Whether you’re creating your first or your tenth Curriculum Vitae (CV), it can feel like a daunting task. Thankfully, writing a CV isn’t as difficult nowadays as it might have been before.
We’ll make sure you’re up to speed with the ‘must-haves’ and ‘must-nots’ for CV writing, as well as providing a step-by-step guide to writing a CV in the UK.
How to write a good CV:Step by step guide
How to choose your CV template
A good CV template will make your CV writing so easy. Why start writing a CV with a template? It's not just the design you get – you'll also get a structure and recommendations for how to format what you write.
Choose a CV template that suits the industry you're aiming for. If you're going for a corporate law job, using classic blue palettes and fonts will make an excellent first impression.
How to get your personal details right
Though it might sound obvious, including correct personal details is one of the most important aspects of how to write a CV. Make it easy for recruiters to contact you.
Include your first and last name, phone number and a professional sounding email address. Physical addresses are less necessary when you write CVs nowadays as the primary method of communication will be via email.
When writing a CV, instead of this:
- S. Smithson
- 07555 555 555
The recruiters want to see this:
- Sarah Smithson
- 07555 555 555
Why it’s much better:
This includes the candidate’s full name and phone number, and it’s easy to see that the email address connects to Sarah.
How to write about your work experience like a pro
For example, if you had 3 different jobs as a shop assistant, instead of listing out the same tasks in each of these jobs, aim to write quantifiable examples of how you contributed or added value in your role. Use numbers.Example:
Completed over 100 purchases with cash, credit and debit payment methods daily.
Bear this in mind as you write a CV: ACTION + RESULT = YOUR IMPACT
How to create a clear and compelling education section
Your education and qualifications are essential on your CV, especially if you’ve graduated in the last 10 years or are an entry-level candidate. Entry-level candidates with little work experience can elaborate on the skills they’ve gained through educational experiences – demonstrating transferable skills to show recruiters how you may fare in a workplace.
TOP TIP:When writing a CV, mature applicants can 'age-proof' it by removing graduation dates from university degrees, MBAs, and masters. Protect yourself further by changing the name of your institution of study to its correct name today. For example, Bristol Polytechnic is now named The University of the West of England.
How to optimise your CV with your skills section
Your skills are another key element of how to write a good CV. 6-10 key skills are enough to give the recruiter an overview of what you bring to the table.
Skills can be hard or soft:
- Soft skills are those you naturally possess or learn over time like confidence, communication, customer service, or relationship building.
- Hard skills are those you have had to learn or train for and tend to be more technical such as HTML, financial modelling, or data analytics.
TOP TIP:Use an equal number of both soft and hard skills. But bear in mind that your hard skills are more likely to make you stand out from other candidates.
How to write the perfect personal statement
We recommend writing your personal statement last. By this time, your CV writing skills will have warmed up, and you’ll have a good sense of your experience and skills as a whole.
The personal statement or summary is one of the most essential sections when you write a CV. It covers what you do, where and for how long, plus any recent accomplishments or training you want to emphasise.
Your statement should be 2-3 sentences in length, written in the present tense. Use action verbs and active voice. It’s acceptable to use the first person ("I"), but you may find that the third person sounds more professional.
Here’s an example:
‘Confident and personable retail sales assistant with over three years of experience increasing sales for major high street brands, including Gap and River Island. Exceeds weekly sales targets by implementing company sales techniques and builds long-lasting customer relationships. Proven skills in personal styling, till management, and end-of-day reconciliation.’
How to review your CV like an editor & recruiter
Once you've completed all the sections, it's time to review your CV and your writing. Time to put on your editor and recruiter hats as you look at your CV from two points of view.
- First, imagine you're an editor. Read over each section slowly, looking for mistakes in your CV writing and work history.
- Then, imagine you're the recruiter receiving your CV – are you a good match for the role?
Check whether each of your positions have enough real-life examples of how you improved processes, saved the company money, and so forth. As with any writing, you must check several times for errors after you finish your CV writing.
