Counselling and career development

CV writing

What is a CV?

Curriculum vitae is a Latin term that means "course of life" - in other words, a reflection of your work experience, educational background, and skills. Your CV is your marketing tool that will secure you an interview - not a job. The more effort you put into this marketing tool, the better your chances that your CV will reflect the "true you" and the better your chances of being invited to an interview. A good CV is not just a standard template that you use to apply for any position, but it should be adapted to match each position that you apply to.

What should your CV focus on?

Your CV should focus on your achievements and accomplishments - avoid "shopping list" descriptions of positions held and education completed. Illustrate how you are different from other applicants with the same qualifications and how you will add value to the organisation.

Why a CV?

CVs are used by recruiters to screen applicants and select a few candidates for an interview. Recruiters also use CVs to identify the strengths of different applicants. Never lie on your CV - if you are appointed and it is established that you did embellish qualifications and/ or skills, then you could be dismissed.

Before you start compiling your CV

  • Why am I compiling this CV? You aim to introduce yourself in the most effective way to a prospective employer. Mainly, you will highlight your strengths and accomplishments. You will need to do a careful analysis of your skills and provide examples of your accomplishments.
  • How can I target my CV? Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. What kind of skills and experience and qualifications are needed for this job? What is the culture of the organisation? Am I addressing all the requirements for the job on my CV (if you are responding to an advertisement)?
  • What should I include in my CV? Your CV should present evidence of your life experience in a positive way. Do not simply list all your work and educational experiences - demonstrate clearly what you have achieved and the skills you have developed. Maintain a balance between too much information (this will bore the reader) and too little information (this will not do your skills justice).
  • How should I present my CV? Think about your layout, the kind of paper you want to use, and whether you will be submitting this CV online. What kind of CV is needed - a 1 or 2 page CV, or an extended CV with more detail about my skills?

Format of the CV

  • Use a consistent layout (for example, all headings in bold and font size 14 and all normal text font size 12).
  • Check spelling and grammar - use a dictionary and ask someone to read the CV for you if you feel unsure.
  • Keep it simple - it is not necessary to use fancy fonts and coloured paper.

Effective vs ineffective strategies for your CV

There are many different ways of compiling and presenting your CV, but the following strategies are effective (or ineffective) in terms of CV writing:

Effective strategies Ineffective strategies

Your CV reads easily (comfortable font and font size used. Use the arm's length test to determine this - hold your printed CV an arm's length from your eyes and read it to see if it reads easily.

Your CV is cluttered and too lengthy.

You accentuate the positive.

Your CV contains irrelevant, personal information (such as your age, dependents, religious affiliation, and so on).

You show what you know (your strengths).

You provide incorrect contact details, or you are not contactable on those details you provide (ensure that your voicemail greeting/ the individual(s) who will answer your phone sound professional).

You use strong keywords (verbs) to describe your accomplishments (eg. managed; organised; planned; directed).

Your CV is decorated with borders and irrelevant images.

Your CV is neat (no marks or dirt on the paper; no crumpled paper).

Your CV is a bulk mail effort and not targeted for a specific application.

You took care to edit your CV for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Your CV shows your interest in and enthusiasm for the position you are applying for.

Negotiating references

Asking someone to be your referee is a process of negotiating your relationship with this person. Your referees are part of your professional network and they can have a very positive impact on your career and academic development. Read more about how to negotiate with your referees more effectively.

Further resources for CV writing

Negotiating references (MP3)
Negotiating references (MP3)
Listen to conversations about effective ways of negotiating with someone to be your professional referee.

Quintessential Careers This website offers resume (CV) writing tutorials, as well as examples of CVs.
The Muse Get advice related to resume (CV) writing and cover letters.

CV Self-assessment

Once you have drafted your CV, use the CV Self-assessment document to help you identify what you can change.

Last modified: 2023/08/07