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How to write a good CV or Curriculum Vitae to apply for a Job

When it comes to job hunting, your Curriculum Vitae (CV) is very important and no job application without a CV! Here’s information on why, when, and how to use a CV, formatting guidelines and examples.

What is a CV or Curriculum Vitae?

Your CV, short for curriculum vitae, is a personal marketing document used to sell yourself to prospective employers. It should tell them about you, your professional experience and your skills, abilities and qualifications. Ultimately, it should highlight why you’re the best person for the job.

A CV is required when applying for a job. In addition to your CV, employers may also require a cover letter and a completed application form.

What to include in your CV

While the structure of a CV is flexible, bending to your unique skill set and experiences, there are particular sections that employers expect to see on your CV regardless.

Here are the sections you must include in your CV:

Name, professional title and contact details

The first part of your CV, positioned at the top of the page, should contain your name, professional title and contact details. Under no circumstances should you title your CV with ‘curriculum vitae’ or ‘CV’ as it’s a waste of valuable space. Treat your name as the title instead.

When it comes to your contact details, your email address and phone number(s) are essential. Once upon a time, it was customary to include your full address on your CV. Today, you simply need to list your town and province.

Here is an example of how your name, professional title and contact details might look:

First (s) Name and Surname | Professional Title

Location: Town, County

Phone: 012 000 0000

Email: [email protected]

Personal profile

A personal profile, also known as a personal statement, career objective and professional profile, is one of the most important aspects of your CV. It’s a short paragraph that sits just underneath your name and contact details giving prospective employers an overview of who you are and what you’re all about.

You should tailor your profile to every job you apply for, highlighting specific qualities that match you to the role. Aim to keep your personal statement short and sweet, and no longer than a few sentences. To make the most of this section, you should try to address the following:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What can you offer the company?
  3. What are your career goals?

Experience, References and employment history

Your employment history section gives you a chance to outline your previous jobs, internships and work experience.

List your experience in reverse chronological order as your recent role is the most relevant to the employer.

When listing each position of employment, state your job title, the employer, the dates you worked and a line that summarises the role. Then bullet point your key responsibilities, skills and achievements, and bolster each point with powerful verbs and figures to support each claim and showcase your impact.

It helps to choose the duties most relevant to the job you’re applying for, especially if it’s a long list. If you have many years’ worth of experience, you can reduce the detail of old or irrelevant roles. If you have positions from more than 10 years’ ago, you can delete them.

Here’s an example of how to lay out each position of employment on your CV:

mmm yyyy – mmm yyyy

Company Name, Location

Role Title

Outline

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key responsibilities

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Key achievements/projects

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Education and qualifications

Like your experience section, your education should be listed in reverse chronological order. Include the name of the institutions and the dates you were there, followed by the qualifications and grades you achieved.

If you have recently left education, you may write your degree, diploma or Masters (or equivalents) like so:

Institution name – Dates attended (from – to)

Qualification/subject – Grade

If you have a degree, you could list a few of the most relevant modules, assignments or projects underneath.

For professionals that are a little further along in their careers, or have many certificates in their repertoire, you can lay your qualifications out in this way:

Qualification, grade – Institution – Year

Additional sections

There is a range of additional sections that may strengthen your CV and highlight your skills. Here are just a few you can include if you have room:

Key skills: If you’re writing a functional CV, or have some abilities you want to show off to the employer immediately, insert a key skills section underneath your personal profile. You should aim to detail four to five abilities at most.

 

Formatting and spacing guidelines

If you’re unsure of how to format your CV, it’s worth downloading a few CV templates to familiarise yourself. After all, formatting and spacing your CV is equally as important as the content.

Here are some formatting and spacing tips to bear in mind:

Length: The standard length of a CV in the UK is two pages. However, one size doesn’t fit all, and so for some professionals, one or three pages may be more appropriate.

Headings: Each section must be introduced by a big, bold heading to ensure an easy read.

Font type: Most employers will receive your CV in a digital format, so choose a clear font like Calibri or Arial. You can use a different font type for your headings, but keep it professional and easy-to-read too.

Font size and page margins: The body of your CV should be between 10 and 12 point font, and your headings between 14 and 18 points. Keep your page margins around 2.5cm, but never reduce them to less than 1.27cm or your CV will appear cluttered and hard to read. White space ensures clarity and professionalism.

Proofreading and consistency: Your formatting must be consistent throughout your CV to keep it looking slick.

Tailoring, keywords and ATSs: It’s perfectly acceptable to keep a generic copy of your CV for your own records, but if you’re applying for a job, it must be tailored to the role.

Saving the file: It’s likely you’ll send your CV via email or through a job board like Indeed.com. Save your CV as a pdf file to ensure recruiters can open it on any device. A pdf will also maintain formatting, so you can be sure that employers will see your CV as you intended.

What not to include

There are a variety of details that should not be included on your CV. Here are a few of the common ones:

A headshot: In many countries, it’s common practice to include a photo of yourself on your CV. But the South Africa is not one of them.

Marital status: Like your age, your marital status and dependents don’t affect your ability to do your job.