Create a winning CV

February 2006

CVIt's worth spending time getting your CV right: it needs to tell the employer that you have the skills and experience for the job. Helen Boddy, assistant editor at BCS, gives tips on what information to put into a CV and how to format it.

Select the right type of CV

There are various different types of CVs. The main ones are:

Generally, if you are applying for a permanent IT-related post, the functional CV is the most suitable. It allows you to showcase your most relevant skills and experience needed for the job.

The main reason for you not to use a functional CV is if you are applying for an academic position or if you are a self-employed contractor or consultant.

There are rare occasions where the reverse chronological CV may be the most appropriate but it is seen as more dated and less flexible in highlighting relevant skills and experience.

Points to consider

Make it individual
Avoid using Microsoft Templates as potentially hundreds of other CVs may look the same as yours. Look at some examples and create your own look.

But keep it simple and concise
Avoid gimmicks such as coloured paper, flash or photos. You only need a particularly creative CV if you are applying for a creative job. Otherwise, you need to make yourself stand out by the information on it.

Do not produce a CV longer than three pages. Try and keep it to one or two.

Adapt your CV to each job
It is important to make sure your CV fits each job application that you make, so you may need to alter it for each job application.  Make sure that any of your achievements that are particularly relevant for a specific job are prominent.

Don’t lie but promote yourself
Make sure you highlight your good points but don't stretch the truth.

Use formatting features
Do not handwrite CVs unless the application requires it.
Include bullet points and bold text to help present information clearly

Send it as a Word or pdf file or print on good quality paper
If you are going to email your CV, produce it as a Word document, as most people have this on their computers or a pdf file. As Word files can get reformatted to reflect the default template of the person opening, it’s often worth creating a pdf or using commonly available fonts.

If you are posting your CV, print it on good quality white A4 paper.

Get it checked
Use the spell checker on your computer and get a friend to proof read it for you.

Send a covering letter with it
They allow you summarize exactly why you are the right person for the job.

Keep a copy
If you are producing different CVs for different jobs, make sure you keep a copy to refer to before the interview. You may also be able to 'recycle' certain ones for other jobs.

What to put in each section

No rules for order of information
There are no hard and fast rules for CVs in the UK about the order of information. Some people argue against putting contact details at the top as it distracts the reader from the important messages; others say that it helps recruiters find contact details easily.

If you put your contact details at the top, make sure they do not dominate the page. If you put them elsewhere, make sure the recruiter can find them easily.

Don't put CV at the top
It’s obvious, so leave it out. Put your name in large, bold letters at the top of the page instead.

Make sure your profile matches the job requirements
If you have a profile at the top of your CV, tailor it to the skills required for the job that you are seeking. Keep it brief and positive and about yourself.

Put skills into context
As above, pick skills that are required for the job.
Don't just make a list of computing languages that you know – put them in context.
Example: Carried out software and hardware repairs on various operation servers – OS8.1 and Windows XP – at different customer sites.

Put training, qualifications and education in most sensible order
Order your education, training and qualifications so that the latest or most relevant section occurs first.

Keep old education details to a minimum
If you have just graduated, it is still relevant to put a few bullet points about what you covered in your degree.

If you finished school a long time ago, you do not need to list grades obtained in individual O and A levels. The same goes for your degree. As you get older, trim down distant information.

Keep list of leisure activities brief
If possible, and particularly if you are a new or recent graduate, list hobbies that show a level of commitment or team-working skills, such as treasurer of the local netball club.

Under other information only list personal details that are relevant

  • Nationality, gender and marital status are optional. Save space by leaving them out.
  • List driving licence if needed for the job.
  • If the job requires knowledge of a foreign language and you include it, be prepared to be asked to speak in it at the interview.

Leave out referees
You can include names of referees in a CV but they are not necessary. Excluding them helps keep your CV short

Sections for different types of CV

Functional or skills-based CV
List your skills first and keep employment information to a bare skeleton of your job title, and employer.

  • Contact details;
  • Profile (optional);
  • Key skills;
  • Achievements;
  • Outline of employment history (in reverse chronological order);
  • Qualifications (in reverse chronological order);
  • Memberships;
  • Training;
  • Education;
  • Other information;
  • Leisure activities.

Reverse chronological CV
These are now fairly dated and would rarely be appropriate for IT-related jobs.

  • Personal details;
  • Profile (optional);
  • Employment history – name of firm, job title, experience and achievements (in reverse chronological order)
  • Training;
  • Qualifications (in reverse chronological order);
  • Memberships (in reverse chronological order);
  • Education;
  • Other information;
  • Leisure activities.

Academic CVs
If you applying for academic position, your CV should focus on research achievements.

  • Contact details;
  • Research/dissertation abstracts;
  • Research interests;
  • Teaching/administrative experiences;
  • Publications;
  • Presentations or conferences;
  • Professional memberships;
  • Fellowships and awards;
  • Employment history;
  • Leisure activities;
  • Other information.

Self-employed consultant/contractors CVs
If you are seeking consultancy work or are self-employed, you can move away from the conventional CV and include:

  • Contact details;
  • Profile;
  • Recent clients (the customer, not the agency) and length;
  • Skills;
  • Key assignments undertaken;
  • When you are available.