37 expert CV writing tips you must use
Planning to write or update your CV and looking for some guidance? Here are 37 CV writing tips from expert CV writers you must use.
Writing your curriculum vitae (CV) can feel quite daunting and if you search online, there is so much information, often conflicting or out of date. There are no strict rules as such, but professional CV writers keep up to date with best practice and there are common guidelines.
To help you write an effective CV, selling yourself to potential employers the British Association of CV Writers (BACVW) have shared their best CV writing tips. (You can read the original post on LinkedIn here.)
Who is the BACVW?
The BACVW is a not-for-profit unincorporated association with the aims of:
- Ensuring that anyone who employs the services of a BACVW member has the assurance that they have passed a rigorous cv writing test and have agreed to the code of ethics.
- Providing a welcoming community for CV writers to learn and share.
37 expert CV writing tips you must use
So what are their 37 must-follow tips when writing your CV? Here they are:
- Create a job search strategy
- Research companies’ values
- Spend time gathering information
- Target your CV for each job you apply for
- Align your CV with key phrases in the job description
- Include skills the recruiter is looking for
- Know who you are writing your CV for
- Delete anything irrelevant to the position
- Tailor your cover letter to the job
- Create a tagline that matches the role
- Add a profile section
- Get your CV ready
- Claim your contribution with confidence
- Research the company
- Show, don’t tell
- Think of your CV as a sales document
- Tailor your summary to the job ad
- Add a detail that will give you an edge
- List your skills so they pop out of the page
- Make this section entice people to keep reading
- Add a technical skills section if relevant
- Highlight your transferable key skills
- Make sure your CV is modern, eye-catching, and easy to navigate
- Don’t use graphs
- Make sure your CV is readable
- Remove unnecessary details
- Be succinct
- Stick to pertinent content
- Use clear, active language
- Check your spelling and punctuation
- Get your personality across
- Be consistent
- Link to your portfolio
- Check you haven’t included information you should omit
- Prepare your answer for a key interview question
- Prepare questions you can ask
To help you get maximum value from their advice, we have separated them into areas of your CV and job hunting.
How to approach your job search
Here’s what BACVW members recommend when planning your job search.
David Ball recommends networking as it can help you learn about job opportunities that aren’t advertised and give you an inside track on the hiring process. Attend industry events, reach out to people in your field, and make sure that your online presence (such as LinkedIn) is professional and up to date.
2) Create a job search strategy
David also suggests creating a job search strategy can help you be more organised and efficient in your job search, increase your chances of finding a job, and ultimately land a job that is a good fit for you. Set clear goals, identify target companies and industries, research job openings and employers, and create a plan to apply for jobs and follow up on your applications.
3) Research companies’ values
Lindsay Suzanne Fullarton says when researching a company, check out its values, culture, and mission statement. Make sure your own values align with the company and weave them into your CV if you can. If you’re not on board with their vision, move on…it’s not the role for you!
4) Spend time gathering information
David Smith recommends that it is wise to invest as much time (within reason) as needed in the information-gathering stage so you have plenty of content to work with, in particular achievements. This will make writing your CV easier.
Tailor your CV to each job application
Not surprisingly, this area came up a lot. Tailoring your CV to the job ad and adding relevant achievements are where a lot of job seekers fall down when writing their CV. It is so important to not send out the same generic CV to every application.
5) Target your CV for each job you apply for
6) Align your CV with key phrases in the job description
Advice from Elizabeth Openshaw is that although it might seem boring and take up yet more of your precious time, it will be worth it in the end. Check out key phrases in the job description and align your CV with those.
7) Include skills the recruiter is looking for
Lindsay recommends studying the person specification and skills section on the job role profile and ensure your CV contains as many (if not all) of the skills the recruiter is looking for, and include as many keywords as possible throughout the CV.
8) Know who you are writing your CV for
Suzie Henriques, The CV Bee 🐝 says you must know who you’re writing your CV for. Although your CV is about you, don’t write it for you – think about who your reader is, what they need and in doing so, demonstrate your ability to communicate clearly and tailor your message for your audience.
9) Delete anything irrelevant to the position
Jen David recommends deleting anything irrelevant to the position and use what’s left to show exactly how you meet their needs.
10) Tailor your cover letter to the job
David B suggests you also tailor your cover letter to the job. Doing this with your CV and cover letter will help you stand out from other candidates and show the hiring manager that you’re a good fit for the position.
