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Top 10 tips for a winning CV

Your CV is usually the first opportunity you have to make a good impression with a prospective employer. As such, it’s important to make it as strong as possible. Here are our top tips for a winning CV:

1. Choose the right CV

CVs fall into three main categories. Chronological CVs are the most widely used, and focus on the jobs you have done, with details of work experience arranged in chronological order. Skills-based CVs are more helpful for those with little work experience; instead they focus on the skills you can offer a prospective employer. Combined CVs mix elements from both the chronological and skills-based CVs.

2. Get to the point

Employers typically need to sift through scores (maybe even hundreds) of CVs. Many will skim-read each one to quickly get an idea of the applicant’s suitability, rather than taking time to read every word. So, you need to make an impression quickly – stick to two pages of A4, keep text short and punchy, and put information in bullet point format rather than chunky paragraphs.

3. Don’t be too technical

Avoid littering your CV with too much jargon. Writing about your profession in layperson’s terms is a skill in itself, and often applications are dealt with by HR departments where staff are not familiar with specialised engineering terms.

4. Tailor your CV

Each role you apply for will require different skills or abilities. Be prepared to update your CV for each application with a view to bringing your most relevant experience to the foreground.

5. Watch your language

Use active rather than passive verbs. This is the difference between saying “I managed a project” and “the project was managed by me”. The first sentence is shorter, punchier, and clearer. Many students from STEM backgrounds are used to using passive verbs in scientific papers (where it is more appropriate), so make a special effort to avoid it on your CV and application letter. Also, stick to short sentences, avoid slang and don’t use big words unnecessarily – keep your language as simple as possible.

6. Go backwards

Put your work and educational achievements in reverse chronological order. This puts your current or most recent job and your highest qualifications at the top, which is where the employer will look first.

7. Don’t give too much away

Many people wonder if they should include details such as date of birth, marital status or number of dependents on a CV. There is no requirement to provide this information so our advice is to give it a miss. Although most employers try to be fair, they may unconsciously make presumptions about your abilities or commitment based on this information. Some employers even explicitly state that if your CV includes certain information such as your date of birth then it will be removed from consideration, so make sure you do your homework and check what they specify. And while some people like to include a photograph with their CVs, our recommendation is to avoid this.

8. Show off a bit of personality

CVs are formal documents, but you can still show off what makes you an individual. You can mention hobbies and interests, achievements outside of work or education, and use your personal statement to describe your character, your motivations, and any qualities that haven’t been covered elsewhere.

9. Think about layout

It’s not just about the words – consider how your CV looks on the page, and use spacing, headings, colour and layout to make the information as clear as possible. Think about how the CV will look both on screen and printed, and if sending by email, then make sure you send a pdf – this will stop your well-designed CV from being jumbled up due to formatting differences from one computer to another.

10. Finally… check and double-check

It’s not just about correcting typos and grammatical mistakes. Check all facts and dates, and that your references’ contact details are correct too.

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