CV writing tips
How to tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for
Recruiters are looking for candidates who match the job description. They are looking for particular skills, experience, and often certifications and training.
Not sure where to start? One of the best CV writing tips is to highlight commonly used words in the job description and make a list. Then make sure you add all the listed words in the upper part or first page of your CV for maximum impact.
How to use numbers to quantify your experience
No matter your experience level, when writing a CV you should always frame your experience with achievements, using numbers.
By framing your experience with examples of how you improved things for your team, drove growth for the company, or gained an award, you give recruiters insight into how you might behave in a new environment. It helps them predict how you’ll fit into the new company.
Instead of recruiters having to guess how you’ll perform, you’re demonstrating real successes with measurable examples, such as:
- Directed daily workflow for three junior writers, outputting over 9,000 words per week.
- Assisted stylist by greeting and preparing over ten clients per day for hair treatments.
- Awarded the prestigious Cannes Lion for work directing a digital advertising campaign that led to 80% increase in sales for the client.
How to use the active voice & action words
One of the biggest mistakes in UK CV writing is not using the active voice.
Action words and active voice create straightforward sentences, giving your CV more impact and making it easier to read.
Here are some examples of active and passive voice in UK CV writing:
- Passive: Targets were hit by using a specialist sales technique.
- Active: Employed a specialist sales technique and hit 100% of targets.
Action words like engaged, directed, spearheaded, championed, and led, will help to give energy to your CV.
Try to avoid overused phrases such as ‘was responsible for’ and ‘ensured that’. Replace ‘but’, with ‘and’ to make your language more positive.
How to only include the past ten years of your career
In the past, CVs were lengthy and all-encompassing. CV writing tips and advice focused on adding as much information as possible.
Nowadays, it’s more common for UK CV writing to just mention up to ten last years of the most relevant experience on your CV.
If you do have more experience, you can add a section titled “further experience’ and bullet point the titles of the positions. This way, the recruiter sees your earlier experience, but your CV isn’t too long for recruiters to skim.
During your CV writing process, think about the two ‘R’s: recent and relevant. Suppose you were a receptionist in 2010, but are now a marketing manager applying for a marketing director role. In that case, that experience is neither recent nor relevant, so it can be dropped or listed as above.
How to keep your CV to 1-2 pages
A concise CV is a well-liked CV – aim for two pages.
When writing a UK CV, be cautious with the number of responsibilities and length of descriptions under each job – using long sentences can make it hard work for recruiters. Remember: your number one goal is to make it easy for recruiters to skim your CV.
Following the rules of recent and relevant when you write a CV will help you avoid repeating experience from your older roles. If you’ve mentioned a task or skill in one position, try not to repeat it too much. Focusing on job-specific achievements and giving examples is the best way to avoid repetition.
For example, if you’ve held four positions as a receptionist, chances are you answered the phones in all four. Tell the recruiter something unique about each of the roles and the achievements you made while you were there to avoid repetition. How many times a day did you answer the phone? How many people visited the reception? What were other tasks unique to each role?
How to get rid of jargon and acronyms
Many industries use acronyms and their own language (jargon). While it may have an essential place in those environments, try and keep your CV writing jargon-free. Anyone should be able to pick up your CV and understand what you did and how.
For example, CTR (click-through rate) is a commonly used acronym in performance marketing, but we recommend typing it out in full so that it’s crystal clear to a recruiter (who might not be a specialist in this area).
In retail, technology or food development, a ‘new product developer’ might be called an ‘NPD’, but this again is not obvious. Writing a CV with these terms typed out in full will also increase your chances with CV scanning software which many recruiters use to check for keywords.
Dos and don’ts for CV writing
Don’t be too wordy
One sure-fire way to lose the attention of recruiters is making your CV too long and too wordy. Put simply, that means using more words than necessary to make a point. There are some easy ways to trim back your sentences:
Action words or verbs enhance your writing with energy and liveliness. For example:
Shorten your sentences:
Read over your work and see how many words you can cut to say the same thing. You’ll often find a more straightforward way to convey the same message.
