What Is a CV and How Do You Write One?
Your CV is a marketing tool that allows you to sell yourself to prospective employers. If you’re ready for a new job, but you’re not sure where to start when it comes to writing your CV, here are some tips to get you started.
A CV gives recruiters and employers a snapshot of your skills, work experience and education. It should be concise enough for recruiters to quickly determine whether you’re a suitable candidate but also detailed enough to include relevant details such as:
- Your personal details (name, address, e-mail address, LinkedIn URL)
- Personal statement
- Work experience
- Volunteering activities
- Hobbies and interests
- References (only applicable to New Zealand and South Africa)
A good CV opens doors
Your CV is the first impression that recruiters and employers will have of you, so you need it to be an unforgettable one. But beware: you don’t have much space to do this. On average, recruiters spend eight seconds scanning a CV. If yours is poorly written or formatted, it will quickly disappear into the pile of rejections, and you won’t get a second chance to make an impression.
Make no mistake, a CV is not just a list of every single job you’ve ever done. Recruiters should be able to briefly skim through your CV and pick out the relevant skills and experience for the job description.
The CV in a nutshell
Before we get started, let’s look at what a CV actually is:
A CV is an abbreviation for curriculum vitae. The literal translation of this Latin word is 'life course' and actually that’s a great explanation of the purpose of the document. Your CV gives recruiters an overview of your professional and academic history.
First impressions are key with recruiters. A poorly, formatted CV demonstrates a lack of attention and care, while a well-organised document will convince recruiters to spend time reading your CV.
Here are the essentials of an effective CV:
- It should be no more than 2 A4 pages in length.
- Your name and contact details should be placed clearly at the top.
- Include a short personal statement to highlight your skills and expertise.
- After your personal statement, describe your employment history and education in reverse chronological order — starting with your most recent experience first.
What’s important is that your CV looks professional and paints you in a positive light. Therefore, it should be professionally presented and free of any typos.
While you could use a word processor to create your CV, it can be helpful to use a CV generator to make sure that you leave nothing out and that all sections are well-structured.
The different types of CVs
There are three main types of CV:
This is the most common CV format and displays your employee history and education in reverse chronological order. We’ll be focusing on the chronological CV in this article.
A functional CV places the emphasis on your skills and experience rather than your employment history.
- Combined CV
As suggested by the name, a combined CV combines the best elements of the chronological and functional CV. This involves adding details about your career achievements in each position.
In addition, South Africans distinguish between two other types of CVs:
- A brief profile
This is a one-page CV which is a shortened comprehensive CV. It includes your personal information, education and employment history in reverse chronological order.
The brief profile is usually accompanied by a cover letter and followed up by a call to confirm receipt.
- A comprehensive CV
A comprehensive CV is usually sent if an employer requests it. This provides more in-depth information about your education, employment history and skills.
If you choose to send a comprehensive CV at the first stage of the application process, then you should also follow up with a call to confirm receipt.
The core elements of a CV
As mentioned above, the most common CV format is the chronological CV which comprises three main sections: your personal details, your employment history and your education:
- Personal details
As a minimum, include your:
- First name and last name
- E-mail address
- Telephone number
Depending on your country of residence or the position you’re applying for, you may also need to include the following information:
- Date of birth
- Marital status
- Identity number
- LinkedIn URL
- A URL to your online portfolio
- Details of your driving licence
Please only include personal details such as your date of birth, gender and identity number, when specifically requested by the employer, and always make sure that you send your CV in a password-protected PDF if you do.
- Personal statement
The personal statement consists of a brief paragraph that sums up your experience and skills. As it’s the first thing recruiters will see or read, your personal statement should show off your strengths and share your career goals, e.g.
As a content specialist, fluent in German, I have written and published blog articles specialised in marketing and customer service. I am hoping to use my strong digital marketing skills in a content marketing role, specifically within an agency.
- Employment history
List your current and previous jobs in reverse chronological order. Be sure to include the name of the company and the position held.
Rather than just listing your duties and responsibilities, try to include your accomplishments as well, e.g.
Proofread and edited web articles to boost conversions by 10%.
Start with your most recent degree or training course. Include the name of your university or education provider and the dates you received certifications.
Other parts of your CV
If there is space in your CV, add the following sections to give recruiters and employers a well-rounded picture of you and to add value to your application:
- Any languages that you master
- Professional development courses
- Volunteer experience
- Hobbies and interests
For instance, if you manage a blog in your spare time and you’re applying for any sort of writing job, you should mention this information in your CV, especially if you don’t have formal writing experience.
The secret to a successful CV
The strength of a successful CV lies not only in a professional layout, but also in how well it’s contents relate to the position you’re applying for.
While it may be tempting to apply with the same CV to as many jobs as possible, you’ll stand a better chance of success if you take the time to review the job description carefully and tailor your CV accordingly.
If you want to add a little something extra, you could even send a short introductory video along with your CV. A video adds a personal touch, is a great way to stand out from the crowd, and demonstrates initiative.