CV Writing Toolkit
5 steps to a standout CV
A curriculum vitae (CV) is a brief professional summary of your skills, experience, and achievements. They are commonly used in the job application process by recruiters to assess your suitability for a role.
Whilst this online toolkit will give you a general idea of conventions to follow when writing your CV, it is important to remember that there are no set rules! The content, structure and format of your CV are likely to vary depending on its purpose - for example, your CV for part time roles is likely to look very different from the one you will use for graduate level roles.
1. Putting together a CV
When starting to write your CV, a good place to begin is to think about what you have been doing during your degree, part time jobs, internships, volunteering and extracurricular activities. Jot these notes down in as much detail as possible, and try to think about all the skills you have acquired throughout these experiences. This body of information will form an ‘Evidence Bank’ that you can use for any future CVs and applications that you might write.
To help inform your thinking in these initial stages, common sections that are likely to be included on your CV are:
Your name, address/location, email address and phone number. You could also include a link to your LinkedIn profile here too. You don’t need to include any other personal details such as nationality, date of birth or marital status here, and a photograph of yourself is also not necessary.
A short 3-4 lines to grab the reader’s attention. A good structure to follow is to say who you are, what you can offer the employer in terms of skills and experience, and what your objective is with that particular version of your CV.
List your qualifications in reverse chronological order (so most recent first). Most of this content in this section should come under your degree - at this stage your secondary and further education qualifications should take up no more than a line each!
List your work experience in reverse chronological order, and detail in bullet points your key tasks, achievements and skills acquired throughout. If you have work experience that you consider to be particularly relevant to the job you are applying to, you could split your work experience into ‘relevant’ and ‘other’, which means you get around the chronological requirements
Add information about your hobbies and interests to your CV if you can fit it on - employers like to see this kind of information! This could include any university societies and/or sports teams you have joined.
This section is not always necessary, but you could look to include information that doesn’t ‘fit’ elsewhere on the CV, such as about your driving licence, languages, first aid/DBS certificates etc.
It is not necessary to provide details of your references actually on the CV itself, a statement to the effect of ‘References Available On Request’ should be sufficient.
2. Decide on the type of CV
At this stage of the process, you might also think about the style of CV that will best suit you and your experience. Please see below for information about different CV types and styles to help you decide what fits you best.
- The most common and popular type of CV
- Emphasis is on promoting your skills and achievements through your recent history (e.g. degree, internship etc)
- Useful if your degree and/or work experience relates closely to the job you are applying for
- Allows you to present skills you have acquired in various contexts
- Useful if you do not have much work experience, or a lot that is difficult to fit on your CV!
- Important to select and expand on skills that closely match what the employer is looking for
- Useful for more casual roles that are not necessarily related to your degree
- Allows you to focus on your transferable skills gained through your studies or work experience
- Used for applying for academic posts, such as doctorates
- Include details of your research activities, conferences attended, any papers you have written and any teaching experience (if applicable)
Below is a list of example CVs to use for inspiration and to help you consider different ways in which CVs can be structured and styled.
Even if your subject/job area is not detailed below, you should still explore the CV examples to find out which CV type and style would be most effective for you.
Please note: the CV examples are intended only as a guide, and not to be copy and pasted - you should write your own content and adapt your CV to suit your circumstances and tailor it to the requirements of the job.
3. Layout and style
Now you have some rough notes and have decided on the style of your CV, it is time to put everything together and write it! This section will give you advice and suggestions on laying out your CV to make it as easy as possible for recruiters to read, and also has tips on how to articulate your skills and experience effectively.
When it comes to layout, simple is often best - you don’t want to make your CV difficult to read, or sacrifice content in order to use an elaborate template. Laying out your CV in columns can sometimes make the information tricky to follow; instead think about having one section under the other, and using bolder headings and possibly subheadings to clearly mark out your sections.
An easily readable font is also important - fonts like Arial, Calibri or Verdana in size 11-12 work well. Avoid using tables, graphs and images as these can be difficult to manipulate and take up valuable space.
In most cases, your CV should be no more than two pages of A4 in length (the exception to this is a CV for academic purposes, which can be longer). It is important that your first page is your ‘power page’, and has all your most relevant and recent information; this is likely to include your degree studies, and any relevant work experience.
You might find that a one page CV is more appropriate for a part time job, or employers might specifically request a one page CV for some graduate level roles. You can always change the length to suit the purpose of your CV.
It is important not to have ‘white space’ on your CV if possible, so try to stick to either one or two full pages. If you are really struggling to fit your content onto two pages, changing the margins to ‘narrow’ on your document can help with this.
Bullet points are a great way to structure the information under your CV headings. They help to break your content down into short phrases and make it easier for the recruiter to read and identify your skills - rather than them being confronted with a large paragraph of text that they have to decipher!
When it comes to formulating your bullet points, it’s a good idea to avoid personal pronouns (I, me, my) and try to start each one with an Action Word, as this makes your writing more dynamic and ‘to the point’. You can find some ideas of Action Words in the table below.
When it comes to writing your bullet points, try not to simply list tasks you completed in each of your experiences. Instead think about matching each task with a skill that you can demonstrate, to make your CV more achievement focused. For example, data entry might become:
'Inputted data into online system with high accuracy and attention to detail.'
[Action word + Task + Skill]
4. Targeting your CV
Once you have a CV put together, it is important that you tailor and target it towards the opportunity you are applying to. To achieve this, try to:
- Refer to the job description and person specification to see what the employer is looking for, and ensure that you have evidenced as many of these skills and attributes throughout the content of your CV as possible.
- Highlight and prioritise your most relevant information by changing the layout and order of information
- Use terminology that employers use within the advert; as some employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to check for keywords, this will help you stand the best chance of success at getting through the first ‘sift’.
5. Final checklist
When you have written your CV, you might find the below checklist helpful:
- Is your CV clear and easy to navigate?
- Is your CV no more than two sides of A4?
- Is your most relevant information on the first page?
- Have you double checked the spelling and grammar?
- Is the information in reverse chronological order (most recent first)?
- Have you targeted the CV towards a job/employer and evidenced the skills they are looking for?
- Have you used Action Words to help convey your skills and experience?
- Have you removed unnecessary elements, such as a photograph and personal information like date of birth, marital status, gender etc?
CareerSet is our online CV tool, where you can upload your CV for instant feedback and in-depth analysis. It is available to use 24/7, and is free for you to use as a University of Portsmouth student or graduate.
You can also use CareerSet to help you with targeting your CV, as it has a 'Target CV' function where you can upload your CV with a job description to see how well you have tailored it. CareerSet can also provide feedback on covering letters too!