Catherine's Career Corner
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January 18th, 2009
13 Steps to CV Success

“Only a piece of paper” is what some people say about a CV, but your CV is the single most important document you will ever be involved with in getting all jobs in your life. This piece of paper, like it or not, will shape your future. The Latin term ‘Curriculum Vitae’ actually translates to ‘Course of Life’. If your CV does not appeal to the reader then it is unlikely to get a second glance. So, ensure that you put the effort in!

To prepare an effective CV, follow the 13 steps to CV Success listed below:

1. Compact CV’s win interviews

This is stating the obvious; recruiters do not have enough time to read each CV from cover to cover. Remember the Three ‘P’s:

  • Professional
  • Punchy
  • Pertinent

Your CV must be informative and relevant, but punchy too, highlighting only relevant or important points. If your current CV is crammed with pages and pages of text, then edit it to a super two page CV.

2. Sell Yourself

If you don’t blow your own trumpet, then who will? You must be prepared to sell yourself throughout your CV in terms of your character, experience and achievements.

3. Work Experience

One thing that you must bear in mind here is to list your employment in reverse order – chronological order, starting with your most recent role first. There is little point in beginning your work experience section with a role that you occupied twenty years ago, and bears little or no resemblance to the role that you are applying for now. Focus upon jobs held and experience gained during the past five/ten years and include the rest in a brief list form. This helps to both reduce the length of your CV in general, and prevents a recruiter being bombarded with more information than necessary.

For each of your detailed employment entries, you should begin the description by offering 10-20 words on what the company actually do – If a recruiter knows what kind of environment you were working in, then the rest of the description will make twice as much sense to them. Realise the importance of this particular point so that you do not lose out on valuable opportunities. Give a positive description of your role and objectives within the job. Be sure to mention any equipment or systems you became adept at using.

4. Achievements

These are evidences – think about the achievements and experience you have gained within each post and insert them in bullet-point form after the job description for each post. Think carefully about these key points and write them in a punchy manner. If possible, use facts and statistics to give a particular achievement more backbone.

5. Education

Where you place information about your education depends on the amount of work experience that you have gained after gaining any official qualifications, such as HND/Cs and Degrees. A recent graduate’s CV, for example, will go straight into education after the profile section, whereas a seasoned professional should list educational qualifications after their employment history, typically on the second page of their CV. Wherever you place your education section, you should be sure to structure it so that it shows your most important qualifications first, listing qualification grade and where you studied.

If you have room, you may also wish to include details of the subjects or modules studied and brief details of your final dissertation, if any. Any additional qualifications supporting these ‘main’ ones, such as ‘A’ levels or GCSE’s should be listed below, in reverse order, of when they were obtained. Descriptions of these supporting qualifications should be kept as brief as possible. However, you should include details such as places of study and dates, as this information adds credibility to your qualifications.

6. Contact Details and Address

Include every possible contact method at your disposal, including mobile number, landline telephone number, email address or fax number – if you have one. Always put this information right at the top, slightly smaller than your main body text, but not so small as to be difficult to read. This places your contact details within ‘easy reach’, but does not distract the reader too much from the profile and other main body sections.

Remember that a prospective employer may wish to contact you right away, so you must include your mobile or your current work number if possible. ‘Round the clock’ contact information will maximise your exposure and ensure that you will be presented with all available opportunities because you are easily contactable.

7. Spelling and Grammar

Never overlook spelling and grammar – just one mistake can put the reader off and consequently your otherwise dazzling CV could end up in the bin. No employer would be keen to employ someone who cannot be bothered to correct a few spelling and grammatical errors in a two or three-page document, because such lack of attention to detail does not speak well of the candidate.

The advice here is to simply check and double-check. Make full use of any spelling and grammar checkers used by your Microsoft Word. Get another pair of eyes, – your colleague, a mentor, your friends and family to read your CV once it is complete, as a fresh look or perspective can often identify mistakes that would otherwise have escaped your notice.

