How to Write a Great CV

These are the tips of a professional career advisor at the University of Edinburgh

At some point, most of us will face the dreaded moment of having to apply for jobs. Writing a killer CV and presenting clear examples of your experience and knowledge are key to being successful when it comes to searching for jobs. And as with any skill, you can always improve the content and format of your CV to make sure you stand out from all the other applicants.

While most of the tips below are fairly generic and are meant to encourage good writing practice, always make sure you are aware of the current requirements and norms in your own country and discipline (own research is key!). For example, in the UK you should never put your date of birth or marital status on your CV.

  • Spellcheck and grammar: pay attention to every single detail as most employers will inevitably be put off any CVs or applications that are riddled with spelling mistakes. So, proofread your work before submitting, and, if you can, get a friend to check it for you too. Put time and effort into showing the recruiters that you are a top-notch candidate.
  • Don’t overdo it: a standard CV is about 1 -2 pages long. Anything longer than that and you need to consider whether you have put too much irrelevant or repetitive information in. Remember that you will need different versions of a CV for different roles and employers. Every job is unique, so make sure you tailor your CV to the specific employer’s requirements.
  • Starting point: before you get down to writing your CV, make a list of all your skills, work experience, key projects you have been involved in, research and teaching experience, publications, presentations, grants and fellowships, professional associations and licenses, awards and honours, and any other information relevant to the position you are applying for. Often it is useful to make a mind map or use different colours for different skills or experience (only at the brainstorming stage, not on your CV!). Make sure you include key dates as well. Next, group all of these into categories and put the best part up at the top of the page. Always prioritise your expert level know-how.
  • Fancy fonts: choose a simple font and only use italics and bold for emphasis. If you can, do a test print and make sure your CV looks good on paper and on a screen. Make it more readable by using a mix of paragraphs and bullet points. Do not overcrowd your CV and, as mentioned before, choose the skills and roles most relevant to the one you are applying for.
  • Connect: if you have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, add it to your CV.
  • Sell your skills: use a summary statement to showcase why you are the best person for the job. Make sure you have read the job description and target the specific skills the employer is looking for. Include all your successes, but do not list everything you have ever been involved in. Specific statistics and numbers, for example, budget savings, are CV gold so add them if you have any. If you struggle with numerical evidence, look at your skills and add context to your leadership or technical knowledge. Have you solved a major problem or come up with a great idea?
  • Beat the bots: make sure whatever you include in your CV matches the job advert, as many online recruitment systems track CVs and search for keywords applicable to the advertised jobs. This is where doing your research and tailoring your CV are crucial. Yes, it takes time but the more effort you put into it the more likely you are to get to the interview stage.

Good luck!

Read this:

Watch this:

Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an action plan that works for you:

  • What inspired you?
  • As a result, what do you want to do more of?
  • And what do you want to do less of?
  • What will you do next to achieve these goals?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.