Cheat Sheet: This is how to write your best ever CV

By April 19, 2024For Talent

Best practices for CV writing are always in flux, and opinions vary. 

However, a number of questions regularly rear their ugly head, such as: is one page or two appropriate? Should you include a personal statement? Do I add references at the end? How do I make my CV stand out from the rest?

If this sounds like some of the questions swirling around your head, read on, as we walk you through the essential steps to crafting your best ever CV.

Understand its purpose 

Before you get into the weeds of CV writing, take a step back and consider the purpose of this document. Your CV serves as a snapshot of your professional life, highlighting your relevant experience, qualifications and suitability for a single particular role. 

This is not a place to dump a list of all the jobs you’ve ever had, or to showcase all the educational qualifications you’ve gained and the professional upskilling you’ve completed. 

Keep it relevant to the job you’re applying to, and let your CV communicate, with economy, how much value you can add to a potential employer. People are busy. They don’t need to know about your summer job selling ice creams ten years ago.

If you’re changing industry or title, a personal statement outlining your position and strengths can help to position you as the ideal candidate, but this isn’t always necessary. Some hiring managers find them dated, some don’t. Go with what feels right for your unique circumstances.

Showcase your achievements

It’s a good idea to keep old job specs on file, but don’t regurgitate these line by line in your CV under your job title. This looks very junior. 

Think of your audience; a hiring manager wants to understand your fit in previous organisations, and what value you added.

Again, take a step back and look at your purpose in the company and write two to three summary lines on this. Then follow up with bullet points listing your achievements in the role. 

For example, it’s not:

  • Filed SEO copy according to weekly targets
  • Conducted research and interviewed subject matter experts
  • Uploaded content to CMS according to content calendar

It’s more:

Worked within the Brand Marketing team to strategically increase SEO ranking and brand visibility across multiple platforms, including social media. Key to this was collaborating with an ever-changing pool of freelance talent to deliver quality content that met agreed KPIs.

  • Secured significant keyword ranking increases for the brand and its products in its key markets; including retaining the number one spot for “job board” in the UK for the full year.
  • Managed award entries for the company and secured multiple nominations and wins, including Best B2B Campaign at the UK Content Marketing Awards 2024.
  • Increased social engagement on key content pieces 26% in 2023.

This is how you’ll make your CV stand out from the crowd: with solid, relevant storytelling, backed up with quantifiable success metrics. 

Integrate keywords and skills

Time was, you get around Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) by lazily adding a skills section to the beginning of your CV, and switching these in and out for different roles. Glory days.

Alas, ATS are wise to our ways and now most systems rank your suitability and prioritise your application based on volume of keywords matching.
This means it’s now best practice to have your skills snapshot at the start, but to also integrate the keywords from the job description throughout your CV too. 

Ensure you match the job description as much as possible, and this goes for formatting too. 

So if it says “5 years experience”, and you’ve seven years, change your CV to “over 5 years experience”. Note, if the spec uses the digit “5”, copy this, rather than writing out the word “five”. 

Don’t include imagery or graphs, as these are missed by most ATS. Let your words do the talking.

Keep it concise

Unless you’re gunning for a casual, short-term gig, where there might be a single interview and a trial day, there’s no need to include references at the end. 

If you’re doing multiple rounds, the hiring manager will ask for references closer to their final decision. 

Should you submit one page or two? One page is ideal. As discussed, hiring managers are busy, but it is very challenging to get a CV down to a single page. You’ll likely need to enlist your most frank friend or family member to trim it back for you. Let them, and let the CV breathe a few days before submitting it. 

If you’re struggling with this, think of the phrase “kill your darlings” from creative writing. This refers to getting rid of any element in your work that, even though you may adore it, doesn’t advance your narrative. Go back to the job spec and hone in on its essence. Now, kill your darlings. 

Update it quarterly

Updating your CV is a slog, especially if you’ve been in your existing role for a while. Set a calendar reminder to update it quarterly, and you’ll always have a relevant CV to hand should a new opportunity arise. 

Don’t spend all your job prep time on it

A CV’s job is to get you an interview, nothing more.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of over-preparing your CV, and shirk time spent on interview prep, although the latter is arguably more important. Your CV won’t land you a role; it’ll get your foot in the door. 

Once you’ve a respectable version that can be tweaked for each job application, move on to interview prep, especially answers to behavioural questions. These usually begin with a phrase like “Tell us about a time when you…”. 

Get more on this topic: 6 things to never say at a job interview

ChatGPT is a brilliant tool for this. Write a detailed prompt like the below, and personalise the answers to your own experience. 

I’m applying for a job as a software engineer. Prepare 5 answers to the following question: Tell me about a time you met a tight deadline.

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Author Amanda Kavanagh

More posts by Amanda Kavanagh

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