CV Intro

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There are no rigid rules for how you should structure a CV. You will need to decide which information will enable you to market yourself most effectively to an employer. In most cases, reverse chronological order works best i.e. most recent first.  You should also divide your CV into different sections to make it easier for the employer to read.

CV Tabs

The basics

 

Student using a laptop. A CV has one purpose: to secure you an interview.  The more you tailor your CV to the vacancy in which you are interested, the greater your chances.  You will also normally need to prepare a covering letter as well, which you will send with your CV.

When should I use a CV?

You would usually use a CV to:

  • Respond to a job advertisement, e.g. "apply with a CV and covering letter stating your interest and suitability for the role…"
  • Make a speculative application enquiring about the availability of permanent or temporary employment

You do not (usually) need to use a CV when the employer requires you to complete an application form.

Producing a persuasive CV

Tailoring your CV to the job and the career area to which you are applying is extremely important. Before you write your CV you need to understand:

  • What the job involves
  • The particular skills and qualities which the employer values

Next, you need to think about all the skills and qualities you have, and where you have demonstrated them. There are three areas of your life that you can draw upon:

  • Academic, your main subject and any options
  • Work experience, whether paid or unpaid, professional or more casual 
  • Extracurricular activities, such as sports, societies, travel, community activities

Make the connection, look for the clearest evidence that what you offer matches the employer’s requirements and make your strongest points stand out on the page.

Structure

In most cases, your CV should be up to two pages long. A longer CV indicates that you are unable to be concise, which will put employers off. Either aim for one or two full pages - not one and a half.

  • Pay attention to the employer's instructions. If they have particular requirements of what to include, you should follow these exactly
  • Presentation should be clear and simple. Don't use too many different margins or fonts and it's best to avoid tables and boxes
  • Avoid long paragraphs, CVs are read quickly. Do your achievements stand out?
  • Using bullet points can be a good way to convey information concisely. Large blocks of text can put off a reader
  • Mind the gap! Employers do notice gaps, especially in relation to dates
  • Speeling and formattingmistakes give a very bad impression. Don't just rely on the spell-checker, get a friend to read it through for you too

STRUCTURE

As mentioned above, there is no definitive 'template' that a CV should follow, but typical headings include:

  • Personal details (as a header to your CV)
  • Personal Profile or Career Objectives (optional)
  • Education 
  • Work Experience
  • Skills (e.g. IT and languages)
  • Interests and Achievements
  • References 

See more information in our How to write a CV [pdf] and Develop your CV [pdf] handouts, or our Guide to Career Planning

CVs Overseas

If you are writing a CV for use outside of the UK, remember that different conventions might apply. Look at Going Global or Prospects' Studying Abroad webpage for more details.

Key skills

Below are some of the key transferable skills which employers may look for you to evidence in your CV and application. This list is not exhaustive - the skills sought by an employer for a particular role will be detailed with its job description. Our A-Z of Skills handout may also be useful in thinking about ways to develop particular skills going forward.

