CV Guidance

Your CV is Your Sales Tool!

The purpose of your CV is primarily to sell you and your abilities to a prospective employer: it is not an autobiography! Use it to draw attention to your strengths, competencies and achievements. Your aim is to get in front of an employer at an interview (2 - 3 pages max).

When writing your CV, it's important to consider your audience. The average recruiter and/or hiring manager sees hundreds of CVs from qualified candidates. CVs begin to look and sound the same. Using dull wording weakens your CV.

It needs to:

State what you can do and why they should talk to you. Include your educational and occupational background and explain your ability to perform the job for which you are applying. Indicate your potential for future success by evaluating your past successes. 

Follow these rules:

Keep it simple: don't clutter it with irrelevant facts word process it, ensure it is free of errors and duplications. Keep it honest. Start points with purposeful verbs such as: Achieved, Gained, Learned, Served, Responsible for, Arranged, Encouraged etc.

The basic elements in a CV are as follows:

Personal Details

Your name, address, phone numbers and email address.

Personal profile

This is your opportunity to 'sell' yourself. Make it clear, concise and dynamic. State your skills and competencies; what you can offer as opposed to what you want. Make frequent use of active verbs, ie: Achieved, Set up, Managed, Attained, Responsible for, Led.


List up to 5 achievements, remember you want to add value to a company. Define and explain the skills like this:

Customer Service: Developed Customer Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to enhance customer experience for new and existing customers, which led to a 3% increase in renewals and a 2.5% increase in value of units sold. Use bullet points to emphasise the key successes in your life.


Emphasise the highest levels achieved by showing grades (and some detail if relevant). If you have been in the job market for less than two years, give equal attention to other achievements while at University etc. Captain of the debating team / student union rep /set designer for the university play - all show you to be enthusiastic, a self-starter and full of initiative.

Career Summary

Focus on the skills and experience that you have from present and previous employment that support your skills list above. List your employment history in reverse order, starting with your most recent job first. Include full and part-time jobs, academic research, work placements and volunteer work. Use bullets to list accomplishments, skills and duties. Do not leave any gaps in time. If you were not working for a while, state why and what you did during that time. If you are looking for your first job, list any RELEVANT work experience, paid or unpaid.

Qualifications and Training Courses attended

List all significant training courses that you have participated in. Where they were in-house make this clear, and indicate grades where appropriate (eg Credit, Distinction etc.). Forward thinking employers are looking for candidates who take responsibility for their own personal development - all training is valuable. IT languages or software that you are experienced in using should also be briefly listed.

Activities and awards

List professional, academic or community awards or organisation memberships (especially if you've held a position of responsibility). If you have more than one point in a specific field e.g. music or sport, then give sub-headings so it is easier to read.

Keep the structure of your CV simple, details can be discussed at interview stage.

Further Hints and Tips

Tailor your CV to the individual company

Research your target company - look at their website. Recruiters can spot a mass mailing a mile off. Back it up with a short COVER LETTER stating why you're interested in the role and what you can bring.

Be honest

Lying on your CV is a waste of your time and that of your prospective employer. Adding six months to your time in a job can seem like a good idea, but if you are caught out you will have lost the job. Be positive and accurate: if you think the three summers you spent working for a charity in France show your knowledge of the country and its culture - then say so.

Don't overcrowd your CV

Make sure your CV is well presented and readable. The prospective employer needs to be able to find the key information quickly. Bullet points can help in summarising achievements that can be expanded on at an interview. If your prospective employer has to work hard to read your CV, they will quickly lose interest.


Typing mistakes and grammatical errors can mean your CV goes straight in the bin. No employer will want to hire someone who can't be bothered to check their own work. Don't rely on the spell check to pick up any mistakes. Read it over thoroughly when you think you have finished.

Two pairs of eyes

A fresh eye is useful to spot mistakes or offer suggestions. Ask a trusted friend to read through the CV when you think it is ready. Do not expect to complete your CV in one sitting - always go back to it after a couple of days.


