The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing the Perfect CV

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing the Perfect CV
Published: 13 June 2022

I’m going to caveat this with the understanding that a CV is incredibly subjective and personal, however there are a few golden nuggets of advice that I would recommend. The ultimate job of any CV is to secure you an interview – if you are applying for roles you really ought to be considered for and you are getting interviews consistently, then the CV is working. If you are repeatedly applying for roles that you have the required experience for and are not getting invited to an interview, then it’s time to revisit your CV.

A CV can not only reflect your experience and suitability for a role, but also allows a glimpse into your judgement and attention to detail. If your CV is littered with inconsistencies then what impression does this give a recruiter, talent acquisition professional, or hiring manager?

Collectively, I have read tens of thousands of CVs over the past 22 years and within them there is the usual spectrum of the good, the bad, and the ugly! This isn’t just my perspective; I have sought out the views of my colleagues as we collectively benefit from gaining feedback from clients giving us a rounded perspective as to what a good CV should look like.

Our advice would include the following comments and suggestions:

Keep it updated

Don’t wait for your ideal role to come along before rushing to update your CV to hit a deadline. Your CV should be a living document, constantly evolving as your career develops. It’s hard to recall something that your perhaps achieved in detail two years ago – try to set aside time regularly to revisit and update your CV.

Personal Statement

Personally, I am not a fan. They can come across as pretentious and can simply read like a download of every possible adjective under the sun. I’m also not convinced they add any huge value and I do wonder if they perhaps do more damage to your application than good.

Achievements

We frequently see CVs with a collective of key achievements towards the top of a CV. This can be confusing as it is rare to see these achievements linked to the role that they correspond to. Instead, I would remove this section and outline the key achievements within each of your most recent roles. Don’t worry about key achievements you delivered 10+ years ago – keep them recent and relevant.

Consistency

This is a big bug bearer for many – ensure your dates are all aligned and crucially ensure that any titles and dates you use within your CV mirror those found on LinkedIn. Far too often a CV is not aligned to what is visible on LinkedIn, leaving a recruiter or hiring manager struggling to ascertain which one is the accurate version. LinkedIn increasingly serves as an initial CV or insight into your background and experience by a talent acquisition team or headhunter – treat it like your CV. Spend time on LinkedIn ensuring there is more than just employers, job titles, and dates.  

Running Order

Start with your most recent or current position and work backwards chronologically. You should have most detail in your current role versus a role that you held eight years ago for example.

Set the scene

Whilst you will clearly know your employer well, don’t assume your audience will. Under your job title and employer, outline what your company does, the turnover, number of sites, and employees.

Then summarise briefly your remit, size of your team, who your report into, if you have a revenue or savings target mention it. Then bullet point underneath three to four key achievements that you personally can lay claim to. Make them clear and tangible, provide the context and bring them to life.

Qualifications

Again, the adage ‘that less is more’ is true. I’ve seen experienced and senior individuals feel the need to outline the individual grades they got at GCSE and A Levels; even when they have gone on to undertake a degree, MBA, and professional qualifications. Remove them – they are not adding anything, and I would remove any mention of them. The same can be said for training courses you have attended – I’ve seen a full page of A4 outlining all the internal training courses people have attended. Any employer that recognises the value and benefit of investing in their staff should be applauded but again, there is no need to outline every one you have attended, unless there is one or two that are absolutely essential for the role you are applying for.

Hobbies and Interests

Moving to some of the more emotive topics here. Hobbies and interests are an integral part of who we are. Again, very subjective on whether you choose to outline them, but I personally would include a couple of lines about yourself outside of work.

Seek advice

Ask for feedback from a mentor, trusted colleague, or the recruitment partner you are working with. Be open to taking feedback and advice.

Formatting

There are no right or wrong answers here just opinion, but my opinion and indeed having canvassed my colleagues, our opinion would be to keep it clear and simply. Avoid the use of colour and bolding key words mid-sentence. Keep the font consistent throughout your CV and avoid the need to insert company logos. They’re not essential and rarely do they get translated clearly onto a CV. Don’t use a myriad of colours. Your CV isn’t an opportunity to illustrate your creative capabilities.  A simple Word document converted to PDF will be more than adequate.

Spell check

This seems so obvious but double check your document, then read it again before sharing it with someone to proof.

Corporate photo

I personally would not include a photo – it does not add anything to your CV or credentials and in no way reflects your ability to undertake a job, so it’s pointless to include it in my opinion.

One size doesn’t suit all

Tailor your CV to the role you are applying for. Don’t just rely on a single format to apply for every role.  Ensure that you outline within the CV the experience and evidence of the criteria and responsibilities of the role you want to be considered for. If the role requires the management of a sizeable team, outline within your CV when you stated to manage a team and in the most recent roles, outline size of team, and geographical spread. If the role you are applying for is more of a sole contributor, then thin the team management detail out in your CV to concentrate on more individual and personal achievements and accomplishments.

Length

I’ve seen CVs that are akin to a magazine in terms of number of pages. Two or three pages of A4 maximum would be my recommendation. If you are applying for a senior leadership role you will be expected to be succinct and to the point without getting dragged down into the nitty gritty. As your career develops, just start to thin out the roles you held earlier in your career. No one is going to hire you based upon something you may have done 20 years ago. Listing the company, role and duration will suffice.  

References and Testimonials

Leave them off your CV. If they are required, they will be requested at an appropriate point in the process – they are just taking up valuable space on your CV.

Richard Guest is an Associate Partner in our Procurement and Supply Chain practice.

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