Your goal should always be to write CV content as clearly as possible. Simple word choices help your CV to be read quickly and easily understood.
Add career gaps
It’s outdated to see gaps in your CV as a weakness. They are more often an advantage and make you a more well-rounded and exciting candidate.
If you do write CV career gaps, consider the transferable skills learned during these periods. If you were a parent, think of soft skills developed such as ‘patience’ and ‘increased compassion’. If you were on a gap year, consider adding the skills of ‘orientation’, ‘ability to work autonomously’, ‘languages gained’, and ‘cultural awareness’.
Don’t be vague
A CV is a factual document. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity around what you’ve done or where you performed your duties. Always write your CV as factually as possible.
For example, don’t say “worked at a butchers” but “worked at H. R Smith & Sons Butchers”. Don’t say, “filed documents”, say “filed important HMRC tax documents such as P11D, P60 and P45”.
Get someone to read over your CV
An essential CV writing tip to perfect your CV. Wherever possible, get an outsider to read over your CV before you send it to a recruiter. They‘ll spot mistakes you can’t and can tell you if anything seems amiss.
Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can ruin a good first impression, and you don’t want to have spent all that time on CV writing to find there are mistakes. Ask a friend to review your CV writing to avoid them.
Don’t use a non-standard layout
It’s essential to follow the UK standard for CV layouts – there is a time to show your creativity, but generally the more standard your CV, the more easily it can be scanned by ATS and read by recruiters.
Our templates feature some variants on the below, and you might see skills to the left or right of the work experience. The golden rule in UK CV writing is to always start with your most recent work experience (in reverse chronological order).
How to write a CV – UK standard layout:
- Name & contact details
- Personal summary
- Work experience (in reverse chronological order)
- Hobbies (optional)
- References (only if requested)
Send your CV as a PDF unless asked otherwise
After writing a CV, our software allows you to download it in a range of formats, including Word, TXT, and PDF. We highly recommend downloading and sending it as a PDF. This ensures your newly created masterpiece is perfect when recruiters open using other software. PDF ‘locks’ the formatting and will appear in the best format for all types of computers and browsers.
It can be tempting to tell small white lies as you write a UK CV. Especially if a role ended badly or if you don’t have a lot of experience. We can’t tell you how detrimental this is to your career. Avoid lying about the incident, the time you were at a role or where you went to university. (The latter is degree fraud and carries a prison sentence!)
Just don’t do it. Your CV is a factual document.
Remember – everyone started somewhere. You’re not expected to have the experience of a twenty-something at 18. Showing that you're enthusiastic, positive, and ready to learn will put you in an excellent position to be chosen as a candidate.
Use keywords from the job description
Recruiters are looking to see how you match the job description.
One of the best CV writing tips is to run the job description through a word cloud builder to find out which of the keywords appear the most. What does it mean and how to write a cv for a job application?
For example, a bricklayer job description might have the keywords of ‘bricks’, ‘mortar’, ‘construction’ and skills such as, ‘patience’, ‘creativity’, and ‘attention to detail’. In this case, when you write a CV, you would want to make sure these keywords are found at the top of it in your personal statement and within the experience of each of your roles.
It’s a simple, but often overlooked way to improve your CV automatically.
Don’t use first-person personal pronouns
Think of your CV as a professional document or an essay. Usually, you wouldn’t write an article or a working document using personal pronouns. We highly recommend writing your CV without using “I”, and certainly never used, “me”, “she”, or “they”. Writing in the third person will elevate your CV from a novice to a professional CV writing expert!
Frequently asked questions about CV writing
How can I write a good CV?
The best advice on how to write a good CV is to take it step by step. Work on your experience and education sections before tackling key skills, remembering to keep things concise and relevant to the job at hand. Despite being at the top of your CV, the personal statement can seem overwhelming at first, so be sure to leave this until the end. If you’re struggling to get started, CV examples can provide some much-needed inspiration.
