How to write a brilliant CV, by an expert

Jessica Pryce-Jones
Guide, Life

We’ve even got a template for you to download (at the bottom)

It’s that time of year. Gearing up for finals and trying to find a job simultaneously. So you need all the short­cuts you can get to save effort and land that job.

Over the years I’ve seen loads of CVs from students to CEOs. And most of them make me want to weep. Because it’s so easy to avoid basic mistakes and produce something that means you get to the next steps.

So here are my top tips for writing a brilliant CV.


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Don’t panic

Basic layout

Your CV should not be longer than a page. There are never 50 reasons to hire you and no­ one wants to know your life story.

Put your name at the top. If you are applying for a creative job or to a US organisation it’s more common to add a photo. For anything else unless you are asked, don’t bother. If you have to get one make sure you look employable, so don’t get it done when you are hungover and do keep makeup subtle. Some places won’t take kindly to face piercings or massive jewellery, (financial services) so think about what you’ll wear.

Your order of sections should be:

1. Profile
2. Work experience
3. Education
4. Skills
5. Interests

Use a font that says “professional” even if you are applying for a creative job. Comic Sans Serif goes straight to reject, as does anything curly­wurly. It just looks immature. So does a purple signature to your email. Yes, that’s a value judgement but tough, they have the jobs and you want them. Play safe and use Calibri, Arial or something plain.

Make sure you have included all your contact details and keep them up to date. Get a gmail address (more professional) and don’t use a Hotmail as it’s often bounced by servers since that’s where so much spam comes from. And keep it clean: [email protected] will go straight to a reject pile for all the obvious reasons.


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Personal profile

Start your CV with a four line personal profile explaining a bit about you and what you are looking for as concisely and punchily as you can. Your main aim is to be enthusiastic and energetic so people want to read on. Remember you will need to check and potentially re-write this section each time you apply for a job, so your CV is tailored to a specific role. Sprinkle a few of the key words from the job ad here so you look like a perfect fit.

Work experience

Order it starting today and working backwards. What you were doing in 2009 is much less important than what you have been doing in the past couple of years.

Use bullets to describe your work experience and start each one with past or present participles. So “ran”, “managed” and “organised” or “running”, “managing” and “organising”. Don’t mix them up or you look illogical.

Lead with what you achieved in each role. If you were a café manager, say you were responsible for a turnover of £2,000 a week if you were (it shows you are commercial) and reconciling the till (it shows you are honest and numerate).

Don’t write about every single job you ever had: two weeks in a shop really doesn’t make a difference unless you were working for Vivienne Westwood and want to go into retail. So if you have done loads of work just write about what is relevant to the job you are applying for.

Reading about every single holiday job you ever had will make sure the recruiter loses the will to live.

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Education

Limit all that education you have had and make it short. Don’t list those GCSEs but do list your four A* A-Levels. It’s your most recent experience that counts.

Write your degree as 2:1. Roman numerals look fussy on a page and upper second class sounds like a 1930s train fare.

Skills and interests

Do mention your Duke of Edinburgh if you got Silver and Gold. Don’t bother if you only got the bronze. The difference is that getting all of them shows you are a sticker.

Keep the hobbies or interests short: remember you are there to work, not to play. Your employer doesn’t really want to know you love getting drunk on a beach in Thailand, and who doesn’t love reading, films or travel? You could try instead your favourite beach 2015 or best book(s) you read in the past 12 months. Your aim is to stand out in a crowd while remaining truthful. If you say you love scuba diving, you’d better be able to talk about it as it’s too easy to spot a liar. And thrilling to trap them at interview too.


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Writing style

Avoid clichés when you are writing your personal profile. You are aiming to be different and a cliché says the exact opposite about you. Your personal profile shouldn’t be a repeat of your covering letter.

Understand that you are not taking your talents or leadership skills to any organisation: you don’t really have them yet and you don’t want to look arrogant. Instead focus on your hard work, your ability to learn, your keenness to support others. Employers want to know you’ll do the dull stuff and you are a safe pair of hands before offering you a hot shot project.

Run your eye over the document and make sure that there aren’t loads of “I”s. They make you look far too egocentric and recruiters will read trouble into that. Simply get rid of as many as you can.

Check for voice in everything you’ve written. This will really set you apart as so many students don’t understand it. This means making sure you don’t mix up “we”, “I” and “you” in the same sentence. Never use “you” when you mean me. Getting voice wrong can mean instant rejection because only you know who you are referring to. And never write “I myself”. It’s just bad English.

Avoid sprinkling Random Capitals throughout your CV. Capitalising a word doesn’t make it more significant.

Once you’ve finished

Check your spelling: recruiters are looking for reasons to exclude you from the next step, not to include you. So avoid stupid mistakes, like spelling the name of the business incorrectly.

Read your CV aloud. If you stumble or trip over your words, you’ve got a badly written sentence. Write it again. For a final once over, get a friend or parent to read it to see what you might have missed.

Check your Facebook and make sure it’s as private as possible especially if there are pictures of you in compromising positions. Recruiters will often check just to see how you manage yourself and whether what you say on your CV is true.

Get a LinkedIn profile where you can add all those jobs you miss off your one page CV and replicate your personal statement. Anyone hiring often looks there for candidates as it saves fees. So put yourself out there too.

Some useful templates

Here’s where you can see a better and a worse CV. And if you want to download a template to help you start, you can find it here.

Good luck.

Jessica Pryce­-Jones is joint CEO of iOpener www.iopenerinstitute.com a consultancy that focuses on performance. In her career she has read thousands of CVs and advised everyone from students to CEOs on how to get their next job.

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