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How to structure your CV

Once you've decided to tackle the job of writing or updating your CV, you'll need to start with a clear structure so you can create the right flow of information to showcase your skills and experience. Plan your layout and you'll find it easier to work up your content.

There's no right or wrong structure as such, although you should include obvious sections, such as experience and education, and make sure you title these sensibly so they can be picked up on easily by your recruiter, hiring manager or ATS (Applicant Tracking System - sometimes used to screen CVs against the job specification).

I have worked with clients who have had extensive technical experience, lengthy academic qualifications or multiple creative credits so I don't stick to one rigid layout every time; it's important to find a structure that works for you and your profession.

Here's the approach I generally take...

Name and contact information: in the very top section of the first page, I include name and role title (of the role you want, not necessarily the one you do now...), email address, phone number and location (no need for your full address). Include your LinkedIn profile details here too with a hyperlink and don't forget to personalise your URL so you don't have a load of random numbers after your name.

Profile or summary: use less than 100 words to describe who you are and what you bring as a professional. Write this in the third person (so don't start with "I") - although this seems quite formal it is the standard professional approach to take on a CV. You can get a bit more personal and write in the first person in your cover letter or statement of suitability.

Skills: this is where you need to ensure keyword alignment with the role description and tailor each time - there's no point detailing skills that aren't applicable to the role. Keep it simple, factual and relevant, and focus on the hard, or at least the required, skills listed in the criteria.

Professional Experience: you can also call this work experience or career history. Start with your most recent and work backwards. Don't include everything you've ever done in a job, and don't write a list of responsibilities - your reader wants to see what you have specifically achieved in the role, not just the generic job description for it. Use headings and bullet points to make it easy to read. Include months and dates of employment, and give bulleted detail for your roles over the last 10-15 years; positions prior to this can be grouped and listed simply as your early career summary.

Qualifications: this can include your education, professional qualifications and some professional development where relevant. You don't need to include your O level grades from way back when, just your most recent academic qualifications starting with the most recent. A simple name of the qualification, institution and date is all you need. You can also include professional memberships here. Where clients have less in the way of formal qualifications, I do add recent CPD to evidence occupational learning.

Additional Information: this can be a fairly flexible space where you can add details relevant to the role such as driving licence (if this is specified), DBS / CRB check, IT skills or other technical tools, clearance level or languages. Avoid putting interests like gardening, baking or golf, but if you blog in your spare time, volunteer with a charity or chair the PTA then those are useful to include. You don't need to use the phrase "references available on request" as this just takes up space and will be sought for as a matter of course by the recruiter.

Top tips:

  • Keep your CV cleanly formatted, leave white space between lines and give each section a clear heading

  • Use bullets, bold or page page breaks to help your reader navigate but avoid images, tables and colours as these can make your CV look crowded

  • Your most important content needs to sit on the top third of page one, where the eye is drawn first

  • Be ruthless about what is relevant - it's tempting to pack your CV full of everything you've ever done, but if it's not relevant or it's really old then leave it out

  • Tailor it every time - make sure you've tweaked your CV in line with the job description, or company purpose and values if you are making a speculative application

I hope that helps get you started! If you would like to work with me and engage my services to write your CV, please contact me at hello@thecvbee, and I would be delighted to support you.

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