Check with referees before you use their names. Ensure that the person has not moved on and will say positive things about you. The best people to use for references are your most recent employers. If you have recently left college a professor or teacher at your college/university can be given - choose someone who knows how you react in a working environment.

Project experience can be more important than employment history

The rate at which people change jobs in the new economy is increasing all the time and this has affected how employers measure experience. Project experience is now more important than employment history for some employers. Employers are looking for people who have worked on projects from conception through to product launch and, in doing so, have demonstrated the flexible skills that many companies now value most. 

As a candidate, you have to react to the changing focus of recruiters. Instead of submitting a classic, chronological CV - structured around employment dates and position held - try restructuring your CV around the most important projects you have worked on. This can be particularly effective if you have been a contract or temporary worker. You could even attempt to 'brand' yourself with the projects or experiences you have found most fulfilling. By using your CV to promote the importance of projects you enjoyed, you increase your chances of finding similar work in the future.

Creating interest and impact in your CV

Creating a winning executive CV isn't always easy. The strongest first step you can take is to build a strategy and choose the right words. This may seem simple, but in my experience working with thousands of CVs, one of the most common CV mistakes candidates make is not paying enough attention to strategy and word selection.

When most job candidates write their own CVs, they don't consider word choice. Their primary concern is getting down the basic information. What you might not realise is that verbiage is critical, and the wrong word choice can sabotage your CV.

Soft-Skill Descriptions

A lot of job seekers feel they need to communicate their soft-skills to the employer to make them appear unique. There is nothing further from the truth. Soft-skills are claimed by nearly all job candidates and are so common that hiring managers pay no attention to them.

Soft-skill phrases to avoid or severely limit: excellent communication skills; goal-driven; strong work ethic; multi-tasker; personable presenter; goal-oriented; detail-oriented; bubbly. Don't bore your reader with these overused and tired phrases. After all, no one writes that he/she takes long lunches, is lazy, and argues a lot with peers. Use measurable information; rather than stating you are an "excellent presenter," you could say something like "Developed and presented 50+ multi-media presentations to C-level prospects resulting in 35 new accounts totaling £300,000 in new revenues."

Age, Health, Appearance

Many executives haven't had to write a CV in years. Either they've been promoted progressively from within or have been recruited aggressively by other companies. Now they're facing that scary time known as pre-retirement, and they fear age discrimination. They feel they can counter this perceived hurdle by giving a description of their age or health to "prove" they are not ready for the nursing home! But rather than helping your CV, this approach significantly hurts it. Not only are you toying with Age Discrimination legislation, but you also make the very issue you are trying to hide stand out intechnicolour!

Age, health, appearance phrases to avoid:

Young; energetic; youthful; athletic; fit; healthy; professional appearance; mature

If you write: "Healthy, young-at-heart executive ready to make a difference rather than play golf all day. Trim, fit marathon runner seeks position as National Sales Director." you might just as well have written "57 year old male terrified of age discrimination and worried that he'll be passed over for a younger candidate". While being a marathon runner is an accomplishment at any age, it doesn't belong on your profile, instead put it on your Interests section at the end.

Passive Voice

Many people write in passive voice because it's how we've been taught to write "formally." This habit-driven writing style is prevalent in self-written CVs. The problem with passive voice is that it is just that - passive! A CV needs to have punch and sparkle and communicate an active, aggressive candidate. You can't achieve that while using the passive voice.

Rather than saying "Responsible for management of three direct reports," change it to "Managed 3 direct reports." It is a shorter, more direct mode of writing and adds impact to the way the CV reads.

Carefully Considered Word Choice

A CV is a marketing document for your career just as a brochure is a marketing document for a product or service. Companies put careful thought and consideration into each and every word that goes into marketing copy and you should do the same in your CV. These words represent you to the recruiter when you cannot be there to speak for yourself, so they need to showcase you in a powerful way. In a perfect world, these things would not matter, but in the reality of job search today, they matter a great deal. Be wise: stop and give some thought to the words you choose to use.