Communication
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Getting your message across, verbally and in writing, to individuals and groups Writing a project report; making a presentation based on that report
Listening effectively Hearing and understanding detailed instructions about how to carry out a lab experiment
Understanding body language Being aware of others’ facial expressions or gestures in a meeting and using them to interpret what is meant
Creating a logical argument Determining if your conclusions follow directly from the series of statements you made when writing a report
Being sensitive to the needs and level of knowledge of your audience Making a presentation to school students attending a Department Open Day or working as an explainer in the Science Museum, dealing with the general public
Communication skills
Teamwork
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Working effectively with others Working on a group project or field work, where you have collaborated with others to achieve a solution to a problem or produced a report on your findings
Respecting and facilitating the contributions of others Team members share ideas on how to approach the project, agree who will do what and by when
Negotiating to achieve outcomes that benefit all concerned Playing to the strengths within the group to ensure a good result
Motivating and supporting other team members Helping others with ideas, keeping the group on track and encouraging others when situations become difficult
Teamwork
Problem Solving
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Thinking logically and using ingenuity to solve problems and overcome difficulties Improving the design of a machine, analysing its current capabilities and identifying appropriate changes
Being flexible when unexpected obstacles occur Revising the scope of a final-year project due to practical problems, and negotiating the change with tutors
Coming up with better ways of doing things Modifying your experimental design to produce results
Problem Solving
Commercial Awareness
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Understanding an employer's goals and how you could contribute to achieving them Adding to the company’s profitability by increasing sales or introducing a more effective stock control system
Being aware of current economic, political or environmental issues affecting the employer Understanding how world events can present enterprises with challenges and risks
Discussing basic financial concepts Able to explain profit and loss calculations 
Commercial awareness
Planning and Organising
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Setting objectives Setting up a group project: clarifying the objective, who is to do when and by when
Planning resources and activities to achieve a certain goal Arranging an expedition: working out how many will be involved, where to go, and what equipment, provisions and other gear might be needed
Establishing priorities Deciding where to travel to in America, with limited time and money
Being able to coordinate with others Making sure everyone is clear about how their activities fit together to produce the play for the Drama Soc
Anticipating and avoiding difficulties Anticipating how much money to take when inter-railing to avoid being stuck somewhere
Organising personal time to carry out all responsibilities Prioritising your studies and allocating time to social and extracurricular activities
Planning and Organising
Interpersonal Skills
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Displaying good relationships with customers or clients, managers, peers and subordinates Using information to persuade a manager to your point of view
Political awareness and sensitivity Taking the views of your peer group and representing them to a departmental committee; dealing with difficult customers
Negotiating with and persuading others with self-confidence and tact Persuading caterers to provide good value for money for a Hall Ball
Interpersonal Skills
Numeracy
What an employer might look for:Example of evidence to convince:
Making simple calculations Quickly calculating the total cost of items in a bill or invoice
Interpreting ideas and drawing conclusions from numerical information Logically deducing inferences from a complex set of tables
Identifying trends and patterns in data Analysing complex statistical data to identify consumer spending patterns
Numeracy

CVs for research students

"The basic principles of writing a CV are the same whatever kind of work you are applying for."

Added value of your PhD

A Physics PhD student

It might be worth thinking in terms of what you consider to be the 'added value' of your PhD which would make your CV stand out from someone with only a first degree - think about your transferable skills. This is particularly important when you are applying for jobs that are not in academia or R&D and are open to all graduates. 

Academic CV

An academic CV can be longer than the standard two pages of A4, but should still be as concise as possible and tailored to the position to which you are applying. For more information:

CVs for roles outside academia

Applying for jobs outside the UK

Information on CVs for international applications can be found on the Country Profile for the relevant country in the Prospects website. There are also resources on Going Global and in the Careers Information Room that will give you information on how to apply for jobs in other countries.

CVs for postdocs

As a Postdoc, applying your next job requires thinking about whether you complete an application for a lecturer post, or whether you develop your CV for a position in industry or commerce. All applications should be carefully targeted and you will need to audit and review your 'unique selling points': your expertise, experience, skills and attributes.

In addition to the CV tips below, our Making Applications and Cover Letters pages have some further information targeted towards Postdocs.

Writing a CV: essentials for academic applications

  • Use headings appropriate to your application, such as Research Experience/Techniques/Interests
  • Give details of your research experiences, followed by your qualifications
  • Refer to industry or other collaborations
  • Use bullet points to draw attention to the most significant aspects of your experience
  • Use key words such as 'investigated', 'designed' and 'analysed' to demonstrate how you go about your work
  • Use short phrases rather than sentences or paragraphs
  • Include your teaching experiences using sub-headings such as lecturing, tutorials, demonstrating and supervision of projects
  • Refer to grant applications, managing the lab and Health and Safety responsibilities
  • Include memberships of professional associations, awards and prizes
  • Your CV can be several pages long so that you can include publications and conferences

Writing a CV: essential for applications outside academia

  • Use headings appropriate to the position you are applying for e.g. Research Techniques and Technical Communication (possibly also sub-divided between written and presentations) would be of interest to a firm of patent attorneys
  • For applications other than research, you should focus on the relevant skills developed within your work rather than writing copiously about your research
  • Write about your teaching activities as you would any other employment
  • Think about using headings such as Engineering Experience or Environmental Experience where you can group together paid and voluntary experiences as well as interests
  • Avoid one word interest/activities; emphasise interests relevant to what is being applied for e.g. for City jobs refer to use of the FT, The Economist
  • Unless a one page CV is requested by the employer, you should aim to produce a two page document
  • Unless otherwise requested, you can say 'References - Available on request' at end of your CV;  this also saves space