11) Create a tagline that matches the role
Creating a tagline underneath your name that matches the role you’re applying for – Charlotte Eve.
12) Add a profile section
Add a four to five-line profile section under your personal details. Include your key experience relevant to the role applying to, relevant qualifications, key knowledge, relevant training, and personal attributes. This section should be succinct, interesting, and tailored to the role applying to – Laura Harmsworth.
13) Get your CV ready
If you haven’t yet found an advertised role you’d like to apply to, you can still get your CV ready. Kathryn Hall 🦉 MCipd BA (Hons) suggests you research keywords in your chosen field, using job descriptions and weave these appropriately into your CV. Once you see a specific role that interests you, tailor it further to that particular job advert.
How to list your achievements on your CV
So many CVs read like a job description and don’t tell the hiring manager what a candidate can bring to the role and company. How do you write achievements into your CV that are relevant, without feeling like you’re bragging?
14) Claim your contribution with confidence
Adriana Kosovska advises claiming your contribution with confidence. If you have contributed to your employer’s success and goals, state it with confidence.
Achievements speak to the mind and heart of every manager – they are not only interested to discover your capabilities, skills, and experience but even more how you can help them achieve their departmental and organisational goals through your work.
15) Research the company
If you’re not sure which achievements to include, Adriana suggests you research the company. Their social media and website can reveal to you the company’s focus, vision, and goals. Think about how your achievements fit into these, for example, reducing costs, increasing revenue, improving staff retention and team engagement, saving time, or simplifying processes. Add to your CV the ones with most impact and relevance.
16) Show, don’t tell
As Jen says “Show, don’t tell” – specific examples are always better than vague generalisations. Jen continues with how important it is to quantify whatever you can – the scope of the role, budget, direct reports, sales, sites, and savings.
Suzie says to be explicit about what you delivered and how, and Amanda adds that numbers, percentages, currency, and symbols draw visual attention and help to focus the reader on what you have achieved.
17) Think of your CV as a sales document
Jaqui Winston says it can help to think of your CV as a sales document selling ‘brand you’ and to ensure you sell the benefits to the hiring company of having you around. This way you are far more likely to highlight your achievements rather than focus on your job description.
How to write your CV profile section
Typically sitting below your contact details and before the key skills section, your profile is a critical part of your CV.
18) Tailor your summary to the job ad
As Amanda states, on average a recruiter or HR Manager will spend approximately seven to nine seconds reviewing your CV before deciding whether to progress you to the next stage of the recruitment process. Tailor your summary so that it speaks specifically to the desired skills and qualifications listed in the job ad.
19) Add a detail that will give you an edge
David S suggests adding a detail that will give you an edge, something that sets you apart from someone else. For example, are you bilingual?
How to write your CV skills section
Your skills section is a really effective way of tailoring your CV, selling yourself, and adding keywords. Add this under your profile and before the career history section.
20) List your skills so they pop out of the page
Elizabeth suggests listing your skills (relevant to role applying to) so they pop out of the page and grab the reader’s attention. This section also helps with getting a higher score on the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
21) Make this section entice people to keep reading
Kathryn says this section entices people to carry on reading, so bear this in mind when writing it.
22) Add a technical skills section if relevant
Lindsay suggests adding a technical skills section if your job requires you to have specific skills, training, and proficiency in particular software or programmes. Check the job role profile and incorporate the systems they need you to use.
23) Highlight your transferable key skills
An important point from Tracey is to highlight your transferable key skills and remember these can be gained from different aspects, not just your career. For example, caring for children, hobbies, or voluntary activities.
How should you format your CV?
It’s not just the words you write on your CV that are important; how it looks matters too. Here’s what BACVW members recommend when formatting your CV.
24) Make sure your CV is modern, eye-catching, and easy to navigate
Suzie’s advice is that your CV needs to be modern, eye-catching, and easy to navigate but a traditional layout that focuses on your skills, achievements, and credentials is best – avoid graphics, excessive use of colour, and those columns that make your eyes hurt.
25) Don’t use graphs
Debbie Dymock RCDP, MCDI, MIEP agrees, recommending you stop using graphs to measure how good you are at something. They don’t work, your own evaluation of your skills is subjective, and graphics are not ATS friendly.
