Applications / Job market

What makes an effective CV?

We’ve all written a CV, haven’t we? A few of you might still be using the document you wrote when you were in Year 11, when your teacher gave you a template to work from. Other readers will have had part-time jobs, and some will have reworked their CV to apply for internships and graduate jobs.

Targeting your CV to the specific role and industry will be more effective than a generic application

You might have heard the advice before that you should always tailor your CV for every single application that you make. This sounds like a real pain to do, but it is usually worth it; recruiters can tell when you have put in the extra effort.

If it has been a while since you last updated your CV, then it may be quicker, easier and more effective to start with a fresh sheet of paper. Again, be aware that employers (and careers advisers) can usually tell if you have merely tried to refresh an old CV.

Let’s discuss some of the basics: whether you are applying for a job in retail, a role as a teacher or to become an engineer, your CV will comprise of three elements:

  • Visual: does it look appropriate for its target audience?
  • Structure: is everything in the right place, and easy to find?
  • Content: this is the most important, but unless you get the first two elements correct, no-one is going to find the good content!

Let’s start with the visual: before you start typing, stop and think. What will look appropriate for the type of job that you want? Think about who is going to read this: a finance firm might require a simple summary of your experience and skills; an art director will want to see your design and creative skills; the head of a construction firm may not be impressed with splashes of colour.

Do you need one page or two? If you are not sure what is appropriate, then ask someone – there is plenty of advice from your Careers team and recruiters elsewhere on this blog and the Warwick Careers website

Next, structure: can the reader find what they need, and is it in the most logical place? Use simple, clear headings for each section e.g. “Employment”, “Qualifications”, “Key Skills”. Remember that people read from top-to-bottom, so if you want someone to find it easily, put it high up on the page.

Is the format and content of your CV clear and concise?

Last but not least, content: it is really important to think about the words and phrases that you use, and positive language is important! If there are any technical phrases associated with your chosen occupation, then make sure that you include them; some employers use automated “applicant tracking software” (ATS) that will be scanning for key words. Mention any industry-specific skills e.g. use of software or equipment, and use industry-appropriate language.

Finally for now, remember that your CV will rarely be read in isolation; most jobs will require you to complete an application form or submit a covering letter to accompany your CV. This can actually help you when you are writing your CV, as you can use the additional documentation to elaborate upon your most relevant achievements and skills, which can be particularly useful when you are writing a one-page CV. You can also use your covering letter or application form to explain any gaps that may exist on your CV. Application forms and covering letters are covered in more detail elsewhere on the blog, and on the Warwick Careers website.

Remember that there is plenty of advice and support available for you from the Application Feedback and Opportunity Advice service.

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