What Makes a Good CV?

August 1, 2020

The vast majority of employment opportunities will require you to apply for a CV and a cover letter. Crafting a good CV could mean the difference between your application landing on the rejects pile or getting you a foot in the door.

CVs are rarely read as a whole and more often skimmed. This means you need to learn how to get your point across in keywords and bullet points. Presentation is just as valuable as the content in this situation.

Writing a good CV comes with practice. You can also increase your chances of creating something that resonates with employers by asking for feedback every step of the way. Friends, family, teachers, recruiters and hiring managers can all offer much-needed feedback on this important document.

If you’re interested in creating the best possible CV to help you land your next role, read on to discover the essential elements of a good CV and what you need to include to make sure your CV stands out from the rest of the pile. The experts at Nolan Recruitment have created this guide to help you make an incredible first impression every time.

What makes a good CV: The basics

Your CV should always include the following elements:

  • Personal details, including name and contact information
  • A personal statement/ summary
  • Your education history in reverse chronological order
  • Your work history in reverse chronological order
  • References

In addition to this key information, you should also think about the following tips that can help to make your CV stand out.

1. Follow a recognised format

It can be tempting to go against the grain and present your CV in a new format, but this should be done with extreme care. If a hiring manager has to work too hard to extract the information they need from your CV, you run the risk of losing their attention early on.

A better tactic would be to stick to a standard CV format and focus on crafting the best possible content to grab their attention. If you work in a creative field, you may be able to get away with bending the rules a little, but those of us in more conventional roles should stick to the recognised format.

2. Make a good first impression

Many people fail to make the most of the personal statement or summary. This is your chance to summarise your work and education experience and give the hiring manager a reason to invite you for an interview. Learning how to write a summary might take a little time, but it is well worth the effort.

You have to find a way to summarise your work experience to date while also outlining your future aspirations. This is one section of your CV that will benefit from an extra pair of eyes. If you aren’t sure where your strengths lie, ask a friend, family member or trusted colleague to help you out.

3. Keep it short and sweet

The point of a CV is to give a brief introduction and pave the way for an interview, so don’t worry about including every single aspect of your education, career and personal life. As a general rule, a CV should be no longer than 2 sides of A4, so you have to be selective with your information.

Saving it as a PDF will help to preserve the formatting so that it always looks the same when printed. However, it’s worth noting that many recruitment agencies will often ask for a Word Document version as this makes it easier for them to extract the information they need.

4.Tailor it to the job description

Every CV should be customised to the role. This means you might have a master CV template as a starting point and then edit a copy of this template for every job you apply for. To do this, start with the job description and identify the key competencies. Now, return to your CV and figure out how you can communicate these competencies in your skills and experience.

This information might be communicated through job roles, education, additional training, job responsibilities or even personal interests. You have a lot of opportunities to let a hiring manager know that you are perfect for the role, but you will only achieve this if you tailor your CV to each job description.

5. Perfect your keywords

As we mentioned above, CVs are usually skimmed on the first pass. If you want to make it to the next round of consideration, you need to make sure you are including sufficient keywords to get you noticed. The keywords will vary depending on the role and you will often be able to gather them from the job description.

Matching key requirements to the skills that you have will help to ensure that you communicate your suitability for the role every single time. It might take a little bit longer to craft every CV, but if you create a more successful CV as a result, the extra effort will be well worth it.

6. Use powerful verbs

A really simple way to make your CV more engaging and powerful is to use action words. These are the words that lift a CV and make them more engaging. They also make the owner of the CV far more enticing. There are a few words that are overused on CVs and should be avoided if possible. We’ve included a few examples, and what you can say instead below:

  • Managed (Cultivated, Directed, Supported, Mentored)
  • Took part in (Engineered, Established, Conceived)
  • Assisted (Collaborated, Partnered, Teamed up)

Another simple way to improve your CV is to focus on writing in the active voice rather than the passive voice. There are plenty of free online tools that will allow you to check if you are misusing the passive voice.

7. Don’t be afraid to have personality

Your CV doesn’t have to be wall-to-wall work and educational achievements. It’s not uncommon for employers to look for individuals who will fit in with their company culture, in addition to filling a skills gap. So if you’re a fitness fanatic, you fancy yourself as the next Masterchef, or if you’re in an improv group, make sure you mention this on your CV.

You never know if this is going to strike a chord with the hiring manager. You probably won’t lead with your personal life, but you should find a way to include something about what keeps you busy outside of work.

8. Include references

References are often essential for any role. Reference checks are often the last stage in the recruitment process, but some recruiters like to jump the gun and call references before the interview stage. This is why you should always confirm with your references that they are happy to be included before you send your CV. This will prevent you from getting red in the face if a recruiter contacts your reference unexpectedly.

9. Keep it updated

Your CV will likely be an afterthought until you actually start looking for a job. You will then be scrambling to remember every little thing you’ve achieved in your most recent role. A better way to manage this is to keep updating your CV, even when you aren’t actively looking for a new role. So every time you get a promotion, start a new project or take on more responsibility, you should update your CV as you go.

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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