26) Make sure your CV is readable
Laura says to make your CV readable, ensure plenty of white space (“normal” margins), have a minimum font of 10, include clear standard headings, and avoid long paragraphs by using small circular bullets.
What should you leave out of your CV?
Your CV should be succinct and tightly aligned to the job applying to. It can be hard to omit something that you are really proud of, but it’s not doing you any favours if it’s not relevant to the role applying to.
27) Remove unnecessary details
Tracey says to make every word count, use space wisely, and remove irrelevant or unnecessary details.
28) Be succinct
Debbie advises to be succinct, don’t waffle, and stop narrative writing. For example, think about how relevant your previous studies and training courses are to the role you are applying for.
Is that Windows 95 certificate really necessary? Has that first aid certificate expired? Have you completed in-house training that is not recognised in a different company? Only display necessary qualifications.
29) Stick to pertinent content
David S advises never padding your CV and sticking to pertinent content.
How to use language, spelling, and grammar when writing your CV
An often neglected yet important area of CV writing is language, spelling, and grammar. Here’s how to get it right.
30) Use clear, active language
Charlotte suggests using clear English (avoid words you would never ‘say’) and Jaqui says to use language that enlivens the CV rather than being passive. For example, drove, initiated, delivered, and collaborated are dynamic words that help the reader to see what kind of employee you are and how you made a difference.
31) Check your spelling and punctuation
Jacqui also says to check your spelling and punctuation and don’t just rely on spell checkers that can miss errors. Common mistakes include the overuse of apostrophes (GCSE’s instead of GCSEs being the worst offender!) and the word ‘led’ being spelt as ‘lead’, which would be correct if writing in the present tense, but not in the past – when it becomes a heavy metal!
Final other important areas to get right when writing your CV
There are some final CV writing tips from BACVW members.
32) Get your personality across
Charlotte stresses the importance of getting your personality across when writing your CV.
33) Be consistent
Elizabeth advises being consistent throughout the CV. Here are some things she recommends checking before you send off your CV:
- All dates are written out the same
- You’re using either anglicised or American English spelling throughout
- All bullet points either have or don’t have full stops at the end (either way is acceptable)
- Your contact details and name at the top of the CV match that of the cover letter
- The spacing between jobs and different sections are the same
- You’re using just one font
- Your punctuation is the same throughout (for example, you’re either using or not using the Oxford comma)
34) Link to your portfolio
Kathryn says that if you’re from a creative background put a link to your portfolio to support your CV.
35) Check you haven’t included information you should omit
Laura includes some of the things you can omit from your CV:
- Date of birth
- Full address
- The title “CV”
- Marital status
How to prepare for a job interview
Once your amazing new CV has secured you an interview, how do you prepare? Constance Johnson gives her key advice.
36) Prepare your answer for a key interview question
How do you answer the question “Why do you think you will be successful in this job/what makes you a good candidate?” Match your strengths, skills, interests, and experience with the qualities to the job role and the company. Create a list of relevant accomplishments that demonstrate your skills and abilities that you are ready to share.
37) Prepare questions you can ask
Prepare questions to ask. Here are some examples:
- Can you tell me what the next steps are in the hiring process?
- When can I expect to hear back from you about whether I have landed the job?
- What is it like working at [this company]?
Which CV writing experts contributed to this ultimate CV guide?
This guide was complied by the BACVW using tips from the following members:
- Adriana Kosovska, Zero to Dream Job
- Amanda Carpenter, AC Career Services Ltd
- Charlotte Eve, C K Futures
- Constance Johnson, HEART Writing Services
- David Ball, Career Angel
- David Smith, Careervisa
- Debbie Dymock, Northamptonshire Careers
- Elizabeth Openshaw, OpenDoor CV Expertise
- Jaqui Winston, New CV
- Jen David, CV Shed
- Kathryn Hall, The Career Owl
- Laura Harmsworth, Caversham CV Writing
- Lindsay Fullerton, Lindsay Suzanne Career Consultancy
- Suzie Henriques, The CV Bee
- Tracey Salisbury, CV Prime
Read more CV advice
Need more advice to help you write a CV that lands you the job? We recommend these articles:
- 11 easy mistakes that could be sabotaging your remote job search
- Four reasons why you shouldn’t DIY your own CV (and how to get help if you are on a budget)
- Forget exam grades! Seven things that every teenager needs on their CV
- How to show off your achievements on your CV – follow these three steps (and use STAR)