a work contact number is useful but we respect every request to either use ‘with discretion’ or to only call a home number).

Date of birth can be emotive if there is any hint of age discrimination. However, it does help the reader judge career progression. Likewise ‘marital status’ can be considered sexist. But the majority of recipients just want to know the correct title by which to address the candidate or leaving a message. It ensures we can address the person correctly without arousing suspicions as to who the strange person is who is trying to get hold of their husband or wife!

Education and Qualifications - amount of information here depends largely on the level of achievement, with the most senior qualifications taking precedence. For recent graduates, GCSEs and A levels are important, but those with professional qualifications should give these prominence. For example, for a Chartered Accountant, we would wish to know the date they obtained that status, through which firm. We would also want to know if they have a degree (where they graduated, plus the dates, class and subject). We would be less interested in their GCSE’s and A levels - just the number obtained would be sufficient.

When giving qualification details, abbreviations are often not obvious, so the actual qualification should be spelt out in full (particularly if you have an unfamiliar / untypical qualification). And remember to state that you achieved the qualification - a common problem is people write about studying without actually confirming whether they completed the course!

Career History - we prefer to read employment history starting with the most recent (current) role and then listing in reverse chronological order. It is, after all, the recent years of experience that are of most interest to the reader. Unfortunately it tends to be in this section that CVs often fail: for example, the writer names their employer but doesn't state what the organisation does. Unless we are aware of the employer's activities, it is difficult to put the job into context. Other common mistakes include not indicating internal promotions, or the reason for wanting to change employment. All gaps in career history should be explained.

The ideal career history will contain:

Name of Employer

Dates of Employment

Job Title (including promotions and dates)

2 to 3 lines on employer, including type of organisation, turnover, main activities and markets (including division or parts of a business if appropriate).  This may be more appropriate for a more senior role.

Brief description of role and responsibilities including reporting relationships (both up and down)


Depending on the length of the career in question, the same level of detail should cover the past 10 years. Prior to that, information can be briefer with names of employer, dates and job title only.

Interests - this is a tricky one. Some interviewers put great emphasis on a person’s interests, whereas others are happy to learn about these later in the recruitment process. Over the years, we have become cynical with ‘reading, gardening, DIY and the theatre’ so often, even though this is probably what we would put ourselves! However, caution is needed as interests can sometimes offend. It is largely a matter of personal choice whether a candidate wishes to include interests. It is extremely unlikely that candidates would not be interviewed purely because they had omitted to mention their interests.

To sum up! CVs should be simple and ‘idiot-proof’. Remember the reader may not be a technician in your discipline, so do not fill your CV with jargon a non-technical person would not understand.

Finally, a CV is likely to be used for different job applications. It should therefore always be accompanied by a covering letter. Within this letter, you can expand on the experience and details that are pertinent to the particular job for which you are applying. Invariably, when we receive CVs and a covering letter, candidates fail to give a reason for their application. Stating your reason for applying and the attraction that the job holds for you can make all the difference to whether you are invited to an interview.

Remember, the key purpose of your CV is to get you through the door. Thereafter, it is up to you!