8. Tailor your CV to suit the job

Be sure to adjust the profile, employment history and achievements to more relevantly reflect the specification of the job that you are applying for, do not use one CV for all. This will give your application enhanced credibility and suitability. Examine the advertisement or job specification carefully, highlight the skills required and ponder the qualities sought by the prospective employer.

Whilst remaining honest, match your CV and its content to the requirements of the particular job. You can do this by highlighting those aspects of your experience that have the greatest relevance to the requirements of the job.

9. Hobbies and Interests

You should insert this information near the end of your CV, as a small paragraph of text. Remember; keep it short, simple and positive. Try not to mention activities or interests that indicate vices such as spending time at the casino or pub. Also, it is generally understood that details of any strong political or religious affiliation should be omitted.

10. References

You can list or not list any references on your CV. Your experience and suitability alone should decide whether you are called in for interview. However, if not listed, you must include a statement to let your potential employer know that references will be provided if required and take details of referees to your interviews, as this is the most likely point when a prospective employer may require them.

Remember to choose your referees carefully. The best references that give the most accurate measure of your abilities are those that come from your current or recent employers. Also, you should make the referees aware of the possibility that they be contacted.

11. Choose the Right Format

No matter what sector your chosen career may lie, your CV will fall into one of the following CV types formats.

  • Graduate
  • Standard
  • Executive/Management
  • Total Career Changer

Decide which category you fall into and stick to the general format suggested by the examples in this blog site. For example, a graduate CV would have its own unique format, placing greater importance on qualifications by listing these first after the profile. In contrast, an executive CV would list the employment history first, as work experience is generally of greater importance to positions of this level.

12. Recruiters and Keywords

When sending your CV into a recruitment organisation on speculative basis, it is worth remembering that quite often your details will be stored electronically on to a database. For this reason, be sure to think carefully about what area you are likely to be searched on in the career type you seek. The more specific your skill base the easier this is to achieve, for example, if you seek a career in publishing or media the more times you include the words ‘publishing or media’ onto your CV the likelier you are to come up on a search. Do not overdo it; otherwise, your CV will become repetitive. Try not to compromise the overall effect of your CV.

13. Do’s & Don’ts:

This quick, point-by-point guide will assist you in assessing your current CV and remedy any common mistakes that are committed:


  • Do tell the truth – Inaccurate information can be easily uncovered at interview stage.
  • Do have your CV typed and ensure that reproduction is of high a quality on a good white paper and make it 2pp.
  • Do have a simple and conventional layout unless you are a designer – complex or highly stylised layouts will distract the reader from the information you are trying to present.
  • Do keep information concise, factual and accurate.
  • Do use ‘action’ words where possible, describing positive achievements and contributions.
  • Do include a cover letter.
  • Do attempt to seek professional opinions and advice where possible.
  • Do customise your CV to suit the job that you are applying for.
  • Do spell-check!
  • Do apply as soon as you become aware of the position – getting in early never hurts.


  • Don’t date your CV. Don’t exceed two pages – An interviewer must review a large number of CV’s and concisely presented information will be easier and quicker to digest.
  • Don’t mention salaries earned or required.
  • Don’t include information regarding age, political and religious affiliations. Don’t mention specific information regarding race.
  • Don’t include a photograph – In most cases, your stunning good looks will not be an issue for selection.
  • Don’t give reasons for leaving previous positions – if an interviewer wants to know, they will ask.
  • Don’t take a negative tone when writing about a previous employer or role – Keep it positive always.

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Catherine Adenle
Founder, Catherine's Career Corner. The career site empowering and inspiring ambitious candidates of all ages and professions to thrive and work smarter on their careers. Gladly helping all career-minded people worldwide to explore their career, manage change and understand how new technologies are changing and enhancing the future of work.
Catherine Adenle
Catherine Adenle

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