Guide

CV writing

Updated on 7 March 2024

Advice on preparing or updating your CV.

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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. Internet searches of job descriptions and company websites are a good place to start. You may wish to use an AI tool (such as ChatGPT) to help with your research. When using the internet or AI to help with your career research consider: 

  • Give accurate and clear instructions/search terms. The more detailed and specific you can be, the more likely you are to find the returned information useful. 
  • Check your sources: consider if you are searching for UK-based employment information, check how reliable your sources are, and try to cross reference if you can.
  • Never plagiarise external sources. If you use information from external sources in your CV, application form or covering letter, acknowledge this and put it into your own words. 

Personal knowledge and experience are often the best sources of careers research. You could attend a careers fair or employer presentation on campus, or network with friends and your academics to find out more about typical employers you may be interested in. 

The next step is to 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 note down all the requirements of the post and then try to note down examples from your experience to demonstrate you match these requirements. 

AI tools can help you get started with identifying skills for a job and assist you in drafting examples to demonstrate your skills. But don’t be tempted to get AI to write a skills summary, or even your whole CV, for you. Employers will usually be able to spot generic AI generated CVs very easily and some employers ask you to make a declaration that you have not used AI in the application process. 

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?

Therefore, it is essential to make an instant impact. You must demonstrate evidence of your achievements, skills, and qualities concisely and explicitly.

UK 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

CV layout

In the UK, a standard CV is two pages. However, academic CVs can be much longer, and some industries welcome a more creative approach. Typically, you should include:

  • personal contact details
  • key skills (relevant to role) 
  • education and qualifications
  • work experience (paid and voluntary)
  • interests
  • additional skills, awards, and achievements 
  • referees statement 

These headings are flexible. It’s your CV so don’t feel like you must include headings that aren’t appropriate to you. Create a personal CV. You may consider using templates or AI tools for initial drafts or inspiration, but always make sure your CV is your own work. Tailor your style and content to work effectively for you and your circumstances. 

Ensure you create a good first impression. A clear, professional layout usually works best. Be 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.

Some employers now use AI in the sifting process when recruiting, for example screening for key words. Read our Guide to AI in Recruitment to learn more about this. Consider: 

  • Keywords - use job adverts, job descriptions and person specifications to help you identify key skills and key words. Use these within your CV where appropriate. 
  • Layout – screen readers can struggle with inconsistent fonts, images and tables. You may want to avoid columns too. One reason for this is that they can often result in wasted space or de-emphasise the most important parts of you CV. Another reason is that screen readers tend to read from left to right, so your CV could end up incomprehensible! 
  • Simply and standardise your language - an AI may be programme to scan for a certain job title as evidence of suitable experience so aim to use the most common form of a job title, e.g. use ‘Sales Assistant’ rather than ‘Crew Member’ 

The proportion of employers using AI in recruitment is still in the minority, and even where they are used, this is usually just in the initial sifting stage of recruitment so it is essential that you still write your CV with your human audience in mind. Authentic and tailored CVs with strong personalised evidence of your skills will make the best impression with recruiters. 

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. 

Download an example CV

You can download an example CV to see it should be laid out

Referees

In the UK, you will usually be expected to supply referees at some point during the recruitment process. Typically, CVs will end with the statement ‘Referees available on request’. However, occasionally you will be asked to supply these on your CV. If this is the case, ensure you ask your referees’ permission in advance and be mindful that you are sharing their personal contact details, so avoid uploading them to open access job boards etc. Be sure to choose someone who will support your application effectively. Always give your referee a copy of your CV and keep them informed about your career plans.

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 work-related referee could be your most recent employer or internship supervisor. 
  • A personal referee should ideally be someone who has known you for a long time, but not a family member.

Applying overseas

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.

International students

Our International Students CV Guide can hep you prepare or update your CV for use in the UK 

Mature students

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!  

Previous experience

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.

Previous experience

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.     

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.

Preparing a Creative CV

A creative CV typically breaks the rules of the traditional CV. It showcases the author’s creative strengths. 

Creative CVs may include illustrations, photos, or showcase use of a specific software. Creatives can also take chances with different formats. For example, they can produce videos instead of written documents to sell themselves to employers. 

Take a look at our Pinterest page for examples and check out the advice on the Prospects website.  

You can also view the websites of these illustrators who have created some great examples of web-based bios:

Suitability

It depends on the industry, job, and hiring manager whether a creative twist on your CV would be welcome. It needs to be an individual choice on whether to submit a CV to an employer that breaks convention. Creative CVs are more common in areas such as: 

  • animation
  • art
  • design
  • graphic design
  • illustration
  • special effects (fx) or visual effects (vfx) 
  • video editing
  • web design  

Creative CVs can make you stand out and you want to make sure it’s for the right reasons. You should research the norms in your industry by looking online. You should also ask the advice of people in your network. 

Some employers will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to read CVs. If this applies to you, your CV will need to be in a format readable by AI. 

Your CV is your main marketing tool. It needs to be professional, relevant and readable, no matter what style you decide to go for. It does not replace a portfolio. 

Use the Careers Service and talk to an adviser to discuss your ideas.  

What to include

A winning CV should reflect your biggest selling points. You may choose to represent some of these visually. However, there are some key things your creative CV should include: 

  • personal contact details 
  • personal Profile 
  • education and qualifications 
  • work experience (paid and voluntary) 
  • skills and interests 
  • referees 

Example CVs and Further Support

Ask our careers advisers for personalised advice on your CV through our Quick Query service, booked appointment, or through our CareersPortal

The information on this handout must not be copied, distributed, or shared without permission from the University of Dundee Careers Service.

Ask a careers adviser to provide feedback on your CV

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