How do I write about career gaps?
Writing your CV should include all of your career history and gaps, right? Well, yes, that is true but don’t stress about career gaps. We live in a world where it’s acceptable to take a break, raise kids, or travel.
You can add a career gap on your CV, or you can leave it out. There’s no hard rule, but if you feel that you want to explain your gap, make sure you frame it positively. Like this:
Took a 3-year career break to raise our children with my partner, learned the importance of family, patience, and organisation!
How can I keep my CV concise?
This first thing you might see when researching how to write your CV in the UK is to keep it to 2 pages. This is the golden rule of CV writing.
If you’re going over this limit, there could be a few reasons why:
- You might be including too much experience – positions held over 10 years ago may not be relevant now, significantly if you have changed careers or jobs many times.
- You’re going into too much detail on all your roles. We recommend giving the most space to your more recent jobs. Use between 6-8 points per job title within the last 5 years and 4-6 for those older roles.
- You include too much detail on your education section – your education is only vital if you have little work experience, or if it covers the last 10 years.
- You're not sticking to a sensible number of relevant skills – we recommend 8-10 skills maximum.
- You're using a big font or large size. We recommend 11-12 points for standard CV writing.
- You're double spacing your work. Don't – use single line spacing. You're using too much space on a massive title.
How should I ask a recruiter for CV feedback?
You can always reach out to a recruiter for feedback on how to write a good CV. However, it is worth noting how busy they will be if they are currently recruiting. If you’ve received a “You’ve been unsuccessful” style email from a job you’ve applied for, you can reach out for feedback, and ask if they had any advice for next time.
Our tip would be to ask a recruiter before you’re applying for feedback, especially if they’re a specialist in the area you are looking to work in. Or give them a call to ensure you’re providing all the information they are looking for – this can also help to build a rapport with them.
If you do call or email be sure to have a list of straightforward questions, and not to waste their time with questions you could have researched online. If you're lucky, the recruiter may be able to give you critical feedback and help you to write a better CV in future.
How do I write a CV quickly?
Writing a professional CV isn’t the lengthy and time-consuming task that it used to be. Making a good CV is something that does take a little time, but thankfully, due to advancements in online CV builders like ours, using pre-written content and templates, you can shave off a lot of time.
Consider this: if you don’t have time to write a new CV and send a poorly written one, you could be sending the wrong impression to a recruiter or company that will last as long as that recruiter is there.
It’s always worth the time investing in a good CV.
How do I write a good personal statement?
Our tried and tested way to write a good CV personal statement is to include 3 sentences to make one short paragraph that outlines who you are, what you do and at least one achievement. This gives the recruiter a brief overview of you as a person and entices them to continue reading.
First sentence: Who you are and what you do
Licensed beauty therapist with over 8 years of experience preparing and administering treatments to a range of clientele.
Second sentence: Details of your specialist skills
Specialising in massage therapies such as Swedish, Thai and sports relief massage.
Third sentence: Achievements
Trusted and awarded therapist with 5-star reviews on Google and London’s Massage Therapist of the Year Award 2019.
How can I add in additional sections to my CV?
Most CVs don't need extra sections. We strongly recommend sticking to the UK format and order of sections.
The reason we try to avoid rearranging sections is for continuity and clarity. If recruiters have to hunt through your CV for details in unusual places, it makes their lives harder. As the applicant, you want to make it as easy as possible through your CV writing and layout.
Write a great CV for your next career move
Now that you know how to write a CV that works, it’s time to put it into practice with myPerfectCV’s builder. Access our pre-written content for a wide range of job roles. Choose from our large selection of professional CV templates, fonts, and colours with helpful guidance along the way. Need more help? Check out our examples for inspiration.
Build your perfect CV online with us, edit anytime, and download in PDF, Word, and TXT formats. Ready to get started? With our help, you're just minutes away from a new CV.