Complete CV writing guide
A curriculum vitae (CV) is a document which acts as a summary of your achievements and skills. It may be a requirement when applying for jobs, training places and, occasionally, courses of study.
There are no set rules about CV writing and the structure and format can vary significantly depending on the purpose. On this page, you'll find guidance on the structure and types of CVs to help you promote yourself to employers.
Remember, in many cases, your CV will give a recruiter their first impression of you and your suitability for the role. So read our guide to see our 'do's and don'ts' on CV writing, as well as example CVs for various sectors.
How to write your CV
Your CV should show you in a positive light and make a strong case to the reader. It is a tool to market yourself and your skills to potential employers, and needs to provide more detail than simply forming a timeline of your experiences.
- Target your CV to each role you apply for by matching your experience and skills to the requirements of the job. These are usually listed in the job description or person specification if this is available
- Make it easy to read and skim quickly, and keep to 1 full side or 2 full sides of A4 paper (unless otherwise instructed). An employer will see many CVs for an advertised role so it's important to convey your information in a manner which is concise. How much experience you have will determine whether you opt for 1 or 2 pages
- Make the first page your 'power page' - get all the relevant information in this space. Less relevant information can be included on the second page if this is used
- Allocate more space to issues that matter – your skills, your work experience, your degree. This will allow you to provide more detailed information about your suitability
- Present your CV well – neat, clearly laid out, correct spelling and grammar
- Pick the type of CV that works best for you and the job you are applying for
- Clearly state your contact details at the top of the CV – double-check to make sure you have made no mistakes
- Leave long gaps in your list of activities (such as work or education) – employers will wonder about significant periods of unexplained time
- Send out the same CV every time you apply for a job – you need to target for a particular employer, job or industry
- Provide irrelevant information, such as your date of birth, marital status or a full list of GCSE qualifications
- Send out your CV with spelling or grammar errors – poor presentation equals a poor impression, and employers generally make swift judgements about CV presentation
- Copy creative CV examples – it is important to use examples for ideas and inspiration to create a style that works for you, rather than copying other CVs
Plan your CV
Start by writing down what you've been doing, your degree can be a good place to start considering what skills and experience you have gained. Then write down details of jobs, voluntary work, and external interests. Write as much detail as you can – rough notes will be fine to begin with. Even if the experience you are detailing is not directly related to your chosen sector, it will have given you valuable skills that you could use in future employment.
This body of information will form an 'evidence bank' that you can use for any future CV or application. You can also complete a skills audit to help you add to your evidence bank.
Target your CV to the organisation or sector
Refer to the job description or person specification of the role you're applying for to see what the employer requires, and consider how you can draw upon your skills and experience to evidence that you meet these requirements. Some employers electronically scan CVs and applications to check for keywords, so you should use terminology that's relevant to the vacancy. A well-organised evidence bank will help you find any relevant evidence.
For example, if you're a History student seeking a graduate opportunity in retail, you need to write about any aspects of your course, work experience or part-time jobs, that show the skills demanded by retail employers. The focus of your CV should be what you're offering the employer with regards to the requirements of the job.
You should also spend time researching an employer to help target your CV.
Choose an appropriate CV type
There are different types of CV that work for different types of sectors or organisations. Take a look at the 5 below to find your best fit. You can write the same CV in different formats if you think different organisations would prefer different types.
A good CV is one that can be scanned quickly but will still let the reader pick up all of the main points and be impressed by what they see.
This is a very popular style that has been around for a very long time and employers are used to seeing this style. It's easy to put together and its main emphasis lies in promoting your skills and achievements to the reader through your recent activities (for example, your degree or a summer internship). It can be especially useful if your degree or work experience relates closely to jobs you're applying for.
The skills-based CV states on the first page the important technical and transferable or interpersonal skills you may have acquired and demonstrated in various contexts. It can be useful if you have a lot of work experience and is especially good if you want to draw attention to important skills. Create some skills headings on the first page and then choose a few examples of activities you have completed which demonstrate those skills.
An academic CV can be used if you're applying for a specialised role or a higher degree such as a doctorate. In this style, you'll need to include more about the research you've completed, conferences attended, special skills you've acquired (for example, in specific software) academic prizes, any papers you may have written (or to which you have contributed) and poster presentations.
The degree you're studying is unlikely to be relevant for part-time opportunities you're applying for. Therefore, it will be useful to focus on the skills you're developing through studying in general and any skills developed from previous experience.
To ensure your CV is targeting the job, it will be helpful to identify the skills the employer is looking for. Part-time vacancies may not always have a full job description, so you may need to find a generic job description for that kind of role. It can also be helpful to include your availability in your profile, especially if the employer has specified shift requirements.
If you've studied an art and design subject and are applying for a creative role, you may want to produce a CV that demonstrates your creativity.
Creative CVs can have examples of your own images in the body of the CV and can distinguish your creative talent from those of competitors. Any images used must be your own, and don't use so many that the text is crowded out. The CV shouldn't look too busy, and all images should contribute to the overall CV.
You don't always have to produce a creative CV for a creative job. If you can reference an online presence (a blog or website) that an employer can visit to view examples of your work, this could be used to evidence your suitability within a traditional CV format.
We have provided a range of example creative CVs at the end of this guide, including examples of creative styles in various industries such as graphic design, architecture, illustration, photography and fashion design.
Write your CV
Start your CV with a brief profile or objective – just a few lines, highlighting key information that will be of interest to the employer or recruiter. Think of it as a newspaper headline or a ‘sound bite,’ designed to capture interest at the start. Remember, this will be the first item on your CV to be seen by the recruiter.
