Video on CVs

Career Snapshot - CVs

In this section we’ll run through basic structuring, tailoring and give you tips from Imperial employers on how to make your CV more effective. 

Start with the video here - Career Snapshot CVs, which gives an overview of how to create a CV, then explore the different tabs of information below. Download a copy of the Imperial Guide to CVs and Cover Letters that contains a range of example CVs, and watch our Welcome to Writing a CV Guide.

CVs are your first opportunity to market yourself to potential future employers, which means that you need to tailor your CV every time you use it to apply for a new job.  This is a real art and requires you to understand what sort of skills the person who will be reading your CV is looking for.

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, 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 one or two full pages long, not one and a half. A longer CV indicates that you are unable to be concise, which will put employers off:

  • Pay attention to the employer’s instructions, include any requirements that they list
  • Format should be clear and simple; keep margins and fonts consistent and avoid tables or boxes
  • Avoid long paragraphs, CVs are read quickly so ensure your achievements stand out
  • Use bullet points to convey information concisely and to avoid blocks of text
  • Employers notice gaps between dates, try to address these, e.g. gap year
  • Spelling and formatting mistakes give a bad impression and spell-checkers don’t catch everything so get a friend to help you proof-read

Structure

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

  • Contact details (as a header to your CV)
  • Education
  • Work Experience
  • Skills (e.g. IT and languages)
  • Interests and Achievements
  • References

See more information in our Imperial Guide to CVs and Cover Letters.

CVs Overseas

If you are writing a CV for use outside of the UK, remember that different conventions might apply. Look at GoinGlobal 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. 

Communication
What an employer might look forExample of evidence to give
Getting your message across, verbally and in writing, to individuals and groups Writing a project report or delivering a presentation
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
Communication skills
Teamwork
What an employer might look forExample of evidence to give
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
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 forExample of evidence to give
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 forExample of evidence to give
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 companies 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 forExample of evidence to give
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
Planning and Organising
Interpersonal Skills
What an employer might look forExample of evidence to give
Displaying good relationships with customers, clients, managers, and employees Helping fellow employees to learn a new software that your team can use
Political awareness and sensitivity Taking the views of your peer group and representing them to a departmental committee
Negotiating with and persuading others with self-confidence and tact Persuading caterers to provide good value for money for a Hall Ball
Interpersonal Skills

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 studentIt 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 GoinGlobal 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 for 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 Application forms 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 - essentials 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

Useful resources

There are downloadable resources, including the Imperial Guide to CVs and Cover Letters that contains a range of example CVs, and the Panopto recording of Welcome to Writing a CV Guide.

The following Careers Service handouts cover preparation for CVs:

There is also a series of videos on CVs and applications viewable from our Exclusive online resources.

Finally, browse the reference books on CVs in our 'Application and Selection' section in our Careers Library.