Practical Advice on How to Prepare a Successful CV

The advice contained in this article for preparation of your professional profile document is based on actual occurrences and experiences faced by various people in the process of applying for jobs, and is being shared for the benefit of the general reader.  Key pieces of advice are highlighted in italics.

Your Curriculum Vitae (or CV) is very possibly the most crucial part of your application for any role, whether it is your very first proper job or an application for a senior position after thirty years of employment.  To be complete, it should generally mention the following few pieces of information:

  1. Your name and contact details (street address, mobile number, landline number, email address)
  2. A brief paragraph summarising your positive attributes.
  3. Your work experience, mentioning job titles, responsibilities and the start and end dates of each job, including a logical and acceptable reason for leaving each position.  This is now a standard question asked by potential employers.
  4. Details of your education, professional training and other qualifications with approximate dates.
  5. Details of at least three people not related to you who can attest to your capabilities and personal character. At least one of these must be a former employer.

Here are some practical pieces of advice that shall help you in to make your CV as successful as possible.

1. Be Honest

Every single fact mentioned in your profile document should be accurate and one hundred percent verifiable. Telling even the smallest lie to make yourself sound more attractive is dishonest and unethical. Remember that employers routinely verify everything. If it is discovered that you have lied to them about something, you will be blacklisted by that employer (which means you will be specifically listed by their HR Department not to be considered in future) and obviously your CV will go in the bin.  If you do so online on a professional recruitment website, you may then consider yourself potentially disqualified from every opening advertised on that particular site as your details will be noted for such action.

 2. Revise the Content for Each Application

Unfortunately, a common mistake made by far too many job applicants is using exactly the same CV for every job for which they apply. Remember, not the structure but the content of your CV should keep changing.  In essence, you have to re-do your CV for every job application, based on the job description and functions given in the advertisement.

Be familiar and comfortable with the software you use.  The software of choice for preparing letters, lists or anything for that matter is generally MS Word but it may vary.  For example, Apple Mac users may be using MacWrite.  As a rule, generally avoid the use of software designed specially for creating CVs as you are restricted by the options of the software.

 3. Quality Matters

When sending out CVs, focus on quality rather than quantity.  This is not a lottery where the number of applications submitted increases the probability of winning or getting the job.  Recruiters and companies actually read the profiles and covering letters you send.  These convey how well you have understood their requirements and whether you are the right person for that role. When you are successful at this first stage, you get called for a preliminary interview.

 4. Be Concise and to the Point

All entries in CVs should be concise and to the point.  One to two A4 pages is the standard CV length currently in practice. Employers or recruiters do not have the time to read long, drawn out details or life histories.  Make each previous job as realistically relevant as possible to the position you are applying for.  If it is not related, do not misguide the recruiter.  Keep everything as short as possible but make it clear.

Maximise your use of space.  Depending on the actual font used, the font sizes should be between 10 point and 12 point.  Minimise margin settings.  Use each edge of the sheet.  Maximum use of page width (minimum left and right page settings but above zero) and maximum use of page height (minimum top and bottom page settings but above zero).  Remember to ‘ignore’ corrections when prompted by the software.

5. Your Strenghts and Weaknesses

Be aware of your personal strengths and what you have achieved in each role.  Convey a positive image.  Yes, you want to impress them with your accomplishments, but do not over-do it.  Exaggeration and lying are dangerously related.  List them and incorporate them in the right places in your CV.

Being unemployed can make you feel desperate. A case in point: people can desperately apply for available positions that they are not qualified for.  Think before you apply.  If you have never been near a computer, do not apply for an IT job.  If you have never sliced an onion, do not apply to be a chef.

 6. Use Only one Font

People sometimes try to spice up their CVs with a variety of styles.  Use only one font and one size.  The one exception could be your name at the top (which could be one size larger).  The font used should be a professional looking one. So-called professional fonts generally include Garamond, Georgia, Arial, Times New Roman, MS Sans Serif, Perpetua and Calisto MT. Unusual fonts with curves and tilts tend to put readers off.  Most recruiters prefer to receive documents that are sober, well written and to the point.

 7.  Use Headings

Use headings to demarcate different parts of your profile.  For example, headings could include ‘Profile Summary’, ‘Relevant Strengths’, ‘Employment History’, ‘Education & Training’, ‘Special Training’ (if applicable), ‘Interests’ and ‘References’.

In each section, have a standard structure.  For example, in ‘Employment History’, you could have the start and end dates (month/year to month/year), Company Name, Town/City, County (location) in bold, followed by Job Title in italics, followed by your responsibilities in bullet-point format in a smaller font.  Use bullet points and brief yet concise descriptions in each point. Repeat this for each position you have held.  Alternatively, you could have two parallel columns – one with the start and end dates and one with the job information.


 Apr 2003 to Feb 2005            Timbuktu Investment Consultants, Cardiff, Wales

                                                Securities Filing Assistant

  • Assisted securities traders with filing of trade data.
  • Maintained computerised records for various clients.
  • Prepared daily and weekly trade statistics.

This clarifies where you were, when you were there, what your designation was and what functions and responsibilities you performed.

8. Sell Yourself?

 Your CV is in effect a sales leaflet selling you. Be particularly careful regarding grammatical and spelling errors, as every aspect of your CV reflects who you are.  If you are seen even to be ignoring the language contained in your profile, you are showing yourself to be careless.  Managers in any place would not want a potentially careless individual working for them in any capacity. 

For every job position advertised, you usually get only one opportunity at trying for it.  In these uncertain times, there are tens if not dozens of people with impressive profiles applying for each of the positions that you apply for.  Always put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes.  If you read your own CV, without unduly favouring yourself, ask yourself seriously and honestly whether you sound sufficiently experienced and professionally suited for the described job role.Try to visualise what information the employer or recruiter may want from you for a particular role.  If you fulfil certain requirements for an advertised job, and if this is not clear in your CV, change the wording to highlight it.

9. Always Update

Whenever you obtain a new skill or upgrade your capabilities, update your existing CV. That added skill may upgrade your professional worth for certain roles.  As mentioned earlier, your CV is not meant to be static.  It is a dynamic profile document.

10.  Referencing Yourself the Right Way

Do not give previous employer references without permission.  This could potentially damage your entire application.  Always ask them personally, by email or over the phone prior to doing it.  Make sure they know who you are.  You may have had a colleague with the same name or someone who resembled you. Mistaken identity could confuse the information they provide or render it useless.  If some time elapses between informing the referee and using them as a reference, get in touch again so they do not forget you.

This is a common lapse.

If it is working successfully, do not change the things that are making it effective.  Like the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.


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