There are several different sections which are typically included within a CV and an employer would usually expect to see:
This should include your university education, both undergraduate and postgraduate if applicable, and previous qualifications such as A Levels and GCSEs. You should include where these qualifications were obtained, what year, and what result was achieved. For older qualifications such as GCSEs, you can give a brief overview of how many qualifications were obtained and the range of results, such as '8 GCSEs grades A-C' or the new grading would be '8 GCSEs grades 9-4'. It is also helpful to state whether this includes maths and english, such as '8 GCESs grades A-C, including maths and english'.
This should detail what the role title was, the company or organisation, and when the experience was obtained. Try to focus on the skills you used to perform your roles, rather than listing the tasks you did. This section can contain both paid and unpaid experience. Some people find it useful to break their experience into ‘relevant experience’ in which experience related to the job role is recorded, and ‘additional experience’ which might contain roles which are less relevant but still provide excellent transferable skills.
While not found on every CV, this can be a useful place to add relevant information that might not have fit easily into a previous category. Things you might want to include in an additional information section could be a driving license, additional spoken languages, or membership of professional bodies.
An optional section which can provide more information about you and how you spend your free time. If you opt to include this section, aim to consider what your interests convey about you and what the employer can do with this information. For example, if you write that you enjoy watching TV, an employer has limited ability to draw conclusions from this, but if you advise that you take part in a team sport this can convey teamwork and communication skills.
When writing the main body of your CV, keep in mind the following points:
- When recording events, write them in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first
- Make sure your most impressive details are on the first page – this could be your skills, work experience, degree and other achievements
- Use clear sections with headings and if appropriate sub-headings which can be easily followed
- Avoid using pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘we’, ‘us’ etc. Aim to write in the first person with pronouns removed. For example, 'I am a current student at the University of Portsmouth' would be expressed as 'A current student at the University of Portsmouth'
- Use short phrases and avoid large blocks of text – bullet points are useful to separate ideas into sections
- Use bold to denote new sections rather than underlining
- Avoid italics and font types that may be difficult to read – fonts like Arial or Verdana (11 or 12pt) are good
- Allocate more space to important items – your degree perhaps, or a relevant placement
- Avoid using tables, graphs and charts unless they are important or have been specifically asked for – they can be difficult to manipulate and take up too much space
- There's usually no need to include photographs in your CV
- Conclude your CV with a line which advises references are available upon request
Use action verbs
Try to include action verbs that convey a positive attitude and make employers take notice. Show an employer what you can do and highlight your achievements. Try using an action verb as a leading word to your sentence/bullet points to make your writing more direct.
Here are some examples of phrases you might find on a CV, using action verbs:
‘Adapted patient care plans to ensure individual needs were addressed and patients received clear information.’
‘Liaised with coworkers to communicate and resolve customer queries in a timely manner.’
‘Oversaw the implementation of new administrative policies which were developed based on client feedback.’
It's natural to be concerned about telling an employer about a disability when completing applications, writing a CV or going for interviews. It's important to adopt a positive approach and seek help when necessary.
If you require any assistance with this, or other matters related to disability, then please contact staff at the Careers and Employability Service.
When applying for opportunities, preparation is always extremely important. This is especially so when considering beforehand whether and how to disclose a disability. Remember, the provisions of equality legislation can protect people with disabilities.
Gain feedback on your CV
Through MyCareer you have access to a CV reviewing tool called CareerSet. You can upload a copy of your CV along with the job description of the role you are applying to for instant feedback on your CV and how targeted it is. This can be very helpful as employers sometimes use similar AI technology to scan CVs to find the ones most relevant to the position.Login to MyCareer to access CareerSet located in the resources section at the top of your dashboard. CareerSet will provide feedback in the form of a score out of 100. If you receive a low score on your uploaded CV, it is important not to be disheartened. You can use this score as a way of seeing where you are currently, and what needs to be improved. When you go on to submit further drafts of your CV, you can then compare your score to your first upload and see how much you have improved. CareerSet can also be used for reviewing cover letters which you can upload in the same manner as CVs. If you are uploading a creative CV, you may find that occasionally the score you receive does not reflect the quality of your CV. This is because some creative formatting could be misread by the software. You might consider uploading your content in a more traditional format, or booking an appointment to discuss your CV with an adviser instead. Once you have developed your CV with the use of the CareerSet tool, you may then wish to book in with an adviser for further detailed feedback.
Examples of CVs
Selecting the right CV to highlight your experiences and skills is very important. Below is a list of example CVs to help you consider different ways in which CVs can be structured and styled.
If your 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, although they have been titled with job areas, you should adapt your CV to suit your circumstances and tailor it to the requirements of the job.
- Business CV example
- Chronological CV example
- Computing CV example
- Creative CV examples
- Engineering CV example
- Environmental CV example
- Geology CV example
- Law CV example
- Palaeontology CV example
- Part-time CV example (with no work experience)
- Part-time CV example (with some work experience)
- Petroleum engineering CV Example
- Pharmacy CV example
- Science CV example
- Skills-based (2 page) CV example
- Academic CV example – CV for applying for academic or research posts and, occasionally, postgraduate study opportunities.
Examples of creative CVs
Creative CVs can showcase your creativity and talents, more than you'd have a chance to in other sectors.
Here are examples of creative CVs:
- Computer Games Technology 1
- Computer Games Technology 2
- Creative and media writing
- Creative media technologies
- English and creative writing
- Fashion and textiles 1
- Fashion and textiles 2
- Film Production 1
- Film Production 2
- Graphic Design 1
- Graphic Design 2
- Illustration 1
- Illustration 2
- Interior architecture and design
- Photography 1
- Photography 2
- Television and broadcasting
- Television and film