An effective CV presents you as an ideal job candidate and secures you an interview. To convince the employer that you have the right experience, skills and attributes, you need to tailor your CV to each job application.
Don't underestimate the time it takes to create a really professional CV
Thorough preparation is essential. Whether you want to remain in academia or make your career elsewhere, you need to do some research.
- Yourself - skills, experience (through both work and other interests), achievements, strengths and weaknesses. Carry out a self-evaluation
- The job - the employer, skills and experience needed, the application procedure. Visit the employer's website, talk to current employees or people doing similar jobs, analyse the job description if there is one, or look at Prospects for general job descriptions for a wide range of jobs
- Match your own skills and experience to the needs of the job - note your detailed evidence and any shortfalls in your experience or skills
- The audience for your CV - this will influence the format and the way you present your research.
Example of job analysis and matching evidence
Possible sources of evidence
Education grades, bachelor, masters, doctorate, prizes
Written skills: thesis, articles and publications
Oral skills: presentations, teaching, demonstrating, leading seminars
Completing doctoral studies on time, agreeing deadlines and timetables with funders, completion of research project in budget and on time
Attendance at courses/qualifications, examples of tools used or developed
Successful resolution of a problem within your research field
Member of research team, external team experiences, work experience
Decide how best to structure and tailor your CV for the job you want. The format will depend on the employment sector and the job. For ideas, look at three broad types of CV used in the UK:
- Academic CV - only for academic job applications
- Chronological CV - the traditional format
- Skills-based CV - designed to highlight your skills
For information about conventions in other countries, look at Prospects ‘working abroad'.
Keeping records for compiling your CV
Keep an updated detailed record of your education and work experiences (both paid and unpaid). This and your Continuing Professional Development record are key resources when producing CVs tailored to different job applications.
- Maximum length - two one-sided A4 pages. Academic CVs may be longer, but keep the detail in appendices
- Use the footer for page numbers and your name - for safe photocopying
- Use quality paper - white or cream
- Make it attractive and easy to read
- Create a logical structure with clear headings (for example, Education, Work experience, Skills, Interests)
- To highlight key points use bullet points, sub-headings, bold text and well-proportioned white space
- Edit ruthlessly - include relevant information, but not too much
- Use short sentences not long prose
- Ideally, print in black and white - be wary of using colour unless appropriate for the context
- Use language the employer understands - beware of jargon
- Use action words, for example: ‘succeeded', ‘achieved', ‘organised'.
- Allocate space by importance of information - give greatest prominence to your most important evidence
- Organise information under the relevant headings and sub-headings
- Check grammar and spelling - use UK not US English
- Include relevant skills and experience - tailored to the job with specific evidence/examples
- Convey personality and enthusiasm - an upbeat and positive tone
- Make it personal - don't use pre-formatted CVs from the web.
Other potential inclusions
- The heading ‘Curriculum Vitae' is unnecessary. Use the space for important and relevant information. Instead, put your name in bold type at the top of the first page.
- Personal profiles are optional; a useful device if making a career change to emphasise your motivation and rationale. If using one, relate it directly to the employer and job. Could be off-putting unless it conveys a clear, focused message.
- Photographs - not the convention on UK CVs
- Nationality - optional, but could be vital information if a work permit is needed
- Gender, health status, marital status, your date of birth or the dates of birth of your children - not necessary to include any of these.
When trying to decide what to include, always think ‘is this relevant?'
Work does not stop when you finish typing! Careful editing will sharpen the messages and fresh eyes will spot issues you may not notice. To improve your CV:
- Review it objectively
- Is the intended audience obvious?
- Is the content written clearly for the audience?
- Is the general layout clear?
- Is space wasted on irrelevant material?
- Is the most important information on the front page?
- Is there too much or too little information?
- Is the evidence for skills presented clearly?
- Check your SPELLING!
- Get someone else to proofread it
- Get feedback from others. Careers Services usually offer a quality check, though they will not do extensive re-writes (most universities run CV writing courses). Ask colleagues or friends working in a similar job environment.
Always send a covering letter with your CV. Use it to draw attention to the highlights in your CV. It should contain compelling evidence that you should be selected for interview. Be aware that some organisations circulate CVs without covering letters so make sure everything is on the CV.
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