Writing a CV
Updated on 21 August 2023
Advice on preparing or updating your CV.
Your CV (curriculum vitae) is often your first chance to make a good impression. It is a personal marketing tool which communicates your academic qualifications, work experience and skills to potential employers.
It should be relevant and tailored to the opportunity you are applying for. The main aim of your CV should be to highlight your strengths and suitability for the post in order to progress to the next stage of the recruitment process.
Before you start your CV
It is essential to research thoroughly what the employer will be looking for. For example, research job descriptions, company websites, and personal knowledge and experience. Then focus on your experience, knowledge, skills and attributes to tailor your CV to the requirements of the position.
One simple way of preparing the relevant information is to divide a blank A4 page in two, note down all the requirements of the post and try to match them to your experience. Remember to consider all aspects of your life in terms of what you have to offer. For example, spare time activities and family commitments will often offer valuable evidence of relevant skills.
What should go in your CV?
The average employer spends between 30 seconds and 2 minutes reading a CV. Therefore it is essential to make an instant impact. You must demonstrate evidence of your achievements, skills, and qualities concisely and explicitly.
Employers tell us that skills-based CVs work best. This means detailing the skills you possess that are relevant to that opportunity and clearly demonstrating where you have used and developed these.
The most effective CVs are highly tailored to suit the sector and roles to which you are applying. This may mean you need different versions for different roles.
Tailor your CV
In the UK, a standard CV is two pages of A4. However, academic CVs can be much longer. Typically, you should include:
- personal contact details
- education and qualifications
- work experience (paid and voluntary)
These headings are flexible. It’s your CV so don’t feel like you have to include headings that aren’t appropriate to you. Create a personal CV and avoid using templates. and you should use them to suit the focus of your application.
Ensure you create a good first impression. A clear, professional layout usually works best. Ensure you are consistent in your style and use a professional font e.g. Arial, Verdana or Calibri. Take care with your spelling and grammar. Avoid large chunks of text and use bullet points and bold appropriately.
Space denotes importance on a CV. Give plenty of space to your key achievements and push less relevant things further down the page. For example, make sure your current degree is given plenty of space. Use reverse chronological order so that your most recent experiences come first.
Traditional, professional CVs in the UK don’t include photos or many images and use colour very sparingly. However, in more creative industries such things may be the norm – so do your research and find a format that works for you.
You’ll usually send your CV along with a covering letter or covering email. This is your opportunity to tailor your application directly to the opportunity you’ve applied for and highlight the most relevant aspects of your CV.
Watch our video to find out about the most common CV mistakes and how to avoid them. You will need to sign in to watch.
People use a variety of referees. Generally one should be an academic reference and the other should be a work-related or personal referee.
- An academic referee should be your Adviser of Studies, a lecturer/tutor, or a supervisor.
- A personal referee should ideally be someone who has known you for a long time, but not a family member.
- A work related referee could be your most recent employer or internship supervisor.
Be sure to choose someone who will support your application effectively. Ask your referees:
- if they are willing to provide a reference before putting their name in your CV
- if you give their contact details on your CV
Always give your referee a copy of your CV and keep them informed about your career plans.
Depending on where you apply, you may find some of the conventions of UK CVs are not applicable. For example, in much of North America, a short one page resume is required by most employers.
The Careers Service’s GoinGlobal is a great resource to help you get started with preparing or adapting your CV for use in the country to which you are applying.
Your existing networks (family, friends, staff from your previous university etc.) may also be able to help you when trying to figure out what works in the countries in which they live.
Creating a winning CV as a mature student may seem like a daunting task; perhaps it’s been a while since you refreshed your CV, or you’re wondering how to summarise a wide range of previous roles.
Remember, you have one thing that many other students don’t: a wealth of experience - and that’s what employers value!
In the UK, CVs are typically two pages. So how do you go about fitting in all that lovely past experience?
Firstly, employers will want to know about your previous experience, so don’t be tempted to just leave it all off!
But, as with creating a CV at any age or stage, what’s important is sharing relevant information:
- Generally, your most up-to-date experiences will be of most interest to future employers. So perhaps that first Saturday job you had aged 14 can be removed from your CV now!
- Space denotes importance on a CV. Give more space to higher-level and more directly relevant roles compared to lower-level jobs or roles which are less relevant to your current career path.
- Put the emphasis on the most senior positions and do not repeat the same information for similar, but more junior, roles.
- While it’s best to use reverse chronological order throughout your CV (so that the most recent experiences come first) you may need to think of creative ways to make this work for you as a mature student. If you’re changing career direction or are returning to employment after a break, you could use sub-categories within the ‘Experience’ section of your CV, allowing you to showcase the most relevant of your experience first, while still using the reverse chronological rule within each sub-category.
Keep your CV to two pages
Still, struggling to keep your CV to two pages long?
- Review the formatting and layout. Are you using the full width of the page throughout your CV? Scan for white space – that’s wasted space! Tweak the layout to make better use of the space available (while remembering to avoid your CV looking cramped or messy!)
- Consider what’s essential. Your name and contact details are a must! As is your most recent education and relevant experiences. But consider whether everything else on your CV is really relevant to the opportunity to which you are applying. Check each piece of information on your CV conveys something new about yourself that a future employer needs to know.
When starting out in a new field you may be looking at entry-level roles and be asking yourself, will an employer think I’m too old or overqualified for a position based on my CV?
- Firstly, In the UK, Equality Legislation means that no employer should discriminate against you based on your age.
- Employers tell us they value applications from more mature applicants because of the wealth of working and life experience you bring, as well as the positive impact on diverse working cultures and practices.
- Present your experience and skills as the assets they are. Highlight the relevance of your skills to the job for which you are applying.
- Employers want you to be explicit in demonstrating how your past experiences match the requirements for their job. Ensure you state how skills gained in previous fields are relevant to the job to which you are applying.
The information on this handout must not be copied, distributed, or shared without permission from the University of Dundee Careers Service.